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1. Missed Chances
Quite the oddity this, because despite taking a fearful battering, in the first half in particular, we probably ought to have won the thing with a spot of breathing space, purely in terms of chances created.
Sonny twice (possibly thrice?), Eriksen and Lucas Moura all had chances that one under oath might have described as “presentable”. Not just scrambled, snapshot efforts, but bona fide whites-of-the-keeper’s-eyes stuff. Some pretty slick build-up play too, which was stirring to watch.
Credit in a sense must therefore be slopped pretty generously upon the plate of Our Glorious Leader, who set us up most pointedly to play on the counter-attack – with both of Lucas and Sonny unleashed, and Llorente’s rather alternative take on things kept under lock and key on the sidelines.
Everybody else in our number was tasked with chasing Man City shadows, but the deployment of both Son and Lucas at the pointy edge of things had the City centre-backs squirming throughout. Either our front two were sprinting at them, or they were threatening to sprint at them, which in a way felt every bit as effective – rather like one of those ghastly horror films one sees, in which a heroine picks her way through a silent and foreboding house, and although nothing is actually happening on screen, it still sends the pulse into overdrive because of the fear that at any given moment some scoundrel might leap out from the shadows and do some mischief.
Alas, whereas on Wednesday night we were impressively clinical, today all who found themselves in front of goal were a mite too ponderous about their business. All seemed to want an extra touch, when really the hurly-burly nature of the fare meant that it was an occasion for rather swifter and more decisive action.
I gave Poch credit for the set-up, and he certainly improvised well given the depleted resources, but I suppose his hand was slightly forced. With players dropping like flies he went for the rarely-seen Six Central Defenders Gambit, and I suppose this was as suitable a time to do so as any, given that City have nift and trickery seeping from every pore.
Alas, despite the presence of so many versed in the art of centre-backery, we still managed to leave arguably the most lethal striker of the last five years completely unmarked inside the penalty area within the first five minutes, and calamity duly befell. Fingers of blame duly wagged at Sanchez (which was actually the only blot on an otherwise mightily impressive escutcheon) and Toby, for nodding off at their sentry posts.
At that point I grimaced the grimace of a man who foresaw all the walls caving in and at double-quick rate, because City, already stoked for revenge, raged around the place looking like chaps very much with the scent of blood lingering in the nostrils.
They hogged possession and battered away, but, gradually at first and then with increasing regularity and control, our massed ranks of defensive types repelled them. I rather certainly for the midfield three of Dier, Eriksen and Dele, relentlessly shuttling hither and thither in the midday sun, but although they struggled to control things, they did enough to help out the back five.
Wobbly though we had looked at the outset, by the time the second half pootled around the complexion of things had begun to change, and the expectation was as much that we might nab a counter-attack chance as that City might double their lead.
A shame that shooting boots were not packed – but ultimately few complaints. City were, as ever, pretty good value for the win.
3. Foyth Impresses
After witnessing Trippier being led a merry dance on Wednesday, I feared for the earnest but flawed young buck Juan Foyth when the actors took to the stage and Raheem Sterling gave him the once-over. Their opening tête-à-tête duly made for grisly viewing, as Sterling left Foyth reeling through a cloud of jet-heeled dust; but thereafter our man grew into the game, and just about edged a very tough personal duel.
Under strict instructions to show Sterling down the line, Foyth did so with admirable judgement, and also a few dollops of hitherto unknown body-strength, which earned a tick or two in the AANP book. Credit also to Sanchez for offering generous assistance; and even when Sane entered the arena and the nature of the threat took a subtle turn, Foyth was generally equal to it.
He does still rather dwell on things when in possession, as if inclined to take four or five seconds to admire his immediately preceding handiwork, but where there might have a pretty seismic Achilles’ Heel we did in fact boast a pretty well-secured potential entry route.
4. The Angry Rose Cameo
Danny Rose’s fragile limbs means that the angry young tyro cannot legally be fielded for two sets of 90-minute fare within four days, so he had to content himself with around twenty minutes in which to vent his incessant rage, and simultaneously enrage all those in opposition.
But by golly, doesn’t he do that well? He stormed onto the pitch to take a midfield role, immediately looking aggrieved at the state of things, and duly communicated this by executing a perfectly legal tackle on Bernardo Silva that was accompanied by a quite unnecessary and thoroughly enjoyable follow-through, sufficient to send the chap flying.
Thereafter the general level of angst and needle amongst both sets of players shot through the roof. In a way this might have been to our detriment, because City were already losing the plot quite comfortably on their own, without any egging from our heroes, and the added level of aggravation merely prevented us from counter-attacking as repeatedly as we needed.
However, in the grander scheme of things I was jolly pleased to see our lot take a leaf out of the Rose Playbook and mooch around with scowls on faces and flying tackles in their feet. From the off, City had shown far more desire, and our lot had given the impression that they were satisfied with Wednesday night’s outcome. City had continually hounded us and won back possession in the early flashes, so, late though it was, I was pleased to observe us at least finish with some appetite for the fight.
5. Muted Dier Performance
As an aside, one notes with concern that in 20 or so minutes, Rose kicked immeasurably more lumps out of opponents than self-styled hard man Eric Dier managed in his 60 minutes. The AANP Jury remains far from convinced on Dier. Though a handy asset given his versatility, he displays neither boundless energy nor exquisite positional sense, nor is he possessed of a particularly notable range of passing.
When sitting in midfield on days like today, his task is presumably to act as a disruptive and destructive influence, making forceful tackles or at the very least giving the opponent in possession a friendly shove – but today he contributed little. As stated, Rose performed the role in vastly more eye-catching manner.
All told, however, this was game from which anything other than a hammering would have been a pleasant surprise. Having created that many chances it was a shame to lose by a single goal, but a string of winnable games now sits between our lot and a top four finish.