Going into the game off the back of a wonderful win against Leicester, I felt as if a similar performance here could see us leave with a valuable point. They hadn’t won back-to-back games in the league all season – and had just beaten Burnley 5-0. Have stranger things happened?
But I know tasks do not get much harder than attempting to get something away against Manchester City, so as long as we didn’t get utterly blown away I wouldn’t be distraught with a loss.
I was pleased to see Parker naming an unchanged eleven as at times he has chopped and changed rather unnecessarily, and Monday’s win felt like the perfect performance to from which to build some momentum. Joachim Andersen would again take the armband following his assured display on Monday.
City named a typically strong side, with Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez all starting. Any hope I had that we may sneak a result was fast disappearing.
In the opening minutes, I thought we played well and seemed to hold our shape, but our efforts turned sour after just 5 minutes when Sterling tucked home. I wasn’t too deflated as I thought it was inevitable they’d find the net somehow.
We stuck to our plan following the goal and played with narrow gaps between the lines as we aimed to make ourselves compact and hard to break down. Bobby Decordova-Reid again did well down the right flank, and Frank put in another sterling shift at the heart of midfield. I have been so impressed with the way he has reintegrated into the team following his loan spell at Villarreal and glad he is proving himself worth the money we invested in him. He was able to break the City lines on a few occasions but they seemed to have an answer for every problem we threw at them.
On 26 minutes, Andersen was adjudged to have tripped Sterling in the box. Personally, I thought there wasn’t enough in it to warrant a penalty, so felt a bit hard done by when Moss pointed to the spot. I could only hope that the mercurial De Bruyne would take some inspiration from the Fulham badge on Areola’s shirt and blast it over the bar. Alas, he made no such error and calmly dispatched his effort. So we found ourselves 2-0 down with little over a quarter of the game gone, which is maybe a harsh reflection on how we had been playing.
City, despite being two up, remained intent on scoring a few more but it was thanks to Alphonse Areola that the score stayed as it was. He pulled off a string of fine, athletic saves to keep us in the game and showed us why he’ll be one of our key players if we are to stay up this season. Just in case there was anyone else who needed reminding!
I thought throughout the game we displayed fight both going forward and at the back. Anguissa, Lookman and Cavaleiro went closest for us, but ultimately it was always going to be a tricky afternoon. I was pleased that at 2-0 the heads didn’t drop and we played with good organisation to stop the scoreboard ticking over to 3, as it surely would have done earlier in the season.
If I were in charge, I would have been tempted to utilise Mitrovic in the 2nd half as I thought he would perform the same job as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, only to a higher standard. I am not criticising Loftus-Cheek for his efforts but the position he was deployed in was not his forte.
So a 2-0 loss to a team still regarded by many as the best in the land; I don’t think we should be too disappointed with that as they are a top-class outfit and we’ve conceded more to far less talented teams this season.
We move on to Liverpool next week where 2,000 lucky fans (hopefully including me) will be able to cheer on the boys at the Cottage for the first time since February. I’m not too sure how we’ll fare then, but for now I am remaining optimistic!