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Manchester City Fan View: Understrength City suffer St. Mary’s stuffing

The story of Manchester City’s 4-2 defeat at Southampton on Sunday is a familiar and well worn one, and one that could be the final game in a blue shirt for a couple of players.
Manchester City’s 4-2 defeat at Southampton on Sunday is a familiar and well worn one. The Blues have rehearsed this act so many times this season that they now have it nailed; so well, in fact, that the understudies have it perfected too.

Farcical defending, a midfield offering no protection to the back four and a turgid team performance were all on display, as was that one glimmer of light provided by an extremely talented young man up front who can hold his head higher than the rest. It’s a story so often repeated this season that I could quite easily write a template and change only the incidental details every time City come up against a top eight side.

Manuel Pellegrini clearly had more than one eye on the upcoming match against Real Madrid when he selected his starting line-up. Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany were all absent from the first 11, each of them being protected for that huge Champions League semi-final tie where City must be resilient at the back and sharp up front if they are to have a chance of progressing to the final.

That decision was understandable and, to mind, the right one. It would be easy to apply the benefit of hindsight and say that the result is proof that the team selection was wrong, but I don’t believe that to be the case and it would be missing the point somewhat. Barring Wilfried Bony, every single player in a City shirt has previously proven himself a worthy first teamer.

Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi once again played they had never met each other before, rather than as a defensive partnership that cost over £70m to assemble. The price tags are not their fault, of course, but they do mean that City have to take the criticism for so far failing to turn that investment into something resembling a decent defence.

Pablo Zabaleta, so often the most trustworthy of right backs, is no longer very trustworthy at all. It’s impossible to be angry about the fact that the Argentine is no longer the force he was, instead it is with great sadness that many Blues will accept the time has come to move the self-declared honourary Mancunian on in the summer. He’s never stopped being a fighter and his love for the club is clearly undiminished, but if anybody retained hope that his 31 year old legs could still do the job for a City team wanting to compete for trophies on all fronts next season, Southampton’s Dusan Tadić extinguished those hopes on Sunday. He had turned Zabaleta inside out within the first 30 seconds of the game, setting the tone for the defender’s afternoon. If this is his swansong, it’s an upsetting one. He may have a battle or two left in him but long term, his tenacity and intensity appears to have caught up with him; his future almost certainly lies elsewhere. That won’t stop it being a sad day when he departs.

Up front, we were treated to strike partners that could not have summed up their respective seasons more perfectly. Wilfried Bony was flat-footed, cumbersome and out of touch; it was easy to forget he was on the pitch at all. Kelechi Iheanacho, however, scored two excellent goals that proved why he is City’s great young hope. He should have started more often this season – if he had, City would be in a much healthier position.

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Manchester City Fan View: Understrength City suffer St. Mary’s stuffing

This was the third time the Blues have conceded four goals in a single league game this season, as well being their tenth defeat. That is completely unacceptable. Fortunately, the current manager won’t be around for a summer inquest. Of course, a good result on Wednesday night would go some way to alleviating the frustrations of this underwhelming domestic campaign. Pellegrini’s legacy will depend on it.

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