Tuesday, 30 September 2008

City move to secure Hart and Sturridge deals

From today's MEN:
Both players will be offered fresh contracts that will reflect their status as important members of the first-team squad.

"We are in the early stages of negotiation with both players and their representatives," confirmed the club.

Exactly the news we wanted to hear.

Having finalised Michael Johnson's five year deal, Hart and Sturridge must be next to be offered long term contracts. Hart's terms do not reflect the progress he has made in the last twelve months, and Sturridge could theoretically leave on a Bosman at the end of the season.

We have heard in the press recently of potential new deals for Hart and Sturridge, and today's piece further confirms this.

Should Hart sign the five year deal rumoured, he will join Micah Richards, Michael Johnson and Pablo Zabaleta as contracted until summer 2013.

These are the players around whom you build a dynasty.

Monday, 29 September 2008

TLDORC September Awards

September 2008 will not be remembered in MCFC history for primarily on the pitch matters.

But here's a recap of what went on:

Chelsea (H) 1-3 (report and ratings)
AC Omonia (A) 2-1 (report)
Portsmouth (H) 6-0 (report, more, and ratings)
Brighton and Hove Albion (A) 2-2 (lost on pens) (report and ratings)
Wigan (A) 1-2 (report and ratings)

Player of the Month

Steven Ireland

It was very tight between August's TLDORC Player of the Month and the returning hero Shaun Wright-Phillisp. Both impressed with their creativity in Cyprus, both won 7/10s at Wigan and 9s against Portsmouth. Ireland got 7 against Chelsea to SWP's 6, but the marginal difference was made decisive by his tireless and goalscoring performance in the Carling Cup catastrophe. This was another month of improvement from Stevie - a further combination of effort and grit with trademark vision and skill. His performance against Portsmouth was his best ever in a City shirt. Still needs to work on his performance in front of goal, but with his second consecutive TLDROC Player of the Month trophy, he walks into October as the favourite for Player of 2008/09 so far.

Individual Performance of the Month

Steven Ireland vs Portsmouth

Career defining. Ireland bossed the game - showing more heart and muscle than Diarra and more skill and awareness than Elano. Two exquisite passes for Jô (who set up Robinho) and SWP, putting City 3-0 and then 4-0 up. Our 4-3-3 could just as easily be built for him to dominate from midfield as it is for Robinho to come in from the left. Won a much deserved standing ovation.

Goal of the Month

Shaun Wright-Phillips vs Portsmouth

Ireland takes the ball off Kompany in the centre circle, and plays an exquisite fifty yard through pass to Wright-Phillips, disecting the Portsmouth midfield and defence. SWP runs onto the ball, and slams it past David James at the near post for his first City goal at CoMS for years.

You could watch this video from 2.25, but why not watch the whole thing?

For August's awards, see here.

City vs Wigan player ratings

Hart Blameless for either goal. One catching error, but general play good. Bizarre shouting at Zaki for penalty failed to put him off. 6

Zabaleta Probably City's best player. Tough in the tackle, careful on the ball and willing to run up and down the right hand side all day. Vedran who? 7

Dunne Another solid performance - unfortunate to have conceded two goals. Strong in the air and on the ground. 7

Richards Has not quite found his feet yet this season. Not as surefooted as Dunne, given problems throughout by Amr Zaki, and should have closed down Valencia for Wigan's opening goal. Bold going forward, but that's not really his job. 5

Garrido I am, by the standards of City fans, 'pro-Garrido' but I struggle to see how he's starting ahead of Ball at the moment. I didn't think the penalty against him was quite the injustice Hughes did, but it was another afternoon of poor passing and slack marking from the Spaniard. Gets in good positions going forward - but if that's sufficient to getting picked at full back why not drop Petrov in there when he's fit? 5

Kompany More like his Brighton appearance than his Portsmouth one. Hassled throughout by Cattermole and Palacios, his passing radar was not as immaculate as usual. Silly booking for dissent. Took his goal well. 6

Ireland Another strength of his is being able to play well in a malfunctioning team. Tireless work in midfield, against difficult opponents. A few nice touches going forwards, particularly the through ball to Robinho in the first half. Could have done better with his one on one perhaps. 7

Elano Never going to be a game suited to his style (he can wait until Thursday for that), visibly struggled with the pace and physicality. Tried too many Hollywood balls too often, although at least he tried to create something. Surely will be replaced by a fit Johnson for away league games in future? 6

Wright-Phillips Our best attacking player. Always willing to run at his full back, and often did well to keep the ball in difficult circumstances. Final ball not up to his usual standard - Aaron Lennon would be embarrassed by some of his crosses. 7

Robinho His first away game in English football, and it showed. Completely squeezed out of the game by Wigan. Had to drop very deep to get a taste of the ball. The one time he had space in a good position, he was through on goal. And he put it wide. Silly booking for dissent. 4

Rather off the pace. Could not do much with the ball in the box, so had to drop off or go wide to get time in possession. Not quite showing the poacher's instinct his record for CSKA Moscow would suggest. 5


Evans, Sturridge, Gelson: Did not really do enough to warrant a mark. Evans worked hard.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Wigan 2 -1 City

  • The central test of the Hughes regime, in comparison with Eriksson, is this: can we go to difficult places, play physically and grind out wins? Our record in this regard last season was shameful. On today's evidence the answer seems to be - not yet. Wigan were just too quick, too strong, too willful for us. The Brazilian trio were starved of the space they enjoyed last Sunday and just seemed unable to cope with Wigan's gameplan. Replacing Corluka with Zabaleta is a step in the right direction, but our first team needs to be a bit tougher in situations like this.
  • I find it difficult to get as worked up about the referee as other City fans did. I don't think any of his penalty decisions were disgracefully wrong, and whilst we certainly did poorly out of those calls, it's by no means the only reason we didn't win. I thought Wigan's penalty was probably just a foul by Garrido, even if Palacios did exagerrate his dive (which isn't actually the issue here). Dunne's tangle of legs in the box could have been given - but then if I'd seen it awarded against City I'd be pretty angry. The Richards/Bramble incident seemed to be a collision with no infringement on either side, as was the alleged trip on Evans. Yes, Steve Bennet could have given us more today. But the ultimate reason why we lost? Please.
  • Going forward, we were unrecognisable from the Portsmouth game. There was none of the vigour, imagination or wit we saw last this time last week. The few good chances we carved out were missed - Robinho put through by Ireland, Jô's delaying in the right channel, Ireland's one on one, SWP's shot etc. And next Sunday we have a team who have conceded two in six league games this year.
  • Wigan are a pretty good team, and this was not an easy game. But if we really want to finish near the Big Four, we have to win games like this. We're still only in September, and we shouldn't really draw too long term conclusions from games now. But this is a semi-serious set-back. And a dropping of points we may well regret months from now.
  • This year's change kits seem as unlucky as last year's. In competitive matches, we've played one lost one in orange, and lost both our games in red/black (albeit one on penalties). We have won away from home this year (EB/Streymur, FC Midtjylland, Sunderland and Omonia): but they have all been wearing blue. We travel to Bolton on November 2nd: the day we can turn this curse around?

New Hart deal?

The News of the World says today that Hart is "expected to sign a new five-year deal with Manchester City within the next couple of weeks".

This new contract would increase his earnings from £8,000/week to £30,000/week.

When Richard Dunne re-signed almost three months ago, Hughes said that talks with Hart were ongoing. Which just goes to show how lengthy a process this has been.

Two weeks ago, NotW claimed that a new deal had been offered to Danny Sturridge. The securing of Hart and Sturridge on long term deals must be the club's immeadiate priority - even before preparing bids for Benzema and Aguero.

Ireland interview

There are very good interviews with Steven Ireland in the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph.

He talks about his respect for Hughes:
Yes, I’d heard nice things from other managers. But from Mark Hughes it meant a lot more. He doesn’t talk all the time but when he does talk everyone listens. He’s strong and no one is bigger than the club.
How training has improved since the Eriksson era:
But in his time it was turn up, boots on, train, boots off, home...[under Hughes] it’s our place. We get in early and have a game of pool or computer game before training. It’s like being part of a family, so relaxed. Everyone’s close and you learn a lot about each other.
And how to play with Robinho:
'It’s best just to trust him with the ball. Just leave him to it, leave him one-on-one and concentrate on getting towards the box because he’s got an end product — he’ll beat his man and get in a cross or a shot. You can just drift away and leave him isolated.
Do read them both. Here and here.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Wigan preview

In the last six days we've been treated to one of the best City performances in my lifetime, and one of the most embarrassing results. Tomorrow's trip to Wigan Athletic will prove a test of the team's mettle: can they recreate the quality shown last Sunday, or are they afflicted by the illness we often see from City teams - an inability to pull out of a dip in form?

Wigan is not a game particularly suited to City's style. The central test for Hughes this year, I think, is to create a team capable of winning ugly at teams below us in the league. Our record last year was shameful in this regard: losing at Reading and Birmingham, drawing at Derby, Bolton, Fulham and Wigan. Tomorrow will be a crucial test of whether this is something that we have overcome.

Another problem is that despite their status, Wigan are quite a useful side. Many have complaints about them as a club, but as a team they are effective and well organised. Heskey and Zaki is as good a strike partnership as you will find outside of the European qualified teams. Palacios, Valencia, Scharner and Kirkland are all good players.

I imagine the team will be roughly the same as that which played Portsmouth. The one possible change could see Elano left out. A luxury in a three man midfield even last Sunday, this game will be far from suited to his talents. A tougher option may be required. 90 Premier League minutes seems could be beyond Hamann, leaving Gelson Fernandes and the fit again Michael Johnson competing. But neither made a particularly compelling case for selection on Wednesday. Maybe Elano will start after all.

We were gifted a goal by Titus Bramble last year. Even if we don't get that lucky tomorow, I think we will still create chances: as long as Robinho and Wright-Phillips don't get injured they should be successful. The problems will come at the other end. We haven't looked great defensively this season. With Heskey and Zaki on form, I fear they'll have as much fun at our end as Robinho will at the other. So I'm going for a close, high scoring game: I'd love to say 2-1 City but I think 2-2 is most likely.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Elano on Robinho

On Robinho's official site.

Some interesting tactical stuff:
He [Robinho] likes playing down the left. In his first match, he played in the middle and scored a goal, but I know he would have helped us even more if he’d been able to play where he enjoys things most.
I've been playing down the left, alongside Robinho. Because of the language and the understanding between us, we thought it would be better for me to play there, and also because our left-back [Javier Garrido] is Spanish.
And a rather questionable claim:
Last season was a very good one for City. The team hadn't done so well in many years. I finished as the team's top scorer and we almost qualified for the Champions League [wtf??]. Now, with players such as Jô and Robinho, we will certainly be fighting for bigger things.
Certainly worth reading though.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

City trio in Brazil squad

City's three Brazil stars (pace Glauber Berti) are all included in Dunga's squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Robinho, Elano and Jô all made the cut, while former City transfer target Ronaldinho has been dropped. Unfortunately for City fans, the inclusions of Mancini, Kaka and Pato may push Elano and Jô down the pecking order somewhat.

On Sunday 12th October, Brazil travel to Venezuela for what I think is a 21.30 BST kickoff. The second game is Colombia at home on the evening of Wednesday 15th. I fear the kick off will be 01.50 BST (on Thursday morning). I'll try to watch at least one of these games and report on it here, work/social life permitting.

Bianchi scores again

A thunderous penalty in Torino's 1-1 draw with Chievo last night. From 1.30 on the video.

Meanwhile Georgios Samaras continues to set the SPL alight. (Goals on 5.35 and 9.30)

Online Videos by Veoh.com

He now has nine in eight this year.

The change kit curse

Last night City wore the new red and black away kit. It was the first time we'd worn it in a competitive match this season - and we lost. We have worn the orange third kit once this season, and we lost that too.

Which got me thinking about last season. Our record in change strips was appalling.

Here are all of our away league games last year, broken down by strip worn.

Blue (home kit)

Arsenal 0-1
Newcastle 2-0
Man Utd 2-1
Sunderland 2-1
Liverpool 0-1
Middlesbrough 1-8

So 6 points from a possible 18, including three trips to Big Four teams, or one point per game. A respectable enough record. In the cups we won 1-0 at Bolton and 2-1 at Bristol City, whilst losing 2-1 to a balloon.

White (3rd kit)

West Ham 2-0
Chelsea 0-6
Portsmouth 0-0
Villa 1-1
Everton 0-1

5 points from 5 games - the same ratio as in blue. Only scored three goals, but the West Ham win was a very special moment. The 6-0 was not particularly edifying. In the FA Cup we drew 0-0 at the Boleyn Ground.

Purple (2nd kit)

Blackburn 0-1
Fulham 3-3
Wigan 1-1
Spurs 1-2
Derby 1-1
Reading 0-2
Bolton 0-0
Birmingham 1-3

Eight games, seven of which against teams who finished below us. And four points! Trips, wearing purple, to all three relegated teams: we came away with one point! We got draws at the 14th, 16th and 17th and 20th placed teams, and lost at 18th and 19th. The game at Craven Cottage was good, but the rest are all examples of the worst failing of Eriksson - an inability to go to bottom half teams and win ugly.

So we averaged 1 point/game in white and in blue, and 0.5 points/game in purple.

So far this year we have won in blue at EB/Streymur, won (albeit luckily) in blue at FC Midtjylland, and won in blue at AC Omonia. We have, though, lost our only games in orange and red/black.

We play Wigan this Sunday. They wear blue and white. I'm worried.

City player ratings

(For the 90 minutes I was there for)

Schmeichel Crucial save on 82 minutes, and may have pushed a first half effort onto the post. 6

Zabaleta Solid in defence, made some good attacking runs up the right hand side. 6

Dunne Dealt easily with Brighton's long ball football. Poor in distribution 6

Ben Haim Did not look very comfortable. Arguably at fault for the equaliser. 5

Ball Untroubled at the back, got forward well in the second half 6

Kompany Not his usually excellent self. Less secure in possession than in recent weeks. Gave away too many free kicks, lucky not to get booked. 5

Johnson Looked off the pace in the first half but improved as the match went on. At the heart of much of our good attacking play after Gelson's goal 6

Fernandes Barely touched the ball in the first half, but much improved after half time. Did well to break the deadlock, but could have scored two or three. 6

Ireland Out of place on the right wing, drifted inside with good effect in the second half. Some lovely touches, but lacked composure in front of goal. Could have had a hat trick in the 90 minutes. 7

Sturridge Not fair to be played on the left wing: sparky when on the ball but struggled to get in the game. 5

Jo Worked hard but never looked comfortable. Went close a few times in the second half. 6

Evans (on for Sturridge, 60 mins) Our best attacking player - held up the ball and ran at defenders. Had a few decent chances to win it for us. 7

City crash out to Brighton

  • Everything I write about this game ought to be qualified by two important points. First, I could hardly see anything. The seats were about fifty yards behind a goal, but only a few feet above pitch level. So my sense of how near or far things were to me was very limited. The fact that I have very poor long distance vision but did not have my glasses was not helpful.
  • Moreover, due to long standing travelling commitments, I had to leave at 90 minutes. This meant that I heard the roar of the Brighton fans for the 2-1 goal on my way to the car, and followed the rest of the game through my mobile. This is probably a good thing. But I would have liked to have seen Ireland's equaliser.
  • This result is a huge dissapointment. I know most City fans say this most years, but I really felt this could have been our year in the League Cup. Tottenham's success last year shows that average teams can win this competition (they got 46 points in the league last season. 46 points!). With the optimism around the club at the moment, and possible new arrivals in January, I thought things may have gone our way this year.
  • Usually being 1-0 up is painful and unpleasant. But tonight we looked very comfortable. With the exception of the shot Schmeichel saved on 82 minutes, Brighton caused us no problems before their goal. We kept the ball, looked comfortable in possession and were creating chance after chance. In fact, I was so confident that the profligacy of Ireland, Gelson, Evans and Jô would go un-punished that I wasn't too bothered by it. Looking back, we probably should have taken one or two of those chances.
  • Although we did look better and better in the second half, the first half was woeful. Johnson and Gelson in midfield looked like players who hadn't played in weeks. Dunne and Ben Haim were surprisingly uncomfortable with Brighton's direct attacks. And the front line of Sturridge and Ireland either side of Jô wasn't functioning. Perhaps no surprise: the striker and the centre midfielder looked equally ill at ease playing on the wings.
  • It was only when Ireland moved inside and Evans replaced Sturridge that we looked better. For a period of about twenty five minutes, we played some very good football. Johnson and Gelson were increasingly dominant, Evans and Jô worked well together and Ireland was pulling the strings. Chance after chance went untook - Ireland the main offender.
  • Ultimately an important reminder that we have not yet solved one of the main failings of the Eriksson era: the inability to break down teams of lesser talent but who put men behind the ball. Last season we drew at Derby, Fulham, Wigan and Bolton, and lost at Reading and Birmingham. This year we relied on a last minute own goal to win 1-0 at FC Midtjylland, having lost 1-0 to them at home. Games like this Sunday's at the JJB will not be easy.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

City to watch Aguero tonight

Spanish football daily Marca reports today that City are sending representatives to watch Sergio Aguero tonight. (English translation here)

Atletico Madrid take on Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, and apparently 'emissaries' of City will be watching.

Arguably the hottest property on the world transfer market, Aguero has recently been linked with Barcelona and Inter. He has a release clause of €60million (£47.5m), which City could presumably afford. The article says that Chelsea bid €55m (£43.5m) for him over the summer.

The 20 year old forward scored 28 goals last season and has 5 in 5 so far this year.

UPDATE 13.08 Now reported in the Telegraph.

Daniel Taylor reveals January transfer plans

From his article in Wednesday's Guardian:
Al Fahim had talked of making a £135m bid for Cristiano Ronaldo and raiding Arsenal for Cesc Fábregas, but Hughes will have more moderate targets and plans to resurrect his interest in Roque Santa Cruz of Blackburn, as well as looking for a new left-back and a goalkeeper to provide competition for Joe Hart. "We are sensible people and when it comes to a lot of the talk, forget everything that has been said in the past," said Al Mubarak. "We are genuine people, and we want to develop this club in a sustainable manner. Nothing rash is going to happen, we are not going to do crazy stuff."
His record on City stories is not as good as Ian Ladyman, but probably as good as Ian Herbert at The Independent. He had the Ben Haim story before anyone else, but was weeks too early with Michael Johnson's new deal.

This certainly sounds plausible. Left back, centre forward and in goal are the three areas needing reinforcement more than others. I'll blog about this issue soon. I think some City fans may want to see someone more glamorous than Santa Cruz arriving: Huntelaar, Benzema, Podolski or whoever. But Hughes' record on signings thus far has been pretty good.

Board makeup not yet revealed

Having learnt that ownership of the club was to switch to Sheikh Mansour on Tuesday, we can only presume that this has taken place.

There has been no official confirmation as such, only the publication on mcfc.co.uk of a letter from Sheikh Mansour, which had been on mancityfuture.com since Sunday. But the implication seemed to be that the deal had been agreed and would simply take place on Tuesday, with no more confirmation needed.

Unfortunately, Sheikh Mansour's letter said that there would be no imminently forthcoming announcement regarding City's new board:
Khaldoon and I have agreed that the we will not be making any more announcements for a while (Italics mine - JPB) as we really now need to sit down with the manager, Executive Chairman and key staff and put together plans that will, over time, get the Club to where we want it to be. That is the stage we are entering now and as anyone who runs a business knows, this involves a lot of listening, and a lot of talking to many stakeholders and research and discussion before plans can be announced.
So we can only presume that the takeover has fully taken place.

Brighton preview

There are still seven days and two games left in what has been the most exciting month I can remember as a City fan.

And so a regulation League Cup match, generally a potential upset to be avoided, is infused with the optimism and anticipation that comes with City at the moment. Rather than worrying about getting embarrassed, I can't wait for us to get our campaign going in another competition.

One of my very good memories of last season was the 2-1 win at Bristol City at this stage of the competition. Mpenza and Bianchi played up front, each scoring. It was the first we saw of Gelson Fernandes, and the last we ever saw of Paul Dickov. I hope tonight will bring similar memories.

We know that Robinho is not playing, and I don't know if we will see any of the South Americans. There has been much talk of the new era's commitment to Jim Cassell's Academy players: tonight a few may be playing. The two young strikers, Danny Sturridge and Ched Evans could both start. They have been inseperable so far this year: Evans has one start, one goal and a total of 114 minutes on the pitch in the league. Sturridge, one start, one goal and a total of 113 minutes. The two starting in tandem would be a real thrill.

Hughes has spoken of our rotation - and we can expect some of the fringe players to feature. I like Gelson Fernandes, but he offers little that Vincent Kompany does not. It was great that he scored against Portsmouth - today he could even start in central midfield. Tal Ben Haim is yet to put a foot wrong and could come in anywhere across the back. Michael Johnson, absent since the Sunderland win, may return from injury. Beyond that, it's all conjecture.

Our opponents have nine points from seven League One games so far this season. I don't know anything about them. But the prospect of a home draw with Derby County in the 3rd round should encourage us to take this as seriously as we need to.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The ADUG Plan

The takeover ought to have been completed by now, but until we know for sure I won't write anything.

The big news today is the plan described by the new chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak. It needs to be re-stated how different this is from the 'fantasy football' stuff of which we have heard so much.

al Mubarak's message is one of unflinching caution and pragmatism. There are no demands for a Top Four finish or an instant trophy, no mention of Torres, Fabregas, or either Ronaldo. His big interview with mcfc.co.uk (in much of the national press) contains much implicit criticism of the brash fantasism of Dr al Fahim:
We are genuine people, and we want to develop this Club in a sustainable manner. Nothing rash is going to happen, we are not going to do crazy stuff! We will work with Garry and Mark, they call the shots and we are here to support to help build a sustainable Club. We are here as long-term investors, and it makes sense for us to build a dynasty.
The two things City fans most wanted assurance on: the future of Mark Hughes, and the prominence of the Academy within the club.

Before the mauling of Portsmouth, al Mubarak went to watch the u-14, u-12 and u-9 sides at the Academy. He said of his time with Jim Cassell:
That was one of my most enjoyable experiences. Sitting with Jim, seeing his passion, seeing how proud he is of every player that has come out of the Academy. I have the highest confidence in him, we’ll be working a lot with him.
And the most important issue: his faith in Mark Hughes.
Mark is an honest man, he’s a leader , he’s tough and he is everything you would want in a head coach. We trust him, he’s one of the gems we saw in this Club once we came here.
Will City follow the path of West Ham and Newcastle, taking transfer powers away from the manager? City fans certainly had cause to think so after al-Fahim's claims weeks ago. Again, al Mubarak says exactly what we wanted to hear:
One thing I have made very clear to Mark is that any player he wants comes from him. It comes from his requirements, his plan for the Club. I’m a fan, but I am not an expert. It is Mark who runs the Club and Mark who makes the football decisions. We are here to support and make financial decisions, but we are not here to teach Mark or Garry what to do!
I almost think this is too perfect. On every issue, al Mubarak's answers read as if they come from City fan's dreams. Willing to spend, but only on players Hughes wants. Very optimistic and driven, but with a long term plan. Keen to be the best team in the world, but with home grown players. And then, going to see the u-9s play and meeting the club historian.

We have no reason to believe anything he says isn't true. But this is so reassuring, so very precisely what we wanted to hear, on every single issue, it does leave you wondering whether there is a catch.

Monday, 22 September 2008

There's only six identical chants

The originality of player-specific songs has never been a strong point for City fans.

But this season sees a new low. 'There's only one [player's name]' is not particularly good in any circumstances, but when it comes out time after time after time?

Yesterday five different players were treated to it.

Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland, Ched Evans (which is three, not four syllables...) and Danny Sturridge were all treated to it. Even Zabaleta got it, shorn of 'Pablo' to fit. Michael Johnson wasn't playing, but if he had he surely would have heard his own version.

One or two of these is ok. But Richards and Ireland both made their debuts three years ago, at the start of the 2005/06 season.

Can't anyone come up with anything better? Go to one of the City forums on the right hand links column and have a go.

UPDATE 23.58 Do read the comment by 'wigan blue', it gives fascinating account of the development of songs over time, and the difference in this regard between Maine Road and CoMS.

More on the 6-0

  • This is a point that people who don't agree with me often make, but it is nice to see skill triumph over strength from time to time. Spain's triumph in Euro 2008 was particularly satisfying for this reason: Silva, Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc were towered over by the Germans in the final, but were just too subtle for the rather blunt German gameplan. Yesterday saw a similar victory. Yes, we have the colossal Kompany anchoring midfield and Jô leading the line. But in between them lie Elano, Wright-Phillips, Robinho and Ireland - none famed for their size or strength. I feared they would get nowhere against the might of Distin, Campbell, Kaboul, Diop and Diarra. But, like the artful Spanish on that night in Vienna, they danced around their towering opponents.
  • Eriksson suffered last year from giving his new owners too good a start. Flowing football and good luck was seen as the rule - the subsequent levelling out the exception. I don't want to get into another debate on SGE, but I just hope Khaldoon al-Mubarak realises that it isn't always like this. Maybe Thaksin told him?
  • The reception given to Thaksin when his image was shown on the big screen, and then holding a rather embarrassed looking al-Mubarak's arm aloft, was a surprise. Six weeks ago there was a threat on bluemoon called something like 'MCFC died the day Toxic bought us'. But it does seem that he has got more right than wrong: bringing in Garry Cook, replacing Eriksson with Hughes, buying a 'superstar' to fill the ground and now selling to the right people at the right time. His exit from controlling the club has been far more graceful than I ever thought it would be.
  • I don't see how Martin Petrov gets into this team. The other high profile player not fit yesterday, Michael Johnson, could replace Elano in central midfield. But Petrov? The only solution would be a 4-2-3-1 with him, Robinho and SWP operating behind the front man. But then the only place for our best player this year, Ireland, would be alongside Kompany in the midfield. Would this ask too much of our most creative player?
For more like this, look here and here.

Fifteen league goals!

After five matches!

A great goal scoring start to the season. We are not usually this swift in getting to the 15 league goal mark.

Here is a year-by-year run down of how long it takes us to get to this point:

In 2007/08, the 1-0 win against Birmingham, the tenth league game of the season, on October 20th.

In 2006/07, the 1-2 defeat to Spurs, the eighteenth game of the season, on the 17th of December.

In 2005/06, the 1-2 defeat to Fulham, the twelfth game of the season, on the 5th of November.

In 2004/05, the 3-1 victory over Portsmouth, the fourteenth game of the season, on the 20th of November.

In 2003/04, in the 6-2 win against Bolton, the ninth game of the season, on the 18th of October.

I can't be bothered to look up any more, but you get my point.

6-0 reaction

In case you don't want to scroll down too far.

My take on the game HERE.

My player ratings here: 9s for Ireland and Wright-Phillips.

Very low quality photos here, equally poor video of SWP goal celebrations here.

More to follow . . .

Shauny Wright-Wright-Wright

Applause for SWP after his goal from South Stand Block 118.

City vs Pompey photos

Photobucket Album

City 6 - 0 Portsmouth Player Ratings

Hart Had no difficult saves to make, but dealt comfortably with all the high balls Portsmouth put into the box. None of the communication errors noticeable in recent weeks. 7

Garrido. Before we do anything else in January, can we please buy a left back who can play? In the first half Glen Johnson skinned him time after time (Redknapp moving to 4-4-2 at half time really helped us out in this regard). And when he had the ball, Javi frequently put the rest of the defence under pressure with his poor distribution. A few nice attacking moves in the second half, including the cross for Gelson's goal. But it really shouldn't feel like a bonus whenever he wins a tackle or a header. 5

Dunne One of the two remaining links with the Benarbia and Berkovic era, he must be pleased to see such quality finally reproduced at the other end of the pitch. Had a few problems with the height of Peter Crouch in the first half, but more sure-footed as the game went on. Took his goal well, his first for almost two years. 7

Richards Dealt better with Defoe than Dunne did with Crouch. Too quick and strong for his occassional England teammate. Probably his best performance of the season. Attempted a shot on the turn from 20 yards out - should stick to getting on the end of set pieces. 8

Zabaleta. After a shaky start, put in his second consecutive improved performance. Linked up well with Wright-Phillips down the right, overlapping at pace. Never really troubled by Armand Traore, but was defensively competent when called upon. Looks quicker and tougher than Corluka, and runs back when he has to. 8

Kompany May well turn out to be Hughes' best buy - another player putting in his best ever City performance today. An interesting duel with Lassana Diarra in midfield, but Kompany always matched him for strength and skill. Won a good number of defensive headers, but his passing was most impressive: finding not just Ireland and Elano in front of him but Wright-Phillips and Robinho on the wings with relentless efficiency. 8

Ireland The player of the season thus far impressed again - even more so than in this fixture five months ago. Completely outshone Elano in central midfield: not just for tenacity but also for flair. He worked tirelessly, chasing down Portsmouth midfielders and winning tackles. On the ball, he was as creative as anyone on the pitch - his passes for Robinho and Wright-Phillips' goals were perfect. Will this finally silence the haters? 9

Elano Looks like the older sibling jealous at the attention lavished on his newborn younger brother. Has completely lost his Unique Selling Point, and, playing in central midfield, did not offer very much today. One or two nice passes, but not enough to keep out a fit Michael Johnson (whenever that is). Clearly frustrated by his failure to convert any of his free kicks. 6

Robinho One of the many impressive performances. Predictable only in his brilliance, is building an understanding with Ireland and Wright-Phillips to match his one with Jô. Took his goal very well, and had a hand in some of the others. Some of the tricks were astonishing: a shimmy round James and cross legged shot in the first half, a dummy dragbackheel in the second half. There was one late on where I had literally no idea what he had done, but I could tell that it was good. Shares the knack with Wright-Phillips of timing his runs so as to always get behind the defence whilst rarely straying offside. 8

Nice for the £19million man to get his first league and home goal, after his midweek success. Smart hold up play, tireless running and a well taken finish marked another improvement from a summer buy. Would you have backed Vassell or Benjani to get to Robinho's pass, take it round James and score like that? Given the benefit of the doubt for his touch to set up Robinho from Ireland's pass. 8

Wright-Phillips ADUG and Robinho have taken attention away from what would otherwise be the story of the year. Plays in as Brazilian a style as the paulistos themselves - full of skill, flair and joy. The goal was fantastic, but so was the backheel for Evans or any of the jinking runs from the right. Looks almost as happy as we are for him to be back. 9


Evans and Gelson Both in line to start at the Withdean on Wedesday, they ran hard and did not give the tiring Portsmouth players a minute of rest. Each deserved their first goals of the season - let's hope there are more to come.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

City 6 - 0 Portsmouth

  • It's hard to discuss this without degenerating into cliche: was it a perfect day or the stuff of dreams? Was the football slick or superb or sexy or Samba? It was, I think, our best attacking performance in the top flight this decade. To tear apart a team as good as Portsmouth, so respected for their solidity, is quite something. But the pace, the imagination, the ruthlessness, and the wit of our attacks: I've never seen anything like it.
  • Before the match I presumed we would stick to the team and system used against Chelsea - the 4-4-1-1 with Robinho behind Jô and Ball at left back. Instead, he went with the same set-up as used in Cyprus on Thursday night: a 4-3-3 with Garrido at left back and Elano operating with Kompany and Ireland in midfield. A bold choice, and comprehensively vindicated.
  • It was certainly as well as we could have possibly played. I do not mean this as criticism: a lesser performance could still have led to victory. But for Robinho, Wright-Phillips, Ireland and Jô to all play like that, in unison, was a special moment. Terry and Carvalho were immaculate last week - it would have been fascinating to see them against us playing like this.
  • This is almost certainly a function of the natural pessimissm of all City fans under 40, but at half time I was not confident. Perhaps it reminded me too much of my last game at CoMS, the infamous loss to Fulham last spring: but I never thought 2-0 was enough. The first half was very even - watch Sky's Football First highlights if you get the chance. Lassana Diarra was running the midfield, and Dunne was having problems with Peter Crouch. But in withdrawing Younes Kaboul for John Utaka at half time, Redknapp sacrificed Portsmouth's extra man in the middle. And without three centre halves, Pompey just couldn't stop us.

Friday, 19 September 2008

AC Omonia 1 - 2 Man City

  • A win and two away goals - this was a good result, but the tie should have been decided by now. Jo hit the woodwork twice and did a Bianchi against Blackburn. Robinho missed an early chance and Ireland hit the outside of the post and missed a one-on-one. I could go on. The number of chances we created was impressive, but in tighter games we will have to take the few chances we get. One can only hope that Jô's finishing will improve as he becomes more accustomed to life in England.
  • Contrary to my previous prediction, neither Hamann nor Gelson started. It looked like 4-3-3, with Robinho and Wright-Phillips pushed into advanced "wing-forward" positions. And so we moved Ireland into the middle - the twist was that he was alongside Elano and Kompany. Such a formation and personnel may not be appropriate against better opposition.
  • Elano played a bit like Steven Gerrard for England, dropping deep to receive the ball and hitting long, ambitious passes. As usual, the further he got towards the Omonia goal, the more dangerous he looked. He may not like it, but if Elano is to start anywhere for City, it must be in a deeper position, given the recent signings of Robinho and Wright-Phillips.
  • City were playing against a visibly inferior side to themselves, but they played their best football this season. This was certainly in part down to the midfield three of Kompany, Ireland and Elano, players who are all very comfortable in possession. What is more encouraging is that the quality of football will only improve over time as the new players begin to gel.
  • Steven Ireland, TLDORC's and Bluemoon's player of the month in August, was again superb. Last night, for at least the first half, we were treated to vintage Ireland - both industrious and imaginative, both Dunne and Robinho. He seems, like many young players, to be a confidence player. If so, a run of games in central midfield will do him good as he looks to be hitting top form.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

AC Omonia preview

If City want to attract the players in January that the papers have been linking them with, they need to be playing in Europe, even if it is in the Uefa Cup. So the importance of this game can't be downplayed, and two things tell us it won't be easy.

The first thing is the experience of the Midtjylland game, where City were minutes away from embarassingly going out. The second is that AC Omonia beat AEK Athens over two legs to get this far; which sounds like a much better achievement than currently being top of their domestic league.

Midtjylland told us that rotation, although sometimes necessary, must be done with caution to avoid a disaster. In fact, the first leg's strike partnership of Sturridge and Caicedo wasn't as Benitez as you might think, with so many strikers injured. But the temptation to play the Garridos, Gelsons and now Elanos pining for a start must be resisted, because this team are not a walking three points. Perhaps more importantly, they must be an unknown quantity to Hughes and his staff.

With caution in mind, City must keep their Premier League back five. Pablo Zabaleta was unconvincing on Saturday but the only way he will improve is by putting minutes under his belt. As always, things get more interesting in midfield. Kompany will almost certainly play, and his central midfield partner will be probably either Gelson or Hamann, given the doubts over Johnson's fitness. Hamann offers experience, technique and ball retention. Gelson, who has the edge because of his fitness, offers energy and enthusiasm.

Martin Petrov has not travelled to Cyprus - he has a hamstring injury. Wright-Phillips and Robinho deserve starts, leaving a final midfield berth to be fought out between Elano and Ireland. Ireland's tenacity means he can play in a midfield three if required, whereas Elano may fall behind in these UEFA Cup away games because there is only room for one exceptionally lazy player.

Hughes' preview has been typically uninteresting. See how many cliches you can spot.
It's not a game that we're going to take lightly in any way, shape or form.
They're a very good side and we won't underestimate them. We won't make
assumptions that this game is going to be an easy game for us, we know it's far
from that, it's a difficult tie for us. We had a similar situation in the last
round as well, so we're primed to understand that there's no easy games.

There'll be a really vociferous crowd as well that we'll have to
deal with. They've had a great start to the season and got a great result in the
last round. They have good, talented individuals and they work extremely hard as
a team. It's a challenge to us and we have everything to lose while Omonia have
everything to gain.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Sturridge expresses desire to stay at City

Having secured Michael Johnson on a new long term contract, the next priorities must surely be Joe Hart and Danny Sturridge.

There is good news today regarding the latter, as he discussed his future in an exclusive interview with mcfctv.com. He discussed how he came to City and his friendship with Johnson, Nedum Onuoha and Micah Richards. When asked whether he was happy at City, he replied:
Yeah very happy indeed. I never want to leave Manchester City Football Club. I'm very happy here and hopefully I'll be here for many more years to come.
I know that all footballers say that when asked, but it is nevertheless nice to hear it. And given last week's tabloid rumours that a new £25,000/week contract has been offered, it seems that a deal could be reached to secure the future of another of Jim Cassell's stars.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Johnson signs new deal

Unequivocally good news.

Michael Johnson has signed a five year deal - keeping him at City until summer 2013. Only Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta are contracted for that long.

We've heard rumours of his signing before: the day before Magic Monday we read that he was about to sign. Presumably the takeover delayed this, but it's good to finally have it confirmed.

If Hughes and the new owners are serious about cautiously building a team of players with 'an empathy for the club' (Hughes' phrase), keeping Michael Johnson is absolutely essential.

Next priorities: Joe Hart and Danny Sturridge.

Tonight's Champions League

Is going to be very good.

There are three former City players in action.

Andreas Isaksson starts in goal for PSV Eindhoven, tasked with keeping out Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero. If PSV are to scrape out of Group D, they need to win this evening. The favourites for that group are Liverpool, for whom Albert Riera sits on the bench tonight.

And Nicolas Anelka leads the line for Chelsea tonight, who have stuck with the same eleven which so comfortably beat City on Saturday evening.

I think both English teams' games tonight will be good. Laurent Blanc has got Bordeaux playing a bit like Arsenal, through the midfield pairing known as 'YoYo': Yoann Gourcuff and Yoan Gouffran. Check out the goal they set up for Marouane Chamakh last weekend below.

That was against Marseille, Liverpool's opponents tonight. Whilst Rafa Benitez is a master of the two legged tie, the group stage was a real struggle for them last year. Marseille (along with PSV and Atletico Madrid) are not very easy opponents, and could cause Liverpool some problems. Mamadou Niang and Bakari Koné both have the pace to trouble Jamie Carragher, and Javier Mascherano, imperious on Saturday, will face in Hatem Ben Arfa a sharper opponent than the lacklustre Anderson or Scholes.

I do expect both English teams to win. But I think the games will be exciting.

Good news

For all you Gelson, Evans and Garrido lovers out there:

Hughes intends to start rotating!
"The games are coming thick and fast at the moment and I have to be mindful of that. We will have to use the squad, because it’s a big ask going into European games, Carling Cup games and some very difficult Premier League games"
What mark of a better team than to be able to do this? If we are to be successful in all four competitions this year, we're going to have to use lots of players.

Just look at the number of players who made a significant number of starts last year for Everton, who reached the League Cup semis and UEFA Cup last 16 (not, as before, Quarter Finals):

In descending order of starts in all competitions:

Lescott 52, Neville 49, Carsley 48, Howard 46, Jagielka 39, Yobo 37, Osman 36, Pienaar 36, Yakubu 35, Arteta 34, Hibbert 29, Johnson 29, Cahill 27, Baines 18, McFadden 14, Valente 14, Anichebe 13, Fernandes 11, Stubbs 10, Wessels 7, Gravesen 3, Vaughan 1

Or Spurs: who also got to the UEFA Cup last 16 (same correction as before) but also won the League Cup:

Malbranque 52, Berbatov 48, Chimbonda 48, Keane 46, Jenas 43, Zokora 39, Dawson 38, Robinson 37, Lee 29, Huddlestone 27, Kaboul 26, Cerny 20, Woodgate 17, Hutton 15, Bent 15, O'Hara 12, Tainio 12, King 10, Boateng 10, Bale 10, Defoe 8, Gardner 6, Stalteri 5, Gilberto 4, Rocha 4, Assou-Ekotto 2, Gunter 2, Routledge 1.

(Stats from soccerbase.com)

So if we want to do at all well this year, we will have to use our squad wisely.

Who knows, Elano may even get a game.

UPDATE 13.49 Eagle-eyed commenter points out basic factual error regarding UEFA Cup progress, corrected...

Champions League preview

At the risk of sounding like a bit of a wanker, I consider myself to be a football fan as well as a City fan. And so I'm delighted by the return of the competitive Champions' League (Arsenal against Steve McClaren's FC Twente does not count). I love the Champions League.

The drama, the music, the sheer, obvious excellence of it. The vast majority of Premier League games contain at least one average side (never mind the Football League and even non-League stuff I wind up watching). The Champions League, by definition, guarantees that you're watching the very best in competition.

This doesn't mean there are no dull matches: remember the 2003 final? But, especially in the latter stages, any match is made more captivating, more meaningful, by its context. This year's final was, when stripped of its context, an exciting and competitive 1-1. But with the European Cup on the line, it became something else: a Nadal/Federer with twenty two participants.

This combination: high quality and high stakes, the excellent and the epic, is what makes the Champions League so compelling. The best games I've seen in the last few years have all been Champions League latter stages: the 2008 final, Chelsea overcoming Liverpool in the semis, both of legs of the United-Milan 2007 semi-final, Arsenal's run to the 2006 final, Istanbul etc.

So I'm genuinely excited by this year's competition. I fear one of England's 'Big Two' will win it, which is rather underwhelming for those who watch the Champions League for a bit of exoticism. Real Madrid probably have the best squad beyond those two, and I'd love Jose Mourinho to win it again but I'm not sure Inter quite have the players.

In terms of upsets, I'd like to see Zenit St Petersburg get out of Group H at the expense of a rather average Juventus side. Atletico Madrid (on whom I have money at 38/1 to win La Liga) could well win Group D, and the contest between Liverpool and Marseilles to get out with them will be good. And Arsenal have a real fight on in Group G: especially up against Luis Aragones and Dani Guiza's Fenerbahce.

Raphael Hongistein on City's transfer plans

German football writer Raphael Honigstein talked about City's transfer dealings on The Guardian's 'Football Weekly' podcast on Monday.

Honigstein, who writes for Süddeutsche Zeitung and is The Guardian's German football expert, said that he had talked to an agent friend of his regarding City's work at the end of the summer transfer window.

He confirmed the existence of a list with between ten and fifteen star names, which has gone round agents in Europe, "with the express mandate to get them signed".

Going in to some of the names on the list, he confirmed that Villa and Podolski were on it, as well as Bastian Schweinsteiger. And he stated that both Mario Gomez and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar "had very serious offers on the table" from City on September 1st.

City will try for all these players again in January.

You can find the podcast HERE. This discussion start at 14:20.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Zabaleta's finest hour

Pablo Zabaleta made his name captaining Argentina to victory in the 2005 Fifa World Youth Championship (now known as the U20 World Cup).

His team, featuring Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Gago, beat Nigeria 2-1 in the final. Soon after the tournament Zabaleta got his big move from San Lorenzo to RCD Espanyol.

Zabaleta's personal triumph, however, came in the semi-final against Brazil. Messi's genius put them 1-0 ahead early on, and the game looked safe until Renato's 75th minute equaliser. Deep into stoppage time, the game looked set for another thirty minutes. Play this video from 1:15 to see Zabaleta's reponse.

If you want to watch more YouTube action of City players scoring in big games, Jô has scored in two Russian Cup Finals and two Russian Super Cups: for links to all that footage click HERE.

Milito scores against Milan

City transfer target Diego Milito scored a penalty today in Genoa's 2-0 defeat of AC Milan.

The Argentine, who could have moved to City but instead returned to his former club, consigned the Rossoneri to their second consecutive defeat. He won the penalty himself, having been tripped by Maldini.

Genoa have bought well this summer: also adding another former City target Matteo Ferrari, and Vincent Kompany's Anderlecht and Belgium teammate and fellow Football Manager legend Anthony Vanden Borre. This evening they announced the arrival of 2 time La Liga and 2006 Champions League winner Thiago Motta.

Rolando Bianchi played in Torino's 1-1 draw at Reggina but did not score.

Milito's goal at 1:40

Sturridge offered new deal?

Today's News of the World reports that City have offered Danny Sturridge £1.2million/year on a new deal.

This is an increase from £8,000 to £25,000 per week, and fends of interest from Chelsea.

In a sense this is good news: Sturridge is a great prospect who we need to keep at the club. On the other hand, this news comes two weeks after learning that Johnson was just about to sign a five year deal, and months after hearing from Hughes that a deal for Hart was close.

The club have very pressing matters while the due diligence is ongoing. But once this is finished it would be a great relief to have Hart, Johnson and Sturridge finally tied down on long term deals.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

City vs Chelsea player ratings

Hart Could do very little about any of the Chelsea goals. Did not have many other saves to make. Generally solid on his kicking and catching. 6

Zabaleta Not an ideal debut: forty hours after a long haul flight, against one of the league's strongest teams, in the most hyped City game for years. So his looking slightly off the pace is no great crisis. More willing to get his shorts dirty than Corluka. Made a perfect tackle on Drogba in stoppage time. 5

Dunne Won most of the headers he had to contest. Outpaced by Anelka for his goal, although he is not the first centre half to have suffered this. Rugby tackle on Drogba no better than Terry's on Jô. 6

Richards Good news that he swiftly recovered again from an injury, but he was not at his dominant best. Missed the initial header for Carvalho's goal. Should have conceded a penalty for a push on Anelka. 6

Ball Solid and competent, as we have come to expect. Left stranded sometimes by Ireland's drifting, and faced a very competitive opponent in Bosingwa. Did his duty going forward, albeit with little to show for it. Still the most obvious position for January reinforcement though. 7

Wright-Phillips Sparky but rather infuriating. Very sharp in the first twenty minutes - ran at Ashley Cole and had some nice interchanges with the Brazilians. But drifted out of the game later on, and his moments in possession were increasingly predictable or mistaken. 6

Kompany Energetic defensively, if not always effective. Lampard and Deco were leagues better than the West Ham and Sunderland midfields he has dominated in recent weeks. They moved the ball around him at times. Did not get the chance to show off his passing range when Ireland, Robinho and Wright-Phillips had all raced so far ahead of him. 6

Hamann Third consecutive start, and even with thirteen days of rest the 35 year old looked tired. Asked to do too much against a masterful Chelsea midfield. Missed Johnson's energetic presence - could not even control possession as he is used to. 6

Ireland City's most impressive performer. Played on the left wing, certainly not his natural position, and spent most of his time inside. Excelled even Robinho and Wright-Phillips with his touch and incisive passing in the final third. Passed up two good chances to shoot though. Deserved his selection over Elano. 7

Robinho He fulfilled his promise 'to score at least one goal'. Showed the understanding with his Brazilian strike partner one would expect - but did also link well with Wright-Phillips. His freekick was quite good, and a special moment. Not quite as many stepovers as feared; needs to play to the whistle more. 7

A strong performance in difficult circumstances. Won a good percentage of headers against Terry, produced a few lovely touches to link with the other attacking players. Seems to have a good understanding with Robinho - will bear fruit in time. 7

Energetic, not very productive.

City 1 - 3 Chelsea

  • A necessary reminder that Chelsea are much better than us. Maybe five years after our takeover we'll be this good, but for the time being we are not serious contenders. This doesn't mean that we should buy a new squad in January; we have a good foundation to build upon - but that instant success is unlikely. Important wins for Arsenal and Liverpool further demonstrate the gulf in quality.
  • After the first fifteen minutes, Chelsea outplayed us. They passed the ball around us at ease. As hard as Hamann and Kompany worked in midfield, they just could not cope with the movement of Cole, Lampard and Deco. For the most part we dealt well with high balls, but with the ball on the deck we were outclassed.
  • Some of the interplay between Robinho, Wright-Phillips, Ireland (not Petrov!) and , particularly before Carvalho's goal, was very good. They were all willing to run at defenders and to switch positions. facilitated this through his ever improving hold up play. It certainly faded later on - Wright-Phillips and Robinho were particularly part-time, but the signs of quality were there. Reproduced against lesser teams, it will prove successful.
  • With Ireland out on the left hand side, there was no-one to link play between Kompany and Hamann and the front players. Against Sunderland Johnson played in front of them, moving the ball from the two holding players to the front line of Ireland, SWP and . Today there was no such link man. Choosing Ireland over Elano made sense, but maybe he ought to have played central rather than wide left?
  • Some people think Lampard is overrated and only scores deflections. I do not. But it was still funny to see us score with a free-kick deflected off his head. Similarly, I am less anti-John Terry than some people. But his getting sent off was entertaining. It was clearly not a professional foul - but awarded, debatably, for the rugby tackle as 'serious foul play'.

A record?

There could well be seven players starting tomorrow whose first language is Portugese.

Jô, Elano and Robinho for City.

Bosingwa, Carvalho, Deco and Belletti for Chelsea.

Don't forget Glauber (and Gelson!) on the City bench (and Paolo Ferreira on Chelsea's), and the whole Chelsea coaching team.

I make no claim to any insight or deeper point here, it is merely an interesting coincidence.

Can anyone find me an English league match with more Portugese speakers involved?

UPDATE 1.50 Gelson Fernades is from Cape Verde, the official language of which I don't need to tell you...

Expectations, Chelsea preview

Even before September 1st I was excited about this game. Two consecutive 3-0 wins (not since 1994 in the top flight), the return of Wright-Phillips, the gradual embedding of Vincent Kompany, and the arrival of a top quality front man in Jô pointed to an exciting time.

Then we became the richest club in the world. And with minutes remaining in the transfer window, we broke the British record to buy Robinho from Real Madrid.

Any August optimism was tempered by fear over the financial future. Delighted with the Kompany and Wright-Phillips deals, but worried where the money was coming from. Relieved that Corluka's sale fell through, but disconcerted that Cook had tried to sell him behind Hughes' back. And not only embarrassed by our Chairman's legal situation, but genuinely fearful of Premier League punishment.

Now this has changed: the worry is not of a lack of funds, but of the corrupting influence of morbid affluence. Profligacy, rather than prudence, is what we have to avoid.

And expectations have soared. Before the takeover I had the flicker of a feeling that we could finish fifth. Villa had lost to Stoke. Spurs had lost to Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Everton has stuttered. Portsmouth looked like contenders, but nothing special. Of course, I didn't write this. It would have looked thoughtless, hubristic: a silly over-reaction to two good performances (the reason City fans were so angry with Phil Neville's comment about us being an emotional club is that deep down we all know it to be true.)

But now? Top Four is being talked of, by those inside and outside of the club. Our current squad will only be augmented in January. Fans are already discussing whether Liverpool or Arsenal are more likely to make way.

Such events naturally generated hope and expectation. But thanks to the international break, City fans have had twelve days to think these issues through : Dr al-Fahim or Sheikh Mansour? FA Cup or UEFA Cup? Huntelaar or Podolski? The upshot of this is the most fevered atmosphere for years going into the match.

But what of the match? Last time we went into a game with Chelsea overconfident after a good start to the season, we lost 6-0. And that was only eleven months ago! It should go unsaid that a point would be a great result. Yes, Robinho and Wright-Phillips may cause Chelsea problems. But what of Joe Cole, Lampard and Deco? Injuries to Essien and Ballack reduce the steel available to Chelsea, but with Kompany, Hamann, Dunne and Richards we were never going to get outmuscled. It's Chelsea's movement and guile that may do for us.

Hughes seemed to suggest on Thursday that Richards would play but Johnson and Petrov would not. Taking that to be true, I imagine the only defensive change from the Sunderland game would be Pablo Zabaleta in at right back (although a reliable internet source says that Zabaleta did not train on Friday). The nature of the match would recommend keeping the 4-3-3 system rather than the 4-4-1-1.

A front line of Wright-Phillips, Jô and Robinho is most likely, although Elano or Ireland could start if Robinho is unready. Equally, an unfit Jô could see a second consecutive CoMS start for Danny Sturridge. In midfield, Vincent Kompany's place is assured. The experience and know-how of Dietmar Hamann should see him start with the task of thinking one step ahead of Deco. Unless Hughes goes ultra-cautious and picks Gelson Fernandes alongside them, August player of the month Steven Ireland should play in front of them. Elano is another possibility, for the not trivial reason that he is the only person at City who can translate for Robinho.

The West Ham and Sunderland games I predicted 1-1 and was rewarded with 3-0. Don't expect me to change that today.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Chelsea team news

Mark Hughes press conference on Thursday: Martin Petrov is out, Johnson is a real doubt, Richards is more likely to play than Johnson but by no means definite.

Ian Ladyman writes today that Robinho "seems likely to start his City career on the substitutes’ bench." I don't know what this is based on; Hughes has said that Robinho will be involved but no more.

The only option seems to play Jô on his own up front, with Wright-Phillips on the right. With Petrov injured, Robinho should start on the left. If he is not ready, Ireland should keep his place from the Sunderland game. Elano played on the wing a few times last season and his record at CoMS could get him a start.

In central midfield Vincent Kompany is the only definite starter. If his legs are up to it, Didi Hamann should make his second consecutive start. Providing that Johnson doesn't make it, either Ireland or Elano will complete the midfield trio (unless we go really defensive and drop Gelson in there as well).

UPDATE 12.04 The Mail reports that Robinho showed up to training this morning, having arrived from Brazil last night. They have a photo of him at the training ground. This is important.

Chris Bailey's MEN preview claims that Robinho will start, but Elano and Jô will be on the bench. How does he know this? It sounds unlikely to me: surely Robinho is the least likely to start, everything else being equal. If this is true though, we could play Sturridge up front with Robinho and Wright-Phillips either side. There would be stepovers.

More serious preview up later.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Robinho update

  • After the 3-0 win in Chile on Sunday night, Robinho wrote, in Spanish, on the dressing room wall: "There must be respect for the best team in the world." This is pretty funny. He is in action again late tonight against Bolivia. I'll try to watch it and blog about how the City contingent do.
  • Those three players, as well as Argentine Pablo Zabaleta, are flying back to Manchester by private jet, expected to arrive some time on Friday. Mark Hughes has said "we couldn't have got the lads back in time on scheduled flights, so we have had to make other arrangements."
  • With Martin Petrov still out injured, Robinho is expected to start on the left wing. This may be good news: the temptation to start Petrov, Robinho and Wright-Phillips together in a 4-2-3-1 may have left Deco, Lampard and Cole with too much room. But with Robinho and SWP playing either side of Jô we can have an extra body in midfield: maybe a second consecutive start for Hamann? But I'll write about this in more detail on Friday.
  • I got the Robinho graphic for my mobile. It's a yellow background, with 'ROBINHO' in green and an animation of him in a City shirt doing skills. It's definitely worth £3.

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ADUG back Hughes and Academy

Only good news in an article from UAE based newspaper The National.

It repeatedly quotes an 'ownership team source' as saying the following:

That ADUG recognise Mark Hughes to be a man with “outstanding man-management and motivational qualities, an amazing eye for talent and the ability to build a team to compete with the best.”

Regarding the successes of the Academy: “The importance of building further on the success of this part of the club [the Academy] simply cannot be overstated. Do not forget that the most successful period of Manchester United’s recent history was based to a large extent on graduates of their academy.”

And in a critique of Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim's bluster on transfers, and his not being on the board: “In Abu Dhabi, we prefer to go about business in an understated, pragmatic and patient manner. Brashness is simply not our natural game.”

If these claims are true, it's very good news. Backing Hughes, building around Academy players, and careful and cautious transfers are all things I would like to see not just because I like our current manager and current squad and don't want to be seen to be vulgar; but because it's genuinely the best way of being successful.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Strikers in, strikers out

Ched Evans is quoted in The Sun as saying he might want out:
I expect to play in the first team, otherwise there would be no point in being here.
I'd like to find the original context for these (e-mail me if you know it), they sound rather out of context.

And we're linked with two strikers today: Lukas Podolski of Bayern Munich and Ronaldo (of no fixed club). The Podolski link seems like a rather plausible piece of creative journalism (we bid for him in January, he wants a move, we now have money for strikers), the Ronaldo link is more likely, even if as a move it is now rather pointless (we already have our 'superstar' and don't need to look at only free agents).

But it seems that we will move for a centre forward in January. Compared to all of our other deadline day targets: Berbatov, Gomez, Villa, van Nistelrooy, Torres and Huntelaar, Robinho is distinct in not being a Number 9. Even before Magical Monday we had tried for Roque Santa Cruz and Diego Milito, so this is something Hughes was taking seriously. I'm not sure Robinho has the physique or the tenacity to lead the line in the Premier League, so this issue remains unresolved.

Neither Benjani nor Vassell have the quality for the step up we're trying to make, and, as much as I love him, no trust can be put in Bozhinov's fitness. Caicedo looks to be on his way, leaving us with Jô, Sturridge and Evans. Given Evans' above comments (this all changes if they do not represent his wishes), there is an opening for one more top class centre forward.

Of the Big Four, most have three or four centre forwards. Arsenal have Eduardo, Adebayor, van Persie and Bendtner, United have Berbatov, Rooney and Tevez, Liverpool have Torres, Keane, Ngog and Kuyt (who mainly plays out wide), and Chelsea have only Drogba and Anelka (plus, of course, Number 9 Franco di Santo). So lots of centre forwards is not a pre-requisite of success, and in fact, having three or four good ones seems to be the best option.

I don't favour the al-Fahim approach to transfers (neither, presumably, does Hughes and neither, inshallah, does Sheikh Mansour), but if we are to spend big in January, a centre forward to partner (at the very least) Jô and Sturridge would be ideal.

A final victory

Dr Thaksin always said that we needed to buy a superstar to fill the stadium. City fans, who claimed to know better, disagreed.

"It's good football, not famous players, that will bring the players in!"

But on the day he agreed to sell, City bought a superstar. And the next home game was a sell out.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Keeping the Academy players

Widely reported comments from Mark Hughes today, on the future of the academy:
“It’s vitally important that every successful club has a group of players that have a real empathy and feeling for the club. We certainly have that with the lads that have come through from the Academy."
He went on to say that picking Academy players was not just a 'token gesture' but was in the interest of the team.

I think he's absolutely right.

It's not just that to buy in a whole new team would be rather vulgar, and that it would be a real shame to see Academy graduates like Micah Richards and Michael Johnson pushed out.

But that the best teams are not just a collection of the best players, but have a genuine identity as a unit. In many cases, such as the great Manchester United teams over the last twelve years, this is based on a core of players who grew up together.

And in Hart, Richards, Kompany and Johnson we have a spine of players, all born between 1986 and 1988, around whom we can build a team for the future.

Robinho scores in Brazil's 3-0 win

I stayed up last night to watch City's three Brazilians in action. I know I should have posted this at the time, but the game didn't finish until 03.57am.

Robinho started on the right hand side of a 4-3-3 for Brazil. In a quick and open game, he impressed with his willingness to run at defenders. After nine minutes, a lovely one-two with Luis Fabiano put Robinho through on goal, but he shot tamely at the Chile keeper's legs. (Video here).

He produced a perfect chipped pass to a marginally offside Ronaldinho, but was otherwise quiet for most the rest of the first half, as Luis Fabiano put Brazil into a 1-0 lead.

But seconds before half time, Fabiano took down a long ball and laid the ball off to Robinho, whose finish from the edge of the box was exquisite. Watch it HERE.

One minute in the second half, Brazilian left back Kleber was sent off. This led to Ronaldinho's withdrawal for anouther defender, leaving Robinho up front alongside Fabiano in a 4-3-2 formation. He didn't see as much of the ball, although when Chile also went down to 10 men the game became more open again. His one chance, a header from a Maicon cross, went well wide.

On 77 minutes, Diego came off for Elano, who charged around everywhere but didn't come up with anything spectacular. Five minutes later Luis Fabiano scored his second and Brazil's third.

But with four minutes remaining Luis Fabiano was replaced up front by Jô. And the two City players operating together up front showed us what we can expect this year. In the last minute of normal time, Robinho surged from midfield and played a perfect through ball for Jô. His right foot shot was destined for the bottom corner but was turned round by the keeper.

And in stoppage time a one-two between the players put Robinho in on goal, but his shot went tamely to the keeper.

Very promising signs though. The only way to play Robinho, Petrov and Wright-Phillips in the same team is to use Robinho as a second striker behind Jô: a partnership which showed impressive signs this evening.

Robinho's chance after 0.09, goal after 1.07

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Champions League preview

At the risk of sounding like a bit of a wanker, I consider myself to be a football fan as well as a City fan. And so I'm delighted by the return of the competitive Champions' League (Arsenal against Steve McClaren's FC Twente does not count). I love the Champions League.

The drama, the music, the sheer, obvious excellence of it. The vast majority of Premier League games contain at least one average side (never mind the Football League and even non-League stuff I wind up watching). The Champions League, by definition, guarantees that you're watching the very best in competition.

This doesn't mean there are no dull matches: remember the 2003 final? But, especially in the latter stages, any match is made more captivating, more meaningful, by its context. This year's final was, when stripped of its context, an exciting and competitive 1-1. But with the European Cup on the line, it became something else: a Nadal/Federer with twenty two participants.

This combination: high quality and high stakes, the excellent and the epic, is what makes the Champions League so compelling. The best games I've seen in the last few years have all been Champions League latter stages: the 2008 final, Chelsea overcoming Liverpool in the semis, both of legs of the United-Milan 2007 semi-final, Arsenal's run to the 2006 final, Istanbul etc.

So I'm genuinely excited by this year's competition. I fear one of England's 'Big Two' will win it, which is rather underwhelming for those who watch the Champions League for a bit of exoticism. Real Madrid probably have the best squad beyond those two, and I'd love Jose Mourinho to win it again but I'm not sure Inter quite have the players.

In terms of upsets, I'd like to see Zenit St Petersburg get out of Group H at the expense of a rather average Juventus side. Atletico Madrid (on whom I have money at 38/1 to win La Liga) could well win Group D, and the contest between Liverpool and Marseilles to get out with them will be good. And Arsenal have a real fight on in Group G: especially up against Luis Aragones and Dani Guiza's Fenerbahce.

Adidas adverts are amazing

I know that these adverts exist to impress people, particularly people like me who love football and love footballers (a more meaningful distinction now than it was before the era of £100,000/week wages).

And so, in expressing this opinion, I am aware that I'm proving myself a willing sucker for advertising, a marketeer's dream. But I just love these adverts! The great Kaka, Messi, Gerrard together (before they all line up at Eastlands next year...), the thoughts of Mourinho, the production.

I could watch them all day. And today I did.
If you want to, they're all here.