The defeat in the Carling Cup I could take with a shrug, for me the positives of the performance far outweighed getting knocked out so early in the competition. The young players acquitted themselves well, the team showed terrific character to fight back and wrestle control of the game with a man less. On another day, with another keeper (Sorry Turnbull, back to the goalkeeping drawing board son) we probably would have won. The result at Eastlands however could only be viewed as a disappointment. In what was a tight game we dominated much of the play but came unstuck in an all too obvious fashion. I think we all knew how City would approach Saturday and that’s what made the result so galling. They packed the midfield with bruisers, hustled us into mistakes and hoped for a counter-attack. It duly arrived after a catalogue of minor errors following our own attack and the monkey headed gimp, Tevez, was on hand to punish us again. I’m sick of the sight of the Argentine celebrating against us, not least because his gurning mug could earn first prize at an Egremont fair. We have, of course, been here before with Mancini’s City when they came to the Bridge and played the same trick to convincingly dismantle our defence. It looked as though the lessons had been learnt as we edged the majority of the game only to lack concentration at a decisive moment. Let’s hope we don’t fall for the same tactic next time.
It might have been different if Essien had his shooting boots on or Ivanovic’s header was an inch lower. When a match is so tight it is these ‘if only’ moments that ultimately make the difference. It’s important to take key chances and for once it was something we failed to do. Even with Drogba having an off day we still had enough chances to grab the three points. Perhaps what we were missing was experience on the bench, the final pass or wrong decision in the last third ultimately cost us. I think Kalou’s direct running and the guile of Benayoun could have snatched an equaliser and it’s unfortunate that injuries have struck at such a crucial time. The next two matches could be vital to the season and it’s up to the young players to prove what they can do. In both of the last two fixtures I’ve been very impressed with Josh McEachran. He has a great touch, excellent vision, can take players on and has that Makélelé knack of finding time and space on the ball. Kakuta and Sturridge are exciting players but haven’t quite found consistency and are perhaps guilty of trying too hard. The more minutes the young players get this season undoubtedly the better they’ll become. It would be fantastic to see one of these lads stake a claim for the first team while our more senior players are missing.
The rest of the results over the weekend went for us and softened the blow. United were quite fortunate not to suffer defeat, Arsenal’s luck was in keeping the score down. It seems City gained the most but there remains doubts about whether they have enough to open up stubborn sides. I can definitely see Mancini’s team taking more points off other title contenders but they may find it difficult when another team employs similar defensive tactics. Man United continue to look vulnerable and next Sunday’s game against Arsenal should tell us where they stand in the title race. Spurs and Liverpool meanwhile both look a long way off the pace to mount any serious challenge. A lot like last season I think we can be our own worst enemies at times. Cutting out the silly mistakes (such as Paulo’s and Ramires’s) and playing to our strengths should be enough to keep that gap at the top.
Although it is still early in the season the next home games could be crucial to how the season pans out. Marseille are serious contenders to top the Champions League group and Arsenal will be desperate to underline their credentials for the title. Two wins in six days would leave us in an enviable position before the international break. The break would be welcome, we could be considerably stronger if Lampard, Yossi, Kalou and Bosingwa are fit enough to return in a few weeks time. The next two games should tell us what the side has learnt from the previous defeats and if the young generation are ready to make an impact.