In the News: I had a list of the usual mockery to put here, but it doesn’t seem fitting to put it after this: Last night Davide Astori, Fiorentina’s captain, checked into the team hotel ready for today’s game. He didn’t wake up this morning. He was 31, and had a wife and two year old daughter, and if that doesn’t pale into insignificance all of the usual dross and filler that appears in the football press, nothing will.
The Others: More easy fixtures for the Red Scouse and for Sp*rs. But we’ll always have Arsenal, who are there to remind us that no matter what happens, and ignoring the fact we can’t beat them, we have never quite hit rock bottom.
Our Game: A false nine. Oh goody. And no Kante.
Have I got to do this, really?
I was resigned pretty much as soon as I saw the team. We would have had to be impeccable today. And I doubted whether this would be the case, because Drinkwater and Cesc together wouldn’t have worked against Barcelona and I doubted it would work now. (Though I thought Drinkwater did well today, and not only because I have TDD tinted glasses) Therefore this was my plan of action:
- Don’t concede in the first twenty minutes.
- Actually f*ck that. Try not to concede in the first half.
- If still remotely in game on hour mark take revolutionary step of bringing on a striker.
- Try to score/not to lose.
Please note that this essentially appeared to be Conte’s game plan too. And he earns £8m a year. Except he waited until almost 80 minutes to evoke steps three and four.
So there I was. Lost in a sea of half and half scarves, being subjected to a ten minute long montage of bull about the greatness of “Citeh” that to cap it all, I think was narrated by Liam F*cking Gallagher, who should have had his vocal chords cut in about 1980 to spare us all from two decades of that whiny nasal twang of his. Not to mention his attitude. Then they were parading the league cup about like it was the Hope Diamond. There was even some mad bint in front of us that thought she was a Kardashian. As in massive fur coat and enormous sun glasses. In March. When it was getting dark. And raining. In sub zero temperatures. All of this was overseen by a steward who couldn’t have looked less snappily turned out for work with his tramp beard and rats nest ponytail if he has spent last night sleeping in a dumpster. Oh and food and drink is banned from the stadium. As are cameras, phone chargers, e-fags and well, anything that might threaten to make your afternoon remotely comfortable or enjoyable. Welcome to Manchester.
The First Half:
24 seconds in and we’d had 100% possession. Then it started to go to sh*t and we barely touched the ball for more than half an hour. It was like watching them conduct a training exercise in keeping possession. After six minutes we retained the ball for four consecutive seconds. Eight minutes in and we almost made it out of our own half, but Willian was fouled and the referee ignored it.
BUT this is pretty much what you expect from Pip Squeakiola isn’t it? And it’s not as if they had our goal under siege. A weak effort by Silva was easily pounced on by Courtois, Sane ran past seven players but somehow managed to not get a shot off. Our team might have all been as much spectators as we were, but they were still in one piece and all those of us secretly dreading an Arsenal-like score of humiliation were starting to breathe a little easier.
Twenty minutes down and they hadn’t had a shot on target. We had made half a run towards their goal to chants of “we’re in your half” but poor, poor Eden. He was lonelier up front than Gary Lineker at a meeting of his own fan club. One of the best players in the world and it was a waste of time him being on the pitch. I could have stood up there and saved him the trouble of getting out of bed this morning.
Zinchenko was extremely fortunate to get away with a yellow card after a shocking, awful challenge on Moses, shortly before the referee was conned again by a dive and awarded City a free kick. A long ball found Sane unmarked on the back post. Thank god for Dave, eh? And for quick reactions from Courtois.
Impeccable we were not. In fact we were making this look more difficult than greasing Charlie Adam in butter and trying to push him up the side of a steep hill into the face of a force ten gale. Half an hour in we finally made a strong break – Willian is body checked. Nothing. City players falls over immediately afterwards. Free kick given. Sigh. Refwatch: Michael Oliver was nicer to them than he was to us but he’s the least of my worries after watching that.
As the last ten minutes of the half approached, we’d come into it a bit more. In fact on 42 minutes we won our first corner. All of their possession had reaped no reward, in fact had not come particularly close to doing so. We were basically only still in the game because of some fantastic work at the back shutting them down from Dave, but none the less we had managed to keep them out, which was a good enough start for me. Provided that we found a way to make more progress into their half after the break: which would undoubtedly require the introduction of a target man, or target beard, up front.
At half time I ate a Cadbury’s Picnic that I had smuggled into the ground in my bra. It tasted all the better because it was contraband. They had the cheek to send round a stat that claimed that Zinchenko managed 81 passes in the first half, which was the same as nine of our outfield players combined. A fine feat indeed when you consider that the little turd should have been sent off for trying to kill Victor Moses.
I am going to put proportionately the same amount of effort into the rest of the match as I believe Antonio Conte did today:
The Second Half:
So: Result we all expected, by a less depressing margin than you might have imagined. But it didn’t make it any less tragic to watch. Antonio has defended his tactics. The only problem being, of course, that once we conceded his tactics became ever more irrelevant and he stood there and watched this happen largely with his hands in his pockets for more than half an hour before he did anything about it.
Let’s get one thing straight. City were neat, tidy and disciplined and are in good form with some great talent. They are going to win the league because they are nigh on the most criminally expensive team ever put together. But they fashioned 900 million odd passes and had three quarters of the possession to create precisely three shots on target. Courtois was hardly troubled. The gulf in quality is not as large as we made it look today. I think that some players underperformed. Pesto was scrappy, Alonso’s fine touch largely deserted him and Willian came crashing back down to earth like a fiery ball of space junk. These things happen. But there were other players out there today, like Hazard, like Fabregas, who were completely hamstrung by the sh*t instructions that they were forced to continue to adhere to when it was clear to the entire stadium that they were going to have no effect. They were basically asked to stand up against a brick wall and head butt it. We did not fashion a single shot on target. If we are going to play without a striker, the plan cannot be to continually hoof it up the field and slide balls through as if there is a six foot beautiful lump, bearded or not, waiting up there to jump/run onto it. Giroud was the first player to win a header in the box. After 81 minutes.
If there was ever a coherent plot, Conte lost it after we went behind. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather we’d gone 3-0 down and swinging than flap over the line to a 1-0 defeat like Shamu on dry land, with heatstroke, and a raging hangover. Shamu is dead. (Damn Seaworld) And yet we were roughly on a par with Shamu when it came to having the slightest comprehension as to what it was we were trying to achieve in the second half today. The lack of adaptability on display from us today was stunning, and for me the manager has to take a massive portion of the blame. (Not Morata, someone actually tried to pin it on him as we made our way out, after his 360 second cameo)
If Wenger hadn’t lost 8-1 on aggregate this week in his three games and gone into a glorious, effluent meltdown, Conte would be getting more crap with both barrels from everyone in the world of football. I don’t know about you, but “at least we’re still not as bad as Arsenal” is not a benchmark I want to live by.
A sad seven days. We need points now, starting with Palace. And I want gin. I deserve it after that.