Football

End of the road

The defending Premier League champions are on their last legs.

They are dragging themselves across the finish line.

Manchester City's title challenge fizzled out quicker than a pricked beach ball.

A troubled spell starting from about the turn of the year saw Chelsea surge ahead in the Premiership race. Then three defeats in City's last five Premiership outings all but ended their chances of retaining their crown.

They enter tonight's Manchester Derby with mere hopes of preserving top-four status at the end of the term.

But there may not even be a chance of a fresh start for this cohort.

City's policy of going for the tried-and-tested is returning to haunt them.

No other team in Europe's top four leagues have an older starting 11 than City, who average 29.2 years.

Compare that with United's 26.8, Chelsea's 26.7 and Arsenal's 25.7, and it's tempting to assume that City's current generation has reached the end of the rainbow.

Of the 10 outfield players who started in the 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace last Monday, all except for Sergio Aguero are now 29 and above.

The core through which City's brilliance flowed through during their championship-winning campaigns of 2011/12 and 2013/14 has undergone its fair share of wear and tear.

Skipper Vincent Kompany, under fire for his recent poor performances, is 29, and so is David Silva, their midfield dynamo.

The jaded-looking Yaya Toure is 31, but playing like he is way older. Even Pablo Zabaleta, City's Mr Reliable, has hit 30.

The system is in urgent need of a reboot, but City are in dire straits.

In their hasty search for rich pickings, City have neglected the very essence that builds lasting reigns: Constant renewal.

Eliaquim Mangala, 24, and Stevan Jovetic, 25, have youth on their side but not the vote of confidence. Samir Nasri, 27, is unsettled and likely to move on once his nightmarish campaign is over.

That leaves the Citizens with 26-year-old Wilfried Bony and Aguero as the only other two players who look young and good enough to lead City into the next phase.

GRAVE CONCERN

The dearth of homegrown talent is another source of grave concern. There aren't any gems in the academy pipeline, certainly none ready for next season.

The rebuilding job that faces manager Manuel Pellegrini, if he is still around to oversee it, is a mammoth one.

Not only will he need to balance a healthy batch of new arrivals with an expected exodus, they must also balance the books, with the Financial Fair Play requirements in mind.

For some players, this Manchester Derby may be their last.

City can still rise to the occasion.

And they may well do so and inflict on the Red Devils an unexpected defeat, for they have a formidable group of players able to take on any team on their day.

But beyond that, they can't defy the law of nature.

This class is nearing the end of the road, and the longer City resist change, the worse things are going to become.


The last place City will want to go now is Old Trafford. Van Gaal has United playing exactly how he wants and they are finally getting it right. He has figured out his best team, after a lot of chopping and changing, and they are playing with confidence.

— Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson

Van Gaal’s side are an emerging team and United supporters are optimistic following significant wins. But City are the reverse, with an ageing team, one looking stale both tactically and in terms of personnel, going into the game with big question marks hanging over everybody at the club.

— Former United defender Gary Neville

Football