Money shouldn’t buy boring football: Neil Humphreys
Wealthy Man City have lost attacking urgency and become dull to watch
Manchester City are judged differently because they spend differently. More than a billion pounds should buy more than boring football.
Pep Guardiola has revealed a persecution complex in the past, insisting his players are held to higher standards than his rivals.
He's right. They are. That's the enviable price to pay when £1.42 billion (S$2.55b) is spent across a decade - the highest outlay in the English Premier League.
A bottomless money pit must produce something more agreeable than the dull 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion yesterday morning (Singapore time) and the sluggish Manchester Derby last weekend.
Guardiola's repeated lament about a striker shortage in the world's most expensive squad merits only the faint strains of the world's smallest violin. How much sympathy is the Spaniard expecting here?
Against the most mercurial Manchester United side in recent memory and the relegation-threatened Baggies, City managed a single goal across two games as their manager's broken record played out.
Sergio Aguero isn't match fit. Gabriel Jesus performs wonders that cannot be fathomed in defence. Aguero still isn't match-fit. Jesus continues to perform wonders… and you get the idea.
The aura is fading. The dizzying artistry has dissipated.
Not that City are alone in this regard. If there are any straws to clutch from such a difficult campaign, then it's the possible end of the duopoly. Titles won't be won with 99 points this time around. Anything in the mid-80s could suffice.
The pre-season upheaval has levelled the playing field in the sense that superior sides have been dragged closer to a middling inconsistency.
City, for example, have five points fewer than they did at the same stage last year. But after 12 games, they are still closer to the top of the table than last year.
So there may be a willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt.
But the impressive work of Southampton's Ralph Hasenhuettl, Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers and even West Ham United's David Moyes might suggest otherwise.
City's attacking deficiencies are nothing new. Ilkay Guendogan's opener against West Brom was only their 18th league goal of the season. After 12 EPL games last season, City had scored 35 times.
Aguero returned from his pre-season break out of sorts and noticeably overweight. The 32-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and his body language indicates that his mind might be elsewhere.
The Argentinian managed a 14-minute cameo against West Brom, but barely resembled the scampering dynamo of previous campaigns.
Guardiola has used Aguero just six times this season.
The manager faces the Catch-22 selection dilemma of relying on Aguero as an impact sub, but the striker lacks the match fitness required to be an impact sub - because he's being used as an impact sub.
Confusing? Try unravelling the impressive knots that Guardiola continues to tie himself in as he justifies the continued selection of his Brazilian enigma.
Jesus has teased glimpses of being Aguero's natural successor for three years, without entirely convincing. His latest goal drought extends to seven games.
Guardiola hasn't addressed City's lack of striking options in previous transfer windows, relying on Jesus to realise his full potential and Aguero to recapture former glories. Neither has happened.
As a consequence, Guardiola has adopted an unexpected, conservative approach to cagey contests. His Plan B worked, sort of, in the Manchester Derby. City didn't lose, like they did three times to United last season.
But the contest was a washout. City managed 54 per cent possession against a counter-attacking United that typically lets opponents play among themselves.
Certainly, any football is a more attractive proposition than no football at present. But there was close to no football in the Manchester Derby and little to speak of against the Baggies either.
Instead, Guardiola praised a misfiring striker for his defensive contributions against relegation candidates. How the mighty are toiling.
The 49-year-old has no divine right to silverware. But the club and their supporters should probably expect a better return on their investment than this tiresome drivel.