More of this and less of that for Man City

Posted by Simon Curtis

During this simple exercise in trotting and maintaining equilibrium, a little scenario at the end of the first half of the 4-0 win against Newcastle summed up Manchester City's long struggle of a season.

Not the first goal, a sudden, heartwarming breakthrough after a lukewarm 40-minute exercise in moving the ball around in circles to no great effect by City's delicate athletes, nor the second goal, when more intricate delicacy between Samir Nasri and David Silva resulted in a spectacular angled drive from the little Spanish genius to make it 2-0 after 45 minutes, but rather a passage of play in between the two, around Minute 43.

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This is what happened and why it seemed to sum up the whole of City's season in one elaborate but eloquently appropriate sentence: City were moving the ball around with their usual slide-rule precision. Sometimes this is so pretty to watch it makes the onlooker start to melt. On other occasions it is so frustrating that it makes you want to eat the fingers clean off your own hands.

The ball was winkled forward via the usual suspects into a threatening position on the edge of the box. Reaching Nasri at pace on the far side of the penalty area, all looked set for a moment of magic, but time slipped past, leaves floated by, pigeons yawned; by the time the ball was moving meaningfully again, it had rocketed seamlessly from Nasri to Vincent Kompany, resplendent in his old position back in the team but unfortunately standing a metre and a half inside his own half. Before one had time to sigh and think of the days when Stuart Pearce, a legendary Newcastle and City servant, had long balls flying in from all angles in his bish and boff days of glory as City's manager, the Blues had somehow managed to edge the old sphere forward through Kompany to Joleon Lescott and on to Yaya Toure. As the move picked up pace once more, the ball shot through to the toe end of Edin Dzeko's boot and was catapulted narrowly wide.

It was difficult to make up one's mind who was more surprised, the City faithful or the soon to be overrun Rob Elliot in the Newcastle goal.

In a nutshell, we had just seen City's season flash before our eyes. Pretty triangles, moves of 25 to 30 passes or more, bewildered panting opposition players chasing little sky blue shadows with pixie hats and no end product. No end product.

No end product.

Twenty goals fewer have billowed the opposition netting this season compared to the same stage last year. There is little doubt that this is where the season has melted through Manchester City’s fingers. The defence remains mean, despite wholesale changes in personnel. This was the 14th clean sheet of a rigorous, tight-fisted season from Kompany, Lescott, Kolo Toure, Matija Nastasic and the wide boys Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta, the very best in the division.

The midfield continues to create, to dominate, to move the ball with alacrity, but up front, the goals are missing. One and 2-0 wins have turned into 0-0 draws, resulting in 10 fewer points than last year. Here is where the damage has been inflicted in this season of eternal chasing. Manchester United's 1-0 win in Sunderland had left all a formality beforehand. Their ability to claw victories from seemingly lost causes, although nothing new from Ferguson's book of brilliant things, has certainly made a difference this season. In 2011-12, it was City that made a habit of winning games with late deciders. This season things have returned to type.

Today, though, defenders and attackers alike decided that we would be transported back to the easy efficiency of last season, when goals seemed to fly in from all angles at regular intervals. Here, thanks to a supine Newcastle side, four were pocketed and more should have come, as City attacked with enough precision and energy to see off their sleepy visitors. In truth, this is not a vintage Newcastle side, gasping and sliding toward the end of the season with none of the gusto of last term.

I had made mention of the Tudors and the MacDonalds and the Bobby Moncurs of times gone by during the week. How the Magpies could have done with some of the organization and grit and goals those old greats once served up to the Tyneside faithful. Instead, they got a performance of misplaced passes and low-level shooting. City -- mindful of the work of Tueart and Barnes, Goater and Rosler in this fixture in the past -- had no need to look backward and wince. Theirs was a team light on their feet and easy on the eye. Roberto Mancini, looking on from the sideline, will have noted that there is still plenty of gas in the tank for the crucial games to come, be they against Manchester United and Chelsea or Manchester United and Manchester United.

For these grand and decisive occasions to come in the next few days and weeks, fingers must be well and truly crossed that we see more of what happened in Minutes 41 and 45 against these formidable future opponents than what transpired in Minute 43.

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