City failure could be best thing for EPL
If City fail to qualify for Champions League, that could be the best thing for the EPL
If Leicester City winning the title promises to be the greatest thing to ever happen to the English Premier League, then Manchester City missing out on the top four would be a close second.
For weeks now, the common misconception has persisted that the Foxes are a throwback to the good old days, little more than football freaks to be cherished before the inevitable return of the status quo.
But Manuel Pellegrini's also-rans are the dinosaurs.
Leicester's achievements have turned conventional EPL Darwinism on its head. It really is the survival of the fittest, rather than the supremacy of the richest.
City, the most expensively assembled side in England, have never quite emulated Manchester United because the philosophy has always been slightly off.
United built legends. City built Lego sets.
Expensive bricks were thrown together in the hope that the quick assembly might fashion something pretty and constructive.
Initially, City got away with their transfer market raids, snatching a Sergio Aguero here, a David Silva there and a Raheem Sterling for no other reason than they could.
The smash-and-grabs worked because everyone with a large chequebook and attention deficit disorder was doing the same.
Chelsea did it with Jose Mourinho second time around, plugging gaps quickly to pick up a solitary title.
And United have taken the City approach to its illogical extreme, trying to build an instant Lego set with £300 million ($590m), only to be left with a mess of bricks of different sizes and dimensions, with few able to interlock successfully.
The chequebook hysteria just doesn't work in the EPL. It never really has.
English football's greatest teams in the last 25 years - Manchester United, Arsenal and Mourinho's Chelsea 1.0 - all included a core of homegrown talents, British stalwarts and established foreigners who had slipped into the clubs' fabric, absorbing their DNA.
But City have never really established a core identity, philosophy or way of playing.
Sir Alex Ferguson's United, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal (when he was still winning titles) and Mourinho's Chelsea created distinct infrastructures, tactical models and styles.
Ferguson spoke of the "Manchester United" way, but Mourinho and Wenger also had clear templates.
City just threw money around. And when that didn't work, they threw more money around. And when that didn't work, they sacked managers. And when that didn't work, they hired Pep Guardiola.
Ironically, Guardiola will join his old Barcelona colleagues, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, two executives who have been most un-Barca-like in their clumsy transfer dealings.
Eleven players have been signed for fees between £22m and £55m and somehow City still conspired to score only 13 goals from 14 away matches.
After the dreadful United defeat yesterday morning (Singapore time), they have lost 17 out of the last 18 EPL games they have trailed at half-time.
They haven't managed back-to-back wins in their last 22 games and their current points total - 51 - is way down on the previous four seasons at the same stage (61, 67, 62, 70).
City have continued to spend heavily only to become even less than the sum of their parts than ever before.
Ironically, Barca graduates Soriano and Begiristain seem to have borrowed Real Madrid's erratic business model. Find the shiniest Lego pieces. Buy them now. Try to make them fit later.
City's myopic decision to assemble a second-rate galaxy of galacticos (i.e. those not considered bright enough to illuminate Barcelona, Madrid, Munich or Paris) earned the odd title in a stagnating league.
But the policy was never going to seriously challenge Europe's aristocracy.
Now it can't win the domestic title and may yet fail to secure Champions League football, surely the most basic of prerequisites for the world's richest club.
With delicious irony, however, Leicester are imitating the elite on a shoestring.
An established core of committed, drilled players, devoted to both the collective cause and a clearly defined brand of football once delivered titles for United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Now they could do the same for the Foxes.
ON A SHOESTRING
Contrary to popular belief, Leicester are playing like champions. They're just doing it on a budget.
City's overindulged collection of individuals are the odd men out, trying to establish a dynasty on the shakiest of foundations.
Should they fall from the top four, then the final standings will provide conclusive proof - if it were still needed - that money can buy neither love nor longevity in the EPL.
Guardiola could certainly fix that.
He has the authority to follow Ferguson, Wenger and Mourinho and turn his new English club into an authentic international brand that could potentially dominate in Europe.
But it's a bit hard to win the Champions League when you're not in it.
I don’t think I lose any control. If you see the attitude of the team today, (it) reflects they are all involved in what we want to do. All the players are focused in this season and they want to finish as near to the top of the table as we can.
— Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini insists he hasn’t lost control of his team
Every season is different. You have the right to ask what you want, I have the right to answer what I want. We dominated the game. We had 26 chances. We missed clear chances to score.
— Pellegrini not in the mood to examine the reasons why City’s tally of 51 points from 30 league matches is their most meagre haul in the last five seasons
LVG: It's in our hands
HOME RUN: United boss Louis van Gaal (above) is confident of a good run as they play five of their remaining eight games at home.
Louis van Gaal believes Manchester United have a great chance of securing Champions League football after coming through a "test of survival" at rivals Manchester City.
Last Thursday's Europa League exit to Liverpool means only a top-four finish will do if United are to return to European football's top table.
Van Gaal admitted in the build-up to yesterday morning's (Singapore time) match that defeat would all but extinguish their Champions League hopes, but his side did well to close the gap on misfiring City.
Marcus Rashford's first-half strike at the Etihad Stadium saw his first Manchester Derby end in a 1-0 win, making his manager believe a top-four finish is within their grasp.
"I have said in advance that we must win this game and we have done it, so I am very happy because otherwise, the gap was too big if they had won," van Gaal said.
"Now it is in our own hands. We have to win our games, we have more home matches than away matches. We don't lose so much at Old Trafford, so we have a big chance."
Van Gaal says that the belief was palpable in the dressing room after a match which left him proud, after their Europa League exertions.
"I think that we have played a fantastic first half," he said.
"We started the second half again very good and had the first chances - after that, it was a test of survival because we were very tired.
"We have to recover within two days - that is nearly not possible and especially not when you play a game against Liverpool like we have done.
"We have given everything to beat Liverpool and then you have to play City. You have seen, for example, their result at Southampton - half-time 0-2, final time 3-2.
"I have not seen the match, but I can only conclude that it is because of the tiredness. That is what we have done to them.
"My players have fought to the end with cramp - Marcus Rashford could still run with cramp. I have never seen that!"
Van Gaal's comments came in response to a question about United targeting City's injury-hit defence.
While coy when asked at the press conference, he revealed more in the broadcast interviews, especially on City centre back Martin Demichelis.
"Rashford is very quick and Demichelis looked like the years are catching up with him," he said.
"He was a very good defender, he was my centre back in Bayern, but that is the life of football."
Demichelis had a torrid outing at the Etihad Stadium, not only being embarrassed by Rashford, but also providing the woeful backpass that led Joe Hart to suffer a calf injury.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini rejected the suggestion that Rashford was too good for Demichelis, although accepted his substitution early in the second half was a result of a bad day at the office.
"He was nervous," Pellegrini said, having taken him off in the 53rd minute. "He was not having a good day."
- PA Sport.
Martin Demichelis endured a dreadful Manchester Derby as he was at fault for the goal and was substituted in the second half to save him from further embarassment. Here are six stats about the Argentina defender.
Manchester City have lost 41 per cent of the 17 matches that he has started this season.
City have kept just three clean sheets in the EPL with Demichelis in the side. Without him? Nine clean sheets.
Demichelis averages fewest tackles (1.1 per game) among City's defenders - Otamendi (3.1), Zabaleta (2.6), Clichy (2.3), Sagna (1.8), Mangala (1.5), Kompany (1.5), Kolarov (1.2).
At 35 years and 91 days, Demichelis is City's oldest outfield player.
City have started just two EPL games with Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala. They lost them both at the Etihad - 4-1 to Liverpool and 1-0 to Manchester United.
Demichelis said at the start of the season that he will rejoin former club River Plate in his native Argentina next term.
- Wire Services.