Wednesday, 15 April 2009

HSV preview

Fifteen games and nine months after its starting, our UEFA Cup run confronts a defining moment tomorrow night. After a league campaign which has failed to get off the ground, and two dismal first hurdle stumbles in the domestic cups, our hopes for this season have long been yoked firmly to our UEFA Cup progress.

And against Hamburger SV on Thursday night they face their hardest test yet. City must beat the third best team in Germany by at least two clear goals. Should they succeed, it's the club's first semi final since 1981, and two games away from a dream night in Istanbul. Fail, and the £100million season is over in April, with only the indignity of battling for a top half finish left to compete for. Fail, and Mark Hughes can claim little return from the investment of this season. Sheikh Mansour, impressively patient and generous thus far, will be forced to show his hand: when it's time for tough decisions, is he a Randy Lerner or Roman Abramovich?

So it's a defining moment. It is no exaggeration to claim that the future direction of the club will be significantly influenced by the result of the match. Not since Stuart Pearce handed a second start to Emile Mpenza on Teeside in March 2007 has one game been such a clear fork in the road.

It's going to be tough. HSV were much better than us in the first leg. Without Shay Given we would no longer be in this tie; to come away with a 3-1 scoreline was no poor result for us. And it leaves us with a surmountable task - win 2-0 or more to go through, win 3-1 to go to extra time. Unlike some second leg tasks, a 2-0 home win is agonising within the realms of possibility. We beat Aston Villa 2-0 at City last month, and beat Arsenal 3-0 in November. If Ireland, Robinho and Wright-Phillips all fire we can beat anyone at our place.

But, in that regard, form and fitness are against us. As we are all used to hearing, Robinho's form as plummeted since his glorious Autumn arrival. Wright-Phillips is struggling with injury, and Ireland is creaking from the burden of carrying much of the team for much of the season. To get the requisite performances from these players is not unlikely, though not impossible. Injury doubts over Wright-Phillips and Vincent Kompany could force Hughes to play one of his less favoured midfielders, Gelson Fernandes or Elano alongside Ireland and Pablo Zabaleta. Up front Robinho will surely start, with some combination of Danny Sturridge, Wright-Phillips, Martin Petrov alongside him.

So where does this leave us? As underdogs, but not out of it. With a huge task, but not an insuperable one. By Thursday night much more of the first Act of the Mark Hughes era will be written. And we may be closer to knowing whether the show will be allowed to continue into a second act.


pjdemers said...

Re: Team selection. The BBC listed Bojinov in the squad for thursday. I was under the impression he was ineligible. Perhaps like Petrov he played in the preliminary matches and he slipped from memory because of injury. Can anyone clarify?

TPB said...

he played against Mitjytland but isn't listed in the squad, so I don't think he's available.

phil_1hg said...

I imagine he got withdrawn for one of Bellamy/Bridge after the January transfer window.

nb said...

I'm not convinced that you have drawn the correct dichotomy in this article (by arguing that defeat will show whether Mansour is Randy Lerner or Roman Abramovich).

Had Lerner sacked O'Neill, it would undeniably have been premature. But O'Neill has performed much better than Hughes throughout his time at Villa. In transfers, tactics, substitutions and media interaction; he has always been superior. Moreover, he has done all this with less money.

Similarly, Abramovich has hired and fired a series of managers since his arrival in English football. But does anyone doubt they were the correct decisions? The success of Mourinho justified Ranieri's removal. Mourinho left when his position became untenable. Grant was never a serious long term replacement. And Scolari, who never adapted to the rigours of club football, was rightfully replaced by a successful Hiddink.

Again, I reiterate an earlier post I made. I am still undecided about whether Hughes should stay or go. He may well be the right man for the job, but if he is sacked he can have no excuses. Nor does his dismissal tell us much more about Mansour-at least not in either a positive or negative way. Sometimes it's better to let go now rather than cling on (seeing as we're discussing chairman at other clubs, perhaps an apt example of this would be Steve Gibson's admirable, yet potentially misguided faith in Gareth Southgate).

The key, as JPB has articulated in an earlier post, is WHY we dismiss Hughes.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much but I do know, quite categorically, that Richard Dunne Esq. has a head full of mashed potato.