The Debris of Derbies

A little beef here…

Let’s not sugarcoat it: this was a piece of shit “super” Sunday. Two derby games everyone’s been bracing for went totally wrong. The show has been stolen by an incredible comeback pulled off by Southampton against Southampton B… oh, pardon me, Liverpool. Moreover, Spurs have casually smashed Bournemouth to pieces. Once again that the only smidgeon of consistency in this clusterfuck of a league has been provided by the teams that are occupying the two top spots. Once again, everyone else has struggled like hell to at least string two decent performances in a row. And eventually, the results that I witnessed personally only made the existing picture less and less clear. Is this really what we, fans are doomed to watch until the May? Are we doomed to watch an absolute mess of random results pulled off by by few bunches of lads who are playing as if they were loose cannons?

Before this week, there was at least one stable constant, one kiln, one anchor every Premier League fan could hold on to. Newcastle United were destined to lose to Sunderland, thus feeding their local rivals with the six points necessary to stay up. They were all set to play yet another horrible, horrible, low-skill and chaotic game against a team arguably worse than them – and still lose it somehow in the end. After six defeats in a row, there was no escape from such fate. A team on a atrocious run of form, a team with eleven injuries and Jack Colback being forced to cover for a left-back position wasn’t going to get anything from Big Sam and his boring but fairly solid footballing side. Even the bookies were giving 2.3 co-efficiency for both Newcastle win and a draw while Sunderland’s win has been given only marginally better 2.5 return. So – at least that result was a safe bet.

But it didn’t materialize. For 90 minutes, the game was horrible – just as expected. For 39 minutes, the game was in Sunderland’s hands – just as expected. For an unthinkable amount of time, the neutral spectators were watching two inept teams battling it out with all of their hearts and none of their actual, modest, footballing abilities. Just. As. Expected. After smashing the side of the net so hard that he caused a massive cheer on the Mackems’ end, Jermain Defoe has finally pulled his team ahead. Expected? Sure it was. Meanwhile, Geordie defenders were repeatedly caught out ball-watching instead of doing what they are being paid for. All business as usual. Even Rob Elliot, as miserable as ever in the Toons’ goal, played his usual part, repeatedly saving the home side from a 0-2 scoreline. Everything has been falling into the right place. Until 1-1 happened.

Now, one might attribute the equalizer to Sam Allardyce’s reluctance. He basically refused to make his players do anything in the second half, condemning them to defending a 1-0 lead. Of course, in many instances in the past, a team that would try such Neanderthal tactics would be promptly punished. From a historical point of view, Sunderland’s decision to scrape a one-goal win might have been incorrect – but let’s not forget it’s Newcastle United we’re talking about. If there’s a one Premier League team out there unlikely to come back from trailing in a football match – it’s them. I even checked – since August 2010, Magpies have won only seven league games in which they’d concede first. Forcing a team so poor going forward (it’s been two months since they’ve last scored more than once in a single game) to show their cards made a lot of sense. But this time, it backfired.

When Mitrović managed to outjump Yedlin and bag the Wijnaldum’s cross into the net, I was mildly disappointed. Not just because Newcastle didn’t deserve to get anything from this game – it’s because after this draw, both of those terrible, sloppy teams were inevitably going to come up with post-match quotes like ‘we’re going to build on this result’ or ‘it’s a sign of improvement’ and blah blah blah. Both still are and will be going further and further down the rabbit hole of denial and excuses when in fact neither of them deserves another Premier League shot next season. Hell, even Norwich, useless as they’ve been these days, have at least beaten Manchester United and Southampton and shown some fine footballers like Robbie Brady or Wes Hoolahan! Two years from now, who will we remember from these Northlands’ sides? Khazri? Wijnaldum? M’Vila? Janmaat? I don’t think so.

I could probably end the story of that garbage game right here, but the league struggle for survival continues. Two weeks from now, Newcastle will kicking and screaming at Carrow Road, trying to close-up the 3 point gap between them and The Canaries. At the same time, Sunderland will be hosting the (nearly) unbreakable Tony Pulis’ side. A single winning game for either side in those two encounters can now turn the tables in the relegation dogfight.

But that’s not the end of story. Crystal Palace, who lost yet another game this weekend, are now going to take their business to West Ham – and another (likely) defeat there will drop them directly into the depths of Norwich vs Newcastle vs Sunderland struggle. They might have the better side than those teams – they’ve murdered Toons 5-1, took out Canaries 3-1 and lost 0-1 to Black Cats after pressing for an entire game and conceding a blooter. However, with the recent run of games (no Premier League wins since December 19th), Alan Pardew and his lads could find themselves on the ropes soon.

…and a little beef there. Not much entertainment, though.

Moving on from this match, there was another very intriguing derby game in the Sunday tank. In the past, Manchester matches between United and City used to be filled with excitement and surprise. I still remember David Beckham being showered with the coins thrown on the pitch by rabid MC fans while he was taking the corners; I still remember an outrageous drama of ‘Fergie Time’ in 2009, when ageing Michael Owen had his last say. I also remember David Silva’s blinder four years ago, when he would repeatedly escape from any Red Devils’ surveillance to open space and create a 6-1 scoreline. Yeah, the nostalgia… Now, back to the planet Earth: those two teams have played a 0-0 borefest earlier this season – and this game was all set for repeating the same story. Mediocre form from both sides, a tough fixture, two managers unwilling to bet the house on a win…

To be fair, it would’ve been certainly a draw if not for what happened the last Tuesday, when both Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi have picked up the injuries early in the Champions League game against Dynamo Kiev. For Manuel Pellegrini, this was a painful return to the square one – and, believe it or not, in a bombastically rich club like Manchester City, ‘square one’ still means playing Martin Demichelis in the first eleven. Now, how that man has received a contract offer from Citizens will always remain a mystery. Still, even more mysterious is how he kept his place at Etihad despite being a constant defensive liability for the last three years! Fair enough: the guy can win headers and has an okay passing ability – but he makes way too many errors and, at the age of 35, his pace has gone with the wind. On Sunday, all those features – good and bad – have come back into play.

The Argentinian was at fault three times. He would horribly overcommit to the challenge on Marcus Rashford, allow the teenager to run away from him and place the ball in the back of Joe Hart’s net. Six minutes after that, Demichelis should have redeemed himself with a close-range header following David Silva’s set piece cross – but he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, he didn’t. It went from worse to bad just before the half-time, when the centre-back failed to keep tabs on Rashford again and conceded a penalty… that has not been given. Finally, just after the restart, a sloppy back-pass to Hart has forced the City goalkeeper to go into a hazardous challenge which costed him an injury. Pellegrini had enough. Seven minutes later, the ex-Bayern defender has been subbed off and replaced by Wilfried Bony.

Does this report of Demichelis’ activity qualify as scapegoating? Well – if it does, there were at least couple more lads who should be confessing their sins after this defeat. For the team in blue has taken a commanding control over the game from the 46th minute onwards and absolutely had to score at least an equalizer. And they would – if only they had Kevin De Bruyne available for this match. Instead of the injured Belgian, we’ve seen Jesús Navas having possibly the worst games for the Citizens since he first pulled on the club’s shirt. The way ex-Sevilla man has finished his golden chance in the 7th minute was only a sign of the things to come. Just like many times in the past, we’ve seen him wasting team’s effort by trying what he simply can’t do: smashing the ball into the back of the net. The Spaniard had a fifteen-month long goalless spell before he broke it against Everton in January. If he keeps up doing what he did on Sunday – he will break that infamous record in no time.

As of other MC’s attacking players: this time, they ran into a rock named Matteo Darmian. The Italian had a topsy-turvy campaign so far with quite a few yellow cards, fitness problems and straight-up poor performances like the one at Wolfsburg in December. This time, against a dangerous opponent, he was absolutely on top of his game with 7 clearances, 3 tackles, 2 dribbles and one interception under his belt. If it wasn’t for Daley Blind, who had even better time against Sergio Agüero, Darmian would’ve been Man of the Match. Still, those two have basically busted all Citizens’ attempts. Out of 26 (!) shots blasted towards De Gea’s goal, 16 went wide, seven were blocked and only three required DDG’s craft to shine. To put it simply – some proper bus-parking, if we’ve ever seen one.

It’s not the first time City had difficulties at breaking the deadlock against utterly defensive opposition coming to their stadium. West Ham in September; Everton in January; Leicester six weeks ago… The cutting edge in front of the goal was simply not there even though the team can now enjoy Sergio Agüero back to form and fitness. In derby, Kun was trying really hard, no doubt about it – 67 minutes into the game, only the woodwork has saved De Gea from being beaten by the Argentinian striker. However, later on, it became crystal clear that his forward partnership with lackluster substitute Wilfired Bony does not work at all and that Pellegrini’s team is on mercy of Navas’ finishing – not exactly the place one would like to be. Even David Silva’s mildly positive impact couldn’t do any good against goalscoring impotence.

So this was the last straw. After picking up only 36 points out of 75 to take in the last 25 Premier League games, City definitely can’t win the league this season anymore. Hell, even breaking into the top 3 and earning a Champions League spot is in danger. With Hart and Sterling being now reportedly sidelined for at least a month, with immensely strong Paris SG lurking around the corner, things are looking grim for the team from Etihad. This weekend, they saw so many of their fans leaving the stands long before the final whistle with disgust. Let’s face it: it’s not about earning glory anymore – this season is already about cutting losses.

Same can be told about Manchester United. Hours after we found out about MU’s preliminary agreement regarding Jose Mourinho’s appointment, the team is out of all cup competitions, out of Europa League and desperately tries to make a bid for the top three. All of this while Louis van Gaal keeps insisting that nothing bad has really been going on. So, if anyone asked themselves how on Earth two seemingly prestigious derby matches have gone to rocks so hard these days, here’s the answer: they did, because it’s participants have declined.

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