Robin Sainty: ‘Week after week we are seeing more physically-imposing opponents dominating’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It would be impossible to talk about last week’s game without mentioning VAR, although it had little to do with the result.
Many have had their say, so all I will add is that while I applaud the desire to get decisions right, the only absolutes in VAR are offsides and offensive handball, due to the new law that removes the question of intent.
Everything else is a matter of interpretation and that's where my major concern about VAR lies, because we now have someone sitting in a replay booth in London overruling the match referee in circumstances that appear to go far beyond the definition of "clear and obvious" errors.
It's a fact that different people will interpret the same situation in different ways simply because that's human nature, yet we now have the final decision being taken away from the referee on the pitch because Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the body who control Premier League referees, encourages referees not to use the pitch-side monitor to make a final review themselves, ostensibly to reduce delays.
What this means is that in situations which aren't clear-cut it simply becomes one person's interpretation clashing with another's. The fact that technology is involved is something of a red herring unless it can categorically prove or disprove something, which was clearly not the case with United's first penalty, and it would be interesting to know whether Stuart Atwell would have changed his own decision on review.
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However, the result wasn't down to VAR because City's performance was poor, particularly in midfield where they once again looked awfully lightweight in the first half. I love to see as many ball players as possible in the team, but the reality is that week after week we are seeing more physically-imposing opponents dominating, and I think it was significant that once the more muscular Marco Stiepermann and Onel Hernandez came on, City looked much more effective.
One of the big buzzwords last season was identity. City had their way of playing and everyone knew exactly what was required of them, but currently they look like they no longer know whether to stick or twist.
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As confidence has drained the slick one-touch passing of early season has been replaced by hesitancy and poor decision-making while mistakes have been ruthlessly punished. On Sunday, Teemu Pukki made half a dozen channel runs of the sort that produce goals for him in the colours of Finland but in each case the pass was either late, misplaced or non-existent.
As in previous defeats, there were also situations on Sunday where a City player attempted something elaborate and lost the ball in a part of the pitch where a simpler approach would have been more prudent, with the lead-up to United's third and decisive goal being the best example.
What City have to learn, and quickly, is how to find a way to blend the flair that we love to see with the pragmatism that must replace the current naivety if they are to survive.
However, while the problems are clear to see it's important to keep perspective. Only two of City's starting line-up had experience of the Premier League before this season and yet, had Todd Cantwell and Pukki converted good chances at the start of each half we could have seen a very different game, although without Tim Krul's heroics things could have been much worse.
We always knew that this season would be tough even without the injury crisis and it's not going to get easier any time soon, but this is not the time to lose faith, nor for supporters to start to single out individual players for criticism or to bicker amongst themselves.
We are all in this together, one City strong . Whether or not results improve the only thing that we as fans can offer is our support.