Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Here are the odds from Ladbrokes and William Hill.
Scolari 2/1, Bilic 6/1, Rijkaard 8/1, Allardyce 10/1, Hughes 10/1, Hiddink 12/1, Houllier 12/1, Jol 12/1, Ince 12/1, Mancini 12/1, Ranieri 16/1, Koeman 16/1 and McClaren 20/1
Scolari 9/4, Jol 5/1, Houllier 5/1, Allardyce 10/1, Mourinho 10/1, Hitzfeld 12/1, van Gaal 12/1, McClaren 14/1, Bilic 14/1, Ince 14/1, Koeman 16/1, Mancini 16/1, Lippi 16/1, Hiddink 16/1, Strachan 16/1, Moyes 20/1, Grant 20/1, Mowbray 25/1, Venables 25/1, O'Leary 25/1, Pearce 33/1 and Coppell 40/1.
God knows what to make of all this. I'd take any of those few favourites (with the exception of Allardyce), but can't see who'd want to work under Thaksin '8th doesn't count as Top 10' Shinawatra. Scolari is actually less attractive to me than Bilic or Rijkaard. I'd rather just keep Eriksson though.
We know that it involves:
- being set targets which you can meet and still get sacked
- no real control over transfer policy
- outsiders (in the sense of not being part of the football staff) coming into the dressing room
- getting undermined in the press from the other side of the world
- glorification of the great leader at the expense of everything else
- instability inside the club and outside. The possibility of everything imploding at any minute.
Other fans on Bluemoon have mentioned Scolari, Jol, Mourinho, Lippi, Bilic and many more. This is absurd! These are respected managers with good reputations and big egos. Would they really take on this poisoned chalice?
Of course they wouldn't. We'll get some mercenary yes-man, eager to make a few million pounds and some decisions he knows will get overruled from the board room. Radomir Antic? Winnie Schaefer? Wanderlei Luxemburgo? Otto Pfister?
This is such bullshit.
I guess this is what happens when you let some narcissist thug run a football club. How complacent I was, we all were, last summer.
Our best season in my lifetime ends like this. Part of me wants all of our players to follow Sven out, to humiliate Thaksin. Force him out. We'll still be here; we'll rebuild from scratch. We've done it before.
This is a dark day.
Sunday, 27 April 2008
- Good vocal backing from the CoMS stadium yesterday, while we were winning. Whilst it's true that he's in charge, that was one of those losses that can't really be blamed on him. We played very well and made some crucial mistakes. We created more than enough chances and didn't take them. I hope Thaksin understands this.
- Thaksin's programme notes were frustratingly non-committal:
"On the pitch, I do feel we have made some significant progress, including
reaching a record number of points for City in the Premier League. As well
as the two wins over Manchester United, we have at times enjoyed some exciting free-flowing football. The aim now is to try and achieve the consistency required to be successful in English football"
- Story in the Sunday Express this morning. Says that he's staying. No evidence, or quotes though. If I don't believe evidence free articles saying he's out I can't really reverse that position just because I want this story to be true.
Elano His passing was a joy to watch. The time and space he was afforded meant that he could pick out Petrov and Benjani from anywhere, and was always successful. Great ball to Vassell for our second goal. Defended well, won some important headers. 8 (Man of the Match)
Corluka Saw the best and worst of him yesterday. Seventy minutes of immaculate defending; Healy and McBride got nothing out of him, and were both substituted. But a concentration slip let Kamara through to make it 2-1. He made a similar mistake against this lot at Craven Cottage to turn three points into one. 7
Ball Defended well, and played the ball well when he needed to. Had to help out Sun too much, but that's not his fault. As a captain, seemed rather quiet and failed to prevent our collapse. 7
Sun Not Premier League quality. Never looked fully comfortable with Simon Davies, gave the ball away too much. And to give away that needless penalty was stupid. 4
Gelson Not his best performance. Dominated by Jimmy Bullard in the middle (although this is also to some extent on Johnson too). Gave the ball away in the build up to the equaliser. Showed good fitness in the last ten minutes, but can't always exploit the positions he gets in. 5
Johnson Getting slowly closer to his Autumn form. Didn't have to do too much defensively, going forward he was tidy with a few clever passes. 6
Vassell Almost as well as he can play. Worked hard, put in a good cross for Benjani's goal. Failed to really test Fulham in the second half when there was lots of space to exploit. 6
Ireland For the first half he was as good as he was against Portsmouth: impressive vision and passing, good movement, kept the ball well. His goal was delightful: who else do we have who could have done that? Must have picked up a slight knock in the second half (came off after 55 minutes). Geovanni was good, but we did miss Stevie. 7
Petrov Impressive. Linked up very well with both Ireland and Benjani: got round the back repeatedly; incredible that he came away with no goals and one assist. Will be gutted to have missed those two golden chances in the last few minutes. Did a William Gallas sit out after the final whistle. 8
Benjani Getting better and better - did the lone front man thing perfectly. Holding up the ball, dragging the defenders out, linking with Petrov, Ireland and Vassell. Should have scored when clean through on 88 minutes though. 8
Geovanni (for Ireland, 55). Best performance in months. Played in central midfield, and was much fitter and stronger than he has been before. Almost scored a goal the original Gio would have been proud of, and it's not his fault that Petrov and Benjani didn't convert the chances that he created. 7
Caicedo (for Vassell, 79). Worked hard and got into good positions. Missed one good chance. Still lots of work to be done here. 6
- I'm writing the report on this game for the next edition of King of the Kippax, so apologies if you end up reading any of these points again in August when it comes out.
- I have never been so confident that City would win a game. In the sixty-ninth minute, before Corluka decided to let Kamara run round him, Fulham looked like they could have played for weeks and not scored. And, under the patterns of play at the time, they would not have.
- To almost contradict what I wrote above. I wrote in my notes on 63 minutes "Ole-ing, too early". Yes, I thought we would win at this point. But the hubristic mocking of a desperate opponent, with almost one third of the match remaining, does not feel right. If you saw another team do it on Match of the Day you'd say that they deserved to be brought down. I love being proved right, but not this time.
- I didn't really care when Kamara scored the winner. By that point we'd already thrown away a two goal lead, and missed five good chances to win it. When we lost the ball that final time, it felt like a loss. Kamara scoring only confirmed what I already felt.
- During a nine minute period (83-92), City missed six wonderful chances. Six! We played our best attacking football for months in that time. Geovanni, Geovanni, Petrov, Benjani, Caicedo and Petrov were the culprits. Each one worse than the last. And with a cumulative build-up of frustration and fear. I think those misses hurt more than their winner.
- We played really well! We defended effectively for seventy minutes. Seeing Corluka school David Healy wasn't even funny. We attacked, for the whole ninety, with real creativitiy and verve. On another day we would have won 5-0! After Sunderland (should have lost) and Portsmouth (could have lost), I can see that it's fair. But it still sucks.
Friday, 25 April 2008
One corrective to this is our record against teams who come to play anti-football. That 0-0 against Wigan was the worst match I have ever watched, and our record against poor teams isn't very good. Our best games in the last few months have all been against teams who play football against us: Portsmouth, Tottenham at home and obviously the win at Old Trafford. When teams park the bus, we're not very good at breaking them down. I think this is the ultimate difference between us and Villa and Everton, but I'll look at that in more detail, and with evidence rather than intuition, in post-season.
Anyway, Fulham are going to be battling very hard on Saturday. All the talk coming out of Craven Cottage is that they need to win, and that a point is equivalent to a loss. Corluka said on the website today that this desire to win will mean that they'll come and play open football. I'm not sure that's true: Fulham's most likely means of winning is to 1) not concede and 2) grab something from a set piece. Playing open football would actually decrease their chances of winning, in that they just don't have the players for it and we do.
Hopefully, it will be like those home 1-0s against Derby, Birmingham or Sunderland. If we score the first goal, I'm sure we'll be fine. And let's not forget, Fulham are terrible.
I'd like to see Ireland keep his position as second striker. As I wrote on Sunday, I thought he had his best ever game for City against Portsmouth. But if we don't need Elano at right back (I'm not sure how that will play out at the moment), I imagine he'll move in there and then it's between Ireland and Vassell on the right.
I'm writing the report for King of the Kippax, but I'll hopefully get something up on here about it late Saturday night or Sunday morning.
The rumours of our signing Jo are very positive, not only for obvious reasons. Jo is very much a 'Sven signing': one identified through Eriksson and Tord Grip's own scouting networks (rather than a 'Thaksin signing'). The fact that the club are acting on what can only be Eriksson's recommendations for signings suggests that they're planning for a future with him.
I've never really seen Jo play though - is he any good?
Sunday, 20 April 2008
Elano: Looked like a flair midfielder being played at full back. Given that he said this week "my strengths are not to tackle and compete for the ball" I'm not sure whether I believe stories that he often used to play right back for Santos. I know he can do it on Football Manager 2007, but that's not quite the same thing. He did as well as we could have hoped though with Krancjar, and kept the ball nicely going forward. Will be gutted to have been off the pitch when we got that late freekick! 7
Dunne: Comfortable until his injury. I don't imagine Defoe is the sort of striker he enjoys playing against but was pretty solid. Lucky not to give away a penalty. If his injury is serious, we could really do with Micah against Fulham. 7
Corluka: Relatively low key thanks to Portsmouth's 4-5-1 then 4-4-1 systems. May have wanted to attack more but did well marshalling the defence when he was alongside Ball, Williamson and Elano. Did let Krancjar slip past him in the second half, could have led to a goal. 7
Ball: Not quick or strong enough (Portsmouth must be the second most athletic team in the league behind Chelsea). Reliable when moved inside, and as captain ensured the players kept their heads when they could have panicked. 7
Fernandes: At times looked like he could have been overwhelmed by Muntari, Diop and Diarra, but just kept his head above water. Did not succeed in making the extra man count in midfield after the sending off, but that's not his only his fault. 6
Johnson: The perfect balance between busy and tidy - like Hamann in his Liverpool days. The match fitness seems almost fully back. Kept the ball well in the second half; very disciplined: no Hollywood balls or Stevie G give-and-gos. 8
Petrov: His monthly world class performance. Quick, clever, sharp: both out on the touchline and cutting inside. Lucky with the deflection for his first goal since November, but his performance deserved it. Didn't seem to mind Elano being in the opposite corner of the pitch such was his understanding with Ireland. 9
Ireland: Best performance ever. I'd previously been skeptical of his desire to play in the hole - his best game before today was in central midfield at Old Trafford. But his touch and vision today were Benarbian. His intuitive understanding of Petrov, Vassell and Benjani was extremely impressive. Please don't sell him to Sunderland! 10
Vassell: As well as he's played this year. Willing to work hard in the middle of the park, kept the ball better than he usually does. Should have scored another in the second half, but he's missed easier chances this year. 8
Benjani: Did everything asked of him. One of the few centre forwards able to physically compete with Distin and Campbell, and didn't give them a moment's rest. Did well to hassle James in the run up to Vassell's goal and on another day could have had two or three goals. I still think he's Mpenza Plus, but for now he's comfortably the best option. 9
Williamson: Very tidy in defence and effective going forward. Silly tackle that got him booked though. 7
Geovanni: Good touch and short passing, but we knew that. Didn't get the chance to prove his unfitness. 7
Caicedo: The stick he's been getting on Bluemoon recently is absurd. Did ok. 6
- For the second successive match, we were lucky. Yes, we probably deserved the three points but we had all the breaks: Hreidarsson should not have been sent off, Dunne fouled Defoe in the box, the ball ending up with Benjani for Vassell's goal, the deflection for Petrov's etc.
- Our most creative performance since Blackburn at home on 27 December. With better finishing from Vassell and Benjani we could have scored five or more. The return to 4-2-3-1, with two wingers and a trequartista, so successful earlier on in the season, worked extremely well today. Or at least, the three players (Petrov, Ireland, Vassell) each had their best games for months. In Ireland's case, I don't remember seeing him have a better game for City.
- The fans' treatment of Distin was a disgrace. He was a great servant of the club: five seasons over which he was consistently one of our best players. Played over 200 matches for us in all competitions (even more than Nicky Weaver!) - only Dunne has played more times of those currently in football. He was a good club captain for a few years. He ought to be remembered as one our players of the 2000s. And I don't think the circumstances of his leaving are particularly dishonourable. The fact is that when he left he was right to say that we were a club going nowhere. After years of service he is entitled to a new start. And the hypocrisy is terrible. I was at the 0-0 draw at Fratton Park in November, and some fans were singing at him: "You money grabbing bastard". As if increased wages played no role in the signings of Elano or Petrov! Shame on those who booed him today.
- I remember Sven's England team being unable to defend one goal leads. Sweden 2002, Brazil 2002, France 2004, Portugal 2004, Sweden 2006: he could never quite choose between consolidation and going for the kill. I think this City team are actually quite good at it though - with the exception of one ten minute spell in the second half. Given our back four after Dunne came off, we did very well to limit Portsmouth to those few chances.
- 55 points makes it our best ever 38 game season. The next symbolic targets are 57 (highest Premier League finish, in 1992/93 42 match season) and even 60. Browsing through previous Premier League tables, mid to high fifties tends to be sufficient for European qualification through the league, which ought to give us confidence.
- Was Thaksin there? I didn't see Sky Sports cameras show him, but I may not have been paying attention. Today's performance, and the vocal backing for Sven from the fans ought to be a strong corrective to any notions the chairman has of replacing him. I'm sure SGE will be graceful enough not to make this point in public though.
More poor football and results in front of 39,000 could seal his fate. But an occassion like those against United, Newcastle or Middlesbrough - over six months ago - with stylish play and vocal support for Eriksson may convince Shinawatra to stick with him.
I'd like to think that the players will want to perform well for Sven. They, hopefully, realise what's at stake here. If we hit sixty points and seventh place it almost forces Thaksin's hand.
I don't imagine we'll change a winning team. Portsmouth's physical midfield favours the inclusion of Hamann - but I think Sven will want to stick with Gelson and Johnson in the middle. He could go with Hamann, Gelson, Johnson in the centre and Elano on the right - but it's not worked before.
It's good that this game matters, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Let's hope the players remind Thaksin what we can do.
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
"I thought your thing about how Arsenal are still great even though they haven't
won jack in three years was kind of absurd...But I, for one, remember Dalglish's
Blackburn just as much as Keegan's Newcastle. Also there was less to play
for back then, as English teams were less competitive in Europe, so it wasn't
such a big deal not to end up winning anything. There's also not the same
contrast in the present case as then - it's not like United don't play very
good, sometimes extraordinary football."
Good points, but I think the Big Four which exists now means that competition for big trophies is even tighter than before. And whilst I'm not doubting United's football, the point I was trying to make was that amongst the trophyless teams of recent history, Arsenal will go down as one of the best and best admired.
"Yes, Shinawatra has been suggesting that [Eriksson in, Scolari out] as a possible solution, but that everybody around him: the intermediaries who make the signings for him and Eriksson, they're all telling him: Be patient! Eriksson is the man."
Sunday, 13 April 2008
Given how much emphasis Wenger puts on this unit of players as a collective (hence his unwillingness to buy big name players), they show striking mental frailty. Contrast this with Chelsea, who have a reputation as both mercenaries but also mentally tough. And Wenger's commitment to this project is so inflexible that he can only offer 'more of the same'. I hope the progress continues, but I'm not sure it will be sufficient to match whichever improvments Manchester United make.
The thing is, I'm not sure how much that really matters. Matt Dickinson said on Setanta the other day that people remember Keegan's Newcastle team better than Dalglish's Blackburn Rovers. Gabriele Marcotti made the same point about Arrigo Sacchi's Milan team having a more prominent place in the collective football consciousness than Capello or Ancelotti's equally successful eras. It is quality of football, rather than trophies, which imprints on our mind. And as long as Arsenal remain such a joy to watch they will be celebrated, trophies or none.
- It looks like Ronaldinho is going to Milan. Like Mourinho and the England job, it seems that he flirted with us just long enough to force a deal with a more attractive employer. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Our main problem in the transfer market is a lack of credibility with foreign players. By having our name connected with Ronaldinho in the pages of Gazzetta dello Sport we have gone some way to addressing that. Yes it's vulgar, but it's also extremely helpful.
- News of the World talked about a return for Wright-Phillips. Sounds perfect to me: we need a right sided Petrov equivalent almost as much as we need a good striker. The key is going to be convincing SWP that it's not a step backwards or an admission of failure: and that lies in maximising our points and league position. He played for us in seasons where we've finished 9th with 51 points (2002/03) and 8th with 52 points (2004/05). Hitting 60 points and 7th place would show that this is a new team.
- Kris Boyd sounds more like a Pearce era signing. The last few years teaches caution with regard to players who have 'set the SPL alight': Barry Ferguson, James McFadden and Millers Kenny and Liam have all dissapointed after crossing the border. The jury is still out on Darren Fletcher and Craig Gordon. That doesn't mean he definitely wouldn't be up to it, but that SPL success isn't sufficient. I'm sure he'd be an improvement on the current strikers though: Benjani and Vassell remind me of Samaras and Corradi but with a much better work rate and added slapstick element.
After stating his aim for a Top 10 finish this year, I don't see how Dr Thaksin can sack Eriksson if we fulfill that. Even if we take no points from our last four games we equal our best ever thirty eight game season. Sacking the manager now would be an absurdly bad decision.
Thaksin's a canny operator, and he knows how to run things. We can only hope he's just playing games with Eriksson - giving him a warning to re-focus his mind.
Saturday, 12 April 2008
- We still haven't scored a real goal for ages. By that I mean one from open play, that was fully within the laws of the game and entirely intentional. Our last one to meet those criteria was Vassell's at OT on February 10th - and even that was thanks to van der Sar giving him a second chance. If we disallow that, it's Gelson's on February 2nd. This metric may seem harsh, but almost all of our early season goals get past it: all but Geovanni's goal in the derby up until Elano's free-kicks.
- Is Hamann's exclusion a taste of things to come? Ireland, Gelson and Johnson will presumably form a key part of our midfield for years to come - but is it really worth playing them all in unison ahead of many fans' choice for Player of the Season? Unless he's genuinely tired at this stage of the season - quite possible - I can only see preparation for the 2008/09, where he will play even fewer games, as a reason for not starting him.
- Joe Hart's claim for Young Player of the Year is increasingly secure, and maybe even a good bet for Player of the Year. Hamann's recent exclusion has weakened his claim, and none of the other contenders has quite done enough.
- Now level with our highest ever points total in a 38 game top flight season. We got 52 in 2004/05 (8th place), then 51 points in 02/03 (9th). The rest is very poor: 43 in 05/06 (15th), 42 in 06/07 (14th), 41 in 03/04 (16th) and then the relegation seasons: 38 in 95/96 (18th) and only 34 in 00/01 (18th). In amongst all the talk of fizzling out on the one hand and Ronaldinho on the other, it's important to keep this achievement at the front of our minds. Our remaining four matches aren't too hard: how close can we get to 60?
Friday, 11 April 2008
"There is a danger the season could amount to nothing...the danger is that we go 'on holiday', and that would be a pity because we have had a good season, and we can't finish it in a bad way"
He is almost acknowledging that this is true. I'm not sure that this is a particularly bad thing; he's tried inspiring the players in the last few weeks and it plainly hasn't worked. Perhaps the best solution is just hard work in training and a gentle reminder that the players' futures are at stake. The impending returns of Bozhinov, Richards and Castillo will hopefully have an incentivising effect.
In terms of selection, Ball-Dunne-Corluka-Sun is the certain back four. I'm not sure Kenwyne Jones is quite as good as people say, but even if he is we should have enough to deal with him. Beyond that I don't envisage many changes.
Disrupt the youthful Gelson/Johnson/Ireland triangle with Hamann? Keep Elano on the right, or replace him with Vassell or Ireland? Give Caicdeo a start?
Unfortunately, I can't really make myself care about these details this evening. We seem to have tried almost every possible combination in midfield, with roughly similar results. The fact is that the whole squad is tired, and lacking motivation. It's not so much about finding the right combination any more, as it is crossing the finishing line with as many points and as few injuries as possible.
It's a credit to Keane that Sunderland are where they are. Their squad is shockingly bad - comfortably the second worse in the league. We could beat them heavily tomorrow. But given our form, and theirs, I'm predicting another away defeat.
"What is not so well known is that Ronaldinho has had in his hands a report
that shows what Manchester City plan to do this summer, a report that shows how
important the fans are for the club, about the stadium, and Ronaldinho is
actually said to his team-mates that it wouldn't be such a bad idea to go
to Manchester City.
We're not saying it may happen, we're not saying it is going to
happen, but we are definitely saying that he is seriously considering it."
There's more from Duncan Hunter, too:
"Manchester City's offer [€20m, apparently, or £16m) or is not only
competitive but known to Barcelona and potentially acceptable".
Read it all.
If, as reported, this has been done by Thaksin's people over SGE's head then it's perhaps worrying that Ronaldinho claims to know that the team will be built around him. The owner has been surprisingly quiet on football matters this season but does seem increasingly prone to Abramovich type tendencies. Can't he just give Sven and Tord the £30m instead?
Monday, 7 April 2008
He writes that the player's agent was at City on Saturday for talks:
Ronaldinho's agent and older brother, Roberto de Assis, was entertained at
Manchester City by Thai members of the club board on Saturday as they continue
to seek a way to lure the Brazilian superstar to the Barclays Premier
These two [Thaksin aides and MCFC board members Pairoj Piempongsant and
Tawesuk Jack Srisumrid], along with agent Pini Zahavi, have been talking to De
Assis in the last week and it is understood they continued their dialogue at a
restaurant in the city after the match.
Despite public denials, City boss Sven Goran Eriksson is aware of Thaksin's pursuit of Ronaldinho — even though he privately feels the deal has little chance of coming off.
Even though Ladyman concludes that Milan remains Ronaldinho's most likely destination, this is still a development to be taken seriously, if only to demonstrate Thaksin's commitment to his Big Name Buy and his audacity of target identification. Expect another summer of speculation.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
Friday, 4 April 2008
Unless SGE gambles on Caicedo or Sturridge up front, Benjani will keep his place. And with a flu free Petrov back on the left, we're back to our favourite task: attempting to crow-bar a series of central midfielders, left wingers and forwards into right midfield. Elano? Ireland? Geovanni? Castillo? Vassell? Elano probably deserves it, but Chelsea are strong enough for that to be used against him. Castillo and Geovanni are both seemingly out of favour, and Ireland hasn't impressed from out wide for some time. So we're left with Vassell. The presumption ought to be that his poor performances would see him dropped, but I'm long past thinking there's any correlation between his form and his selection. Seemingly, if we're playing a team at all better than us then we need hard workers so we pick him. Or if we're playing a team at all worse than us, then we need hard workers, and so we pick him. This is proved by the one time we played a team roughly as good as us - Tottenham - we were able to drop him. How did that game finish again?
Thursday, 3 April 2008
Wednesday, 2 April 2008
Not much of it is news, except perhaps on the extent of SGE's reaction to last weekend's loss to Birmingham.
"It was the most unhappy I have seen the boss since he came to the club and that summed up how bad we were. I am not going to go into detail but he made it quite clear that what happened at St. Andrew's was not good enough and with just six games left we do not want to let this excellent opportunity pass us by."
If you want to read more by Nedum online, then there's his official site. There's some standard interests, likes and dislikes stuff but some very funny player profiles. Of Michael Johnson, he writes:
"He can be quite weird! I can't really go into why he's so strange, but his opinions and the way he behaves can just be really odd sometimes. But as soon as he gets on the pitch he's quality. He still looks quite young and innocent but he's far from innocent I can tell you!"
"He is very mysterious, not just because of his accent, but he is very strange. He keeps himself to himself and we don't know what makes him laugh or anything."
The only possible benefit of 1-1 is that in making Liverpool favourites it will reduce the number of times we hear the phrase 'Historic European Night At Anfield' in the next six days. A Historic European Night At Anfield, apparently, is one where Liverpool can overturn any deficit. Tell that to Benfica.
Seeing Graeme "Put Gerrard anywhere and just let him play" Souness prompted visions of the team of Liverpool legends Sky will assemble on Tuesday night: Three time European Cup winner Souness, two time European Cup winner Phil Thompson and 1995 Coca-Cola Cup victor Jamie Redknapp. I hope it's on ITV.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
At the start of the season there was an open competition for goalkeepers: Hart, if anything, seemed our third in line. He is now as sure of his place as anyone. Schmeichel's made some noises about leaving in the summer: presumably he'll go, as may Isaksson. I imagine if they both went we'd bring in someone new. The issue, however, is finding someone talented, experienced, and willing to be understudy to a twenty year old.
We only have three defenders who will certainly be here next season: Richards, Dunne and Corluka. None out of Garrido, Ball, Onuoha or Sun have been wholly convincing. We won't get rid of all four of them, but I wouldn't be surprised if one or two left. Sun Jihai is presumably the most likely (will commercial considerations impact this at all?) - he's simply not up to it. Of the left backs, we won't lose both of them but I don't think either of them has staked an impregnable claim to the spot this year (I narrowly prefer Garrido) so a departure is possible. Sven seems to rate Onuoha higher than I do: against Birmingham he achieved the unique feat of being at fault twice for the same goal (missing both the initial header and then the tackle for Zarate's second). I think age may count in his favour. But if SGE can pick up some foreign bargains a departure or two are quite possible, and in Sun's case, likely.
Didi Hamann, Gelson Fernandes and Michael Johnson have all assured their places for next season. The real issue is with our surfeit of players who play in the wide positions or in the hole. Of those, I think that Martin Petrov is the only one not playing for his future. Geovanni, Ireland, Castillo, Elano and Vassell are competing for probably three places (if, as rumoured, we buy a right footed Petrov equivalent). Elano would need a very big offer from abroad to tempt him away: it would take a very poor last six games and an eight figure bid to take him away. The most likely to leave is Geovanni: only on a one year deal, involved against Birmingham for the first time in eight weeks. With his limited chances, how likely is he to earn a new deal? Sven doesn't seem like a big fan so will probably let him go. So that leaves Vassell, Castillo and Ireland. None convincing on the right, Ireland occassionally in the middle. Castillo is different: he's on loan until January 2009 so the issue is what to do then, and therefore any decision is necessarily postponed until then. Ireland and Vassell are both players more popular with Sven than with City fans in general. But if one goes it should be Vass, unless performances in the last six games prove otherwise.
The only one guaranteed to stay is the one who's played the least - whilst Benjani, Mpenza and Vassell (plus the four loanees) have to varying degrees played their way out of favour, Bozhinov has been on the sidelines. He deserves another try next year, and will get it. None of the others are safe. We will certainly buy one striker, maybe even two. Combined with the returns of Evans and continued presence of Sturridge, we shouldn't be surprised by a ruthless cull of the rest. None of Benjani, Bianchi, Corradi, Dickov, Mpenza, Samaras or Vassell has a good enough scoring record to demand a place in the 2008/09 squad. Benjani is the most likely to stay, by virtue of his recent acquisition if nothing else (I hope he doesn't play the 75 matches needed to activate the other £3.87m, and not just for financial reasons). But only goals can save him and Vassell. Mpenza may not even get the chance.
We're playing like we either don't realise how tight the Inter-Toto race is, or have presumed that Fair Play qualification is a fait accompli. The fact that half of our squad are playing for their futures will hopefully spur them on to something a bit more acceptable for the last six games.