The title race is definitely over – A Week in the City

Joe Butterfield takes a look back at a week of perfectly rational fan behaviour.

UEFA Nations League A group 1"France v The Netherlands"
frenkie de Jong of the Netherlands during the UEFA Nations League A group 1 qualifying match between France and The Netherlands on September 09, 2018 at Stade de France in Saint Denis, France(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Frenkie is Jong gone

A tale with twists and turns at every corner, a conclusion which kept everybody in suspense right to the end, a blonde, blue-eyed protagonist. No, this isn’t the plot to The Sixth Sense, it’s the Frenkie de Jong transfer saga.

Since the summer of 2018, the highly-rated Ajax midfielder has been high on the list of priorities for a number of clubs, eventually turning into a three-way stand-off between Manchester City, Barcelona and PSG. Media reports changed on an almost daily basis for a short while, as one minute City had agreed personal terms, then the next minute PSG had also agreed personal terms and Frenkie had decided he would play in the French capital, where he could ply his trade against wine farmers and pâtissiers. Pretty shortly afterwards it became clear that he had in fact decided on the Spanish capital, as if somehow the illustrious history of Barcelona, following in the footsteps of Cruyff, Koemen and de Boer and winning numerous trophies on an annual basis could possibly compare to living in a studio apartment in cold, rainy Manchester.

I’m joking, of course, but only half. Whilst there’s obviously a lot more to coming to Manchester than rainy weather and roadworks on the Mancunian Way that make your journey to work which once lasted 20-25 minutes now take at least double that, it’s not difficult to see why Barcelona is the more appealing option for him. Ajax and Barcelona have a special relationship, as Cruyffian ideals run through both clubs and, let’s be honest, Barcelona is a much more appealing city to live in than Manchester.

As the transfer was announced by Barcelona, rather selfishly the day after I posted last week’s article in which I’d claimed “nothing really happened”, La Liga President Javier Tebas went into his documents on his laptop and deleted the multiple speeches and press releases he’d prepared in case Barcelona had missed out on their target. “Manchester City smear” and “PSG are run by filthy Arabs who are distorting football” were swiftly deleted and Tebas knew he would have to make no further comments to the media about the financial distortion of the transfer market as Barcelona surpassed €570 million spent in under 18 months.

The news of City’s failure to land another high-profile target, once again due to failing to match a transfer offer which went beyond their valuation of the player in question, raised a lot of questions among City fans, as it so often does. City’s transfer strategy has been, and continues to be, to have a valuation of a player that the club will not exceed under any circumstances. Combine this with the stance that once an agreement is made with a player and agent it will not be altered and City have a couple of brittle pillars holding up their transfers which can be easily knocked down when another club comes knocking.

In the long term it’s impossible to know how well it’ll work out for the club but in the short term it’ll certainly lead to more frustration among fans. An extra £5 million in the summer of 2017 would have got Alexis Sanchez into the club, an extra £5 million in the summer of 2018 would have got Jorginho before Chelsea had got involved. It’s a game of fine margins off the field as well as on it and whilst we don’t want to be seen as a team who can be easily pushed around in the market, we need to realise that paying a little bit extra may be necessary when it comes to the players we really want.

Personally, I don’t have an issue with us missing out on de Jong. I never really thought he was a proper replacement for Fernandinho, he’s not at all physical and relies entirely on his positioning and anticipation. There’s nothing wrong with that but in the Premier League it isn’t enough, a Kanté or Fernandinho type of physical, mobile player is what is required, at least in my opinion. Tanguy Ndombelé bossed the midfield during our game against Lyon at the Etihad and possesses both the passing ability and the physical strength to play the role perfectly.

Am I saying this because we missed out on de Jong? Partially, yes. Am I saying this because Ajax were absolutely roasted 6-2 by Feyenoord over the weekend in a game which saw de Jong entirely overrun? Partially, yes. Am I saying this because I think it’s true? Mostly, yes. Honest.

Mahrez, a professional footballer, wants to play football

Reports emerged some time last week that, after having been benched against Huddersfield in the Premier League, Riyad Mahrez has been frustrated at his lack of playing time of late. Needless to say, this upset a great deal of people who have Algerian flags in their twitter bios, names and/or pictures.

The simple way of looking at the situation is that Mahrez has done nothing in his appearances since joining the club to suggest that in a must-win game (which is what most, if not all, Premier League games have become) he warrants taking the place of either Sterling or Sané, the two most important players in the club’s attacking play over the last couple of months. I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, echoes of Anfield cheers ringing through my head as he hits that penalty.

It’s easy to see how he’s arrived here, however. He’s the club’s record signing and whilst that probably means little to nothing to Pep, who doesn’t decide how much he costs, it gives a player a fair reason to think he warrants starting more games than Mahrez has. He’s also come from Leicester where, along with Vardy, he was the star player and so it may take time for him to adjust to being a rotational player in a squad of very good players.

In my opinion he’s got very little to complain about. He had a purple patch in the aftermath of that penalty where he was involved in a string of Premier League games and did pretty well, he was even starting to win me, somebody who was incredibly cynical about his signing from the moment it happened, over. Since then it’s difficult to look at a game that hasn’t been against lower league opposition where he’s really had any impact. He’s struggled to make any real difference in a game when coming off the bench so even when he’s not starting, he’s not really the go-to substitution.

The other way of looking at Mahrez and his situation is that Bernardo Silva was eased into the squad last season. The inside-forward role on the wing seems to be one that Pep wanted to really drill into Bernardo and make sure he understood before playing him quite a lot towards the back end of the season. Mahrez currently seems very trigger-happy and willing to shoot from just about anywhere, still in the mindset of a player who has to do it all on his own as he did at Leicester when, almost every time, there’s a better passing option available to him. This would be something that Pep would have to ensure is drilled out of him and maybe this is the thought behind his approach.

Or maybe I’m wrong and Yaya Touré was right all along.


The title race was over until it wasn’t

The blues went up to the land of the Geordie on Tuesday night to play against Newcastle and, in a performance which was so appallingly bad that I must have known beforehand this would be the case and decided to go to a gig instead so I wouldn’t have to see it, lost. Naturally, this defeat led to a lot of perfectly well-balanced and not at all kneejerk reactions, as City fans adopted a long-term view.

Just kidding, everybody decided the title race is already over. And quite right too.

Liverpool are already four points ahead and City have lost four times in the league, including games against Crystal Palace, Leicester and Newcastle. Not exactly the defeats of a title-winner. Liverpool have the chance to extend their lead the following day against Leicester, who took points of us but we all know they’re going to find one of their worst performances of the season against a Liverpool team who are finding it very difficult to drop points.

They fully deserve it. Liverpool, I mean. They fully deserve this title. Sure they’ve played badly in numerous games and scraped wins, sure they’ve been a Mo Salah dive away from dropping points once or twice, sure there’s still fourteen games to play and they can be incredibly disrespectful and ungracious in that time, but they fully deserve it. Great club with classy fans. Mad respect. I’ll be dead gracious come mid-May when they lift that trophy as Martin Tyler ejaculates over the narrative. It’ll be fine when Scousers flood Raheem Sterling’s Instagram with abuse, telling him that he could have been part of history if he’d not been such a snake. You’ll Never Walk Alone, Raheem.

It’s the summer transfer window’s fault, you see. Why did we sign that bloody Mahrez fella? £60 million? It’s all on Txiki, this. Have you seen our transfer windows after title wins? We’re an absolute shambles of a club. It’s a wonder that we’ve only managed to win the league three times in seven years, it’s pathetic really. We should have signed Jorginho, he’d have fixed us, just look at Chelsea. We should have known Mendy’s knees would implode. Why didn’t Txiki see this coming?

I tell you what else is the problem – Pep. Pep is bald and he’s acting suspiciously like a fraud at the moment. I actually saw pictures of him looking grumpy during the game yesterday. Why is he looking grumpy when the strongest starting XI he’s put out all season is playing terribly against a relegation-threatened Newcastle? He’s not allowed to be annoyed, he should be skipping around the touchline with a smile on his face. I don’t think it’s time for him to go but if we suffer one more defeat this season I’m getting a banner ready and it’s not a nice one.

This is just typical City. I tell you what, nothing more perfectly encapsulates the typical city ethos than being in a close title race with fourteen games to play. Forget the games down in the bottom division, forget the financial ruin and the Swales era, this right here is exactly what typical City is all about. Seven points behind with fourteen games to play, it’s just classic Manchester City, we’ve always been like this. It’s…

Wait a minute, Liverpool just drew with Leicester? The gap is only five points with fourteen games to go? We still have a chance?!


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