Robin Sainty: City need to find a way to land some telling blows
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The thing that really set City apart from everyone else last season was that when they were really under pressure to produce a result they delivered.
At the Hawthorns, at Elland Road, and at home to Millwall and Forest they hung in and found a way. In similar situations this term they have capitulated almost without landing a blow.
They are clearly struggling against teams who are prepared to sit in and press them energetically whilst looking impressive against sides that look to dominate them and therefore leave space for them to break into, hence the encouraging performances against Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea and the poor showings against Watford and Southampton.
In all honesty, the first 20 minutes at St Mary's on Wednesday looked like two sides destined for relegation as both constantly conceded possession with precious little being created, but once Southampton took the lead City were totally unable to respond, and while their second-half performance was better, the damage had already been done.
Two comments from Daniel Farke in his post-match interview particularly struck me. The first was that City had not been brave enough to play their football, and I think that is entirely accurate.
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They were totally unable to work through Southampton's press and it was actually redolent of Farke's first season in charge with ponderous lateral passing across the back four frequently terminating in Tim Krul being forced to launch the ball long.
For me the frustration was that whenever the ball was played into City's central midfielders in the first half the receiving player's first touch and movement was inevitably towards his own goal, both reducing his passing options and allowing Saints precious extra time to get into position for the next press.
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No one seemed prepared to try to split the home ranks with a telling pass nor commit players by running at them to create space, yet when both of those things happened in the second half, in the first instance with Alex Tettey, an unlikely playmaker, setting Teemu Pukki free with a superb through ball and secondly when Emi Buendia was belatedly introduced, they created problems for Southampton.
Farke's second remark was about being "bullied" at set-pieces, undoubtedly City's Achilles heel, with all four goals in the last week emanating from free-kicks or corners and inevitably raising the issue of zonal marking again.
Let me say straight away that zonal marking can and does work very effectively for some teams, but it is clearly a problem for City, with both goals on Wednesday resulting from a striker on the move outjumping a static defender, although in the first instance credit must be given for the quality of James Ward-Prowse's delivery and in the second questions should be asked about why City's defenders were on their heels as Ryan Bertrand reacted quickest to the knock down.
It was a hard defeat to take and there is no doubt that staying up is now going to be a massive uphill battle, but we have to keep some perspective.
This is still a developing team, and with the exception of Ibrahim Amadou Wednesday night's starting line-up was made up of players who were in the Championship last season. That said, there are clearly issues that need to be resolved quickly and Farke's team selection for Sunday will be interesting.
Sheffield United have made a tremendous start to the season and Chris Wilder deserves huge credit for the way in which he has made his team so competitive at this level without sacrificing his principles, although he hasn't had the same sort of injury problems as Farke.
City found them a difficult proposition last season and this will be just as hard but one way or another they have to find a way to get something from the game with a tough trip to Leicester coming up next week.