EPL

Pep's City shine a light through the FFP rain clouds

By Sports Desk February 19, 2020

The Financial Fair Play rain clouds that have been lingering for so long over Manchester City finally burst on Friday.

And yet, through the uncertain, murky gloom – which was not completely at odds with the Manchester weather earlier on this cold February day – there shined a familiar ray of hope.

Just as the rain subsided physically, so too can the storm pass – at least for this season – if Wednesday's evidence in City's 2-0 beating of West Ham is anything to go by. 

The full repercussions of the bombshell of a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine administered by UEFA for what the organisation's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) deemed "serious breaches" of its FFP are still some way from being felt.

Not least because it is a ruling that barely starts the war, let alone ends it. City offered an immediate rebuttal, a denying of any wrongdoing and an intention to take their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

More battle lines were drawn when chief executive Ferran Soriano insisted allegations that City broke the rules "are simply not true" alongside an insistence the club had provided "irrefutable evidence" to the CFCB they had committed no wrongdoing. 

It is a scenario that will rumble on for some time. 

But here's the thing. Ultimately, you can have questions around City's financial conduct. You can feel uncomfortable about City's main means of defence throughout the process being to attack the validity of UEFA's investigation. You can even question the morality of football clubs being funded by oil-rich states.

It is fine to harbour those legitimate concerns and still be completely in awe of the slick machine Pep Guardiola has built, one many suggested would not be possible in English football. 

Sure, the Premier League trophy is headed to Liverpool this season and City's on-pitch shortfalls owe much to Guardiola's nonsensical decision not to replace Vincent Kompany, leaving City's defence low on numbers - the consequent re-positioning of Fernandinho after a serious knee injury to Aymeric Laporte in turn weakening his midfield.

But there were moments against the Hammers that reminded us of what has made City so utterly joyous during the previous two all-conquering title-winning seasons.

The intent was plain to see with a starting line-up blessed with City's wealth of attacking armoury. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings from midfield, Bernardo Silva employed further forward and Gabriel Jesus utilised wide in a front three – an intriguing subplot given it is a role he may have to fulfil against Real Madrid should Raheem Sterling not be fit and one in which he excelled as Brazil earned Copa America glory.

Indeed, had it not been for Jesus' dalliance, City twice would have been in front inside 15 minutes. West Ham clearly came with the intention to pack the defence and the midfield. The timeless David Silva unlocked that plan after just six minutes, playing an intricate sliderule ball into the path of Jesus who opted to try and round Lukasz Fabianski rather than take the favourable option of shooting. He was guilty of similar wastefulness when, after admittedly more fortuitous play, he was found by De Bruyne.

There was a delightful simplicity about the way City made the breakthrough. A De Bruyne corner, a front-post run by Rodri and a flicked header to the far post. 

But the second was much more a trademark of City under Guardiola. The intricate build-up play, the link-up between De Bruyne and his fellow creative genius Bernardo Silva, and the unerring finish from the former – who continues to be the beating heart of this team.

That such a performance came against a toothless, expensively assembled West Ham side shambling their way through a relegation battle should only partly detract from the credit City's performance deserves.

Sterner examinations are obviously on the horizon. Namely Madrid in what is a crucial last-16 Champions League tie, where you sense the atmosphere will be significantly more hostile towards UEFA and there will need to be more vibrancy on and off the pitch, though credit should be given to those game fans turning out for a hastily rearranged Premier League fixture with little riding on it.

Save for the brief, and somewhat unsavoury, "f*** UEFA" chants, and the self-deprecating singing of "City's going down with a billion in the bank" – a nod to a song rivals Manchester United used to taunt their blue neighbours with – the stands were understandably sedate and sparse.

But for now this was the sort of riposte City required on the pitch amid the uncertain turmoil off it. 

The FFP storm may still be gathering but with Guardiola, who has signalled his intent to stick around regardless of the outcome of the club's CAS appeal, there remains a feeling the light can shine through the dark clouds.

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