The ‘little miracle’ of which Daniel Farke speaks has looked unlikely since the day he coined the phrase but fair play to the head coach for outwardly expressing his belief in his players to deliver one.
To be fair, he had some of us believing too, but after yesterday’s listless, some would say gutless, offering, even the most ardent of loyalists must struggle to put together a solid case for survival.
If the players don’t look like they believe it’s possible, why should we?
It was a bright enough opening – we’ve been there before – with City’s tidy and neat grasp of possession exemplary, but when a couple of chances came and went, it turned into that movie we’ve watched many times before.
Wolves and Nuno have watched that same movie too, probably on video as part of their pre-game preparations, and knew that if they were solid in defence, City would cough up possession regularly enough for them to launch counter-attacks that would hurt.
City’s total inability to dig out points from losing positions is a damning stat in itself, but its cumulative impact on the players’ collective belief to do so is now so great, going 1-0 down equates to defeat. From the second that Jota rolled Max Aarons and fired that close-range shot past poor Tim Krul, that was it. Done. Game over.
And from thereon in, the much-vaunted composure and poise dissipated too. The body language told a story, one of a team that knows its short-term and medium-term fate.
The sight of three Wolves players queuing up to tap in number two was a horror show all of its own. Lessons around defending set-pieces haven’t been learned, and the lethargy and half-heartedness in evidence as that ball was knocked back across the face of goal told of a defence that’s ill-equipped for the Premier League.
No finger-pointing, no one single reason why we have ended up with a defensive unit unfit for purpose, but we concede too many goals and opponents don’t have to work hard enough to score against us.
That Wolves won this at a canter is what hurts.
But, pre-game, it felt as if, for once, the footballing gods had decided to give as chance.
‘Here you go lads, an almost perfect set of results to give you an opportunity to close that gap. A chance to make a go of it’.
But it was a chance City weren’t good enough to take. Not even close to being good enough.
Against a side scrapping for their Premier League lives, Rui Patricio would have expected to get his knees dirty. He had four shots to save. City had one corner. Instead of getting more bodies alongside and beyond Teemu Pukki, he looked more isolated than he has done at any time this season.
After the draw in Newcastle, I commented on how the players’ belief in what they were doing, and where it could take them, looked impressively intact. As if they still believed that little miracle was possible. Following the Liverpool game I described that collective feeling of pride in our team; how they refused to be bowed even in the face of the best team on the planet.
But yesterday the players looked devoid of belief. And on the pitch, there was precious little for the supporters to be proud of.
We looked beaten, and not just by Wolves.
Questions have to be asked around Daniel Farke’s team selection – if that’s allowed. The Emi Buendia debate has no doubt raged on social media and, in fairness, rightly so.
There appear to be messages emanating from the club’s management subtly reminding those whose agents are already prepping for a busy summer, that there is still work to be done here, and that they should remember who gave them the opportunity.
I do wonder if Emi is one who’s looking a little too far ahead for Webber and Farke’s liking, but in a game that was as close to a must-win as it gets, for him not to be included in the starting XI looked odd, to say the least.
I get that we need solidity in order to provide a platform for us to be able to play, but we also need to be able to create more chances. And if the plan was based on Lukas Rupp offering more protection to Max Aarons than Buendia, then Diogo Jota running riot down that flank suggests to me it was a plan that didn’t work.
Despite him enjoying a good couple of opening games, the Ondrej Duda at 10 experiment is not really working either. He’s a good technician, no doubt about that, but in the hurly-burly of the PL, he’s another who needs an extra half-a-second that he simply doesn’t get.
I’m guessing Buendia at 10 has never really been a thing as they question whether he’ill be permitted enough time on the ball in there to hurts teams, but we’re now well into ‘what do we have to lose’ territory. Why not. And why not offer Mario Vrancic more game time on the premise of him being one who is capable of chipping in with a goal from midfield.
And while we’re at it, Todd Cantwell, after some fine performances, is looking sufficiently tired that the energy and directness of Onel Hernadez may be worth a go. Like I say, what do we have to lose?
If I’m to scratch around for a positive, it’s only fair to say that this performance and the one at Old Trafford are the only two no-shows of a season in which we have been largely competitive and on many occasions, so-near.
But not yesterday. We were well beaten by a Wolves team who had played on Thursday night yet were still able to win in second gear. City were the ones looking leggy and tired of mind.
At the end of last week, I chatted with Paul Hawksbee from talkSPORT in readiness for the City/Spurs FA Cup preview piece.
He reiterated his line around us being the ‘best team ever to be bottom of the Premier League’ (he may want to revise that after watching MotD) but also used the phrase ‘come back stronger’. He was being nice and cited Sean Dyche’s Burnley as the perfect example.
As I’ve written on this site, that’s a fine theory but doesn’t allow for the vagaries of the Championship.
As I’ve also written on this site, I’d have preferred to have made a better fist of staying here in the first place.