Football came home again but should it have stayed away for at least a few more months? it was all very low key, except for the showing of respect for the BLM movement and the ten thousands of C19 victims. It always rains in Manchester and so it did last night of course, and in more than one way: cats and dogs a plenty but no fans and no atmosphere. It all felt wrong.
Sorry to be so glum.
There is not too much to say about the game but there were some silver linings above the MC stadium:
- Leno was our best man and saved us from a total embarrassment with fine, decisive saves throughout the game;
- Bellerin and Tierney defended the flanks with energy and focus, even though the link-up play with the wide-attackers remains a work in progress;
- Guendouzi had a good start and Ceballos showed willingness to get stuck in, and he gave us some breathing space with dribbling and passing;
- Mustafi had an energetic and focussed game and he and Mari started strong;
- Saka had some quality moments but it looked a compromise by Arteta to play him on the right wing.
This was always going to be difficult game for so many reasons. To start with the journey to the wet North was a bizarre one; that is no way of preparing for a game of this magnitude. Man City are a class apart and the injuries to both Xhaka and Mari totally scuppered Arteta’s plans for the night. Initially, these plans looked promising and they gave me hope. Once Xhaka was taken off we missed a DM-minded player, and even though Guendo and Ceballos tried hard they were no match to the MC midfield. It was really game over after 20 minutes.
Leno did everything to avoid the inevitable, but, as it is a team sport, there is always somebody who can undo all your good work. Luiz, who had come on for Mari, singlehandedly made sure we would go home with nothing and leave the fans with a feeling somewhere between melancholy and despair.
I guess the good thing is that Arteta will use this game to finalise some conclusions he has been working on for the last few months. Next up, in just a couple of days, are the Seagulls. I am sure Mikel will now know who he will start and what his strongest-11, or there about, will look like for the next few months.