Friday, 27 February 2009

TLDORC February Awards

Five games this month, and pretty good. Two wins, two draws and a loss is as well as we've done for a while. The Portsmouth game was obviously terrible, but the last three performances have all been very solid.

Middlesbrough (h) 1-0 (thoughts, ratings)
Portsmouth (a) 0-2 (thoughts, ratings)
F.C. København (a) 2-2 (thoughts, ratings)
Liverpool (a) 1-1 (thoughts, ratings)
F.C. København (h) 2-1 (thoughts, ratings)

Player of the Month

It has to be Craig Bellamy. He scored four of our six goals this month - I'm definitely counting the one at Anfield, regardless of whether Gary Mabbutt takes it away from him or not - making it five out of seven for City thus far. For the first time since Nicolas Anelka we have a centre-forward who is quick, fit, and comfortable with his own game and the Premier League. That pace off the last shoulder and nous in front of goal is something we'd been seriously lacking, and in one much-maligned swoop Mark Hughes has fixed it. And, while he may not get on with Robinho, their link up play in the last three games has been increasingly impressive. I can smell a cricket score victory at some point in March. Honourable mentions to Ireland, Kompany and Given by the way.

Individual Performance of the Month

Shay Given v Middlesbrough

His City debut and he won us the match. Four fantastic saves from Afonso Alves preserved the three points in a game which would have been agonising to lose. The step up from Joe Hart was evident very quickly.

Winter on Marwood

Interesting stuff on the role of our new 'Football Administrator' from Henry Winter today:
The board confirmed that Brian Marwood, formerly of Arsenal and England, will arrive from Nike to coordinate football administration, liaising with the dressing room, academy, sports science department and even organising protection for players’ houses while they are away on European duty (a sensitive issue in the North West after attacks on the properties of United and Liverpool players).

He is not a technical director. Repeat not. Knowing he would have to explain Marwood’s role to Hughes, Cook used the apt analogy of a winger serving a centre-forward. In City’s new chain of command, Marwood reports to Hughes. A popular figure within football, Marwood could prove a real ally for City’s manager. Along with Bellamy, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given, Marwood represents a smart signing by City’s executive chairman. Furious at losing such a valued employee, Nike’s top brass went ballistic with Cook.

The article also confirms that Garry Cook has aligned himself with Hughes before the club's owners.

City v F.C. København player ratings

Given Had almost nothing to do until the final few minutes. Could not have prevented the goal. Otherwise very competent. 7

Richards Defended solidly against limited opposition. Improving with his forward play - enjoyed the space he had to run into today. May have to be more disciplined on Sunday. 7

Dunne Looks to have really gained from his four week break. Energetic and dominant today - although ought to have been punished for a silly second half foul. 8

Onuoha Another steady improver in defence. Did not have too much to do but looked at ease throughout. Has a right to expect to maintain his place once SWP is back from suspension. 7

Bridge Still the least settled of the January signings. Did not look fully comfortable, again. No complaints about attacking play though. May still be reacting to mental and physical pressure of playing twice a week after years on the sidelines. 6

Kompany An important phyiscal presence in midfield, broke up attacks with ease. Passing radar not fully engaged though. 7

Zabaleta A bundle of energy in midfield, again. Swarmed into tackles across the pitch and played a few nice passes too. Final third play not really his strength but did but Bellamy in for the opener. 7

Ireland Busy rather than brilliant. His hassling and tackling played a bigger role than any of the creative stuff we're used to. Two huge games for him in the next seven days. 7

Wright-Phillips Perhaps did not make the most of the opportunities present by the opponents. Some good running and crossing but with little to show for it. One piece of dribbling in the first half was magical. 7

Robinho Best performance for months. Worked hard to get on the ball, and when in possession his running was mesmeric. Could have scored at least three - missed two easy chances in the first half and one late on too. Assisst for Bellamy insufficient reward for his play. 8

Bellamy Challenging Kompany for Signing of the Season? Five goals in six games now and today was another very good performance. Gave the defence no rest in his running off the final shoulder and took both of his chances well. Another old club awaits on Sunday. 9

City 2 - 1 F.C. København

  • Through to the last sixteen of a major European competition! I don't know when we last did this, but it can't have been in my lifetime. This is really all that matters this evening. As both seventh and seventeenth place drift further away from us in the Premier League, the double-headed Aalborg BK tie in mid-March matters more than anything else. The Istanbul songs are getting less ludicrous with every tie.
  • And we actually played pretty well. For all but second half stoppage time we defended as well as we have done for quite a while. The Given - Bridge - Onuoha - Dunne - Richards back five is improving with every game. I don't usually like these sorts of arguments but I wonder whether having two Irish and three English players back there makes a meaningful difference? It will be interesting to see whether Hughes sticks with it against Aston Villa next Wednesday when he has Wright-Phillips back - or whether he moves Kompany/Zabaleta back into defence.
  • Our attacking play was even better than in the first leg. F.C. København played with such a high line that Robinho, Bellamy and Wright-Phillips always had space to exploit. We battered them for 77 minutes and while our failure to score grew increasingly frustrating, a goal felt more and more likely as the match progressed. And such was the obligation on København to attack at 1-0 that a quick second goal was always likely; and so it proved. They may not get on but the footballing aspect of Robinho and Bellamy's relationship is fantastic - they will tear apart better defences than København's this season.
  • Another game in which we're starting to see the benefits of Sparkyisation - the players brought in (and those let go of), the revolution in training methods, the overall change in culture which has defined Mark Hughes' management of Manchester City thus far. We were told in August that our improved fitness would tell late in games in the second half of the season. Would we have been able to force a win in the last fifteen minutes under Eriksson? Every match now reveals another impressive element of the Hughes era - last Sunday it was the hard working shield of Hughes buys, Kompany, Zabaleta and de Jong, holding Liverpool at bay. The arguments for his retention are growing slightly stronger.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Top 50 City players

Fascinating stuff from Ric Turner, godfather of Bluemoon, at TimesOnline. He's written the 50 greatest Manchester City players.

An unfortunate by-product of my age (I was born a few weeks before Micah Richards) is that I know almost nothing about these great players of past eras. As such, I can't really offer much opinion on the ordering - particularly at the top of the list. The highest placed player from my time as a City fan is Kinkladze at 12. I remember Paul Lake (No. 24) being injured, but not really as a player.

Not sure I'd have Goater below Dunne, Wright-Phillips and Anelka though.

But let me know what you think.

City sign new keeper


Manchester City has bolstered its goalkeeping ranks with the signing of Gunnar Nielsen from the Faroe Islands.

22-year-old Gunnar was with Blackburn Rovers earlier in his career, and he now gets the chance to link up with both Mark Hughes and goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock for the second time.

An Under 21 international for the Faroe Islands, Gunnar has inked in a two-and-a-half year deal with City, and he told how excited he is to be joining the Blues.

Like Danny, I don't see how this can mean anything if not that Kasper Schmeichel will leave in the summer.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Vulgar electioneering

Dear Readers

I'm pretty embarrassed to ask this of you but if you could find a spare minute (which, if you spend your time reading a blog about Manchester City, you probably can) could you possibly vote for TLDORC for Best Blog in The Football Fans Census?

It would mean a lot to me if I won.



City to appoint new 'Football Administrator'

From Daniel Taylor in Tuesday's Guardian:
Mark Hughes is to be joined at Manchester City by Brian Marwood, the one-time ­England winger, who is expected to be appointed with the title of football ­administrator. Marwood had ­initially been lined up as a director of football, but City have offered him a ­different role because Hughes did not want anybody brought in above him....

Cook initially floated the possibility that Marwood could work as director of football but Hughes was opposed to the idea. The talks were amicable and Cook accepted Hughes's view that there were many examples at other clubs when the creation of such a position had done more harm than good.
As the article also points out, Marwood worked with Garry Cook at Nike and so would strengthen the position of the rather under-fire Executive Chairman. But the introduction of someone with real footballing experience would surely be a boost to Hughes as well. As football knowledge within the boardroom is increased, I imagine the more likely the club is to stick with Hughes for at least another season. Which, for me at least, is a good thing.

The fact that Hughes is being consulted on club appointments looks quite significant. If we were definitely going to get Louis van Gaal or Roberto Mancini or whoever in the summer presumably we wouldn't have gone through this process? The worrying thing is that the back end of this season is beginning to resemble the end of the last one - unsure of the future, desperately scanning all club announcements trying to read into them insights into the manager's long term position. I can't take another summer of chaos.

Monday, 23 February 2009


Henry Winter writes about the steady progress City have been making recently:
City deserved their point. Slowly but surely, City are demonstrating signs of real growth under Hughes. This will come as no surprise to Hughes’ many admirers in the game, but this improvement in form and position is a well-timed reminder to City’s Abu Dhabi owners of their manager’s quality before Thursday’s board meeting.

City failed with their transfer-window pursuit of Kaka but their executive chairman, Garry Cook, did bring in Bellamy, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given, all excellent yesterday. The disastrous Kaka flirtation over, evolution not revolution now appears the City way.

This is a very important point. Taking a long term view, there has been a real improvement in the team's attitude in the last six to eight weeks. This is rather obscured by the very short term and reactive way that people talk and write about football. Not all change is smooth, not all progress is linear. Just because we played badly at Stoke and Portsmouth it doesn't wipe out the gains demonstrated in the Wigan and Newcastle wins, and the Copenhagen and Anfield trips this week. If we lose at the Boleyn Ground next Sunday it doesn't render today's 1-1 draw meaningless.

I'm currently working on a mini-essay for the blog, 'On Sparkyisation', about the process of change we've undergone this season. But it's ballooning in length and time-consuming. I'll try to get it out some time this week.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

de Jong's performance today

I thought our best player today was Nigel de Jong, and Mark Hughes gave him a special mention in his BBC post-match interview:
"Towards the end of the game when we had to be rock solid Nigel was leading the fight from that point of view, because I thought he was really good in his understanding of the game, awareness of where he needed to be to just nip things in the bud and that was arguably his best game for us since he's arrived so I think people are starting to see what a good player he is."
This is also borne out by the Guardian Chalkboard stats. Below is a picture of his interceptions and tackles today - six successful interceptions and five successful tackles - all within a very tight area; between twenty yards from City's goal and just beyond the half way line, and within the width of the penalty box. This discipline - combined with his physical and technical abilities - is what will make him such a success for City.

by Guardian Chalkboards

City v Liverpool player ratings

Apart from Caicedo coming on for Robinho for the last three minutes, that's how we lined up. So I got the personnel right but the formation wrong here.

Given Another confident performance - faultless under the first half barrage and for the final ten minutes. A handful of good saves too. 7

Richards His best game yet at right back? Dealt with City alumnus Albert Riera comfortably, if not with El Niño when he moved into the left channel. Gave good support to Ireland in midfield, even if the delivery isn't quite there yet. 7

Dunne First league game since Wigan but very solid. Dealt with Torres pretty well (remember the 0-0 at CoMS last Christmas?) and made some crucial blocks when Liverpool pushed for a second. 8

Onuoha This could well be his best run of games for City. Yet more dependable heading and tackling, and almost recreated his goal in Denmark from Thursday night. 7

Bridge Didn't have a very easy time of it in the first half but markedly improved after the interval. Capable of some quality going forward too. Why didn't Liverpool try for him when they went for Dossena instead? 7

Ireland Another difficult away game met by a big Stevie Ireland performance. Despite being stationed on the right, he drifted inside, broke up play, kept possession well and should have scored in the first half. Hopelessly offside when he scored at 1-0. 8

Kompany Moved back into midfield on Thursday, the presence of de Jong allowed him to adopt more advanced positions than ever before as a City player. Using his size and ability to batter the opposition defence (his assisst for Bellamy was the best example), he resembled his fellow Belgian Marouane Fellaini, sans ludicrous afro. Should have been sent off for two yellows though. 8

de Jong Magnificent. His best game for City, and one of the individual perforamances of the season. Sitting in front of the back four, his harrying, passing and tackling but Javier Mascherano, captain of Argentina, in the shade. The keystone of our performance. 9

Zabaleta A new position today - left midfield - but he took to it with his usual effort and aggression. Never let Arbeloa get too far up the pitch, helped out Bridge when necessary (who better to double up than another full back?) and passed well. He's no Martin Petrov, but today that was for the best. 7

Robinho Best away performance for a while. He may not get on well with Craig Bellamy but they are an effective partnership for a team playing on the counter. Gave us the extra quality to keep the ball and create - should have come away with an assisst to Ireland too. 7

Bellamy More tireless running - never gave the Liverpool back four a moment's rest. His deflection was lucky, but probably deserved his goal. Has another trip to an old club next week to look forward to. 8

Liverpool 1 - 1 City

  • Perhaps our best away performance in the league this season. Or maybe the Sunderland win was better. But after the surrenders at Portsmouth, Stoke, West Brom, Bolton, Middlesbrough and Wigan this was a real delight. Any game drawn after being ahead with fifteen minutes left is disappointing; but in terms of the balance of play we can't complain too much with 1-1.
  • The first half wasn't great. Liverpool dominated possession and kept on flashing the ball across the box. Dunne and Onuoha dealt with some of them, others were left alone and could have been turned in. It looked like a Liverpool goal was inevitable. The half's best chance, though, fell to City - as Robinho put Stephen Ireland through but he shot straight at Reina.
  • But from half time until Kuyt's equaliser was, given opposition and location, our best passage of play this season. The midfield four - from left to right Zabaleta, de Jong, Kompany and Ireland were all magnificent, hard working and disciplined, while also capable of real quality when required. Would this have been possible against Gerrard and Alonso? Probably not. But against Lucas and Benayoun (Mascherano can't do it all himself) we were genuinely dominant. With all our possession we should have been more than one goal ahead, particularly given how successfully the Dunne-Onuoha-de Jong spine was shutting down Liverpool.
  • After Kuyt's equaliser I feared a repeat of the home fixture. Liverpool threw everything at us, but Dunne, Given and Onuoha held them off. Benítez cannot seriously argue with a point. We may have just ended the title race, but it's a good result and a performance the club should be proud of. In sparks and glimpses, the toughness Hughes (and his January signings) pledged to bring is coming into view.
  • Would we have got more or fewer points today with Elano on the pitch?

Liverpool preview

The omens aren't great.

The most obvious one first: our away form this year is terrible. One win, four draws and seven defeats from twelve games - and that's before trips to Anfield, Old Trafford, Goodison Park, The Emirates or Stamford Bridge.

Then there's our record in the games immediately following mid-week UEFA Cup ties. From our last five such games we've had one draw and four losses - including the very disappointing Liverpool, Spurs and WBA defeats.

Or our record at Anfield? We lost 1-0 last year. And 1-0 the year before. And 1-0 the year before that. In 2004/05 we scored but lost 2-1. And the previous year we lost 2-1 again. But look back to 2002/03, and we won! Two late goals from Anelka gave us a 2-1 win. Nevertheless, it's still five consecutive defeats by one goal margins.

I can see today being a woefully boring match: both teams will seek to get men behind the ball and hit the opponents on the counter attack. So there may be no attacking or counter-attacking. But I'd love a 0-0 so I wouldn't complain.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Team for Liverpool

With Wright-Phillips serving the second game of his ban tomorrow, and Nigel de Jong eligible again one change is obvious.

Should this be done the side could be set up very defensively - with three holding midfielders and then Ireland drifting behind the front two.

This doesn't provide much natural width though. If they really wanted to go for it they could bring in Caicedo for Onuoha (moving Kompany back into defence), with Robinho and Zabaleta as makeshift wingers.

This could leave us a bit open in midfield. But given the injury to Steven Gerrard and suspension of Xabi Alonso we won't be coming up against a very strong Liverpool team. Lucas and Benayoun will probably play, against whom an Ireland/de Jong combination could well succeed.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Bad omen

As befits a side experiencing their first year of European football for a while, our record in the league game immediately following a UEFA Cup match is pretty poor.

(14/8 Midtjylland 0-1) 17/8 Aston Villa (a) 2-4
(28/8 Midtjylland 1-0) 31/8 Sunderland (a) 3-0
(18/9 Omonia 2-1) 21/9 Portsmouth (h) 6-0
(2/10 Omonia 2-1) 5/10 Liverpool (h) 2-3
(6/11 Twente 3-2) 9/11 Spurs (h) 1-2
(27/11 Schalka 2-0) 30/11 Man. United (h) 0-1
(3/12 PSG 0-0) 6/12 Fulham (a) 1-1
(18/12 Racing 1-3) 21/12 WBA (a) 1-2

It did start well (loss, win, win is ok) but the further we've got into the season the worse it's got. Which is understandable as our threadbare squad began to tire and we had no recourse to the rotation that the big teams use in these situations. Since the Portsmouth 6-0 we've had three disappointing home defeats, a respectable point at Craven Cottage and then that terrible loss at the Hawthornes.

This suggests that things are weighted even worse against us at Anfield than we first thought. On the plus side, the reverse of this effect could play into our hands: Liverpool play in the Bernabéu on Wednesday night and so may not be at full strength on Sunday. And we'll have Nigel de Jong back into the side.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

City v København player ratings

Given Not given any help from his defence for either goal. With both coming from free headers in the box he must have wondered if he really has left Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini behind at St. James' Park. Otherwise made a few comfortable saves. 7

Richards Looks increasingly assured at right back, and was having a good game before he stood off Vingaard for him to score in stoppage time. A bit quieter going forward than usual - understandably for an away match. 6

Dunne A welcome return to the heart of defence. Dealt well with most that was thrown at him. A good way to be eased into the side ahead of the game at Anfield on Sunday. 7

Onuoha Lucky to score his third ever goal for City, thanks to an embarrassing goalkeeping error. Never looked fully in control defensively: the first goal was as much his fault as anyone else's. Could well be replaced by Kompany on Sunday as de Jong returns to midfield. 6

Bridge Solid in defence, given the lack of help he was given by Robinho. Gave the Brazilian more help than he received from him - impressing again with his attacking play down the wing. 7

Kompany Back into midfield for the first time since Wigan, he impressed yet again. Twice the size of Ireland and Zabaleta, he gave us a physical presence we missed last Saturday. More destructive than creative, but did an important job very well. 8

Zabaleta Another good performance; hard running and tidy passing in central midfield. Should have scored late in the first half when he burst through. 7

Ireland The goal and the big game which he was due: he excelled in central midfield, winning tackles all over the pitch and passing with real creativity and precision. Our counter-attacking game would be impossible without him. Quality finish for his tenth goal of the season. 8

SWP Busy and creative down the right wing, his pace was crucial to much of our forward play. Missed a good chance in the first half (and a less good one in the second), but made up for it with a perfect cross for Ireland's goal. 8

Bellamy A tireless performance - his running into the channels and off the defenders' shoulders put the København back four under constant pressure. Managed to carve out a few chances for himselves (and for others), but should be pleased with his effort. 8

Robinho A good effort in difficult circumstances. Not the magic of the autumn, but not the mediocrity of the last few weeks either. Should have buried a second half one-on-one. Still due a goal though. 7

F.C. København 2 - 2 City

  • More pluses than minuses, for sure. Overall it was our best attacking performance in 2009, and our best performance away from home since Schalke in November. Conceding two leads (one in the 91st minute) was a blow, and not unfair given how we defended. But the front three - Robinho, Bellamy and Wright-Phillips - were all very good and ought really to have put the game beyond F.C. København.
  • It was, like Schalke, a much better executed game plan for an away performance than we tend to see in the Premier League. After a nervy first fifteen minutes we generally succeeded in soaking up pressure from the home side - those chances they did have were more often from avoidable instances of poor marking than anything else - as Kompany and Zabaleta increasingly blunted the opposition's attacks. And some of our counter-attacking was exhillarating. The quality of Ireland's passing, combined with the pace of Robinho, Bellamy and SWP meant that we frequently got in behind their defence and could have won the game comfortably.
  • So when F.C. København attacked in stoppage time, we should have been more than one goal clear. But we weren't, and our bad marking cost us. Richards should have been closer to Martin Vingaard, just as Nedum Onuoha let Ailton Almeida get away from him for København's first goal. It was good to have Richard Dunne back at centre half, but the fact that his and Shay Given's first game together in blue (they have played many times together in green) did not lead to improve communication. And with three Englishmen and two Irishmen in the back five we can't blame language problems either.
  • But who wouldn't have taken 2-2 before the game? It's certainly a better result for us than for them. Any win, a 0-0 or a 1-1 sends us through to a game with - most probably - AaB in March. Given our performance today (and theirs), our quality at home and our increasing comfort with UEFA Cup football, I'm genuinely hopeful that we can go through.

Sign him now

Giannina Maradona, daughter of Diego Maradona, has just given birth to the son of Sergio 'Kun' Agüero.

Leonel Benjamin Agüero may be only hours old, but we can surely say now that as the issue of two great footballing families, he will become a special player himself.

Garry Cook should get on the phone as quickly as possible.

FC Copenhagen preview

As bad as our away league form has been, our away form in the UEFA Cup has been quite good. We won 2-0 at EB/Streymur seven months ago, in Mark Hughes' first competitive match. Then there was the (very fortunate) 1-0 win in Midtjylland and subsequent penalty triumph. Next up was the 2-1 win in Cyprus, when Jô scored two thirds of his Manchester City goals to date. In the group stages we won 2-0 in Schalke (one of our best performances this season) before losing 3-1 in Santander. So that's four wins out of five on our travels in Europe! (at home it's three wins one draw and one loss).

So we won't definitely lose tonight.

Despite the inclusion of the not-suspended Dunne and Wright-Phillips the team picks itself tonight. I'd be surprised if it wasn't this (my camera's playing up so I'll have to use words: Given; Bridge, Dunne, Onuoha, Richards; Kompany, Ireland, Zabaleta; Robinho, Bellamy, SWP). Of the two changes from Saturday we will miss Nigel de Jong (who has befallen the same fate as his fellow Dutchman Klass-Jan Huntelaar in this regard) more than Elano, with whom I am growingly increasingly tired.

I know very little about FC Copenhagen, other than that they have the great and much missed Niclas Jensen in their ranks (before we signed Wayne Bridge last month surely Jensen was our best left back of the 2000s?). Soccernet informs that they're second in the SAS-Ligaen, which has only ten days left of an almost three month long winter break. Before yesterday I would have said that a long break is a big detriment but CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg both got good results last night, despite the fact that the Russian Premier League ended a few months ago.

My predictions have been pretty poor recently, but I'm going to go for a drab 1-0 loss.

Hughes versus the Brazilians

More interesting stuff from Ian Ladyman today:
Elano has long been viewed as a troublemaker by Hughes and sources close to the 27-year-old midfielder have stated recently that the player has no love for his manager.

Hughes' relationship with Robinho is better than that and he hopes he can coax some more consistent form from the club's record signing.

But Elano's influence on his countryman would appear to be growing and that is a much greater problem.

It is understood that one of Hughes' four January signings is so unimpressed with the Brazilian pair and their approach to life at City that he has suggested somebody should 'sort them out'.

I'm working on a long piece on 'Sparkyisation' at the moment: the process of Hughes' imposing himself on all aspects of the club. The presence of the Brazilian faction is probably the main obstacle in his way at the moment.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Bozhinov back for reserves

Played sixty five minutes last night against Hull.

The MCFC Reserves & Academy blog reports thus:
Bojinov was looking eager and lively but obviously lacking match fitness and came off after sixty five minutes after seeing a couple of efforts on goal saved well by Warner He was understandably a touch rusty after such a long lay-off but his quality stood out . All though opinions among the meagre crowd were divided.
This is six weeks sooner than his reserve return last season, so we can be increasingly confident of seeing him playing proper first team games this season.

He surely won't make Anfield this Sunday, and is not in the UEFA Cup squad, so how about West Ham on Sunday 1 March? - fitting that he should make his third debut for City on the same ground where he made his first.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Interesting stat

From Steve Kay at MCFCStats:
Looking back, in twelve away league matches, City have won one, drawn four and lost seven, and the only Brazilian outfield goal was Robinho’s saver at Blackburn. Contrast that to eleven Brazilian goals in thirteen matches at home!
The cleavage between our home and away form is one thing; but the disparity between the performances of our Brazilians at CoMS and on the road is bizarre.

Any theories?

Indy: Ireland to be offered new deal

Very good news.
Pending final discussions between manager Hughes and the club's board, talks are expected to begin shortly in an attempt to do something about Ireland's £26,000-a-week salary, which is by no means commensurate with the contribution he is currently making at Eastlands. It is not even two years since the 22-year-old last agreed a contract which would keep him at the club until June 2012 and, with City's board of the view that any new contract offer must be Hughes' decision, a deal nearer £50,000 a week would appear to be likely.

Monday, 16 February 2009

City's away league record 2008/09

There are some cases where generalisations, averages and summaries are insufficient; only the raw data can convey the picture in its full meaning. This is true with our away form in the league this season.

So here goes:

17/8 Aston Villa 2-4
31/8 Sunderland 3-0
28/9 Wigan Athletic 1-2
20/10 Newcastle United 2-2
29/10 Middlesbrough 0-2
2/11 Bolton Wanderers 0-2
16/11 Hull City 2-2
6/12 Fulham 1-1
21/12 West Brom 1-2
28/12 Blackburn Rovers 2-2
31/1 Stoke City 0-1
14/2 Portsmouth 0-2

So with 12 of our 19 away league games gone we're on one win and four draws: 7 points from a possible 36.

What's worse is that our seven remaining away games are against (in order) Liverpool, West Ham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United and Spurs. That's positions 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 16! We could, quite possibly, take only one or two more away points this season.

Which would leave us with a genuinely shameful away record.

Of all the Eriksson era failings, away form (particularly, failing to win enough games at poor teams) was the most obvious. And Mark Hughes has spent £130million to make it worse.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Sean Davis > Andrea Pirlo

Well, in a way.

We all saw how good Elano was on Wednesday, dancing around an Italian midfield containing Andrea Pirlo, a real giant of the twenty-first century game, as well as the far from average Daniele de Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo.

Today, though, he was poor. Stationed out on the right (but drifting across the pitch), his job was to pick out the runs of Bellamy in the box, along with whichever of Ireland and Robinho chose to join him. But as the below graphic shows he hit 18 failed passes (with 28 good ones it's only a 60% success rate). And the main problem seems to have been Sean Davis, who with an impressive thirteen interceptions shut down all of City's play in this area.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

City v Portsmouth player ratings

Given Generally looked in command, had one or two good saves to make. Could have done nothing about either goal. Could he have held onto Glen Johnson's first shot though? 6

Logan An injury to Richards gave him his first league start, and he did well. I fear he'd be dominated by Kranjčar but he held his own defensively. Never out of place, made almost all of the right decisions. Drifted off his post for the Hreidarsson goal, taking the shine off his day. 6

Kompany Like Logan, impressive up until the second goal, where Hreidarsson escaped his clutches. Otherwise dealt with Peter Crouch very ably, starting to look like a very authoritative centre back. His attempt to replace Richard Dunne seem to have led to his imitating Dunne's rather unsubtle distribution technique of aiming for an imaginary Niall Quinn in a City shirt on the edge of the opposition box. Still probably our best player. 7

Onuoha Never looked fully in command of the waspish David Nugent buzzing around him (a sort of Dickov/Macken crossover but quite effective nonetheless). Distribution was poor - often putting Nigel de Jong or Bridge in trouble. Richard Dunne should return to the side on Thursday. 5

Bridge Has now cost three goals in five games. Was shrugged off the ball by Johnson as he surged towards goal. Had a shaky first half, but more assured as the game progressed, showing more and more attacking quality. 5

de Jong We needed him to dominate midfield and he failed to do so. Looked visibly restricted after picking up an early booking. Failed to ever really penetrate with his passing. Gets a rest on Thursday, but if Davis and Basinas had this easy a time with him today then how much fun are Alonso and Mascherano going to have on Sunday? 6

Elano We saw on Wednesday what he can do in favourable conditions - today we saw what happens when things aren't to his liking. Started in midfield but was barely getting a touch - moved out onto the right after about thirty minutes, where he stayed. From there he got more of the ball, but his final pass was generally poor (Guardian Chalkboard on this coming!), and he struggled to really dictate the pace of the game. If anything he slowed the game down when we needed to move the ball to Bellamy, Ireland and Robinho quickly. 5

Zabaleta Another midfield terrier who was rather tame today. Put in a few decent tackles but otherwise the game rather passed him by. Put through once but failed to make a decent contact with his shot. 5

Ireland As is often the case with these away games, his passing game wasn't quite there today but he willingly embraced the destructive arts instead. Covered lots of ground, and put in some good tackles but could not turn the tide. Due a goal though. 6

Robinho Absolutely anonymous. Could not get into the game from the left, ended up drifting out of position and playing basically nowhere at all. One or two nice touches in the second half but nothing even approaching the imagination and genius we know he's capable of. This (his away form, to be precise) is a problem that needs solving. 4

Bellamy Ran himself into the ground. Not helped by Onuoha and Kompany's decision to test out how good Campbell and Distin are at heading (it turns out that they're really good!), but showed his willingness to drop deep and wide for the ball instead. One half chance in the second blazed over. Must wish he was playing alongside Roque Santa Cruz. 7


Caicedo Satisfyingly un-Lilliputian up against the Portsmouth giants. Held up the ball well with not much real end product. 6

Portsmouth 2 - 0 City

  • I'm used to getting hit by 'new manager bounce', but 'no manager bounce'? That's the second time in 2009 that we've lost to a managerless side. It wasn't quite as bad as Nottingham Forest - away Premier League games are tougher than home FA Cup games against bad second tier teams. But let's be realistic about Portsmouth's plight: they hadn't won for nine league games in the league, and were plummeting down the table.
  • And we gave it to them on a plate. We weren't as bad as the Stoke game, or even the Bolton and Middlesbrough games, but this was still a poor performance. There was so little energy or purpose to our play that we struggled to great anything going forward. As such, we failed to kill a poor game waiting to be put out of its misery. We did look, just before Johnson's goal, that we were on course for at least a point, without ever playing well.
  • Even more disappointing than the concession of Johnson's goal (the third goal Wayne Bridge has been responsible for in his five games) was the collapse that followed. Rather than fight straight back, or even slow the game down for a minute or two to regain our composure, the defence let Hreidarsson put Portsmouth two goals ahead: Kompany lost him in the box, Logan drifted away from the far post. 2-0 and it was game over.
  • Until the goals our defence was pretty good. Bridge, Onuoha, Kompany and Shaleum Logan on his league debut all played acceptably well. The same cannot be said of the midfield. Ireland, Zabaleta and de Jong may all be quite tough but they're all under six foot tall. Elano is 5'9" but is also weak. The four of them were physically dominated by Sean Davis and Angelos Basinas in midfield. Maybe Kompany in defence isn't the answer?
  • I'll write more on this later, but our away form is simply atrocious. 1 win, 4 draws and 7 defeats. Seven points from a possible thirty six. Only Fulham, Stoke and West Brom have fewer. If we are to improve this, we must surely come up with a new way of deploying Robinho in these games (and 'from the bench' is as legitimate an option as any other). He was more anonymous than usual today. This is getting worse, not better.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Portsmouth preview

After the cancellation of the original fixture I wrote that it was good news for us: we'd be in a much stronger position now than we would have been then. We have Robinho, Ireland, Given, Bellamy and de Jong all available on top of those who would have played on 10 January. Portsmouth have some players back from injury but we're still in a much stronger position for this than we were one month ago.

Another big change is that Portsmouth are now managerless. Danny rightly flagged up the possibility of our getting hit by 'new manager syndrome' in the week. Fortunately we've missed it - Eriksson hasn't been sacked by Mexico yet - but we could still run into 'no manager syndrome': remember the Nottingham Forest game six weeks ago?

Nevertheless we should still get something. With no away league wins since August though I can't get too confident. Robinho is really due a big game, and if him and Elano do what they did on Wednesday night we'll be fine. But I'm still not sufficiently confident to go for a 2-0 win. I'm sticking with a score draw.

The Hughes/Elano rapprochement

In the same press briefing that Hughes used to discuss the Sturridge situation, he said some uncharacteristically nice things about Elano.
“He doesn’t take not starting a game very well. There are lots of players like that, players who find it more difficult to accept. We’re all different and different people react in different ways. I’ve been pleased that he now understands where we’re at. Before Christmas, for example, he found it more difficult not to be in the team.

“But there’s no doubting his talent and that is something we all recognise. He had a real impact in the first half of last season and you can see that his football’s not been affected by not starting games. He knows where we want to go and we want him to be part of that.”

After his Autumn outburst and fine it looked as if he'd be out in January. A serious personality clash with Hughes was reported. But he's still here and still capable of performing well for City. With Wright-Phillips suspended for the Portsmouth, Liverpool and West Ham games we could well see more of Elano in future weeks. I was unsure about who best to replace SWP, but I suppose Wednesday reminded us of his class. Could Vassell have got into that Brazil team?

Sturridge deal deadlock

Well sourced stories in Friday's papers suggest that a new contract for Danny Sturridge is some way off. Daniel Taylor and James Ducker both have articles claiming that Sturridge has asked for ludicrously high wages (Ducker says £65,000/week, Taylor £70k) as oart of a new deal.

And as eager as Hughes is to keep Sturridge, he has put a limit of roughly £45,000/week on the club's offer.
“We want him to stay, he’s an outstanding player,” Hughes said. “He knows, and his advisers know, he is in a position of strength. At the moment, we’re not close to an agreement. We made it clear that we feel for his sake this is the best place for him. Other things are of more importance to others around him but we’re trying to make sure Daniel is here and not anywhere else.”
Of course, £70,000/week for a nineteen year old with only five goals for the club is well above market price. But so is £18million for Nigel de Jong, or £100k/week for Wayne Bridge. MCFC surely can't think that absurd demands are ok when they come from other clubs but not when they come from our own players? The 'Manchester City premium' which Hughes has rightly identified must apply to these sorts of contract negotiations too. And if Hughes, Cook, and ADUG are serious about their claims that Academy graduates would form the core of the squad in future, well, it would be nice to see them match that promise with cash.

Not that I want to sound like I'm defending Sturridge, or anything. His demands are preposterous, and show a lack of gratitude for the club that made him. But football finance (particularly MCFC finance) wasn't a pretty place before. So do we want to keep him or not?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Elano and Robinho start for Brazil

Tonight against Italy at the Emirates.

From the CBF website. If I manage to watch it (I was going to go but couldn't quite afford it) I'll write about how amazing it still is that we have two regular Brazilian internationals.

Bozhinov back in training

Having not signed Roque Santa Cruz this is very important news. I'm not expecting great things (to be honest I actually am, as are all City fans), but it would be fantastic just to have him for the run-in. As far as I'm aware he's no longer in the UEFA Cup squad (but Jô still is, wtf?!), so we may have to wait until next month to see him.

How perfect would it be if he made his third debut at the Boleyn Ground (Sunday 1st March), on the pitch on which he made his first one?

Kompany pulls out of Belgium squad

According to RTL. The article simply says that Kompany (along with Everton's Marouane Fellaini) have pulled out of the Belgium squad and so won't be playing in Wednesday's friendly against Slovenia.

If he can't play on Saturday, presumably Richards will return to centre back, Zabaleta to right back and then Elano in central midfield. Which would leave Caicedo and Vassell competing to replace SWP.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Options for Portsmouth

Wright-Phillips' suspension is a shame, but with Portsmouth in the mess they are we've got a real chance of getting something. Our 4-3-3 system is largely constructed around the wing talents of Robinho and SWP, and we do not have natural replacements for them. As such, we may have to re-jig the system somewhat to accomodate whichever player comes in for Shaun.

Having said that, what is probably the most likely option involves the standard system and a straight swap. Darius Vassell is probably the most likely candidate for the right wing-forward role should the system stay the same. That would see us line up like this.

This could be ok but then it really misses out on a lot of the dynamism that SWP brings. And don't forget Vassell's miss in the Fratton Park game last year: I certainly haven't. And that would leave us as physically small as we would be with Shaun. At Stoke we really lacked physical presence, so how about bringing in Felipe Caicedo up front? A Caicedo-Bellamy partnership could work well. The only problem would be the lack of natural wingers: Robinho is more of an inside-forward than a left midfielder; Zabaleta's crossing is good but does he quite have the subtlety to play wide right? Anyway, here's how it would look:

One final option also involves shifting Zabaleta out to right midfield. Rather than a second centre forward this has an extra central midfielder - Elano - alongside de Jong and Ireland. With Robinho and Zabaleta on either extreme of a midfield five, though, it's rather unbalanced. And I physically can't remember the last away game in which Elano performed. Newcastle on 2nd January 2008?
Which of these three options do you prefer? Or which other options are there?

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Zabaleta's shooting

I just love these new Guardian chalkboards. Here is a display of Pablo Zabaleta's shooting from the last two home games (Newcastle and Middlesbrough) since his great goal against Wigan. It seems as if his wonderstrike has gone to his head a bit: he's hit speculative twenty yard shots off target recently, one wide and four over the bar [over the board? he may be exotic, aggressive and slightly mad but Zabaleta is not, as far as I am aware, a pirate - J].

by Guardian Chalkboards

de Jong's passing

I'm still getting to grips with the new Guardian Chalkboards. But here is a good one showing Nigel de Jong's passing yesterday. With 51 out of 54 successful, that's a 94% success rate. As well as his effectiveness, check out his discipline: only two or three times does he venture within thirty yards of the opposition goal, and very rarely out to the right hand side either. As such, he provides us with a reliable means of maintaining possession in midfield, in a way that Gelson Fernandes or even Elano does not.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Saturday, 7 February 2009

City v Boro player ratings

Given Probably the best debut we've seen this season - even better than Kompany v West Ham and Wright-Phillips v Sunderland. Made four fantastic saves, without which we would have lost. Command of the box and distribution (two areas where Hart has more to learn) were also exceptional. 9

Richards Defended well for most of the time, although he was beaten by Downing once or twice. Got into the penalty box a few times - yet to put in a good cross though. 6

Kompany Aerially dominant as ever, and quite good on the ground too (barring one Dunnesque slip up in the second half). Almost scored a nice goal from an early corner. Looks a perfect fit as captain. 7

Onuoha Untroubled by Marlon King, he was strong and successful throughout. Enough to keep Richard Dunne out though? Probably not. 6

Bridge His attacking play was exceptional: linking up with Ireland and Robinho, getting into good positions, passing and crossing with repeated success. Defensively he was comfortable - not being at fault for a goal for the first time since Wigan. 7

de Jong Another strong game: dominant in the tackle and good short passing. Has settled into the Premier League as fast as anyone could have hoped. 7

Zabaleta A bit quieter than in recent weeks, but did not have a particularly difficult job. Some good driving runs from midfield, but his goal against Wigan may have gone to his head: most of them ended with shots whistling over the bar. 6

Ireland His best performance in 2009. Some delightful touches and passes, almost scored a goal or two. A very difficult first half header was almost perfect. 8

Wright-Phillips Worked very hard but struggled to quite produce the necessary quality in the final third. Ran into trouble a few times and didn't quite get his crossing on target. 6

Bellamy His second goal in two home games for City, we got the full benefit of his pace and work-rate today. Took his goal very well: when did we last have a striker who could do that? 8

Robinho Has not played well since the 5-1 against Hull. Nothing he tried today came off, his shooting was weak and passing was never penetrative. Due a big game. 5


Caicedo Looks increasingly accomplished: used his strength and size to good effect, getting off a few late shots. 7

City 1 - 0 Boro

  • A fourth consecutive home league win; it had slightly more in common with the Wigan and Newcastle games than the demolition of Hull, but was nevertheless our best footballing performance since the 5-1. The scoreline may suggest similarity with the Wigan win, but it was a better all-round performance than that. We had four or five very good chances, and lots of final third possession.
  • Its place beneath the Hull and Portsmouth wins but above the Wigan and Newcastle ones on the ladder of excellence was due to the performance of one of our creative geniuses. In the 6-0 and the 5-1 Ireland and Robinho were both brilliant, against Wigan and Newcastle neither were. Today we had Ireland's best game in 2009, but a strikingly ineffective performance from Robinho. Ireland was tireless, artistic and could have easily scored a goal or two. Robinho, though, was poor.
  • It was a real vindication of Hughes' transfer policy. Given, Bellamy, de Jong and Bridge were all good (to varying degrees) and gave us the quality and solidity that we needed. The choice to go for experience and reliability in the transfer market, rather than big names, potential, or YouTube clips was absolutely the right decision. How good a job would Bojan Krkic have done today? Or João Moutinho?
  • I'd like to see some evidence on this (I'm looking forward to the Guardian Chalkboards on the game), but it seemed to me like more of a 4-4-2 today. Wright-Phillips, on the right wing, was deeper and wider than usual, while Robinho seemed to be playing closer to Bellamy as another centre forward. If you were there, particularly in the top tier, and have a good sense of this please let me know.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


Mark Hughes spent much of the first half of the season criticising the squad he inherited from Eriksson. Weak, unfit, unready for the Premier League etc etc etc.

While he had brought in new players (Wright-Phillips, Kompany and Zabaleta in particular) the squad was still more inherited than Hughes-created : containing Eriksson buys, Pearce buys and Academy graduates in almost equal measure.

With the addition of our four January signings, though, the 'Hughes players' are now the dominant force. Their shared character is based not just on being bought by Hughes, but in a shared set of characteristics, presumably which attracted them to Hughes in the first place. The outfield players are all aged between 22 and 29 (Given is 32), they all have at least 25 international caps (barring Zabaleta with 8), they all have Champions League experience (again barring Zabaleta, who has at least lost a UEFA Cup Final), they are all (and this is important) characterised by being quick, physically strong, athletic and competitive.

I know a lot of that sounds like meaningless platitudes - who doesn't want athletic 20-something full internationals - but I genuinely think it's not. Different managers look for differnt things in transfer targets. Eriksson looked for technically gifted foreigners playing on the continent (and Benjani...), Arsène Wenger looks for talented teenagers, mainly from the French and Spanish leagues, David Moyes looks for the best Football League talent, Kevin Keegan went for ageing millionaires, Damien Comolli for players who were good on Football Manager.

Of course
I recognise that these are generalisations - but I do actually think there is an important point to be made here about different managers looking to buy different types of player.

The point here is that we now have seven such 'Hughes players': Given (slight exception), but then Kompany, Bridge, Zabaleta, Wright-Phillips, de Jong and Bellamy. Stephen Ireland could be classed an 'honourary Hughes player', given that Hughes has helped to transform his game and invested in him in the sense of not selling him to Sunderland when he had the chance in August.

The upshot of this is that Hughes now has ownership of our squad in a way that he didn't before. Yes, there are still Eriksson players making the team (but far fewer than in August), and of course Academy players (although he wants Academy players involved in the team anyway). But once SWP returns from suspension I imagine that all of those seven will start the majority of our league games. And so if we don't start winning games like West Ham away (March 1), Aston Villa home (March 4), and Fulham home (April 11) criticism of Hughes will rightfully become a bit sharper.

Sturridge talks continue

This is the third of MCFC's key projects for the next few months (the others being the rehabilitation of Johnson and Bozhinov), and probably the most important: the tying of Danny Sturridge to the club on the sort of 2013-expiring contract that Zabaleta, Richards, Hart, Johnson, Given and Bellamy are now on.

There have been rumours of meetings for month, and today Hughes told that he is hopeful a deal can be done:
"We want Daniel to stay, that’s a given. The situation is that he has six months left, his advisors are in an understanding where they are in a position of strength, and we want to do a deal that shows our intent with regard to Daniel.

"We’re not quite there yet, but we are hopeful. I think there are meetings planned for this week, we hope something can come from that and Daniel can put it all to bed.

"He’s made three league starts so is still learning his trade, but what he has done when he’s come on is make an impression. That’s what you have to do as a young player, but we see him day-in, day-out and we know his qualities. We want to keep him, but there has to be an understanding from his advisors that there is a level for everybody, I am sure there is a compromise to be made and we’ll get there very soon."

This is so important.

Bozhinov close to reserve action

While Michael Johnson's progress continues to falter, Valeri Bozhinov seems to be making definite strides towards fitness. Said Hughes yesterday:
"Valeri Bojinov is very close to getting games at reserve team level, so we hope he’ll be back soon.

Boj has been joining in and doing warm-ups before joining in bigger area work, so we hope he joins in a game this week."
Of course we shouldn't be too hopeful too soon. Last season he was meant to be back for Christmas, then January, then February and so forth. He didn't pull on the shirt until the bizarre Far East tour in May.

This is how excited I about Bozhinov last August. We're not at that point yet, but clearly getting closer. This is good news.

Johnson's future

One of the outstanding issues for the next few months concerns the long term fitness and future of Michael Johnson at MCFC.

He hasn't played since August, due to a niggling groin/abdominal injury. There are frequent reports of his returning to training before breaking down again. But on Deadline Day we turned down an £8million bid for Johnson from Newcastle United. Hughes spoke about this in an interview he gave on Wednesday on
"We've said all along we're not in the business of trying to sell our better players. As I've said for a long time, the younger players invariably have a real empathy for the club they're at, if they've come through the ranks, then that empathy is strong and that's something that we want to build the team around in the future. So we're not in the business of just trying to make a quick buck."
I think this really cuts to the heart of why many City fans (myself included) want Johnson to stay at City. The idea of building a dynasty around our most talented Academy graduates - Richards, Johnson, Ireland and Sturridge - is incredibly attractive. Not just for sentimental reasons (although these are strong and not entirely to be discounted), but because it's genuinely the best way to build a team. Look at Carragher and Gerrard at Liverpool, Puyol and Xavi at Barcelona and - of course - the Nevilles, Scholes, Beckham and Giggs at Manchester United. This appreciation of a home grown core is one of my favourite things about Mark Hughes.

But an article by Ian Herbert in Thursday's Independent suggests that Johnson may seek a future away from City.
Johnson, who is 21 this month, is privately frustrated by his own image as a rebel – one which is not borne out by him having broken any club curfews, to his mind – and he is coming around to the view that he must leave behind the Manchester goldfish bowl, where his every move is under scrutiny, and make a fresh start if he is to build on the potential which earned him two England under-21 caps.
He goes on to write that Johnson started training with the first team in Tenerife but 'broke down almost immediately.' While he claims that Johnson 'is determined to demonstrate his value in the same way that Stephen Ireland has', Herbert correctly points out that the purchase of Nigel de Jong and the moving of Pablo Zabaleta (itself a solution to a question of getting the most out of a talented but slightly troublesome Academy graduate) makes Johnson's regaining his first team place even harder.

I'm almost as eager for Johnson to get fit as I am for Valeri Bozhinov, which means quite a lot.

Monday, 2 February 2009

On our January transfer dealings

On New Years' Eve I identified what I thought ought to be our priorities in the January transfer window. In a rough order: a centre forward, a central midfielder, a centre back, a left back, a goalkeeper and a new contract for Danny Sturridge.

In our dealings in January we have met four of these requirements. The signing of Nigel de Jong (and movement of Zabaleta into midfield) has in a sense bought us a new centre back, in that Vincent Kompany can now focus on playing there. So make that four and a half out of six. Which I suppose constitutes success.

What has been pleasing about our dealings has been that they represent an absolute triumph of the 'Hughes list' over the 'Mansour list'. While the Kaká deal was close, there were no successful moves for any galacticos, wunderkinds or 'marquee signings'. No risks were taken on a Karim Benzema, a Sergio Agüero, Davids Villa or Silva or any other ludicrously talented foreign star who may take a bedding in period that our league position could not afford.

Instead, those signings we did make are all of a distinct character themselves: all with at least 30 international caps, all in their 20s (barring 32 year old Given), all with years of Premier League experience (barring de Jong, whose time in the Eredivisie and Bundesliga is as good a preparation as any), all with Champions League experience, all fit, athletic and hungry. In all of those ways our four new buys represent smart and sensible additions to a rather unbalanced squad.

And, as players brought to the club by Mark Hughes, they significantly tip the scales towards the pro-Hughes element within the camp. I wrote in December that it seemed as if the squad was divided between those players who approved of the Hughes regime, and its analysis of the Eriksson failings, and those who did not. Ireland, Kompany, Zabaleta and Wright-Phillips were on his side, Elano, Jô, Hamann, Ben Haim and Ball were not. Robinho, Dunne, Hart and Richards floated somewhere in between. But with the exiling of Ben Haim and Jô, and the introduction of de Jong, Bridge, Bellamy and Given (who if they were not latent 'Hughes players' would surely not have come in) the balance is firmly in the manager's favour. Regardless of what you think of Hughes this is surely a good thing: the manager must have a monopoly on authority to succeed at a football club. And now we should be able to move forward with a more unified squad than he had more most of 2008.

While it is a shame that we have not tied Danny Sturridge to a longer deal - and it must be the immediate priority of the club to rectify this - it is good that we have not lost him yet, nor any of the other Academy graduates linked with moves away. The 'Ireland to Arsenal' talk could never have been serious, but the Sturridge to Villa, Richards to Villa, Johnson to Fulham and Johnson to Newcastle rumours were uncomfortably regular in recent weeks. But in the rejection of Newcastle's £8million bid for Johnson we demonstrated that the Academy players still form a big part of our future plans. And rightly so. I don't know why Ched Evans didn't end up at Celtic or Cardiff City though.

And finally, it is a relief to see that Robinho is still at the club. Not merely because of his quality, but because of the humiliation of the preposterous Ian McGarry that it ought to represent.

Transfer window shuts

At long last it's over.

It hasn't been all bad: I'm pleased with each of our four signings, I'm not too upset at missing out on Roque Santa Cruz, Lassana Diarra or even Kaká.

But in the last few weeks I've spent more time on, on NewsNow, and on the Bluemoon transfer forum than any sane person ought to.

The state of flux brought about by the transfer window makes any serious thinking about City impossible: how could one seriously consider Craig Bellamy's role in the team, for example, while we were said to be about to sign Santa Cruz? Or the relative places of Kompany, Onuoha, Richards and Zabaleta in our formation jigsaw when there was talk of Joleon Lescott and the Tourés, Kolo or Yaya?

Whatever we think of it, our squad is fixed for the rest of the 2008/09 season. And now that the window has closed we all have the chance to turn off Sky Sports News, log off NewsNow and think a bit more seriously about these questions.

RSC move looks off

SSN's James Cooper just said that 'no move has been made' for Santa Cruz, that there has been no movement from City today, due to a disparity in valuations.

Andy Burton just said something slightly different: that a proposed deal was to happen today with a City player (which he thinks was Felipe Caicedo) to go in the other direction. But a failure to agree on a valuation for Caicedo has scuppered the deal.

But at 16.52, it looks off.

City reject £8m Johnson bid - SSN

According to Sky Sports News' man outside Newcastle United's training ground, NUFC just made an £8m bid for Michael Johnson.

And City turned it down!

This is very good news.

SSN: RSC back on?

Sky Sports News' transfer expert Andy Burton just described the Santa Cruz deal as '90% done' - presumably we've finally offered the £25million that Blackburn were looking for.

I don't really know what to expect, but I'll keep you informed.

UPDATE 16.29 Burton just said that at 15.45 it was 'on', then by 15.55 it was off again. There was initially to be a City player going in the opposite direction. But he now thinks that it would take something 'crazy' to get City to buy him.

Transfer window : just one hour to go

I've given up hope of our signing Roque Santa Cruz, which is a bit of a blow. Big pressure on Bellamy, Sturridge and eventually Bozhinov though.

So, presuming there will be no Robinho-style late shocks, our only concern is departures. We've already lost Ben Haim and Jô today, and there are rumours of more. I'm still a bit worried about Johnson to Newcastle though, and the outside possibility that Sturridge will be sold should it appear like he will not sign a new contract.

SSN reports Jô to Everton

It's just flashed up on the yellow bar: Everton have sealed a loan move for our £19million striker Jô, for the rest of the season.

This is good news for lots of reasons.

UPDATE Now confirmed on Everton's official website.

Transfer window : three hours left!

Andy Burton was just on Sky Sports News saying that if we wanted to buy Roque Santa Cruz, we would have had to bid £25million before today - thus allowing Blackburn to find a replacement. Burton said that our bid yesterday was less than £20m, and so we are not able to sign him.

No news on Schmeichel, Johnson, or anyone else.

Transfer window : six hours to go

Not much news since the last update.

There's been nothing about Roque Santa Cruz.

Newcastle have bid for Michael Johnson, according to Sky Sports News. I know Johnson's been rather problematic this year, but I don't see the rationale behind selling: we don't need the money and we're taking a real gamble on his not fulfilling his potential. How sickening would it be if he got good at Newcastle and then went to Liverpool or Arsenal??

Transfer window : 16 hours left

  • Big news today is the signing of Shay Given for £7.5million. This feels like a bit of a luxury compared to other buys - we don't need him like we needed Bridge, de Jong and Bellamy. But nevertheless a very good buy. We've spent the last eighteen months with just Hart and Schmeichel (Isaksson played a few games in 2007/08) so it's nice to have some extra quality and experience in there. He's contracted for as long as Hart (until summer 2013) so I'm sure we'll see a lot of him.
  • And there was one departure today too: Tal Ben Haim on loan to Sunderland. I don't usually say this about City players, but I'm pleased to see him go. Almost as destructive off the pitch as he was on it, he was an unambiguously bad buy.
  • But not as bad as Jô, who may well leave tomorrow. Everton's striking crisis is now so bad that they're keen on taking the £19m man on loan for the rest of the season. How embarrassing for Victor Anichebe. This is good for City though: he's more likely to get game time than he is with us, and his attitude could do with the punishment of being sent out on loan. Any chance of Arteta and Jagielka in return?
  • The one big move in we may see tomorrow is Roque Santa Cruz. Reports in Monday's papers suggest that a fourth bid (sixth including the two in August) has been made, for a rather ludicrous £20million. We could really do with him, but I wouldn't be too surprised if the price tag means that we look elsewhere. I'd love a big surprise tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

TLDORC January awards

Just four games in January (there were seven each in November and December). It was a mixed month too - two good wins in the middle bookended by two shameful defeats.

Nottingham Forest (h) 0-3 (thoughts)
Wigan (h) 1-0 (thoughts)
Newcastle (h) 2-1 (thoughts, ratings)
Stoke (a) 0-1 (thoughts, ratings)

Player of the Month

There were only two players in contention this month - Pablo Zabaleta (who won the December award) and Vincent Kompany. Zabaleta has impressed after moving from defence to midfield, as has Kompany having made the opposite journey. They both played poorly in the cup, before excelling in the two league wins. But it is for a slightly better performance against Stoke City, and his assumption of the captaincy in the absence of Richard Dunne, that makes Vincent Kompany the TLDORC January Player of the Month. He spent most of his first few months at City as a very impressive holding midfielder. But he has all the attributes to be a world class centre back, and looks as if he could spend the next ten years playing there for us. Moreover, he's a much more plausible future captain than Micah Richards.

Individual performance of the Month

Pablo Zabaleta against Wigan. His first game for City in central midfield and he bossed it: snapping into tackles, making sensible passes and scoring the game's only game with a fantastic strike. Alongside de Jong we have a very solid base to work from now.

Goal of the Month

Zabaleta against Wigan

Bianchi and Corradi both score

A big day for our former strikers currently playing in Serie A. Both Bernardo Corradi and Rolando Bianchi scored in relegation threatened Reggina and Torino's big draws against Inter Milan and Roma.

Bianchi put Torino 1-0 up at the San Siro with this fantastic header, before Nicolas Burdisso grabben an equaliser.

And this Corradi penalty put Reggina 1-0 up against Roma, in a game that finished 2-2.

Ousmane Dabo played the last fifteen minutes of Lazio's 3-0 loss to AC Milan.

Elano's passing

I'm having trouble embedding the new Guardian chalkboards (if you happen to know about this sort of stuff please e-mail me) so can only link to them instead.

But HERE is a good picture of Elano's passing from the Stoke game. It shows how adept he was at keeping the ball in the middle third (not difficult against ten men sitting very deep), but when it came to opening them up in the final third, he couldn't find his way through.

I hope in future I'll be able to embed this sort of thing rather than just link to it.

City v Stoke player ratings

Hart Had a difficult job early on dealing with Delap's throw ins but seemed to be in control. Could not have done anything about the goal. Should be preparing for a rather lengthy spell on the bench. 6

Richards Made some good runs down the right hand side but never quite had the right delivery. Lost Matthew Etherington who crossed for James Beattie's goal. 5

Kompany One of the better performers. Stood tall against Stoke's early barrage, but had nothing to do in the second half. Absolutely looks the part as Captain and centre half though? 6

Onuoha Stoke's plan of attack played to his strengths and looked untroubled for their attacking spells. Barely touched the ball in the second half. 6

Bridge Silly mistake losing Beattie for their goal - second time we've conceded from a Bridge error this week. Made good attacking runs but crossing was no better than Garrido's. 4

Zabaleta Quieter than in recent games - outmuscled at times by the Stoke midfielders. Brought off for Elano early in the second half. 5

de Jong Very adept at retaining possession and pretty strong in the tackle. But could not pick the lock of Stoke's two banks of four. 6

Ireland Has not got back his form of previous months: not quite yet on the same wavelength as Craig Bellamy and most of his attempted final third passes did not come off. 5

Wright-Phillips Struggled with the physical and compact Stoke defence. Could have been sent off for his retaliation on Delap. 5

Bellamy Delap's red card was bad news for him; he needs space to run into behind the back four and once Stoke were down to ten men he was never going to get any. Worked in the channels but with little success. 6

Robinho Another poor performance in a tough away match. Little he tried came off. Due a big game. 5


Elano Brought on to pick defence splitting passes. Failed to make any. 5