For all the frustrations we currently feel, I remain optimistic that City will survive. But I also think it is dangerous to downplay the last two games and hide behind reputations.
Leicester’s defence was as makeshift as City’s against Manchester City in 2019, which included Ibrahim Amadou at centre-back, and they appeared there for the taking. Arsenal, until we played them, have looked clueless this season.
In both games, Brendan Rogers and Mikel Arteta tinkered first and on both occasions, had a lead to protect and not chase.
However, I strongly believe that Daniel Farke is working on this appropriately. He’s running the marathon and not the sprint, is managing fitness, new tactics and new personnel who have never experienced this level before.
He’s confident in his 4-3-3 and is patiently tinkering with the personnel until he unlocks the magic formula. He has belief in 4-3-3 but then again, he had it in 4-2-3-1 the last time we were in the Premier League. So, persevere but please, get to the solution sooner rather than later.
Behind that measured approach is a plethora of unnecessary complications. This summer, without Oliver Skipp and Emi Buendia, Farke had a clean slate to build a squad geared to a specific formation with further scope for Plans B and C. No excuses.
What has happened instead, in my eyes, is so far rather confusing. For example, Milot Rashica has played on the left so far whereas last season, Cantwell was on the left. Christos Tzolis too is regarded as a left-sided attacker.
And If Sargent isn’t deployed played as a striker, he’s pushed to the right rather than provide a physical foil centrally, where others would benefit.
Grant Hanley is one of the fastest accelerating centre-backs around and after chasing Kris Ajer, a three-man backline seemed a certainty. But then we seemed to give up on that, based solely on getting hold of Billy Gilmour, perhaps unexpectedly, meaning the onus shifted to a midfield three rather than a back three.
It was further complicated because Gilmour came into a squad with only two central midfielders in the squad: Kenny McLean and Lukas Rupp. Pierre lees-Melou and Mathias Normann have since been drafted in to bolster the middle but none appear to complement the others.
Then in attack, we all knew Teemu Pukki would be less effective without someone capable of releasing him. We assumed that person, this season, would be Cantwell and therefore we’d get a physical foil to get the best out of both.
Instead, we’ve already seen glimpses of chemistry between Tzolis and Sargent and Rashica that could potentially render Cantwell and Pukki as the odd ones out. Farke considered Cantwell behind Kieran Dowell against Arsenal.
Right now there appear to be quite a few self-engineered complications and the one thing they have in common is that they are not conducive to a 4-3-3.
This is not a criticism of Farke by the way. I spent the last two years imploring for a shift away from 4-2-3-1 but I never saw a 4-3-3 coming – not with our individual players, before or after the summer transfer window.
So how does Farke get the most out of this squad?
My midfield base, subject to reality matching the hype, is Normann and McLean because you need that combativeness before anything else, with Lees-Melou pushing them for a start, ahead of either Gilmour or Rupp.
In theory, both would provide adequate protection for a back three, which would include Ozan Kabak when fully fit. That should take the onus off the under-fire Gibson, who perhaps should be the central player to carry the ball forward with Hanley and Kabak maintaining acceleration and pace wide of him.
In the wide areas, Aarons and Williams are Premier League players all day long.
Over the first few games, Tim Krul has been guilty of giving the ball away cheaply but give him a long ball option that isn’t Pukki and that particular stress is alleviated, while also providing support for the Finn and another.
The tinkering should come after the spine is in place and I can’t help but feel Farke is going about that dilemma in reverse.
The reason for dropping Cantwell, my man-of-the-match against Leicester, for Dowell, who has historically done less defensive work than either Buendia or Todd, was unclear, and to drop Gibson on account of pace against Arsenal when previously he’d faced Salah, Mane, Gabriel Jesus and Jamie Vardy just doesn’t rub.
I’ll keep the faith but two years ago, Farke refused to change the 4-2-3-1 all season and we were relegated without barely a whimper. If he stays with 4-3-3 and we are unable to keep pace with the teams expecting a relegation battle, then someone needs to ask questions.
But hopefully, the marathon plan will evolve in these crucial few weeks and I’ll have egg on my face again.