Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'The good news for City is there is no hiding place now'

 

Sergio Aguero missed from the spot in Man City’s Champions League loss at Tottenham (Adam Davy/PA)
Sergio Aguero missed from the spot in Man City’s Champions League loss at Tottenham (Adam Davy/PA)
Manager Pep Guardiola will soon learn whether having it so easy in so many matches will cost Manchester City in race for title players to. Photo: Craig Mercer/Getty Images

Jamie Carragher

For all Manchester City's brilliance this season, there has been something missing from their quadruple bid. Drama.

Victories have been too easy until now. There has been an absence of spectacular moments, tense climaxes and memorable contributions we reflect upon as defining a season.

Where have they been for City? Where will they come from in the coming weeks?

Apart from the penalty shoot-out win over Chelsea in the League Cup final, where would a scriptwriter find material when documenting the story of the campaign?

It might be too much to expect anything to rival Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal in 2012, but for Pep Guardiola to achieve all of his ambitions there will have to be at least one game, one major incident or one period in a match in which City show they are not only technically and tactically the best, but also mentally and physically.

They have not needed to do that yet. That is not a criticism, just a reflection of their superiority in the majority of fixtures.

Winning while in a comfort zone is a sign of class. The problem is that calmness cannot last when you are pursuing four trophies. That is when you have to overcome pain to win.

Discomfort

Now, as the challenge gets tougher in Europe and the Premier League fixtures become more demanding, City have not had enough recent practice dealing with discomfort.

That was evident last Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur.

Mauricio Pochettino's side were the type of formidable opponent City have not encountered since that Liverpool game three months ago. City had to adjust to the atmosphere in the stadium and the energy and tactical discipline of the opposition.

They did not respond to the higher level, regardless of how well Guardiola claimed his side played. I was at the game and it felt like City were stuck in the third gear they have been domestically, able to control and win games at their own pace without putting their foot on the pedal.

That has to change, starting at The Etihad next Wednesday night. There has to be more edge to their game than has been necessary to get them to this position.

As the season has progressed, with City fighting on all fronts, it has been impossible to avoid comparisons to Manchester United's treble of 1999. The characteristics could not be more different so far. You could divide United's route to victory in three competitions into numerous chapters.

So many momentum-shifting late goals spring to mind, periods when it looked like it was all over for Alex Ferguson's side only for them to find the energy, courage and skill to turn it around.

In the FA Cup, there were two late goals against Middlesbrough in the third round, and another two against Liverpool in the fourth. There was the famous semi-final at Villa Park, Peter Schmeichel saving Dennis Bergkamp's penalty in injury time before Ryan Giggs' wonder-goal for the 10 men in extra-time.

In the Premier League, there were numerous comebacks and narrow victories in the run-in, including coming from behind on the final day to beat Tottenham.

And, of course, there were the memorable European nights, especially Roy Keane's performance against Juventus in Turin and the amazing conclusion in the Nou Camp against Bayern Munich.

The whole trip felt more exciting, even for those who did not especially want United to win.

Every step of the way United were overcoming major obstacles, each one giving them the power to deal with the next. You knew you were watching history unfold.

I had my own experience of a cup treble with Liverpool in 2001 and we created a similar feeling in our dressing room.

It was uncanny how often we benefited from comebacks or late goals to keep the trophy bids alive, winning a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup final, lifting the FA Cup after Michael Owen's injury-time goal against Arsenal, and following all this with the Golden Goal in the Uefa Cup final against Alaves.

Rival fans called us lucky - as they did United in '99. We argued it was our character that turned games our way.

Having the benefit of so many key incidents gives you belief and prepares you the next time you are in a similar situation, a goal down with 10 or 15 minutes left.

There is nothing more satisfying getting back into a dressing room after a close win, buzzing that all those hours training your body and mind to do the right thing under pressure have paid off.

In the past few weeks it has been Liverpool's players feeling those emotions.

The worry for Guardiola is how little his players have experienced that recently. Only once in the Premier League have they collected a point when being behind. They are rarely losing so do not get much opportunity to fight back. Even though they won 100 points last season, those big moments were there. They had the late Raheem Sterling winners against Bournemouth and Huddersfield, and David Silva against West Ham. They were digging out wins.

Emotion

When Sterling scored a 90th-minute winner against Southampton, Pep was on the pitch and you could see the outpouring of emotion in the stadium. These types of win made City battle-hardened.

The latest they have scored to change an outcome this season is 72 minutes when Leroy Sane struck the winner against Liverpool.

Yet, we know how good City are. They have collected 180 points from the last 70 Premier League fixtures, so these observations show they are being judged to a higher standard, victims of their extraordinary success, achieving so much already yet promising more.

The good news for City is there is no hiding place now. A comeback on Wednesday will give us all the drama we are waiting for.

By overcoming their deficit, City's players will get the same feelings as the United squad in '99 and Guardiola will have that iconic night he has craved to energise the club's European ambitions.

Victory can give City the momentum for the potentially decisive Premier League games with Spurs and Manchester United.

City fans have enjoyed the luxury of sitting contentedly in their seat over the nine extraordinary months of this quadruple bid. Over the next 12 days they might start to join the rest of us on the edge of it. (© Daily Telegraph, London) .

  • Crystal Palace v Manchester City, Live, Sky Sports, tomorrow 2.05

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