Published on February 29th, 2016 | by Daniel Cheeseman1
“Sink or Swim” | Daniel Cheeseman
After a season-defining week (and month) for Manchester City Football Club, I think it’s safe to say that the Blues have come out of it in typical City fashion!
While it wasn’t particularly pretty to watch, February’s first game saw the Blues grind out a crucial win at the Stadium of Light which, at the time, left City just 3 points off the top of the table and still in all four competitions.
Next came Leicester who put on a dazzling display at the Etihad, silencing those doubters who still don’t consider them to be genuine title contenders. Manuel Pellegrini’s men were well and truly beaten on that day, but unfortunately things didn’t improve much for them over the next fortnight – as they then went on to lose 2-1 and 5-1 to Spurs and Chelsea, respectively.
Three straight defeats in a row meant that City could now only win a maximum of 3 out of 4 potential trophies (or less depending on how full your glass is) which inevitably piled on even more pressure for their visit to Ukraine.
The fact that Kiev had not played competitively since before their winter break made preparation for the game much more difficult than normal, as the Blues had no recent form to analyse and nobody knew how they’d react to such a long absence.
It’s hard to know whether that break had an impact on their performance on the night, but regardless it was a far more convincing performance from the Blues and they fully deserved to win the tie.
Then came the small matter of the Capital One Cup Final.
I think we’d be lying if any of us said that our hearts didn’t sink when we saw Willy Caballero’s name on the team sheet, especially after his poor display against Chelsea earlier in the month, but otherwise the team was unchanged from the one that played in the Champions League earlier in the week.
The first 45 minutes was pretty even and felt like both teams were trying to get a feel for each other, waiting for the second half to really turn on the gas. Fernandinho struck early after the break thanks to unselfish play from Sergio Aguero, after that the Blues really should have gone 3 or 4-0 up – had it not been for some lacklustre finishing from Raheem Sterling and poor officiating from Michael Oliver.
City continued to keep Daniel Sturridge and co. quiet as they did so well in the first half, but the Blues soon came to regret not finishing the game off as Liverpool scored with their first shot on target less than 10 minutes from the end.
For the remainder of the game and into extra time Liverpool began to improve and began to look more of a threat, but in the end 120 minutes was still not enough to separate the two sides.
Although I didn’t (and still don’t) have much confidence in Willy Caballero in open play, when it comes to penalties it’s a whole different ball game, as the Argentine has actually got a pretty good track record with them. If memory serves me well, he saved one in pre-season and more recently one against Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine – but that doesn’t mean to say that nerves still weren’t high!
My Dad’s saying of “whoever misses first in a penalty shootout usually ends up winning” didn’t help me much on this occasion, as although that theory has a pretty good success rate it’s completely different when you’re watching your own team doing it.
What happened next can only be described as a fairytale story as Willy Caballero, the man who Manuel Pellegrini kept his faith in, became our Wembley hero by pulling off 3 incredible saves in a row. Amazing.
— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) February 28, 2016
But while the ending was one of the most dramatic finals I can personally remember, I think it’d have been injustice if City hadn’t won that game – as they were by far the better team over the course of the 120 minutes and would have won with flying colours if they’d have taken their chances like they did in Kiev.
If you’d have asked me before the game how I’d have wanted it to go, I’d have said “3-0 to City and no drama”, but in hindsight I suppose it does makes it a much more fulfilling victory and lasting memory when it’s left until the last possible minute (as we should all know!) 😉
After all – it wouldn’t be City if they didn’t do it the hard way now, would it?