You could see it coming. Such was Manchester City’s dominance last night at the DW Stadium that the longer the first half progressed without Christian Walton’s goal being breached, one wondered if it could, against all odds, be Wigan Athletic’s night. And so it transpired.
Yielding 83% possession and on average a shot every three minutes over the ninety, City failed to locate the knockout blow which surely would’ve opened the floodgates against an opponent high on endeavour but short on attacking intent; understandably, perhaps, given that a more expansive style would’ve in all likelihood seen Paul Cook’s side eviscerated. As half time approached the general consensus was that some tinkering from Pep Guardiola – that presumably would include the introduction of who I regard as the currently the world’s best player, Kevin de Bruyne – would finally bear correlative fruit that such first half dominance deserved. But then, the game turned on a moment of controversy that will perhaps have repercussions for match official, Anthony Taylor.
Fabian Delph’s tackle on Max Power was robust but not worthy of the red card the Wigan players seemingly pressurized Taylor into giving. Indeed, it appeared the more warranted yellow was about to be brandished until the referee was surrounded by a baying mob of Latics players who perhaps smelt Taylor’s biddable blood. I am not even sure if the tackle deserved a booking, but in a society becoming more ‘snowflake’ by the day it seems that even the football pitch isn’t immune from those literally crying foul over what would in the past have involved, at worst, a stern ticking off.
Try as they might with ten men Manchester City could not blow down Wigan’s house, ironically twice done so by Blackpool only six day before. Twenty nine shots and fifteen corners did though only garner five shots on target, with the redoubtable Chey Dunkley and Dan Burn time and again throwing their bodies on the line to thwart their more illustrious opponents. What though did strike me as a weak point in City’s squad is a lack of height. Since the sale of Kelechi Iheanacho – would would have been ideal for last night’s game – to Leicester City the blue side of Manchester do not have any height in attack, and crucially in this respect could not go toe to toe with Burn and Dunkley. A stellar quintet of David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and de Bruyne are devastating in the Premier League at threading the needle but against lower league opposition who invariably pack out their defensive rearguards, pretty final balls and attempts to walk the ball into the net do not get the time of day. A lack of plan b, which yes, would perhaps have included getting the ball back to front far quicker than is usually the case at the Etihad, showed that City cannot just expect to play their normal game against all comers and presume that each outcome will be favourable.
A frustrating night for Guardiola will presumably be compounded by likely charges for his touchline and tunnel altercations with counterpart Paul Cook, who hardly shied away when it would’ve been more sensible for both parties to do so. A unprecedented clean sweep of trophies was always going to be a tough ask for City, although I think in many quarters such an achievement was seen as highly possible. Guardiola will learn that that there will always be games like this, where perceived injustices prevent teams otherwise receiving what they deserve. Wigan will welcome the kudos and ego-boost attached to beating one of Europe’s best, although a glorious defeat would’ve better served their promotion push than a quarter final distraction and a potential fixture pile up. As for Anthony Taylor, there may well be a case for the referee to answer as to why he seemingly folded under pressure from players who themselves should’ve been booked for attempting do the official’s job for him. Fabian Delph would argue with some validity that they succeeded.