Wheels come off for Pel­le­grini af­ter City’s Guardi­ola ob­ses­sion

Demiche­lis night­mare is a symp­tom of plans that ru­ined a sea­son in which the ti­tle was there to win

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL - Jim White at the Eti­had Sta­dium

Manch­ester City are a club that like to pride them­selves on their for­ward think­ing. This, af­ter all, is the or­gan­i­sa­tion that worked tire­lessly across three years to se­cure the ser­vices of the finest man­ager in the game.

But if they are that to­gether, that sorted, that pro-ac­tive, how come they went into such an im­por­tant fix­ture with Martín Demiche­lis in the start­ing line-up? How come, with the op­por­tu­nity to end their lo­cal ri­vals’ hopes of se­cur­ing a place in the top four, they played with a cen­tre-back ap­par­ently wear­ing con­crete boots?

It would be wrong en­tirely to blame the Ar­gen­tine for City’s ver­tig­i­nous de­cline since early Fe­bru­ary, a slip that has seen them col­lect but four of the last avail­able 18 Premier League points, a tum­ble that puts Pep Guardi­ola’s hopes of be­ing in­volved in the Cham­pi­ons League next sea­son in jeop­ardy.

Af­ter all. this was Demiche­lis’s first start in seven games. But rarely can City fans have wit­nessed an in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance as woe­ful. And with ev­ery lead­en­footed stut­ter, he demon­strated how City’s back­room bu­reau­crats have failed to pro­vide ad­e­quate cover for when the ti­tan Vin­cent Kom­pany is in­jured.

Demiche­lis suf­fered as close to an hour of hell as can have been wit­nessed at the Eti­had Sta­dium. Ev­ery­thing he did turned to de­feat. It did not as­sist his well-be­ing that he was fac­ing a player in Mar­cus Rash­ford, whose pace would ter­rify a fully fit chee­tah. The young Man­cu­nian will be re­turn­ing reg­u­larly to haunt the Demiche­lis sleep pat­terns, the im­age of him scoot­ing past as if con­fronted by a traf­fic cone to score the game’s only goal etched deep in the de­fender’s psy­che.

And the stand-in cen­tre-back’s next in­volve­ment was to bring down the young­ster with a woe­ful penalty box in­ter­ven­tion. He then shame­fully at­tempted to claim the striker had dived.

Things did not im­prove in the se­cond half. He put his own goal­keeper’s health at risk with a hap­less pass back. Joe Hart was stretchered off af­ter in­jur­ing his calf in the des­per­ate scram­ble to clear as An­thony Mar­tial bore down on his mis­di­rected ball.

When he was fi­nally sub­sti­tuted, the ap­plause was driven by re­lief that the mercy killing had fi­nally ar­rived. And yet this was Manch­ester United that City were up against, a bunch out-wit­ted by, among oth­ers, Sun­der­land, Nor­wich, and West Brom. Demiche­lis’s em­bar­rass­ment can­not alone be blamed for the way in which this team is slip­ping into ig­nominy.

Well as United’s young front three played in the first half, as dogged as Chris Smalling was at the back, as tire­less a shift as Juan Mata con­trib­uted, the truth is Louis van Gaal’s men should be no match for a side con­tain­ing Ser­gio Agüero, David Silva and Yaya Touré. Some­thing is wrong at the heart of the City en­ter­prise. And it is not hard to see what.

The nose­dive in form that has been det­o­nated since the an­nounce­ment that Guardi­ola will ar­rive next sea­son can­not be a co­in­ci­dence. Manuel Pel­le­grini, the dead man­ager walk­ing, is now pre­sid­ing over a sham­bolic slump. This is a man no longer able to af­fect any­thing hap­pen­ing on the pitch. For that, the City hi­er­ar­chy must take some re­spon­si­bil­ity. The self-con­grat­u­la­tory for­ward plan­ning has in­ad­ver­tently turned a sea­son in which the ti­tle was there to be won into some­thing that ev­ery­one in­volved ap­pears to wish was al­ready over.

The se­lec­tion of Demiche­lis was but a symp­tom of that.

On the other side of Manch­ester, too, this is a re­sult that fits the pat­tern of the sea­son. Ev­ery time it ap­pears things can­not go on, that Van Gaal must be on the brink of dis­missal, a re­sult is achieved that keeps him in em­ploy­ment for a lit­tle longer. Need­ing to win to main­tain even the fond­est of hope of qual­i­fy­ing for the Cham­pi­ons League, his play­ers did just that. This was a clev­erly or­gan­ised win, in which City’s por­ous heart was ruth­lessly tar­geted.

From his east Lon­don re­doubt, West Ham’s Slaven Bilic will have watched this game and thought he has a bet­ter chance than ever of en­sur­ing that next sea­son nei­ther Manch­ester club will be com­pet­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League.

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