The pending visit of Swansea brings into view the club to whom we are supposed to aspire.
The recent furore surrounding the future of Chris Hughton was rife with examples of where City should be right now, many of them citing the Swans as a perfect example of how it should be done.
All of which is fine – Capital One Cup victories are certainly not to be sniffed at – but have we really been left in their wake to the extent that some suggest?
While they did indeed finish last season a whopping two points ahead of Norwich, with silverware to boot, their ninth place was achieved courtesy of just one more win and one less draw. Hardly a record to suggest they’ve usurped us to the next level.
Their Wembley victory over Bradford City is of course the thing that sets them apart from the pack in that they were one of just four teams from this isle to lay their hands on a trophy last season. But in the wider scheme of things City were only a bruising from the ex away from being in with a shot themselves; Paul Lambert’s Villa doing what Paul Lambert teams do when they square up to ‘bitter’ rivals.
If we’d done the impossible, and beat the Villa, only that two-legged semi against Yorkshire’s finest would have been between us and a crack at the Capital One Cup.
As it’s transpired, a wonderful day out at the home of football aside, I’m not wholly convinced the prize for winning the League Cup is commensurate with the achievement – Europa League visits to the delights of Kuban Krasnodar and FC St Gallen unlikely to have set the pulse racing as trips to Bayern Munich, Inter Milan or even Vitesse Arnhem did back in the day.
It’s a different world now of course, and the predecessor of the UEFA Cup has slipped so far behind the Champions League (the European Cup to those of us of a certain age) it might as well be a different sport, but the lure of traipsing around Europe to some unheard of outposts for little or no financial gain is not an especially appealing one.
Alan Bowkett, at a supporters’ forum, recently suggested that a sojourn to Europe is not at the top of his list of priorities, with said tour of the continent being far from lucrative unless one makes it to the final stages; trips to the edge of Siberia unlikely to be big on generating cash.
To their credit the Swans are giving it a go and despite defeat in Switzerland have qualified for the knock-out stages, but many would argue it’s been to the detriment of their Premier League form. Their league record, which again sees them just two points better off than Norwich, hardly suggests a club that has departed for good the level on which we currently find ourselves.
Those same folk who cite the Swans as an example we should be following also like to throw in, for good measure, the style and swagger with which the Welshmen play, and there’s no denying they are usually pleasing on the eye. A style of play that was initially instigated by Roberto Martinez, and then honed by Brendan Rodgers, has now been tweaked again by Michael Laudrup – the method still a fluid one that relies on each player being comfortable with the ball at their feet.
The stats show that even when faced by occupants of the top five the Swans invariably enjoy the majority of possession, and there are not too many who go to the Etihad and see more of the ball than Man City; their 54 per cent made even more remarkable because they actually lost the game 3-0.
While it’s goals that count and – as we know to our cost – thumping defeats are good for no-one, there is undoubtedly some comfort to be sought from games where you have plenty of the ball. I dare not even look at the stats for Anfield and the Etihad, but I don’t need to consult Statto to know we were on the wrong end – big time.
The Swans ability to ‘do a Barcelona’ is not one they’ve stumbled upon by chance. They predominantly play a five man midfield and from one to eleven (yes, even keeper Michel Vorm – when he’s fit) they look to pass it short and in triangles. For that reason they’re difficult to play against and with the added riches that a sustained period in the Premier League brings, so the quality of players who fit into that template increases.
But… having said all of that, they are beatable – Statto will tell us as much – and if City are patient enough to keep their shape as the white shirts attempt to mesmerise with their pretty passing patterns then there will be chances. While Ashley Williams may be able to pass with the comfort of an international, get him backpedaling towards his own goal and it’s a very different story.
With Ricky van Wolfswinkel back in contention for a starting place, and with Hughton possibly looking to play him in tandem with Gary Hooper for the first time, the scene is set fair to give the Swansea back-four a stern examination.
If – and it’s a big if – Hughton’s men can earn themselves a reasonable chunk of possession then we should look forward to a decent game; one that will involve the ball being rolled around on the green stuff (Pulis take note).
Hughton still needs a win and, while the victory at the Hawthorns may have broken the cycle of ‘must win’ home games, the peace we currently enjoy is a fragile one. But if we can, and we make it four wins from six, then there’s a serious danger of peace breaking out at Carrow Road.
But I mustn’t speak too soon…