Pellegrini needs to find a travel sickness cure

Posted by David Mooney

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesEven hot-shot Sergio Aguero drew a blank against Sunderland.

The world continues to spin on its axis, oranges remain orange, the old lady from downstairs still takes a keen interest in everything going on at your flat, and, of course, Manchester City lose at Sunderland. Just another regular day. The Wearside tradition of the 1-0 defeat, as predictable and tiresome as it now is, was duly upheld this weekend. When the Blues had the chance to close the gap on both Arsenal and Chelsea, they not so much fluffed their lines, but were reading from the wrong script entirely.

The season that City won the Premier League, the Blues had 31 points by this stage. Last season, when the club meandered into second place, they had 25. Continuing the steady six-point drop, they currently have 19. In the whole of that title-winning 2011-12 campaign, City lost five games -- they've already lost four this time around.

The title can't be won in November, but City could rule themselves out of it this early if they're not careful. The tricky matter of the away form -- which has plagued the club for the whole calendar year of 2013 -- is where the Blues are coming unstuck. In short, it's desperate.

- Randall: Beating City is the Sunderland habit
- Curtis: More points scattered to the four winds

Fans can point to recent wins against CSKA Moscow or Viktoria Plzen or Newcastle, but they count for nothing in the hunt for the Premier League title, and one win from six on the road this season simply isn't good enough, especially when only one of the teams played currently inhabits the top half of the table.

Why is it that a team that looks like they'll demolish any team that isn't Bayern Munich at home can look so inept and out of ideas when leaving the comfort of the Etihad? This will be by no means a comprehensive set of factors, but some will be key: motivation, mindset, confidence, tactics, and individual errors.

The defeat on Sunday seemed to show up the visitors' lack of work rate more than anything else. As the Black Cats pressed and harried and hassled and packed the box, City kept possession and strolled around the edge of the area, taking too many touches and remaining too static off the ball. It was as if the players assumed they would find the breakthrough, with the realisation that it might not happen only clicking in around the 80th minute, whereby things began to get a bit rushed and desperate. But it was too little, too late.

When a team has been on such a wretched run of away form -- which City undeniably are after taking just five wins from a possible 15 in the Premier League in 2013 -- it can become difficult to snap out of it. The longer the poor run goes on, the heavier the burden on players' shoulders. They get nervous. They make bad decisions. There's a mental block that is difficult to push out of the way without a run of good performances and results -- the Blues are yet to win two consecutive away league games this year, the previous being Norwich and Arsenal over December 2012 and January 2013.

This has a knock-on effect on the club's confidence; Sergio Aguero has been banging the goals in for fun in recent weeks, yet on Sunday didn't seem able to have a decent shot and the only one he managed was tipped around the post. Yaya Toure has been a driving force going forward for the Blues this season, but take out Fernandinho and he looked lost. Samir Nasri has been showing perhaps the best form since he signed, but he just could not get going on Wearside. When was the last time James Milner got knocked off the ball so easily?

A large portion of the 2013-14 away form blame, though, must fall to the manager. Manuel Pellegrini's rigid 4-4-2 system has at times been exploited by high-intensity pressing from the opposition, but he's seemed unwilling to change it. At Cardiff and Sunderland, the Blues saw a lot of the ball but had no way through once they got it into their opponents' half. Every player had two men closing him down and, with no options but sideways or backwards City were, effectively, playing wallie -- they'd end up putting it in the box, only for it to come out again.

It was like a version of the hokey-cokey: In, out, in, out, in, out, boot it over the bar from range. Repeat.

Meanwhile, the defeats at Aston Villa and Chelsea were caused by those two words dreaded by every manager: individual errors. Hart was culpable, as was Matija Nastasic and Vincent Kompany, as was Gael Clichy, as was Pablo Zabaleta. It's been like a house of cards built on an old washing machine -- on the verge of collapse from the very get-go.

Mix all of those aspects up and it's a recipe for disaster. With trips to West Brom, Southampton and Fulham on the horizon, Pellegrini has work to do if he doesn't want this Premier League campaign to be a damp squib. He needs to find a travel sickness cure, and fast.


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