Pitch perfect

Posted by David Mooney



Well, it wouldn't be an away victory for Manchester City without at least a tiny smidgen of controversy, would it? Maybe it's a by-product of the club's new 'boring media strategy' (which is a term I've just made up and immediately sounds like awful corporate speak), but it seems that the Blues must find their way into the headlines by doing things on the pitch rather than off it.

Manuel Pellegrini's chats to the waiting media are positively non-events. Week after week the Chilean produces press conferences that the attending journalists get nothing from. It's dull. Tedious. And, what's more, it's the same-old-same-old every Friday: Injuries, suspensions, "we will see how he is in the morning" or "I do my talking to my players in private".

- Curtis: Counting beans
- Brewin: Title City's to lose
- Report: Spurs 1-5 Man City
- Poll: Can anyone stop Man City?

It seems that, with so little coming from the dugout, the watching public are getting their outrage from the footballing action on the pitch. It started recently, with Cheick Tiote's disallowed goal at St James' Park, earlier in January.

In the 5-1 win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Wednesday, it came first via Michael Dawson's leveller that was chalked off through an offside flag. It was an issue that Match of the Day cleared up in seconds, while BT Sport debated endlessly and came to a conclusion different to that of the Spurs boss. Tim Sherwood conceded it was correct to have been ruled out, with Emmanuel Adebayor -- standing beyond the penultimate defensive player -- attempting to flick the cross on thus making him active, regardless of any touch the Togolese striker may have had, causing Dawson himself to be offside.

Next was the penalty. Referee Andre Marriner was reluctant to point to the spot and indeed looked as if he was going to play on, when his assistant put his flag across his chest. At this point, the red card was never in doubt -- Danny Rose had been adjudged to have denied a clear goalscoring opportunity (no jokes about the quality of Edin Dzeko's finishing that evening, please) so it was the only colour Marriner was going to pull out of his pocket.

The simple act of touching the ball doesn't make a tackle not a foul -- a two-footed, studs-showing lunge could swipe the ball and nothing else and still rightly be punished with a sending off. That's a bit of an extreme example, but you see my point. Just because a player touches the ball doesn't mean a free kick shouldn't be awarded.

However, in this case, Rose has been unfortunate: He has to do something to try and stop Dzeko from doubling City's advantage and he made nothing but an honest attempt to play the ball. In the end, he did get a good foot on it, but he had to catch the Bosnian's trailing leg to do it.

It's in instances like this that the old question of double-jeopardy arises: Tottenham have effectively been punished twice for the same offence. Rose was sent off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, but in conceding a penalty, the opportunity has been restored. It's one to debate for the future, but under the current laws of the game, the referee had no option.

However, these talking points meant Spurs would eventually leave the game with a sense of injustice, while the truth of the matter is that the Blues outplayed their opponents for most of the match. The red card turned what looked to be a comfortable victory into a demolition job, something the White Hart Lane crowd could have done without following the rout at the Etihad earlier in the season. City might not score 11 goals against any other opposition across two games this campaign, with the only other likely candidates to that crown being Norwich.

With results elsewhere going City's way, the Blues are now top of the table for the second time this season after all of their rivals have played the same amount of games -- the first was on the opening weekend. The club's unbeaten run stretches back to the last time they faced Tottenham, in November, while the scoring exploits have left them with a goal difference almost double that of Arsenal and Chelsea, allowing that little extra bit of insurance.

What's more, Pellegrini appears to have settled into the Premier League. His early season defeats at Cardiff or Aston Villa showed lessons needed learning -- his substitutions and formation tweaks ended up costing the Blues control of games they should have won. Now, though, he's getting it right. As much as the Nigel de Jong on for Carlos Tevez to move Yaya Toure forward was an iconic Roberto Mancini move, the centre-back on for a midfielder/striker to push Martin Demichelis forward is becoming Pellegrini's.

The Chilean has been steadily increasing City's stature this season and they are currently on a run of eight successive victories that no other side can match. They're even in the position where a defeat against Chelsea on Monday evening wouldn't be a disaster, as the London club would stay behind the Blues, though it may leave Pellegrini needing a win at the Emirates later in the year.

Both February and March will be tough months, but if City continue to play like they have done since the end of November, the fans should have nothing to worry about. Not that that will stop them worrying, of course -- that's part of the job description.

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