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What's eating Manchester City? Several people in the comments sections and the F365 Mailbox have asked what the hell is going on with Manuel Pellegrini's side, and the truth is that we barely have the first idea about why a team can beat Norwich 7-0 one week then lose to Sunderland the next.
However, we at Football365 are not called the Woodward & Bernstein of football journalism for nothing (or, actually, at all), so here are a few reasons why City might have been so utterly terrible on the road this season.
Vincent Kompany, or lack thereof
Of course, any team without their best defender is going to suffer, but Kompany is more than just that for City. Matthew Stanger covered this issue in more depth here, but in short City lack that most ephemeral of qualities - 'leadership' - when he isn't around. The news that Kompany might be out for another three weeks will have gone down like a bucket of warm spit with Pellegrini and his men, and there is talk of some fairly significant strengthening at the back in January, although it might well be a bit late by then. Of course, since Kompany has been absent for City's successes at home and present for the clusterf*ck at Aston Villa it doesn't explain things fully, but when City have needed a calming figure, the Belgian has been missing. Perhaps it's less to do with his absence, more the identity of the players that have taken his place...
Demichelis, Garcia et al
...who, frankly, have been terrible. Javi Garcia has been little short of a disaster for City since arriving in that tranche of the great unwanted, among the players signed for Roberto Mancini went he wanted someone else. He's not quite as actively destructive in midfield, but when he plays in defence...oi vey. Equally Martin Demichelis, who showed positioning as bad as his haircut in the defeat to Sunderland, allowing their attackers (and Phil Bardsley) as much space as they fancied. Even Matija Nastasic, implausibly composed in his first season, has suffered from a second campaign disrupted by injuries, in and out of the team and not able to settle as he did last season.
You've seen his mistakes, you've read thousands of words on his predicament so we won't elaborate too much here, but Hart's communication calamity with Nastasic against Chelsea cost City that game and was the final straw for Pellegrini. In addition, Hart's confidence has been shot for much of the season, and the impact a jittery and jumpy goalkeeper can have on a defence cannot be understated.
There could be a case for City fans not getting too worked up about this bad away run because basically each game can be written-off as isolated freak results. Chelsea (Hart and Nastasic), Cardiff (Hart), Villa (a collective cranial calamity) and Sunderland (Demichelis, Richards, Milner) can all be attributed to individual errors that on another day might not have been punished, and just happened to occur in away games rather than spread across all the matches. Of course, that's fairly flimsy logic as when a thing happens a number of times it ceases to be a thing, and becomes a pattern.
No Gareth Barry, or similar
We will not be the first to put forward the idea that City should not have given Barry up quite so easily in the summer. While Yaya Toure and Fernandinho have generally performed well together, whenever Pellegrini has needed someone to screen the back four, the only options he has are Garcia and Jack Rodwell. Garcia, as we've established, has been no good, while he seems oddly reluctant to use Rodwell, who while suffering from more of the injuries that have stunted his City career, the Englishman has made just one league start and has been an unused substitute on four occasions. Someone like Barry or perhaps Nigel De Jong might have been valuable.
Deputies not performing well
City's first-choice players have in general been pretty strong, particularly the front six of Fernandinho, Toure, Samir Nasri, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. However, when Pellegrini has needed to rotate, the quality of his side has diminished. Garcia and Rodwell have been dealt with, James Milner has been uninspiring at best, Jesus Navas has flattered to deceive, Edin Dzeko seems to have spent more time complaining than scoring goals and Stevan Jovetic has been desperately unlucky with injuries. Football, as you know, is very much a squad game these days, and City's squad isn't performing.
Pellegrini doesn't know what he's doing
It's possible. After all, while he is highly respected and liked by those that have encountered him, he hasn't actually won very much. He has never won a title in Europe (unless you count the 2004 Intertoto Cup, which you shouldn't), and nothing at all since the Argentinean Primera Division with River Plate in 2003.
As with all things, it's probably a combination of all the above. However, pick your favourite and use that as a scapegoat. It's more fun that way.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter