Daniel Farke was right. He was right in saying that City were the better side and they dominated most of the stats, just as he was right in saying we were desperately unlucky not to have won the game.
But they didn’t win it.
For the sixth time in six games, they were left licking their wounds and asking themselves ‘how did that one manage to get away?’ Six in six.
And all set against the backdrop of City playing some really beautiful football – up there, in fact, with some of the best Farkeball of last season.
All of which leads to the conclusion that we’re not millions of miles away from being a decent side, but which then, in turn, begs the question ‘why the hell are we now 20th and seven points from safety?’
Naturally, social media exploded into a frenzy of finger-pointing and recriminations – some of it (as I understand) about as distasteful as it can get – but in the spirit if 2019, most squabbles descended into a binary choice, with no quarter given and few acknowledgements that opposing views may have even an element of worthiness.
No-one could seriously argue that City weren’t unlucky yesterday. Aside from creating numerous presentable chances, there was that goalline clearance from Douglas Luiz that defied logic. Alex Tettey wasn’t alone in believing that every footballing god in the Universe was conspiring against us. An it’s not going to be our day moment if ever there was one.
But, as I attempted to argue on Twitter post-match, you don’t tend to end up bottom-of-the-league after 19 games just because you’ve endured more than your fair share of bad luck. Somewhere along the line, aside from the misfortune that tends to go hand-in-hand with relegation battles, there have to have been some deficiencies that have led to you being there.
Equally, those who point to the injury crisis from hell are right to do so. With a squad that had, say, just the standard handful of injuries and knocks I tend to think we’d have got a foothold in this league so much quicker than we did.
It’s easy, of course, to bemoan the lack of fortune on and of the pitch since August but it’ s also important to remember that last season, as befitting a team that won the title, we came out on the right side.
And putting our predicament down to solely bad luck ignores those games where, even with a patched-up team, we have been architects of our own downfall – I’m thinking Burnley (a) and Watford (h), in particular, where we came up short because we were error-ridden and not good enough on the day.
I struggle to stay rational when debating those who think the answer is to change the head coach, so if this is a little one-sided… sorry. With the hand he has been dealt, I’d say Daniel Farke has done a more than okay job and has lately managed to find a way of getting them back playing that easy-on-the-eye football that we all loved last season (well, apart from that ‘hoof’ bloke in the River End).
He has also made us look more solid defensively at times, but the problem has been marrying the two together and finding a performance that offers solidity while not compromising on the attacking thrust. Yesterday was, probably, the closest we have come but was undone by marginal failings at both ends of the pitch. Again.
In an ideal world, as diplomatic as he was over his meagre summer transfer kitty, it goes without saying he would have preferred to have had a bigger budget to work with. I accept that under our self-imposed self-funding model, every pound has to work doubly hard and it made sense to reward those who got us to the Premier League in the first place, but no-one expected us to spend less than a million in permanent transfer fees. I’m not sure even Stuart Webber expected that.
There’s being frugal and sensible, and there’s Premier League suicide. We went with the latter and Farke was forced to try and create a second miracle in the space of 12 months. One miracle too many.
But this doesn’t make him exempt from criticism and he’s made mistakes along the way this season just as the players have. He’s never been the most decisive when it comes to substitutions and the very late triple change against Wolves was a classic example. His removal of Buendia yesterday was baffling at the time but in fairness, there may well have been mitigating circumstances.
One thing I won’t criticise him for is not having a Plan B, when for most, Plan B involves banging it long and getting it into the box at the earliest opportunity. We don’t have the tools to do that successfully, it’s not part of the ethos. Won’t happen. But maybe we do need a Plan A(1), Plan A(2) etc
This one is obviously worthy of more than a few paragraphs, but with every defeat, the dissenting voices get louder – just as they do in the comments on this site.
The self-funding model is one that looked great when it led us to the title last season but looks vulnerable right now as we languish in 20th. It necessitates the sale of players, almost regardless of division, and in doing so places a glass ceiling on our level of ambition.
We sell Ben Godfrey, for example, so then you need a centre-back replacement – but without a budget befitting a Premier League club you either buy potential or you promote from within. Either way, the replacement will be unable to hit the ground running Ben Godfrey style, and certainly won’t be better.
We sell Pukki at the end of season … how do you replace him with similar quality? Yes, we nabbed him in the first place and made him a better player, but that doesn’t happen every time and even if we get did get lucky again, would that make us a better team? At best, we’d tread water.
Villa, however, are a classic example of splashing the cash to no avail. They were (let’s face it) rotten yesterday – in danger of stinking the place out – and but for Conor Hourihane’s intervention would have felt the wrath of Villa Park. Yet they spent £150 million is the summer. Fulham did it the season before.
So the answer is not automatically chucking ten of millions at it. But the answer is definitely chucking more than £750,000 at it. Just two or three players, forensically identified to fit in with the group and with the culture, would have made a huge difference to where we are now. Players who would have made us better.
As it transpired, none of the summer newcomers proved better than what we already had. As a squad it didn’t improve and which is partly why we didn’t look or feel like we belonged in those first couple of months of the season. We do now… it looks like we feel we belong and can compete, but it’s almost too late – and we do lack quality in crucial moments.
I love Michael and Delia for what they’ve done for this club. I do question if they’ve tried hard enough to explore all the available options of giving Farke and Webber a more robust budget to work with. It was easy last season – winning sides are easy to manage from boardroom level; less so when you’re struggling in the Premier League.
If we go down, as looks a distinct possibility, we’ll be in decent shape from a balance sheet perspective. In that regard, it’s a job well done from Stuart. But the model relies on us doing a 2018/19 all over again – and seasons like that don’t come along too often. The Burnley model – as it’s become known – is riddled with risk. I’d rather make a concerted effort not to have to run that risk again.
But.as I’ll no doubt be informed, it’s Delia and Michael’s club and they’ve earned the right to do with the club what they wish.
I just want it to be the best it can possibly be. Being gallant, aesthetically pleasing losers is losing its sheen. Sorry.