Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart has criticised his colleagues for what he termed a ‘tough day’ as they suffered an ignominious 2-0 defeat at the hands of Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Having lost three of their last six games in all competitions, City’s lacklustre showing away to Mark Hughes’ invigorated side came off the back of a similarly dispiriting 4-1 loss to Liverpool the week before, leading many fans to question the application and tenacity of some of the players.
Set upon by a rampant Stoke City outfit evidently sensing City’s frailty on the day, the away side succumbed with a shocking degree of spinelessness, as Stoke scored two within in the opening sixteen minutes and were unlucky not to add more to the already-embarrassing scoreline.
“We didn’t play well,” said Hart. “It was a disappointing start and we couldn’t recover from it.
“Conditions were tough but that’s English football – I said before the game: no-one would be able to walk off the pitch with an excuse. It’s not like the wind got up four seconds before kick-off – we knew what we were coming into and Stoke knew what they were coming in to.
“A few of the lads are feeling it from the amount of games we’re playing but that’s not an excuse,” he went on. “They played better than us and deserved to beat us.”
In spite of a slightly reassuring performance against Juventus in Turin, where City’s improved performance arguably warranted more than the eventual 1-0 loss, and against Ronald Koeman’s wavering Southampton side, City are still struggling to cope with injuries to key players such as Sergio Aguero, the newly fit David Silva, Yaya Toure, and crucially Vincent Kompany.
With Kompany in the team, City have conceded just five goals in eleven matches this season, winning eight and drawing two, losing just one.
Without the Belgian skipper, matters are significantly different, however, with City having conceded 20 goals in 12 matches, winning seven and losing five.
But Hart was reluctant to use the captain’s continued absence as an excuse.
“We’ve got a great squad and Vinny [Kompany] is a massive part of it but Nico [Nicholas Otamendi], Martin [Demichelis] and Manga [Eliaquim Mangala] are good centre-halves.
“It’s been a tough day and after a 2-0 loss, it’s probably easy to say [we missed Kompany] but we’ll stick together as a squad, work for each other and get through this.
“At the level we’re playing at, we need to turn out performances of 7/10 at least every week and rely on some players to produce 8s and 9s.
“That’s how we should be playing and we’re not. Credit to Stoke – I thought they deserved to win.”
Under-pressure City manager Pellegrini was similarly damning in his criticism of his side’s limp efforts, saying: “We didn’t have the legs to defend as we needed to or attack in the way we liked and we didn’t create many chances.
“I’m worried by the first 20 minutes of the game against Stoke and I’m worried going forward about the way we played the ball in the opposition box.”
But, while clearly dissatisfied with his team, the Chilean coach was quick to point to his injury-ravaged squad, claiming that he has had few fit bodies to choose from at times resulting in his players not playing ‘as a team’.
He also waved away seemingly valid suggestions that his team is overly reliant on a core set of players, insisting: “We don’t have a priority to get any one player back in the team in particular.”
He did, however, lower hopes of City regaining the services of some of their star names in the near future, as he confirmed: “We have five or six key injuries and I don’t think we will have any of them back this week.”
Looking ahead to City’s crucial Champions League bout against a reformed Borussia Moenchengladbach side, whose 3-1 win over Bundesliga league-leaders Bayern Munich was City-target Pep Guardiola’s first league defeat of the season, a vastly improved showing is required from Pellegrini’s men.
Kevin De Bruyne, who spent three seasons in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg, has warned that Gladbach’s improved form will pose issues for City, and that their being in third place is an accurate reflection of their quality.
“They are probably about where they should be at the moment,” the City attacking midfielder said.
“They are now playing the way they were last season, as their win over Bayern proves. They have recovered well from a difficult start and if they have a good second round of Bundesliga matches I think they should achieve a top four finish again.
“They develop young players into future stars and when they are established they generally move to other clubs so it’s not easy for them but that said, I think they have a really good side just now.”
But the summer signing from Wolfsburg was emphatic in his insistence that City, who would need to beat Gladbach and hope that Sevilla overcome an in-form Juventus in order to secure first place, need to concentrate on their own form to top a Champions League group for the first time in their Champions League history.
“From our perspective, we just need to win this game and see where it takes us,” the Belgian said. “It’s going to be difficult to finish as group winners but we have to give ourselves the best chance of that happening by beating Monchengladbach.
“Even if Juventus only draw in Sevilla we will finish second, but we’ll try and do our part and then see what happens in the other game.
“We need to react to our loss at Stoke so this is an opportunity for us to do that quickly.”
Image courtesy of BBC via YouTube, with thanks.