The FA Cup has long been lauded as the mother of all domestic competition. The “magic” of the FA cup is a rhetoric widely used by those with a voice in the footballing world, largely due to the random nature of the games that are thrown up.
Teams with a combined transfer value of less than one player on the opposing team regularly go head to head, and no competition greater emphasises that first and foremost, football is an 11 vs 11 man sport.
When the 64 remaining teams were thrown into the pot and drawn back out on 8th December, the magicians (on that particular day, a somewhat family affair, with the legendary striker Teddy Sheringham joined by his son Charlie, currently plying his trade with AFC Wimbledon in League Two) that decided the tie, pulled out some interesting fixtures.
One would assume upon reading that Championship Blackburn Rovers, despite being the home side, would roll over and expose their soft underbelly to a Manchester City side in
excellent form, comprising some of the finest talent in world football. Cue a slice of FA cup magic from the minnows.
Despite enjoying more than 2/3 of the possession throughout the match, the final score was level – a 1-1 draw, with Alvaro Negredo’s header cancelled out by a side-footed finish by Scott Dann, one of only 3 players in Blackburn’s starting 11 who have consistently played top flight football.
Contrast this with Manchester City, who started the match with 11 full internationals, as well as a World Cup winner with Spain, and it somewhat beggars belief that Blackburn were able to leave Ewood Park with a lucrative third round replay against a team of superstars.
Despite having so much possession, City only mustered two more shots than Blackburn. This displays not only their penchant for holding the ball, but a habit of doing relatively little with it
too, averaging a shot every 6.2 minutes.
Indeed, when home games are excluded from the Premier League table, City would be staring down the long barrel that is the Europa League, in fifth place, eight points behind leaders Arsenal, who have gained 25 points from their 11 away games this season. City have also played one game more than three teams behind them in the away form league (Newcastle, Everton, and somewhat surprisingly, Aston Villa) and therefore, could potentially drop to
eighth place in the away league should these three teams next win on their travels.
Such statistics are normally not associated with a club that has such an embarrassment of footballing talent available to them, and it is to Pellegrini’s detriment that he is facing such a conundrum. For a club fighting for the Premier League title, it is expected that a club win all their home games.
And boy, have Manchester City done that. Unbeaten in their ten Premier League home games this season, with thirty-eight goals scored and only six conceded, including notable various deconstructions of teams also fighting at the top, such as Arsenal (6-3), Tottenham (6-0) and the Manchester Derby (4-1).
It is fair to say that high felt by the Blackburn Rovers playing staff did not last long before turning to dread.
And dreadful it was, with a 5-0 drubbing confirming the gulf in class between the two clubs.
Interestingly, City scored five times as many goals despite having less of the ball than in the previous fixture.
However, the Citizens were at their rampant best, and there was nothing Blackburn could do
to prevent their exit from the competition.
It was, ironically, magical FA Cup football from City, swatting Blackburn aside with ease and guile. Negredo kept up his magnificent home record, having now scored over a goal a game at home this season, Dzeko continued staking a claim for a first team place, and Agüero scoring with his first touch of the ball after almost a month out with injury.
Despite cause for calebration, these two matches display the Jekyll and Hyde team that Manchester City has been this season, with emphatic home wins swiftly followed by away day defeats and draws.
Maybe, Pellegrini is giving his opposition too much respect when travelling to opposing fortresses, asking his team to prioritise keeping the ball, rather than the direct, fluid football he instructs his team to play at home.
Maybe, this could decide Manchester City’s season. Maybe, this could decide Manuel Pellegrini’s future as possessor of one of the most enviable managerial positions in world football.
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