Yaya Toure last week spoke of how he envisaged Manchester City emulating Barcelona within the next couple of years. Come full time at the City of Manchester Stadium on Sunday, his prediction seemed every bit as startling as those who proclaim the end of the world in 2012. City, to be blunt, were eons away from producing the type of football Toure so evidently believes they are capable of and may even consider themselves fortunate that their insipid performance yielded a point against Mark Hughes’s Fulham.
In the event it was the former City manager who captured the headlines, with no little assistance from the current incumbent Roberto Mancini. Frustrated at his team’s impotence, Mancini refused to look Hughes in the eye as the managers shook hands at full-time. The Welshman, who has already been embroiled in a high profile spat with Stoke City boss Tony Pulis this season (not to mention his contretemps with Arsene Wenger when City manager), threw the Italian’s hand away, furious at the half-hearted gesture.
It was quite simply too easy for Hughes’s pragmatic Fulham side to contain City. The forwards, including goal scorer Mario Balotelli, came in line for particularly scathing criticism. The ingenuity of David Silva and the trickery of Adam Johnson missing, Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and the lacklustre Edin Dzeko – so potent against Aris Salonika in midweek – were infuriating.
The infuriation was provoked precisely because of what the trident are capable of. In a rare moment of potency, Balotelli wriggled past Danny Murphy before unleashing a right-foot drive which left Mark Schwarzer helpless. It was a goal befitting of a player who has famously proclaimed himself, after Lionel Messi, to be “the best young player in the world.” More the pity that following his wonder strike Balotelli regressed into the selfish, petulant child that so infuriates English spectators, shooting from long range with impunity. Mancini alluded to this, saying: “It was a good goal but I am not happy. He should play better. Strikers should play for the team, not just for Balotelli, for Tevez, for Dzeko. The strikers didn’t work well.”
Perhaps Mancini’s evident frustration come the final whistle was his inability to tactically outmanoeuvre Hughes. In tight games such as these, subtle decisions, changes of position and fluidity between the forwards can make all of the difference. City were static. They were uninspiring, devoid of ideas in attacking areas – their bluntness epitomised by Balotelli’s impetuous shoot-on-sight policy. Damien Duff’s 48th minute equaliser was no less deserved than it was unexpected.
Suffice to say that Manchester City’s title aspirations for this season are well and truly extinguished. The real concern for the future has to be their continued overreliance on moments of individual genius to win matches. City are still not the cohesive, fluent attacking unit real contenders should be. Until this is rectified they will be set in a stultifying stupor, good enough to amble their way past most teams, not good enough to challenge for titles.