If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Tottenham Hotspur's match against Manchester City against the Etihad would feature the second and fourth place teams in the league, I wouldn't have been to surprised. Now though, it's Spurs that are in second and I am shocked. Shocked, I say.
So, I sat down with Nayir Chowdhury of SB Nation's Manchester City blog, Bitter and Blue, to discuss all things Manchester City, including why the team couldn't even pretend to try against Leicester and his hopes for the upcoming Pep Guariola Era.
On the off chance that you're interested, I answered some questions for him in return, which you can find here.
Cartilage Free Captain: Couldn't have tried a little harder against Leicester last week, huh?
Bitter and Blue: What an absolute mess that match was. We played poorly, and Leicester once again executed their game plan perfectly, dotting their i's and crossing their t's along the way. I am a bit surprised that the squad didn't get up for this one as a 1 v 2 clash, but the signs were there in matches leading up to this one.
CFC: Seriously, City's "problem", such that it exists, seems to be one of motivation. I know there's lots of injuries, but so many of the players just look like they can't be bothered. What's your assessment of the situation?
B&B: Injuries have been killer, and they've left some of the wrong players healthy, if that makes sense. Yaya tends to look unmotivated at times and on top of that he just doesn't have the legs anymore to play both ways for a full 90; that much is blatantly obvious. Aside from him, I don't totally a see an effort problem as much as I see a combination of lack of chemistry, urgency at appropriate times, and generally poor play.
The defense has been the biggest issue but as whine-y as it sounds, I really look to the injuries at the back line. Otamendi has played all but 3 games this season which is fine as I think he's been solid most of the season. But next to him, his most frequent partner has been a 35 year-old who is clearly well past the Premier League level in Martin Demichelis. Demichelis himself has played more than double the matches of Vincent Kompany, our hands down most important player, and still 6 more than Eliaquim Mangala, too. And then there's Zabaleta, who's been forced to miss all but 5 matches, I believe, this season. Bacary Sagna started the year very well, but again, logging heavy minutes on old legs has seen deteriorating performances. And while injuries have been an issue it's also partly the fault of management for leaving so many 30-something year-olds on the roster. They've been forced to play together too often, and we're seeing the results. It doesn't help that Yaya doesn't play any defense ahead of them either.
CFC: Pep Guardiola is coming in next season, are you excited about that? Are you optimistic for the Pep Era?
B&B: Definitely excited and optimistic for the Pep era. The first City game I ever watched we had Kevin Keegan as manager (ironically it was that FA Cup comeback against you guys in 03-04) and thus I really cannot believe we have landed the best manager in the world some 13 years (and a lot of cash) later. Pep should bring a refreshing approach to what is beginning to be a very old core of players. Many are looking forward to his commitment to both attack and defense as Pellegrini has often been criticized for focusing too much in attack. Obviously Pep will help attract names we might otherwise not get, and that is very important at a time when the squad needs a bunch of new faces regardless of Pep coming in next year.
CFC: The Pellegrini Era could still close with a treble or, if you're feeling optimistic, a quadruple. Are you confident that you send your Chilean manager out with at least one trophy?
B&B: I think we do, yeah. I'd be pretty surprised if we fell to Liverpool in the League Cup to be honest. A title challenge to the wire should be the bare minimum in the league, also. The FA Cup is probably a toss up at this point given that we are playing Chelsea and Pellegrini has stated he will likely play a bunch of youth due to our having 4 games in 11 days at that juncture. Can't complain over that decision. Finally for the Champions League, beating Kiev is a must and we'll see how the draw unfolds after that. I would really like for us to at least make the semifinal and I think we can, as we are getting healthier and hopefully it stays that way.
CFC: Bersant Celina made his debut last week and Kelechi Iheanacho has been a lot of fun to watch this season. Are you excited for the wave of young players that seem to be ready to challenge for first team spots?
B&B: There are a lot of promising players in the academy and I'm glad Pep will be there to guide them hopefully to the first team next season. Iheanacho has really been a joy for us this season and while I'm not sure we have anyone else ready to step up like him at the moment, there is a lot of talent in the pool. I'm not so sure Celina will cut it for us but some names to definitely watch out for are: Angelino (LB), Maffeo (RB), Garcia (CM), and Denayer (CB). We reeeally need an injection of youth into the squad and hopefully some of them will be ready.
CFC: Everyone is hurt for City, so what's the plan for City in this match? How are they going to cope with the pressing of Tottenham?
B&B: I have no idea to be honest. You guys already beat us pretty handily earlier in the season and we're not really in any better state now than we were back then. Our hopes lie mostly with Kompany being fit and starting, after that it's up to Pellegrini's squad selection. Ideally you like to have a few 'workers' in the lineup for a match against a team like Spurs but Delph and Navas, two of our best in that regard in the midfield, are injured. Toure will likely start which means the match probably hinges on how well the rest of the midfield picks up the defensive slack around him. Of course, our best defense is probably quite literally our attack so hopefully we can pin you back as well. We all know Aguero likes a Spurs fixture.
CFC: Finally, let's have your prediction for the match.
B&B: I think Kompany will play so maybe we'll only give up one goal. I'll say 1-1 and sit on the fence.