Normally, prior to Premier League matches, we try to do Q&A's with other SBN blogs, because we like our blog brethren/sistren and want to keep things in house. We reached out to Bitter and Blue, though, and got no response, so we cast a wider net this time, using the Twitter machine.
Responding to our request was none other than Jake Wilson, @TheSomervillain on Twitter, a long-time City fan and former blogger who got out of the blogging game a while back and now leads a normal life. But he graciously allowed us to suck him back into the writing spotlight again, and when he did I asked him a bunch of questions. Away, as they say, we go!
TSF: As a more or less perennial title challenger , I won't ask the "is the season going as expected" question I usually ask. I will, however, ask this: do you feel like City are poised to take advantage of the least predictable title race in recent memory, or are they still trying to find the right gear?
JW: Well, the season ends in an even year, so the ribbons should be sky blue on the Premier League trophy in May, right? Joe Hart recently came out and essentially said how embarrassing it is that City's maddeningly inconsistency has resulted in them not leaving the rest of the league in the dust like Chelsea did last season. Pretty much any neutral will tell you Chelsea are the only side with a squad to rival that of City's, so with the London Blues imploding, City really should be well ahead of the pack at this point.
The reason many (if not most?) City fans are looking to Pep Guardiola and ready to move on from Manuel Pellegrini is the season's worth of terrible results already in the books before we've reached the halfway point. The home loss to West Ham isn't even the worst of them, as City played decent well that day and were unlucky with some finishing and a couple of decisions from the assistant referee. But the abject capitulation at White Hart Lane that followed, the awful 1-4 at home to Liverpool, and getting played off the pitch at Stoke recently tell you everything you need to know about why City aren't winning the league in a cake walk like what people were predicting after the first month of the season.
And the reality is that if not for a couple of late salvage jobs at home against Norwich and Swansea and Kelechi Iheanacho's fortunate late winner at Selhurst Park, it could be even worse for City right now than being mired in a five-way title fight. The finishing has been very poor this season. City are creating plenty of chances (and half-chances), but the final product just hasn't been there. Getting Agüero back will help immensely with that, but it's only a matter of time until his next injury. For a squad loaded with talent at every position, City seem to miss a handful of players immensely -- Agüero, Kompany, and Silva in particular -- when they are unavailable. Maybe City do go on to claim their customary even-year league title, but I think it's time for new ideas from a new boss.
TSF: Does Pellegrini have a "preferred" tactical style, or is he more flexible depending on opponent?
JW: City are entirely too predictable under Pellegrini, just as they were under Roberto Mancini. If you watch enough of them, you pretty much know exactly what they're going to do as every attack unfolds, with the same runs and same balls to the same positions on the pitch. Plan A is basically overlapping runs by the fullbacks and trying to get to the byline for crosses into the area, or when that isn't available, early crosses and square balls to the D to try to find attacking midfielders.
Unlike when Edin Dzeko was at City, there's no real Plan B due to the ineffectiveness of Wilfried Bony. He was supposed to be Dzeko's replacement as a target man who -- unlike the Bosnian -- could hold up the ball and shield it from defenders to allow an attack to develop, but claimed to love doing so. But Bony has been poor in all aspects of his game since his move to the Etihad. They more or less play the same whether it's Agüero or Bony spearheading the attack, which seems insane.
I'm just not sure Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva both can play in the same team without stepping on each others lines. They've both ridiculously intelligent and skilled players, but sending them both out there just seems to do unpleasant things to the City team.
There's more pace in the side this season with the addition of Raheem Sterling, but somehow City's dangerous counterattack has seemed less effective. Part of that is the injuries suffered by Sergio Agüero, and part may be due to a shaky defense (and defensive midfield) that makes ceding possession and looking to hit opponents on the break more likely to backfire on City with goals conceded.
This past weekend's game against Swansea was a perfect illustration of this. City scored about halfway through the first half, and with Swansea forced to scrap their gameplan of going for the 0-0 and chase the game, City's counterattack should've repeatedly punished an inferior, out-of-form side with a caretaker manager. Instead, City somehow managed to actually get out-chanced (Hart was Man of the Match!) and conceded a totally predictable late equalizer -- before some serious deus ex machina in the form of a goal deflecting in off of Iheanacho's back in stoppage time bailed them out.
TSF: Same question with lineups - is he a tinkerer, or does he find what works and stick with it?
JW: With a squad like City's, you're going to need to rotate liberally as a manager. I think Pellegrini is guilty of insufficient rotation and being overly reliant on a few players like Yaya Touré, Fernandinho, Silva, Agüero, and Vincent Kompany. Look at his team sheets for the league cup ties this season. We're talking about a competition that is basically a distraction at best and an unwelcome fixture disruption at worst for a club like City. (Seriously, someone needs to tell Pellegrini that Capital One Cups don't count toward his charge of one trophy per season from management.) He should be playing second-choice players and youngsters in that competition, not valuable stars like Agüero, Fernandinho, and De Bruyne like he has done.
For a side that doesn't get rotated as much as it should, the rampant inconsistency from month to month, week to week, and half to half boggles the mind.
TSF: From an outsider's perspective, City seems "weakest" at CB. Vincent Kompany seems to be the most important defender, but he is, again from the outside, not what he once was. Is that a fair assessment, and will City be looking to address that problem in January?
JW: Kompany had a very poor 2014/15 season. I don't think even he would dispute that. The dropoff in form for a guy who seemed to be an elite central defender up until that point was downright shocking. But when he's been out there this season, he seemed back to his previous best. I believe City only have conceded once this season with their skipper on the pitch. But that's the problem. He's basically the Agüero of the defense when it comes to a never-ending string of injuries.
But central defense is a source of enormous frustration for City, who basically have been searching for a suitable partner for Kompany for seven years now. And they've thrown a crazy amount of money at the problem. First it was Joleon Lescott (£22m), then Stefan Savić (£6m), then Matija Nastasić (£11m + Savić), then Martín Demichelis (£4.2m), then Eliaquim Mangala (£31.8m), then most recently Nicolas Otamendi (£28.5m). That's a fortune, and only Demichelis has come close to re-paying that investment -- and only because of his comparably small transfer fee.
Part of the problem is Kompany's injury history, and the other is his playing style. He's a gambling center back who needs a solid, conservative partner alongside him and a ball-winning destroyer playing in front of him in defensive midfield, especially with the fullbacks getting forward every chance they get. City never suitably replaced Nigel de Jong since he departed after that first title in 2012. Fernandinho can do this vital job for short periods, but the other defensive mids they have brought in (Javi Garcia and Fernando, most notably) just weren't good enough. So Kompany ends up getting exposed and put in bad situations, and when you put a gambler in no-win situations, they tend to look poor.
TSF: What do you expect from Kun on Monday?
JW: Given his goal rate with City, the stats say Agüero probably will score. Of course, his injury history shows he may also get stretchered off. Absolutely wonderful player, just can't stay fit.
TSF: Fill in the blank: If Arsenal want to beat Manchester City, they must (blank)
JW: ...pressure City in the midfield. City HATE that and still have yet to figure out a solution to midfield pressure five years on from that tactic becoming commonplace against them. Do that while having your attacking players track back to neutralize City's fullbacks bombing forward and you'll be forcing City to play a way they don't typically play.
Also, City's defenders struggle with unexpected runs from pacey attackers and have struggled with clearing awkward balls from their own box this season.
Thanks again to Jake for taking the time to chat with us!