After two straight games that have left us feeling frustrated and hard done by — Barcelona getting a draw at the Bridge off a singular mistake; then Chelsea throwing away a very good first half and a lead at Old Trafford — it’s hard to escape the feeling that there won’t a third such game coming up this weekend. And not in a good way.
Steamrollers take no prisoners and Manchester City are steamrolling England (and Europe) right now — except this tiny area known as Wigan, who barely care about football in the first place.
City just snagged Pep Guardiola’s first (of surely a cavalcade of) trophies in England with a romp over wretched Arsenal in the League Cup final. They’ve lost just one Premier League match all season. They’re on 72 points and 23 wins, with eleven games left to play, which means, unfortunately, that they’re on track to nab both Chelsea’s points record (95) and wins record (30). They are also set to blow Chelsea’s goals record away (103, on pace for over 110) and could yet set a new margin for victory, bettering Manchester United’s 18-point domination of the 1999-2000 season.
With one foot in the Champions League quarterfinals already, not even the shock of the Wigan defeat in the FA Cup last 16 (where they played half the game with just 10 men) has really been able to disturb their season. Pep Guardiola and his £775m squad (only the most expensive in all of football history) continue sailing on serenely with no clouds on their horizon.
Or are they?
Well yes, yes they are. But drowning men clutch at straws and look! There’s a straw, let’s clutch at it! Two straws, actually. Twice the clutching!
The first is that City’s stalwart central midfielder Fernandinho is likely to miss Sunday’s match against Chelsea after being felled by a hamstring injury in the cup final.
Fernandinho, in that fine and classic defensive midfielder tradition, has been the consistent, reliable, sometimes spectacular but always unsung key component to City’s domination. The 32-year-old has been ever-present for City since joining from Shakhtar four years ago (where he was Willian’s teammate). For lack of a better comparison, he is their Kanté (with a few extra goals thrown in).
“He’s injured and will miss the next games. [He’s] a big loss for us. Now we have to find a solution to find who can play in the Fernandinho position.”
-Pep Guardiola; source: Independent
The Fernandinho position? How very Makélélé of him.
On Sunday, Guardiola threw on Bernardo Silva to replace him, but that’s obviously not a like-for-like substitution and probably won’t be the solution against Chelsea (or even Arsenal, again, on Thursday). Ilkay Gundogan would appear to be the next man up, but with Pep anything could happen, including perhaps the extra bold choice of 17-year-old Phil Foden.
So that’s one straw. We clutch at it gratefully.
The other is the potential distraction that’s coming from the manager himself. Can you spot it?
That yellow ribbon peeking out from under his jacket has already drawn a censure from the FA. And Guardiola is defiant that he’ll keep wearing it no matter what fines or sideline bans may come his way.
What’s the big deal about a yellow ribbon? Without getting into the politics of the thing, he’s supporting independence for his native Catalonia. On Friday, the FA cited him for making a political statement, which is against its kit and advertising rules. On Sunday he wore it again albeit under, instead of on, his jacket. And he’s not backing down.
“If I broke the rules, I accept the fine.
“Before a manager, I am a human being. It’s not about politicians, it’s about democracy; it’s about helping the people who didn’t do absolutely anything.”
-Pep Guardiola; source: CNN
As you can tell from the source of that quote, this story is bigger than football. With Pep’s unyielding stance, maybe, perhaps, possibly, pretty please it could distract his players in their preparations for the game at the Etihad? We’ll also take a 30-point deduction, thank you very much.
As we said, drowning men clutch at straws.
But Chelsea players don’t need straws. They need the performance of the season, to save their season. Antonio Conte has vowed to fight.
“I think we must be ready to fight, must be ready to understand this, to be concentrated and to understand that this target (top four) is very, an important target for us but it won’t be easy.”
Let’s hope that come Sunday evening we’re tossing those straws aside and laughing that we ever thought we needed them.