x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

New-look Manchester City well past FA Cup final defeat

Manchester City's Stevan Jovetic could be one for the future, according to Manuel Pellegrini, the manager. Phil Noble / Reuters
Manchester City's Stevan Jovetic could be one for the future, according to Manuel Pellegrini, the manager. Phil Noble / Reuters

Normally the talk would have been of revenge. Yet this was not a reunion, just as a rout was not redemption. Wigan had recorded the greatest FA Cup final shock in a quarter of a century when they last met, bringing Roberto Mancini’s reign at Manchester City to an unsatisfactory end.

But that was another time, another place, another era as well as another, very different, result. If there was something surreal about Wigan’s Wembley win on May 11, it appears all the stranger four months on, now that both clubs have been subjected to a radical overhaul, one by design, the other because of demotion and its inevitable consequences.

With two new managers, with only four of the players who started at Wembley doing so again, this was neither a sequel nor a meeting of equals. It was a mismatch.

A weakened Championship team were dispatched from the Capital One Cup by a depleted, but still enviably strong, City side. Relegation and European football have taken their toll on Wigan; even some of those who have stayed, such City’s Wembley tormentors Callum McManaman, Ben Watson and the injured Shaun Maloney missed the rematch.

So were many of the men who demolished Manchester United 4-1 on Sunday. Not that it brought any respite for Wigan. “We can change the names but it was very important to see the same team we saw last Sunday, the same philosophy of football and the same high performance,” said Manuel Pellegrini, the City manager.

His understudies set City on their way to a thrashing, completed when the first-teamers emerged from the bench. “Their team was probably worth about £200 million [Dh1.17 billion] and then the three substitutes added another £100m to the tally,” lamented Wigan manager Owen Coyle.

Indeed, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic comprise an expensive second-string strike force and both were on the scoresheet. Dzeko’s fourth goal of the campaign was delightful, volleyed in at full stretch after Fernandinho chipped his pass over the Wigan defence. In contrast, Jovetic’s first in City colours was distinctly fortunate, the ball bouncing back in off the Montenegrin after Lee Nicholls had blocked his initial effort.

“I am sure he is going to be a really important player for us,” Pellegrini added.

While this has been an injury-hit, stop-start beginning to Jovetic’s City career, there was the sense his luck is turning. His second, when he nutmegged Nicholls, was gifted to him by Wigan replacement Ryan Shotton, with an appalling attempt at a clearance.

“We gave away soft goals,” Coyle admitted.

Jovetic’s pair sandwiched the inevitable Yaya Toure strike. The Ivorian has struck in each of City’s four home games this season, three of them free kicks at the same end.

“It is not normal, someone always scoring free kicks,” Pellegrini added, but the latest was as precise as its predecessors.

Then another substitute scored. When Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo were signed from Sevilla, the assumption was that the winger was supposed to provide for the forward. Instead, there was a role reversal after both came off the bench, Negredo steering a pass into Navas’ path for his fellow Spaniard to drill home.

An hour earlier, a younger winger had rattled the bar: 17-year-old Marcos Lopes, who scored on his only previous first-team appearance for City, was the teenager surrounded by proven talents. Indeed, the team sheet illustrated that Pellegrini can perm from 22 pedigree players when all are fit.

Had Martin Demichelis, Jack Rodwell and David Silva been fit then Fernandinho, the only man to retain his place, Dedryck Boyata and Lopes presumably would not and City would have proved they had assembled two sides consisting of internationals. As it was, Toure and Fernandinho performed a job share, playing 45 minutes apiece.

Wigan have had to work harder. This was a third game in six days. It could be cited in mitigation; so, too, the probability that many Premier League teams would struggle against these City players. “The best teams in the world can come here and be on the wrong end of a scoreline,” Coyle said, with Manchester United in mind. Four months ago, however, Wigan upset the odds against City. But little has stayed the same between then and now.

Man of the match

Micah Richards – A storming display on his first appearance of the season from the stand-in captain.

Manchester City verdict

Job done, and done well. Yet following the superlative performance against United, it is safe to say no one played themselves into Pellegrini’s team, well as players such as Dzeko, Richards and James Milner performed. 8/10

Wigan verdict

Debutant goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, their third-choice when everyone is fit, excelled and spared them a still heavier defeat but others disappointed. With promotion the priority, elimination could have its benefits but the manner of their capitulation should concern. 4/10