Neil Humphreys: How Man City turned from champs to chumps
CRYSTAL PALACE 2
(Glenn Murray 34, Jason Puncheon 48)
MAN CITY 1
(Yaya Toure 78)
1 No country for old men
Gary Neville pointed that Manchester City's average age was almost 29. Chelsea's average age was 26.9. He made the comparison in September.
By last month, age had withered City's title challenge. Experience can earn a title, but Manuel Pellegrini's plodders resemble the cast of Cocoon.
On New Year's Day, City went level on points with Chelsea but, after losing Yaya Toure to the African Nations Cup, they also lost their momentum, relying on old warhorses to carry them through the final furlong.
Pellegrini's most positive move against Crystal Palace was to bring on Frank Lampard, which allowed Toure to push forward (and subsequently score).
Lampard will be 37 in June. His legendary status is assured at Chelsea, but his place most certainly wasn't.
Jose Mourinho brushed romance aside. Nemanja Matic brushed Lampard aside. There is no one in the City line-up who comes close to rivaling Matic's title-chasing dynamism.
The best impression came from Lampard, a fading force heading towards an American sunset. That's a scathing indictment of Pellegrini's conservative transfer policy.
He spent millions only to rely on a rejected Chelsea pensioner. That's reason enough to sack the hapless Chilean.
2 From jubilant to Jurassic
As there isn't a postage stamp nearby to write out Pellegrini's tactical strategy in full, let's all say it together. He plays 4-4-2. That's it. My apologies if such a detailed, cerebral analysis of City's game requires a lie down in a darkened room.
City trot out at Jurassic Park like dinosaurs cloned from the football DNA of a previous century.
After Christmas, Brendan Rodgers tweaked. He switched to a back three and pushed up Jordan Henderson.
In the New Year, Arsene Wenger did the opposite. He threw down an anchor in Francis Coquelin and stabilised Arsenal's defence.
Pellegrini changed nothing. He persisted with a predictable formation that often doesn't suit his players.
Sergio Aguero doesn't benefit from a conventional winger like Jesus Navas. David Silva's trickery breaks down when he bumps into the bulky Edin Dzeko. If Silva and Samir Nasri cut inside, Toure must retreat and cover.
And on it goes.
Jose Mourinho selects players who fit his preferred 4-2-3-1 system with forensic precision (a system that quickly morphs into a 4-1-4-1 counter-attacking offensive.)
Pellegrini threw big-money signings into a restrictive formation and hoped for the best. He failed. Even Crystal Palace's more fluid 4-1-4-1 found space between City's bulging wallets to score twice.
3 A fractured spine
It started with the missing birthday cake last May. Toure hasn't been quite the same since. His fine goal yesterday morning (Singapore time) failed to mask the midfielder's malaise.
He has drifted towards indifference. At the same venue last season, Toure terrorised Palace.
But that Toure has left the building. Perhaps fatigue caught up with him.
The 31-year-old managed six goals in eight games before Christmas and delivered for the Ivory Coast at the African Nations Cup, but he returned with depleted batteries.
His ludicrous claim that he wasn't shown any respect when the club forgot the multi-millionaire's birthday was preposterous, but indicative of Pellegrini's dressing room.
Such nonsense wouldn't be tolerated under Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson.
And if Toure didn't get his cake, his skipper seems to have eaten one too many.
Vincent Kompany has been a yard off his game for most of the season. City laboured with a brittle spine in key games, reducing their mobility. They've lost their backbone.
4 Shocking signings
Pellegrini's contingency plans were ripped apart by the club's dreadful transfer dealings.
Kompany's form undoubtedly suffered, but his manager's inability to find a regular partner didn't help.
At a price of £42 million ($85m), Eliaquim Mangala may become one of the worst buys in EPL history.
Martin Demichelis fared slightly better, but Fernando, signed for £12m, never got off the bench at Palace (nor did Mangala).
At £14.9m, Navas has rarely flattered and never deceived. He's been consistent only in his inconsistency.
Alvaro Negredo (£16.4m) has already been shown the door and Stevan Jovetic (£22m) is likely to join him.
More than £100m were spent and not one signing was a notable upgrade on existing personnel.
When aching limbs took their toll at Palace, Pellegrini turned to his bench.
Besides Lampard, he brought on James Milner and Samir Nasri.
He signed neither player.
5 City don't learn from history
Critics are blaming City's lack of mental strength for failing to retain titles, but the problem goes deeper than that.
City are doomed to a boom and bust cycle of success and despair unless they learn lessons from history.
Put simply, no English club have achieved sustained success by adopting City's quick fix philosophy of buying only established brands.
Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea (and Liverpool in the pre-Premier League era) combined astute signings with hand-reared players (Chelsea just about qualify with Petr Cech, John Terry, Lampard and Didier Drogba).
City's insistence that if they throw enough money at the wall, quality will eventually stick is a short-term philosophy borrowed from the title-winning Blackburn Rovers side of 1995.
Young players join City to watch their salaries grow and their careers shrink from the bench.
With one eye always on the looming axe, impatient managers cannot take the risk. Such a cautious approach buys the odd Premier League title, but it doesn't buy pedigree. City's dreams of empire are no closer to becoming reality.
When you win championships, you’ve got to be able to come back again and show the same hunger. They don’t. They drop off it. They get to the top of the mountain and say, ‘Phew, we did it’. It’s the worst thing that can happen.
— Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville on Manchester City
- v QPR (A)
- v Man United (H)
- v Arsenal (A)
- v Leicester (A)
- v Crystal Palace (H)
- v Liverpool (H)
- v West Brom (A)
- v Sunderland (H)
- v Man United (A)
- v West Ham (H)
- v Aston Villa (H)
- v Tottenham (A)
- v QPR (H)
- v Swansea (A)
- v Southampton (H)
CHELSEA: 13 pts MAN CITY: 8 pts A 1-0 loss to Stoke (right) and draws with Arsenal (2-2) and Chelsea (1-1) mean City slip to sixth after five matches.
CHELSEA: 23 pts MAN CITY: 17 pts City drop to third after a 2-1 loss to West Ham (right). A League Cup exit follows after a 2-0 defeat by Newcastle.
CHELSEA: 46 pts MAN CITY: 46 pts On New Year’s Day, City move level on points after Chelsea’s 5-3 loss to Tottenham.
CHELSEA: 70 pts MAN CITY: 61 pts Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Liverpool and Man United’s 3-1 beating of Aston Villa see them overtake City, who fail to move back to second spot after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace yesterday morning (Singapore time).
BY THE NUMBERS
Crystal Palace striker Glenn Murray, who scored the opener in their 2-1 win over Man City, has bagged five goals in as many games. The 31-year-old journeyman would have joined Reading on loan in January if former manager Neil Warnock had not been sacked.