Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.27 – EFL Cup Quarter Final – Manchester City and home

Article by Paul Beasley Friday, December 20th, 2019  

MANCHESTER CITY AT HOME – EFL CUP QUARTER FINAL

What are the chances?

When we began this competition back in August against Peterborough and even more so as we entered the last few minutes against Millwall, the thought that we would once again be entertaining such illustrious opponents in the EFL Cup never entered my head. But here we are.

One bookmaker was offering 25/1 on an Oxford win and the best odds I could find on the almost inevitable City triumph was 1/8. Whatever team they put out will have cost squillions more than ours.

We marvelled at City last time yet they didn’t score their second until the 78th minute. There’s strong argument that we’ve now got a better side than we had in 2018/19 and that Man C are not quite as good.

Last time Jon Obika played the full 90 minutes and a never fit Ricky Holmes was replaced by a never good enough Sam Smith. It has also to be said though that if Gavin Whyte, Curtis Nelson and Luke Garbutt were still with us they would obviously be in contention for a starting place.

As for City, defensively they’re weaker now that Kompany has gone and Aymeric Laporte is injured and men who have been key over the years are now in decline due to the ageing process. In less than a month D. Silva will be 34 and the currently crocked Sergio Aguero 32.

Is this relevant though as they’ve got replacements coming through and could probably put out their third or even fourth team and still see us off? A few weeks back I wouldn’t have thought this. If the football we’d played against Lincoln and West Ham was still being produced and we were still scoring a copious amount of goals I would be rating our chances a fair bit higher than I did coming into the game.

Or perhaps I’ve missed the point completely. Attacking this lot would be suicide. KR had basically hinted as much. There’s no way Pep Guardiola would pick a team with any intention other than to win and always demands the same level of professionalism whether they’re up against Liverpool or little OUFC. There is no way we’ll see a WHU style capitulation.

They had 75% possession last time and there’s no reason to think there will be much change second time around which means that defensively we’ve got to be 110% at it. We’ve cracked that part of our game with only five goals shipped in our past twelve in all competitions. These though have been in L1 and in cups mostly against opponents from lower levels and this, as they say, is very different gravy indeed.

NB: As is the norm I wrote the above prior to the game but you may be forgiven for thinking it was penned after I’d listened to Radio Oxford post-match where many opinions expressed very much matched mine.

Oxford United 1 Manchester City 3

This whole spectacle was nothing like our usual bread and butter league one offerings. This was a sell-out crowd. (The attendance was recorded as 11,817. Last time 11,956. Perhaps the rain shrank the ground). We had those bloody moving advertising boards around the pitch. A sign that we’re closer to the big time and something no doubt fans get used to but a bit distracting and possibly epilepsy inducing. There was a makeshift open air TV studio just to our left at the back of the SSU with Mapp (getting a free scouting mission ahead of his Imps coming to town on Boxing Day) and Micah Richards amongst others crammed in. The away fans bantered “You’ve seen the champions of England now you can ***k off home”. (If we get them again next season, when the score will be 2-3, they won’t be able to sing that. But if we were to draw the Scousers that would be different.)

The mural making its debut added to the occasion and everyone involved in getting this in place is to be congratulated big time. Our history has eaten up a big chunk of the Kasstad’s sterility and will now permanently fill the void left by the Ultra’s departure. The yellow and blue OUFC display in the JIM SMITH Stand also merits a very positive mention.

Traffic was abandoned on grass verges along Grenoble Road where after the game we observed lots of parking fines having been dished out but after a certain point the traffic warden must have run out of tickets or decided he was too wet and went home.

The traffic management people were ruling again but given where we parked I couldn’t comment on whether it was a success or not. I still think closing the roundabouts off is absolutely ludicrous and can’t see any logic in it even after the game let alone before. There was however a yellow bibbed man parting the cones to let those exiting the Science Park escape via their usual route home. Taxis and friends and family kindly dropping fans off appeared to get caught up in it all though. Instead of being able to make a quick getaway being forced to go where they didn’t want to would have helped contribute to not alleviate any problem. But hey, these people know best.

From the off it was all City. As it was no longer new to me in a live situation I wasn’t marvelling at what I was witnessing in the same way as I had done 15 months earlier but nevertheless had total admiration for how City went about the game.

The effectiveness of their simple passing was something else. They didn’t seem to be running at flat out sprinting speed but were just faster at doing everything than the mere mortals we observe in our standard league fare. There was no let up. They got the ball back in play immediately and whilst they were about to do that every player was either in their optimum position or about to arrive there in a split second.

Their movement was superb with runs being timed to perfection dissecting our defence and the ball then delivered with equal precision.

Another thing that struck me was that in their passing range they had just about everything. If they decided to get the ball from A to B but the route was blocked by yellow, or possibly even sky blue shirts too, no problem. It was flighted in whatever fashion was required and landed where intended to be controlled in an instant.  That’s what happens when you can afford to buy every golf club available. In comparison some have to make do with the equivalent of charity shop purchases. Not saying that’s quite us, mind.

Their talent and trickery on the ball was exceptional but never did they over indulge to the detriment of the team effort. There were many lessons we can learn from this encounter and this, for one or two of our players, was very much one of them.

Mahrez again caught the eye with his ability to go either way in a flash from a standing start with not a clue given as to what he’s about to do. Josh Ruffels had a torrid night trying to stop him. I can assume our LB was playing to orders tucking in close to the centre halves a lot of the time but this gave the Algerian space he probably doesn’t even need to be 100% effective. The clever runs and movement too meant that JR was in the game of shadow chasing at times.

City were also finding their man on the other flank too and it appeared that, as suspected, we would be under the cosh for much of the time and have to defend for our lives.

For the first 20 minutes we managed to keep them out. Rob Dickie had to clear over his own bar after Mahrez in acres nearly found Rahim Sterling for a tap in. Very much a warning, that.

Midway through the first half the almost inevitable happened when the scoreboard registered 0-1. Although the finish was very lucky the build-up was text book swift passing with much of it being of the one touch variety. The move started from the City left back area where we’d made a very rare foray into their territory. Ten passes later and £60m defender João Cancelo is running free from just inside his own half. We’d been bamboozled. Ruffels was nowhere near his defensive zone and the Portuguese only had to contend with Elliott Moore. Our tall guy was a touch slow in getting close and when he stretched out a leg only succeeded in producing a wicked deflection to loop the ball over Jordan Archer.

City could have improved on their solitary goal. Archer made a sharp save down by his post from Phil Foden. Sterling failed to hit the target after we’d again been sliced open. Archer made another excellent stop low by the same post to keep out a Mahrez effort although referee Andy Madley didn’t detect this and gave us a goal kick.

From an attacking perspective we’d offered almost nothing. Although we won quite a few free-kicks, instead of playing them short as we are wont to do in L1, we launched them towards our opponent’s penalty area. Invariably they were over-hit and what should have been threats were not. Matty Taylor let go a long shot from way out that was off target by some distance and was never going to trouble Claudio Bravo in the City goal.

We’d not been able to play much football in the middle of the pitch let alone in the final third such was city’s expertise in closing us down. They just knew where to be to make it difficult for us. It was not for the lack of trying on our part though and we did actually keep the ball in tight situations where I was thinking just get rid of it otherwise we’ll lose possession and a goal. The midfielders were able to find space to provide an outlet. Just hitting it long wasn’t a viable option either because, much as City’s back line wasn’t their first choice, Taylor and Dan Agyei were not going to come out on top in a physical battle to turn the game our way.

This all makes it sound as if I thought we’d done badly but far from it. We’d kept the score down and everyone was giving their all even if it was bloody hard work both mentally and physically.

The second half was a different kettle of fish. With the restart only just having taken place Agyei won a cheap free-kick. Shandon Baptiste and Taylor were by now tuned into the City way of doing things. The kick was taken immediately by Baptiste as MT made his move before using his right foot to cut inside the defender who had gone with him and then lashing home with his left by the near post. Bravo having gone the wrong way.

Technically this goal should have been ruled out. Baptiste had put his hand on the ball before taking the kick but had just failed to prevent it from still having slight movement.  I’d commented to Mrs FV earlier that Madley was allowing City to take quick free-kicks with the ball not being stationary so it was only fair he did nothing to dampen our unexpected joy here.

It was a superb finish. If a City player had produced it we would have been saying that’s why they’re Premier League.

It couldn’t happen could it? An Oxford Utd win and a place in the semi-finals? That’s what part of me was thinking. The other thought I had was, oh dear we’ve annoyed them now.

They put us under immediate pressure. A Mahrez cross was unconvincingly punched away by Archer and then followed a very poor, by City standards, shot put wide by Bernardo Silva.

There was more and it was just four minutes after we’d dared to dream that reality struck. Silva received the ball with no Oxford man being close. On his left Angelino was being given even less attention. The ball he played in was Beckhamesque. He had no need to beat the man, Sam Long, who came across. The ball was just bent in and Sterling, who had nipped between our centre-halves side footed in from a few yards out. It was absolutely incisive.

By now though we’d become much more of an attacking force and this even continued after City had got their third twenty minutes later.

We started putting moves together that we’d been unable to earlier and there were spells when City looked very uncomfortable at the back. They had to resort to hacking the ball away; their calmness and ability to work the ball forward for any area of the pitch, however deep, having been taken away from them.

Proud indeed. Photo Simon Jaggs

The stats covering our second half output support how good we looked on the day. 18 shots with five being on target is something to be very proud of and looks even better when it is pointed out that no Guardiola City team has allowed the opposition to have that many efforts on their goal.

We began to win midfield challenges. Alex Gorrin did so.  Then a Long pass to Baptiste, a Baptiste pass to Cameron Brannagan, and a Brannagan pass to Tariq Fosu could have been a City attack. We were now playing them at their own game.  Bravo had to pull off a good save to keep out Fosu’s shot.

If that had gone in we would have been level again but City have that killer instinct. They were onto a loose ball in a flash and were mounting an attack with many of our players out of position. Jesus was off with the ball and Sterling without it. This time the England international’s tap in was a very easy one.

Still we had further chances. Jamie Mackie, who was his usual stirring self when he came on with a quarter of an hour to go,  swivelled and sent one just past the angle of post and bar. Mark Sykes volleyed a teasing clipped Brannagan cross which fully tested Bravo but the keeper’s reactions were sufficient to restrict us to just the one goal.

And that was it, we were out but could more than hold our heads high.

This display has to be a massive confidence booster after our recent little blip and although we have four fewer days recovery time than the L1 leaders whom we face on Saturday, we must now have great belief that we’re capable of getting a positive result.

Chatting on the way back to the car I said I thought Dickie and Brannagan had showed that they are capable of playing at a higher level than we are currently at. Not saying Premier League but definitely Championship. Baptiste to a certain extent too. Again Radio Oxford came up with identical thoughts. Great minds.

I also learnt more about other players. Long and his long throw being deployed as often as it was in the second half was a weapon I can’t recall us using like this before. He must have clocked up some miles and played his part well as we tried to attack towards the Bald Eagle Smith Stand and would surely become a very valuable asset indeed if he could deliver a better quality final ball.

Gorrin showed that he can still play his game against superior opposition and Mark Sykes helped invigorate us with his introduction. He looks a much better player out wide than he does playing more centrally.

Dan Agyei was the man Sykes replaced just before the hour was up. I know it was difficult for him but there’s something lacking in his game right now. It might be confidence or lack of game time but could also be that he hasn’t quite got the ability needed to do a job for us right now. The only thing I can remember him doing is bursting clear from the half way line but after a couple of touches his next was a heavy one and the City defence did not have to work hard to regain the ball.

With no injuries to report and presumably James Henry and Chris Cadden back we should be all the stronger for the visit of Wycombe, a game I’m looking forward to with as much anticipation and tension as I did this one. It will be just as much a challenge as this was but in a very different way. The Chairboys are not top of L1 for no reason but will have got there playing a very dissimilar style to the one the Champions of England use to win football matches.

 

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