Thursday, 30 October 2008

TLDORC October Awards

A real mixed bag.

Omonia (h) 2-1

Liverpool (h) 2-3

Newcastle (a) 2-2

Stoke (h) 3-0

Middlesbrough (a) 0-2

Player of the Month

Stephen Ireland

I know it's getting boring now but there's really no-one else. Instrumental against Omonia, putting us 2-0 up against Liverpool and then grabbing the equaliser at Newcastle. Robinho deserves some recognition for his hat-trick against Stoke but did not do enough in the other four games to deserve this presitigious award. SWP is the other possible candidate, but blows as hot and cold as his fellow stepoverer on the other wing.

So for the third month running, Superman wins my Player of the Month.

Individual Performance of the Month

Robinho vs Stoke

First hattrick by a City player for ages (I can't be bothered to find out, if you know please leave it in the comments). I can't embed it here but you know where to look.

Goal of the Month

Elano vs Omonia

I can't find footage of it online, which kind of ruins the point of this bit. But you know what I mean: the one where Robinho ran down the left, did some stepovers and passed it back to Elano, twenty five yards out who smashed it into the bottom corner.

Boro 2 - 0 City

Some things may have changed since the Eriksson era, but we still can't beat poor teams away.

It was certainly the main failing last year, losing at Reading, Birmingham, Spurs and Boro, drawing at Derby, Fulham, Bolton and Wigan.

But this year seems little better. We have now drawn at Newcastle, while losing at Wigan and Boro.

Will this ever change? Or do we need to buy Lassana Diarra first?

Plus: Kompany got his fifth yellow and a one match ban.

Sturridge started ahead of Evans, with not much impact.

I hope we don't start Ben Haim and Onuoha together for a while.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Big numbers

Danny does some important reflecting on how many goals we are scoring this season, and how good this is.
At this pace, we are on course for 97 league goals this season - which
would tie United's 1999/2000 tally, which was the only time the 90 goal mark has
been hit.

What is even more telling with our tally so far is that we are certain to
smash our own previous best of 55 back in 2003/04 - the only time we have passed
the 50 mark, and lest we forget that back in 2006/07 we only tallied 29 in the
whole season.

This is by far the biggest and most important change from City's recent history, even the Eriksson era.

Just seven months ago I wrote this.

An omen?

I know that geography is actually not a very useful way of grouping football teams (when people talk of 'northern teams' meaning Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan they should really include Fulham as well).

But anyway.

For both trips to the north east this season (beating Sunderland 3-0 and drawing 2-2 with Newcastle), Hughes has dropped Elano and started Didi Hamann.

Could he do the same tonight?

I think he might just not. Newcastle and Sunderland are both very pretty physical teams in midfield. Middlesbrough are good in certain ways, but I don't think we should be that scared of O'Neil, Digard and Shawky.

Middlesbrough preview

  • The obvious point to make concerns this game last year. We won't get even in an aggregate goals sense, but to take three points would really mean something. We're hearing this a lot at the moment, but who would have thought back then that only five months later we'd be in such a strong position?
  • It seems that Jo is still ill, leaving a straight choice between Evans and Sturridge up front. Evans has two league starts this year, Sturridge one. Maybe Ched's knee and Danny's performance on Sunday will see him edge it? Hughes suggested that Dunne's injury isn't too bad, so we won't have to play Onuoha. Perhaps Hamann or Fernandes in for Elano in midfield?
  • So far this year, Middlesbrough have beaten Spurs and Stoke at home, won at Wigan (something we couldn't do), lost at Portsmouth, Liverpool, Sunderland and Man United, lost at home against WBA and Chelsea and then drew at Blackburn last weekend. So 10 points from 9 games, including three of the top four. Quite a good record, and not much worse than ours.
  • They do have some good players going forward: Tuncay, Alves, Aliadiere and Downing, but don't seem to have much at the back. It could be a high scoring game. So I'm predicting 2-2 (but secretly 3-1 to City).

Monday, 27 October 2008

Academy assists

First goal: Elano header down, played across by Evans to Robinho.

Second goal: Sturridge beats three defenders before putting in Robinho.

Third goal: Sturridge gets the ball from SWP before playing it across to Robinho.

With Jo suffering from tonsillitis, and two games a week for the next few weeks, we could see lots more of this quite soon.

Still top scorers

After today's results.

Current standings:

Man City 23
Chelsea 19
Arsenal 18
Aston Villa 16
West Ham, Hull and Liverpool 14

How good is that?

And for top league goalscorer, Robinho is second with six goals behind Zaki's seven. Defoe, Agbonlahor, Torres and Carew have five each.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Hart signs new deal

The news we had long been waiting for.

Hart now joins Richards, Johnson and Zabaleta in being contracted until the end of the 2012/13 season.

Hughes has talked of building a dynasty around players 'with an empathy for the club'. These players are the building blocks.

Next priority: Danny Sturridge.

Team vs Stoke

So it was Elano back in for Hamann and Evans in for the injured Jo.

Richards was passed fit.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Pitch widths

Stoke have the second narrowest pitch in the Premier League, 72 yards across (the Boleyn Ground is 70 yards across). This is one of the reasons why Rory Delap's long throws are so effective.

The City of Manchester Stadium has the widest pitch in the Premier League, 77 yards across. So I hope that his throws will be slightly less effective.

It's not great that I have to look to things like this for confidence going into our home game against Stoke City, but they are in form and we're not.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

City vs Newcastle player ratings

Hart Could never have anticipated either of the goals. Otherwise competent. Surely not the problem? 6

Richards Nice to see him back at right back - a throwback to the Pearce era. Defensively competent, and made some nice runs up the right wing. But when it comes to quality of passing and crossing, he's nowhere near Zabaleta or Corluka. 6

Dunne The fear that City fans don't want to confront: could our four time Player of the Season be what is holding us back? Unlucky to set up Newcastle's first, but scored their second for them. Playing with Ben Haim rather than Richards did not do him any favours. 5

Ben Haim Yet to completely assure in a City shirt. One or two nice moments on the ball, but did not look that comfortable with the pace and strength of Martins. One of the many unwitting assisters for Ameobi's equaliser. 5

Garrido Only seriously caught out once - when Duff shot straight at Hart in the first half. Otherwise efficient at the back and good going forward. Not going to force Hughes to put the cheque book away in 2009 though. 6

Hamann Picked over Elano in central midfield. Very successful in breaking up play and keeping the ball. Cannot be held at fault for defensive slipups or attacking miscues. 6

Kompany Same as Hamann. Allowed City to dominate possession without really ever turning the game for us. Getting slowly closer with his long range shooting - will score one day. 6

Ireland Perhaps our best performer on the night. More tenacious than brilliant, but still involved with some of our best moments. Good movement, control and passing around the box. Took his goal nicely, could have scored more. Only one away from his League goal tally from last year. 7

Wright-Phillips Lively down the right hand side, but final ball failed him sometimes. 6

Robinho Nice run for the goal (even if it was a good tackle), and a well taken penalty. And then good pass for Ireland's goal. In the intervening 70 or so minutes, could not really get into the game. 6

Jo Again, he worked hard, showed flashes of talent but did not quite produce. A few half chances went begging, a few times he got into the box but not near enough to the ball. Clearly a work in progress who is playing more than, had Bozhinov's Achilles been kinder, he otherwise would have been. 6


Onuoha Good to see him back, coming on for an injured Micah at right back. Slotted back in comfortably. 6

Evans Worked hard. Most notable contribution rugby tackling Steven Taylor before getting throttled. 5

Newcastle 2 - 2 City

  • Two points dropped, for sure. Newcastle are not a good team. A really awful bunch of players, a club collapsing piece by piece as we watch on Sky Sports News. And we were 1-0 up and one man up after only twelve minutes.
  • 10 points from 8 games is not really bad, but it is as many as West Brom have got and one point fewer than Blackburn have. Sunderland and Middlesbrough have 9, Bolton and Everton have 8. Liverpool and Chelsea have 20 each.
  • The central problem of the Sven era - winning away at bad teams - remains. This year in the league we've won at Sunderland and lost at Wigan and Newcastle. Until we get some tougher and more experienced players, I can't see this happening.
  • A serious analysis of the game based on the goals is difficult, given that the first three were all bizarre flukes (the penalty was the luckiest decision we've got for a while). Good to get the annual Richard Dunne own goal out of the way for this season. I am starting to worry though, about our defence, though. We've conceded 14 in 8: only Stoke, Newcastle and Everton have conceded more. I'd love to say the problem is simply Garrido. But what if it's Dunne, Hart or Richards? This is not an easy question to face but it is an important one.
  • We are the Premier League's top goal scorers again though, with 20 from 8 games. This is definitely a very good thing. What's more, we have four players with three league goals (Elano, Ireland, SWP and Robinho). I don't have the numbers to hand, but I don't think many other teams have that. Plus eight players with one league goal.
  • Stoke, Middlesbrough, Bolton, Spurs and Hull next to come in the league. 10 points from that?

Monday, 20 October 2008

Newcastle preview

A few disconnected points:
  • I hate watching City in games we're expected to win. I mean, really really fucking hate it. Not just because even the best case scenario (a thumping win, a la Chelsea and Man Utd on the weekend) comes as a relief more than anything. But because such an outcome rarely ever happens.
  • Remember last year? We lost at Reading, Middlesbrough and Birmingham. We drew at Derby, Bolton and Fulham. Going to poor teams and getting something is remarkably difficult for us. I thought Hughes would improve this side of us, but so far we've lost at Wigan and (more understandably) Villa, whilst beating Sunderland and scraping past all of our UEFA Cup games. Hughes still has to alleviate this deficiency.
  • The team picks itself. It will surely be the team which has played the last month or so, but with Ben Haim naturally in for Zabaleta. Presumably TBH will go in at right back, but there is an argument for breaking up the Richards/Dunne partnership at centre back, playing Micah in his 2006/07 position and putting the two old heads together in the middle. Defence has been our weakest thing this season - could this be an answer while Pablo sits out?
  • Newcastle are such a disgracefully bad team, we really should get something. If we lose it'll be 3 wins 5 losses in the league after eight games that were not strikingly difficult. Even a win puts us on 4 wins 4 losses - the same as West Ham. This is very important.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Owen and Zaki linked

It seems clear that an experienced front man ought to be a major January priority.

Jô is not yet the finished product, and too much is being asked of him. He started every game in between the last two international breaks. Sturridge and Evans are great talents but green. We cannot rely on the fitness of Bozhinov. Vassell and Benjani are the sort of players we need to leave behind as we move up.

And today we've been linked with Michael Owen and Amr Zaki. They are both players whose futures will be sorted out this season, probably in January. Owen's contract expires in the summer, as does Zaki's loan deal.

They are both the sort of player we could be looking at. It's easy to forget that Owen scored 118 in 216 in the league for Liverpool, and has 40 in 89 for England. Zaki has 7 in 8 in the league so far. Talk of Tevez, Benzema or Huntelaar may be far fetched at this stage. Could either of these be a more likely solution?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Webchat reminder

Just a reminder that I'll be doing a webchat with Danny at Bitter and Blue tonight from 8 till 9. We'll be discussing the season so far - come and have a look, and get involved.

It'll be like Bluemoon but without the morons.

It's now starting now! Go and have a look HERE!!

Robinho comes off injured for Brazil

I'm pretty sure I just saw Robinho getting stretchered off, clutching his right hamstring. He didn't look in agonising pain, and could get onto the stretcher quite comfortably. But it did not look like what we wanted to see.

Pato came on for him, meaning that Jo moved into Robinho's position on the left wing.

I'm sure we'll find out more in due course.

Three City players start for Brazil, liveblogging

Robinho, Elano and Jô all start tonight for Brazil.

Three City players! Starting for Brazil! In a competitive game!!

UPDATE 02.49 I've had half an eye on the game thus far. Elano seems quite heavily involved, just picking out Robinho whose shot was saved. Jô is working hard with little reward. Familiar? Brazil do not look very good defensively.

02.58 Jô, sliding in at the far post, puts a difficult chance into the side netting rather than into the empty goal. Pato is on the bench - could we see him in the second half?

02.59 Half time, 0-0. As turgid and event free as the Presidential debate thus far. It is nice to see Elano doing well in the central midfield role he plays for City.

03.21 Jô still on, and has a chance on 48 minutes. Takes the ball down well, good hit but turned round the post.

Elano off, for Inter's Mancini. 57 minutes gone

03.36 Robinho being driven off in a stretcher, clutching his right hamstring.

04.04 Jo smacks a 91st minute, 35 yard out free kick into the wall.

04.07 0-0 final score. No news on Robinho injury. I'm going to bed.

No Zabaleta tonight

Not in the matchday squad for the Chile game currently ongoing. And he's got a three game Premier League ban for almost Eduardo-ing Xabi Alonso. So we're not going to see him again for City until the trip to Bolton Wanderers on November 2nd. But then we've got seven games in 28 days, so he'll need the rest he's getting now.

Sweet Arshavin goal

I'm staying up for this evening's historic events. Two big names in an epic clash. I can't wait to see my new hero, a man who has brought hope to me and many like me, promising change and a new era.

And when the Robinho masterclass gets boring, I may watch the Presidential debate for a bit as well.

Anyway, I'm filling time by posting. So, check out this really nice goal by Andriy Arshavin from Russia's 3-0 defeat of Finland tonight.

Board update

As you know, MCFC confirmed the new board this week.

PurelyManCity has two fascinating posts on the topic, particularly on the role of surprise new member Martin Edelman, read them both here and here.

I don't have anything really to say about it, just take a look.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Live chat tomorrow

If you're looking for something to do tomorrow evening in the absence of live football, I'll be doing a live chat with Danny over at Bitter and Blue.

We'll be talking about the season so far and prospects for the future. Do come have a look, and contribute your thoughts.

Danny's piece on it here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Cologne to Gelsenkirchen coach on offer

Guest post from Blue abroad Calvin Francis, running a coach from Jamesons Irish Pub, on Friesenstrasse in Cologne to the Schalke stadium in Gelsenkirchen

OK lads, 53 places out of 100 gone...... only 47 to go (the coach leaves
at 3:30pm).

You can book by sending 10 euros per place required to my PayPal
account, which is
<> .

I'm sorry to make it a pay upfront thing but, as previously explained, I
want to limit my exposure on this and not book 2 coaches and have no-one
turn up.

Anyway, thanks to all the folks who have paid me so far, and I'll see
you there (I know you all hope to get tickets for the away end.......
but there are also tickets available for 49 euros (about 35 quid) on
Ebay in the Schalke end, (for those who arent sure about having the
loyalty point for tickets in the City end))...

The link is......

So, basically, if you've booked, sorted........ If you haven't, get on
it, 'cos even in the worst of cases you can travel to the game from
Cologne to Gelsenkirchen with a load of Blues, & watch the game
surrounded by Schalke fans :-)

Toodle-pip (and you can email me on my personal email - below - if you
have any questions).


Hughes and Bowen interview

An interesting piece by Guillem Balague in Monday's Times and on his website. It's a transcript of a staged conversation between Marks Hughes and Bowen. It's a really weird way to do a piece about City (whose idea was it?), but makes for interesting reading.

There's a few interesting bits in there, the most probably the level of backing Hughes gets from the new owners:
Manchester City football club is going to change a lot, starting with the appearance. We are having a major refurbishment of the training ground, a new gym that will cost a significant amount of money. The new owners want information, they have asked to be told what is needed and they will give us the resources to do it. You put the arguments forward and they will back you very quickly — you don’t have to wait for decisions or committees or board rooms! They just make decisions and the switch is flicked.
Earlier in the interview, Hughes makes a comment that may well be intended to quash rumours of a top-down transfer policy:
I’m in charge of the football part of this business. There have been lots of changes at Manchester City and there are going to be more in the future, but the one constant that will always be in place is the manager. I will make decisions and the club will act upon them accordingly — that’s how it should be. It has to be a clear direction to where we are going. That will obviously come from me and the input from my coaches only.
We hear that Hughes is going to control transfer policy so much now that I'm getting bored of it. And there was time for Hughes to mention his big idea:
The best players will always help you achieve that. It is also important to have empathy for the football club as well. I think we have a real chance to cultivate that at City because we’ve young players who have come up through the ranks.
I can't quite get across how much I agree with him on this. It's a demonstrable fact that all successful club sides are founded on a core of players with experience of playing together, some of whom came through the club's youth system. And with Richards and Johnson both contracted to 2013, Hart and Sturridge soon to be offered new deals, not forgetting Ireland and SWP or hungry new imports like Jo, Zabaleta and even Robinho, we have the tools to achieve this.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

More on fixture pile up

The fixture pile up I described last week will not be as acute as it could have been, due to City missing out on the first UEFA Cup gameweek.

Instead there are two slightly smaller acute buildups in the next two months:

The first is one 5 games in 13 days period.

26/10 Stoke (h), 29/10 'Boro (a), 2/11 Bolton (a), 6/11 Twente (h), 9/11 Spurs (h).

Another such period follows a few weeks later: 5 games in 14 days.

22/11 Arsenal (h), 27/11 Schalke (a), 30/11 Man Utd (h), 3/12 PSG (h), 6/12 Fulham (a).

The second period is almost as difficult as the first is easy. We genuinely should win all five games of the first set. We almost certainly will not, but that's football. The November/December set of matches though, will be testing. Three days before the derby (and five days after Arsenal) is surely the worst possible time to travel to Gelsenkirchen. If we have to rest our best players for that trip, we could get owned. The last two games look a bit better though.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

UEFA Cup Group A

I think the group we've drawn with is probably slightly harder than the average. But given the nature of the qualifying stage, I'm confident we'll progress. All it takes is five points, generally. Some teams have gone through with four.

FC Twente home, November 6

Everyone's favourite Eredivisie side, thanks to their legendary boss. The club that went where Blackburn Rovers daren't, bringing Steve McClaren back into management. Not a historically significant club, the came into their current format as late as 1965. Since then they have won only two Dutch cups (one fewer than the number of domestic cup competitions that City have won in the last 43 years). Had their best season for years in 2007/08, finishing fourth. But their coach, Fred Rutten, left for Schalke 04 (more on them later), taking Orlando Engelaar with him.

Last year Best for ten years. Finished fourth (out of 18), with 62 points from 34 games. Won through to the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round by beating first NAC Breda then Ajax in two legged games.
So far this year Knocked out of the Champions League by Arsenal. 8th in the league with 8 points from 5 games.
Premier League connections Only Stevie Mac as far as I can see.
Man to watch Blaise Kufo has won even more consecutive Player of the Season awards than Richard Dunne. The veteran Swiss striker has scored 88 league goals in five full seasons for Twente, with 22 last year (second only to Huntelaar in the standings) and 21 the year before that.

FC Schalke 04 away, November 27

Sandwiched between Arsenal and Manchester United's trips to CoMS, City visit the 61,000 seater Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. Venue of Mourinho's 2004 Champions League triumph, and England's penalty defeat to Portugal in the 2006 World Cup quater final. An exciting moment, but I fear we may have more on our minds three days before the derby. A sleeping giant of German football, they won 6 titles between 1934 and 1942 but only one since. Nevertheless, surely our hardest game this time.

Last year Third in the 18 team Bundesliga, with 64 points from 34 games. Kevin Kuranyi came third in the top scorer charts with 15 in the league. Knocked out of Champions League by Barcelona at the quarter final stage.
So far this year Unbeaten in the league with 8 points from four games. Like Twente, originally in the Champions League qualifying round. Then they got heavily Agueroed.
Premier League connections No obvious ones, but Peter Lovenkrands used to play for Rangers.
Man to watch Jefferson Farfan Prolific Peruvian and former City target, Farfan arrived from PSV Eindhoven this summer for €10million. Also watch for Croatian midfield prospect Ivan Rakitic.

Paris Saint-Germain home, December 3

I was really hoping this was going to be an away game. But we should win this one, and we may need to. One of the most high profile French clubs, they dominated through the 1980s and 1990s but have faded somewhat in recent years. In the 2000-01 season, three future City players: Distin, Anelka and Benarbia played for them. Read into that what you will. Currently rebuilding under Lyon legend and Rangers reject Paul le Guen. This summer he signed two ageing Champions League winners, Claude Makelele and Ludo Giuly.

Last year Almost went down. Finished 16th, with 43 points, only three points abouve 18th. Only in the UEFA Cup by virtue of winning the French Coupe de Ligue (no prizes for translating). Don't these back door entries de-value the competition..
This year Eleventh, with 11 points from eight games.
Premier League connections Claude Makelele is not the only Chelsea legend at the Parc des Princes. They also have Serbian tatto-fetishist Mateja Kezman.
One to watch Clement Chantome. Arsene Wenger is allegedly very interested in the 21 year old 'new Deschampes'.

Racing Santander away, December 18

I hope we will have tied up the necessary five (six to be safe) points by the time of this game. Seemingly the Wigan Athletic of Spain, having literally never won anything. But they finished sixth in La Liga last year, and could well be a difficult proposition in Spain. Despite being one week before Christmas, I'm sure there will be a vocal City contingent at the 22,000 seater Estadio el Sardinero.

Last year A very impressive sixth place, with 60 points. Only four points fewer than Sevilla or Atletico Madrid. Their small club status was underlined, however, when coach Marcelino left for relegated Real Zaragoza.
This season so far Five points from six games under new boss Juan Ramón López Muñiz. They are fourteenth in the league.
Premier League connections The least lame answer is that Yossi Benayoun used to play for them.
Man to watch Ezequiel Garay Allegedly a target of both Liverpool and Spurs, Garay played in the same Argentina U-2o side as Messi, Aguero and Zabaleta. Sold to Real Madrid in the summer, but loaned straight back.


One of the main characteristics associated with Mark Hughes is resilience. A dogged, determined player, who created a team in his image (albeit with less playing talent) at Blackburn Rovers.

A key criticism of Eriksson's City side was a lack of such resilience. The inability to break down physical teams or to hold on to leads were symptoms of a team that could dazzle when things went our way, but were too fragile to win in difficult circumstances.

I hoped that the replacement of Eriksson by Hughes would improve this. It does seem, though, that it has not. In fact, our form in the league thus far has seen the Eriksson traits developed even further. The irresistible performances on our day, evident in all three league wins. But on the other hand, a lack of mental toughness to hang on to difficult situations. Of our four league defeats, we went 2-0 up against Liverpool, 1-0 up against Chelsea and pulled both the Wigan and Villa trips back to 1-1 having gone 1-0 down.

This made me think about a manager's ability to impose his own traits on an inherited squad. The presumption was that Hughes would make us more resilient - but the squad itself seems to have become less so. Bringing in Robinho, Jô and Wright-Phillips has done nothing in this regard. Tal Ben Haim is associated with being 'gritty', but he barely gets a game. Zabaleta may be tougher than Corluka, but any improvement is cancelled out by the replacement of Ball with Garrido.

Perhaps we need another transfer window to really adress this aspect of the team. And with Torsten Frings and Stephen Warnock linked, it seems as if Hughes is preparing to do just that.

UPDATE Turns out that there are quotes from Hughes about exactly this issue:
"We need that resolve to be able to see games out and take something positive from every game we play. At the moment we are struggling on that point, but we are a young team in terms of experience and development."

Monday, 6 October 2008

Inconsistency (of results)

In amongst all the excitement, it's easy to miss an important point:

Three wins and four losses in the league is not that good.

In fact, it's pretty average. 9 points from 7 games is 1.28 points/game, an average with would see us finish the season with 49 points. Not relegation standard at all, but certainly less good than under Eriksson.

We've had some difficult games, and some easy ones. But it's games like Wigan away and Liverpool at home that teams who push for fourth get points from. I didn't think we'd get more than two or three points from them. But to get nothing is a shame.

There is a whole two weeks before the next game, Newcastle away. Then it's Stoke (h), Middlesbrough (a) and Bolton (a).

Consistency (of selection)

Something worthy of note is the consistency of selection in recent games.

Since the Omonia first leg (September 18th), we've stuck with the same first eleven in every UEFA Cup and Premier League game.

Hart, Garrido, Richards, Dunne, Zabaleta, Kompany, Elano, Ireland, SWP, Robinho and Jo has been the team, the only exception being Ben Haim in for Dunne in Omonia at home. That's five games in a row.

I always thought that the team looked like one chosen to play at home, maybe even at home in Europe. So to see it used at Wigan away or Liverpool at home demonstrates Hughes' commitment to a certain style of play.

But with Zabaleta out for three games we're going to see changes for the Newcastle United match.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

City 2 - 3 Liverpool

  • It's obvious which game this reminded us of, and although the backlash from it will not be as significant as it was in April, I honestly did not think this was going to happen for a long time. Of course, when it went to 2-1, defeat for City was inevitable, written in the stars. But I thought that under Hughes, a solid, dependable character, City would stop conceding leads in trademark fashion. One problem is that Hughes is controlling a squad of players more known for their flair than their fight. The other is that City are the sort of club that this always happens to - in short, a comedy club. Beating Portsmouth 6-0 and then losing to Brighton - with City, victory or defeat is never cetrain, as demonstrated today. Strange things happen when they play - luckily, it works both ways.
  • It seems unlikely that Hughes will make us more of a solid team. Our position in the league may not fluctuate much, unlike last year, but the team itself will probably score and concede more goals than it did last year. Eriksson's reign was built on a formidable defensive diamond - in goal, the emerging Hart, Dunne and Richards at the back, and the superb Hamann in defensive midfield. City played good football last year but did not create many chances. Hughes' has picked up on Sven's philosophy of beautiful football and run with it, adding several quality forward players, but his defence may suffer as a result of this. So this might not be the only 3-2 of the season.
  • Amid all the euphoria, City are lower in the league than several poor teams - Blackburn, West Brom, Hull, and West Ham.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Man of the moment

If his performances weren't enough to endear him to the City fans, Steven Ireland impresses even more today with these comments:
I wanted a few days off before I got back into the training ahead of pre-season, but because the Middlesbrough defeat was such a heavy one I started straight away. I knew from the hard work I’d put in I’d feel the benefits. [emphasis mine]
He's been doing martial arts and power lifting over the summer and I think it shows. He used to look a bit lightweight in midfield but this year he's held his own - allowing him to put into action the skill and vision he's always had.

Fixture pile up

There are five slots for each team's four UEFA Cup group games to be played in, so every team gets one day off.

Presuming that City play in both of the first two match days (a 60% shot), we will have seven games within a 21 day period immediately following the international break.

20/10 Newcastle (a), 23/10 UEFA Cup, 26/10 Stoke (h), 29/10 'Boro (a), 2/11 Bolton (a), 6/11 UEFA Cup, 9/11 Spurs (h).

Given that our Samba stars have Venezuela away on 12/10, then Colombia at home on 15/10, we could conceivably face some fatigue issues across this period.

Group stage

I know we've faced three unspectacular opponents, but I do think the management deserve credit for getting us this far. We have played as many UEFA Cup games thus far as we have in the Premier League. Given the boardroom turmoil and injury crisis that hit our strikers, marshalling the squad to this point cannot have been simple.

Our reward for this is to face the UEFA Cup group stage. The last ever time this bizarre stage will be played, 40 teams are divided into 8 groups of five. Each team plays only four matches, and the top three go through. Looking at previous years, it only takes six points to guarantee progress from the group. Five points is almost always sufficient, and teams have been known to qualify with only four.

Looking at the seedings on wikipedia, we are in the third pot of five. Pot One is full of very good teams: Milan, Valencia, Benfica and Hamburg stand out. Pot Two has teams of roughly our standard (perhaps with an exception for Ajax). We are lucky that we cannot draw Pot Four's best teams (Portsmouth and Aston Villa), for obvious reasons. Pot Five contains Steve McClaren's FC Twente, amongst others.

The hardest possible group we could get is probably: AC Milan, Ajax, Man City, Racing Santander and Saint-Etienne. The easiest: CSKA Moscow, Heerenveen, Man City, FC Copenhagen, Zilina.

The draw's on Tuesday.

City vs Omonia ratings

Hart Did not have much to do. The goal was too quick for him. One awkward fumble late on, went unpunished. Competent kicking. 6

Zabaleta Steady progress continues. Got up and down the right hand side quickly and cleverly, putting in some pretty good crosses. Defensively solid. Even managed to break Zlogar's nose with the back of his head. 7

Richards Captain today, and had a comfortable evening. Consistently in the right place at the right time. Even managed to get forward at times, with mixed success. 7

Ben Haim Again not entirely convincing. Did not inspire confidence against high balls or in possession. At fault for Alabi's consolation goal. In no danger of challenging Dunne or Richards for a starting berth. 5

Garrido Good by his standards. Troubled only once or twice by pace on his side, and impressed going forward: he's no Evra, but he got into good positions and used the ball well. Seems to have an improving understanding with Robinho, running beyond and outside of him. Risks being out run by Kuyt on Sunday. 7

Kompany Not a very serious test of his prodigious talents. Shielded Richards and Ben Haim well, and generally kept hold of posession when he needed to. Will not have it so easy in the group stages. 7

Ireland Another good performance by the player of the season so far. Instrumental in many of our attacks, almost executing some perfect through balls - and succeeding for SWP's goal. Went close with an attempted chip. Even popped up to help out Richards in our six yard box. 8

Elano His best performance yet in the more withdrawn midfield role he has played since the arrival of Robinho. Tends to get out-muscled and eventually ignored, but his passing was immaculate today - finding Robinho and Wright-Phillips time and again. Scored probably City's goal of the season thus far. 8

Wright-Phillips Probably my Man of the Match today. Never stopped running, and displayed his almost unique ability to keep the ball under control despite opponents. Involved in most of City's best attacking play. Took his goal very well. 8

Robinho Not the star of the show today, but a good contribution nonetheless. Did not quite reach the heights of imagination and execution seen in the first leg or against Portsmouth. Did well to pick out Elano for the opener. 7

Looked a bit tired at times: has started six games in eighteen days since his return from Brazil. His contribution since the 6-0 has gradually diminished in each game. I remain a fan, but perhaps time for a rest? 6


Hamann A situation made for Didi: retained possession and didn't let Omonia have the slightest sniff of a comeback. 7

Evans As brave and lively as we have come to expect, if not quite as composed in front of goal. Cannot be far from a starting place. 7

Petrov Good for the fans to see him back, and he looked even happier. Got in some good positions, and could have scored two or three. But where does he start? 7

Thursday, 2 October 2008

City 2 -1 Omonia

  • To have got through to the group stages is a genuine achievement. There are legitimate complaints to be made against the UEFA Cup, but some serious teams got knocked out this evening: including Borussia Dortmund, Everton and Napoli. We have not come up against any very strong opponents, but simply getting past three two-legged ties whilst starting a league campaign, particularly given the boardroom turmoil, is not something to be sneered at.
  • That said, our progress in the European games has been pretty slow. This evening was probably our best performance yet. But we still don't look like a team fully at ease with European competition. We struggled to get going in the first half, and did not look fully at ease with Omonia's gameplan. I always thought that one of Hughes' main improvements on Eriksson was an ability to combat physical, intense, high tempo teams. Maybe not.
  • In the second half, however, we stepped up two gears. The interplay between Ireland and Elano and the front three was almost as good as at points against Portsmouth. With some better finishing and some less selfish play in the final third it could have been many more than 2-1. This is not the first time we've said this recently, and the more often it happens the less well it reflects on Jô.
  • It was pleasing to see the return of Martin Petrov. He didn't really run at players much, but had one good shot from distance and two from close in. Looked sharp and lively, despite not playing for six weeks. Not sure where exactly he fits in now (on the left of a 4-2-3-1 I imagine of an Elano-less team).
  • Ignoring the Brighton game, we have stuck with almost exactly the same team and formation for the last four games (two Premier League, two UEFA Cup). The only change from that set up was Tal Ben Haim for Richard Dunne today. More consistent than I expected in this regard: but by the same token less flexible. Will this be a permanent arrangment this season?

Jol's achievement

It is no longer original or interesting to say that Spurs were better off under Martin Jol.

But for a real reminder of how good a manager he is, look at what he's doing with Hamburg. After six games of the season, they are top of the Bundesliga with 13 points. He has brought in Mladen Petric (vanquisher of McClaren), Marcell Jansen (from Bayern Munich reserves) and Thiago Neves (remember him?).

But they have come in to replace two of Hamburg's most high profile players, Vincent Kompany and Rafael van der Vaart, both of whom Jol let go over the summer. Improving a team whilst losing two of the best players is a serious achievement. For we all know now how good Vincent Kompany is. And van der Vaart has done well for Real so far.

This has been a rather long winded way of getting to my main point: check out these sick goals van der Vaart's scored recently.

Omonia preview

I feel like I haven't fully engaged with our UEFA Cup campaign thus far. I was out of the country for EB/Streymur away and FC Midtjylland at home, at a long standing social engagement for AC Omonia away, and called away for most of the second half of Streymur at home. The only game I've seen in full was the penalty triumph in Denmark.

But we are now 90 minutes away from the group stage. Things would need to go very badly this evening for us to fail. I know that cup upsets are part of our DNA, but for tonight I'm pretty confident. A win, a draw, or a 1-0 loss puts us through. Surely we can manage that?

Rather than risk a repeat of the Withdean disaster, it sounds as if Hughes will stick with the current first team tonight. Any potential changes (Johnson and Petrov in) are rendered impossible by their injuries. So Elano keeps his place. I think that he's a luxury in a 4-3-3, but tonight could just be his game. At home, with the protection of a UEFA referee, against a side that needs to come out and attack: we may see the best of him this evening.

I'd like to predict that the Wright-Phillips, Robinho and Jô front line will do some damage tonight, but I thought they were going to at the JJB last Sunday. The difference, though, is that Wigan are more used to having to deal with top quality forwards than Omonia will be. In the first leg we ought to have scored five or six. But I'd take 1-0 tonight.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Bozhinov starts rehab

"Long is the way / And hard, that out of hell leads up to light"

Especially when you've already done it once before.

Mark Hughes spoke this week of Valeri Bozhinov's return to Carrington to start rehabilitation after his ankle injury at Villa Park.

He seemed to be spinning it in a pretty positive way:
"I’ve seen scars from that type of injury before and they looked a lot angrier than Valeri’s does...It looks excellent in fairness and we’re very hopeful given where the tendon snapped. If there is a good place it was the optimum position, right in the middle, so the prognosis is really good for him"
I was so excited by the prospect of seeing him in August. I was distraught when he broke down again. I don't think many City fans felt very differently.

Jesus was only resurrected once.

September traffic stats

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Bowen on Ireland

From the official site.
But look at someone like Stephen Ireland, is there genuinely a better player than him in his position in this country at the moment? You cannot just look at names on paper just because they play for big teams overseas and think that they will do better jobs than people like Stephen.
I know the question was meant rhetorically, but taking is as if it weren't, the answer is 'yes, but only Deco and maybe Fabregas'.