Manchester City's Superstars Lacking Any Substance
Monday night was an example of what has become an all too familiar sight for Manchester City supporters in recent months, as their players crumbled under the pressure of their evaporating Premier League bid.
Now on the cusp of being outgoing champions, the blue half of Manchester are not only falling significantly short of the consistency and cutting edge of frontrunners Chelsea, but also have to contend with playing catch-up with Arsenal and deadly rivals Manchester United for the top three automatic Champions League group places.
How has their team, which last year blended firm defensive rigidity and exciting attacking movement, this campaign been victim of serious questions of their character?
A 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, a team that have nothing to play for but their own desire to push as high up the table they can, has just been the tip of the iceberg for the stuttering Manchester City team. Manager Manuel Pellegrini took on the despondent look of a man who recognizes that his marching orders are currently being rubber stamped. His side only has five league wins to their name in 2015, and this latest loss was their third in five games as they head into a crucial contest with United at the weekend.
And whilst captain Vincent Kompany tries to give a positive spin on this situation in suggesting that the expectation is now all on their local rivals, that simply is not the case. This is the chance for their expensive superstars to prove their value, and the pressure will be completely on them to succeed.
The fact of the matter is that whilst Pellegrini will almost inevitably endure the chop for his team's shoddy run of form this year and zero chance of silverware, a number of their players will also feel under similar pressure to retain their place in the squad for next year. This will not be a case of some of their supposed superstar players outgrowing Manchester City and searching for a new challenge, but being kicked to the curb for their substandard performances. These players over the course of the season have demonstrated that their substance does not match their salaries, and there could be a massive overhaul incoming for the club to contend with.
Of course, money has always been no object for Manchester City, who have bought their way into the Premier League elite and will continue to stick two fingers up to the reputed restrictions of Financial Fair Play. Replacements will be sourced and brought into the fold, but it is who are some of the names most at risk of being shipped away? The first name that springs to mind is Yaya Toure. On his day, Toure is virtually unplayable, with his mixture of unbelievable pace that can transform defence into attack in an instant and a cannon of a shot. However, those aspects of his capability have been much less frequently displayed this season.
Toure last year scored twenty goals in the Premier League and laid on another nine for his teammates. This year those have dropped to seven and one, a huge drop for the 31-year-old veteran. Now at a stage in his career where he has achieved so much for Manchester City and is now into his thirties, this could be his last opportunity to gain a big money move to another major club in Europe. Frankly, talk in the summer last year was very much focused on the possibility of Toure departing the team, and he has performed like a player that isn't relishing his football as much as he used to. So, it would be better for the club to cut their losses and dispatch of Toure whilst he can still command a large transfer fee.
Toure is just one of a number of names that have seriously underperformed as part of City's team this year, as whilst on paper they should be blowing opponents away by three goals every outing, they have often looked incredibly average. For instance, Samir Nasri last season appeared to have shaken off claims that he had lost his way since joining the club from Arsenal, and was producing thrilling performances in the second-half of the campaign that significantly helped them win the Premier League. But this year, Nasri has once more faded into obscurity, looks slower and less invested in playing, and only has two goals to his name in the league. His time in the blue half of Manchester has been riddled with inconsistencies, so it would not be at all surprising should they cut their losses on the Frenchman.
Bacary Sagna, Edin Dzeko, Fernandinho and Stevan Jovetic will also likely be under pressure to keep their places in Manchester City's squad after lacklustre showings over the course of 2015. Sagna barely makes it to the starting eleven most weeks due to the consistency of Pablo Zabaleta, and really hasn't made any noticeable impact on the team since joining from Arsenal (a phrase that could be said of a lot of City's past signings). Edin Dzeko almost single-handedly drove the team's title bid in the last months of last season due to the poor form of Sergio Aguero, but now the Bosnian only has four goals to his credit.
The season has been so poor from an individuals perspective for Manchester City that even the likes of Vincent Kompany, James Miner and Jesus Navas have been thrown into the mix of players that might be shipped on to make room for a renovation of the team. But this is the long-term future in mind - what about the final seven games of the season. Fortunately for City, the gap they have generated over Liverpool and Tottenham appears large enough that it would take a monumental collapse for them to fall out of the Champions League places by the end of the season. But, stranger things have happened.
Realistically, considering the form of the three sides in front of them compared to their own, City look set to finish in fourth place, a miserable drop since last year. That is even worse when one considers the criticism both Arsenal and Manchester United endured in the first half of the year for their inconsistent performances and supposed brittleness against teams when under pressure. Not, it is the billionaires with the team of superstars that now have to endure the criticism for not living up to their undoubted potential. With the money they have spent, the group of players they have assembled, and the experience of the manager, second place is the lowest they should be finishing, and even that would be considered a disappointment.
This isn't even a new thing for Manchester City, as every couple of years they take part in an overhauling of their squad and a change in management that reaps results one year, but then leaves them floundering the next. A permanent solution has yet to be found that can firmly establish a dynasty of success at the club in the manner that Chelsea and Manchester United managed over the years.
For all their superstars and infinite bank account, City fans continue to suffer from an inability of these big players to produce on a regular basis, and fully put their all into the side.
Perhaps in the summer, they will look more internally for players that can add some more passion and focus into their faltering club, and add the substance and consistency that their current crop undoubtedly lacks.