There’s no sugar-coating it. That was a tough watch.
So too the fact that right now City look a little sad, bedraggled and disjointed. Bournemouth, clean sheet et al, was it seems just a brief spell of respite from a period of Premier League grind.
Those who argue there is more fun to be had in a spirited Championship campaign than in a Premier League relegation battle will point to yesterday afternoon.
As ever, I’d counter that with games like Manchester United (H) being the very epitome of why it’s the only place to be and why we do it, but I’m not about to argue there was any pleasure to be derived from watching City suffer and get beat so comprehensively.
They’re our heroes. They gave us the best season of our City-supporting lives. To watch arguably the most likeable Canary squad ever suffer in this way is unedifying. Painful even.
But this is where we are. There’s no escape. We can’t decide this isn’t for us and scuttle back to the Championship, tail between our legs, asking to be allowed back in. And Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke have both made abundantly clear we’re not here just for the lovely view.
We are in a battle, the toughest of all footballing battles, and we’ve had just about everything thrown at us that could be thrown at us.
With a squad assembled on the lowest Premier League budget in history, we have had to contend with an injury crisis the like of which few of us have seen before. That’s no excuse – that’s a fact.
And we also have to face the fact that those same players who took us on that never-to-be-forgotten journey are finding the step up to be bigger than they had anticipated.
It’s always a tricky call for the management and coaching staff to gauge from a squad with virtually no Premier League experience, who will and who won’t be able to transcend from Champ to Prem but they ended up taking the laudable view that all of them would at least be given that opportunity.
The downside of that approach, which almost all of us applauded, is that the only way to find out who can cut it is to do so in real-time, with points at stake. And some are struggling.
Even putting aside the obvious centre-back crisis, which has necessitated our key summer signing slotting into central defence, the easy-on-the-eye passing style that ran like a golden thread throughout last season has become stilted and sporadic. The cohesion and fluidity has all but evaporated with the opposition offering a physical and technical challenge far removed from those faced 12 months ago.
That doesn’t mean we change philosophy or swap the green and yellow flags of the Barclay for white ones, but it does mean we need to be better and be better at what we’re trying to do. More of the same will only end one way – Webber and Farke know that – but with the season just ten games old, some of the gloom and doom that followed yesterday’s humbling was way over the top.
Of course we need players fit… of course we need to be better… and of course what we’re seeing right now isn’t going to be good enough but the hand Farke has been dealt has been, let’s face it, absolutely cr@p.
Even in the space of 96 minutes yesterday, there were injuries and illnesses to key players to contend with, none of which directly affected the outcome but all of which added to the mounting list of obstacles the Class of 2020 are being asked to negotiate.
No-one was happy with that first-half performance. The players wouldn’t have been. Farke and Webber certainly wouldn’t have been. But against opponents of such quality, the only way to compete is to be operating at 100%, physically and technically – as we did against Man City.
If it dips below 100 and a couple are having really bad days it becomes an almost impossible task. We had more than a couple.
So, obviously there is work to do at Colney and some serious thinking about how we go forward but never has Webber’s ‘not too high and not too low’ mantra been more appropriate. We can sulk and feel sorry for ourselves, take lumps out of each other on social media and ready ourselves for a return to the Championship, or we join Farke and co and dig deeper.
And besides, after yesterday’s heroics from Tim Krul, we owe him. What a man. Let’s hope that ACL is undamaged.
Aside from the two outstanding penalty saves, there was the save from Martial’s point-blank header and a couple more in the second half. Without him, we’d have been looking as Aston Villa plus, edging towards Southampton territory even, so let’s get real. It could have been so much more damaging.
As for VAR, well, I’m not sure there’s anything left to say. In a way, I’m grateful our fate wasn’t decided by that first appalling decision from Stockley Park, but any error that’s ‘clear and obvious’ doesn’t take multiple replays from multiple angles to ascertain. If they can’t conclude the referee has made an error inside 30 seconds it’s clearly not obvious, but to then arrive at the wrong decision anyway…
I naively thought VAR would iron out the perceived big club bias but it appears not. And it certainly doesn’t help when the game is officiated by a referee, his two assistants, a fourth official and Ashley Young.
But we didn’t lose yesterday because of poor officiating, VAR or Ashley Young’s big gob. We lost because Manchester United, as expected, were better than us.
On to Brighton.