04 May 2016

Man City's down and out, or is it bound and determined?

Despite putting almost all their eggs in the Champions League basket, Man City crashed out against Real Madrid, losing Vincent Kompany yet again to injury. The Belgian limped off just ten minutes in, having reaggravated the same calf injury that has Diabied him all season. On one hand, there's reason to celebrate ahead of our trip to the Etihad: a depleted, depressed squad will greet us. On the other, there's ample reason to worry: that same squad now has to fight a bit to stay in contention for a Champions League spot. Would it have been better for our own fortunes had the Citizens advanced to the final?

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Having focused so thoroughly on winning the Champions League only to fail. Man City may now turn to the Prem, which they've treated with indifference for most if not all of the campaign. In the absence of any "true" rival, that indifference seemed safe. No one, including anyone who supports Leicester, could have foreseen how things shook out. With the Champions League title snatched away so cruelly, Man City will likely look to set things right by closing out the Prem season with a pair of wins—one of them of course, over Arsenal. In the longer term, missing out on the Champions League only multiplies the hunger emanating out of the Etihad for that particular trophy—and a certain Spaniard who'll leave Germany empty-handed will arrive in England all the more insistent on upgrading the squad he inherits. Anyone who doubts that Pep Guardiola was watching this match with a keen eye on his future in Manchester—and his "failure" in Munich—is blind.

On to the potentially good news. Sunday's match comes closely on the heels of Wednesday's depressing downfall. Maybe City will be still be suffering a hangover too heavy to summon the steel needed for a feisty Prem match. The fact that this one has been downgraded from "who will win the Prem?" to "who will finish third?" further undermines the importance of the match for a squad that had set its sights so much higher. To have fallen short in Continental competitions might have a knock-on effect closer to home. Maybe. On to more-tangible issues. Our visit will represent the third match in seven days for City. The injury to Kompany deprives City of a vital asset. By now, we're all familiar with the stats. With him, they concede 0.6 goals per game; without him, 1.2 Mangala has proven himself to be a solid if not stellar defender, and Otamendi has done the same, even if erratically. If we can find a way to get Demichelis to deputise for one of them, so much the better. In the longer term, if Guardiola does go on a spending spree, we could mop up as we've done when Real Madrid went all-in for Gareth Bale and sold Mesut Özil and when Barcelona plumped for Luis Suárez and sold Alexis Sánchez. In my dreams, we sign none other than Sergio Agüero.

Whichever way we slice it, we have to go into the Etihad as if the stakes are every bit as high as they were when the fixtures were first released. I want none of this "but surely we can take all three points from Aston Villa the weekend after" nonsense. I want to see us finish off City's hopes and secure third position. If we can't win the Prem, we can at least claim to have done a double over this season's champions—and Man City as well.