Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Tévez's celebration

Apparently he will not show Manchester United the same respect afforded to West Ham United should he score against them in the derby at Eastlands in April:
"I have decided not to celebrate my goals out of respect to West Ham," he told the Daily Mail.

"They were my first club in England and, in my heart, part of me will always be a Hammer.

"The professional part of me was really pleased with my first City goals at home but, personally, I would have preferred to beat another club.

"In the derby against United I had also decided not to celebrate our goals but, after the bad treatment I received from the supporters that day, I have changed my stance on that.

"If I score in the next derby then I am sure that I will celebrate."
Just as long as he doesn't run the length of the pitch and get a ban...

Hughes praises Petrov

After putting in a very impressive performance on his first start of the season:
"The great thing about Monday night was that Martin came in and made a real impression on the game," said Hughes.

"That shows what a tremendous professional he is, because he has had to be patient and bide his time, and when he got his opportunity he made a positive impact.

"That's because he trains correctly, and works hard every day. He knows that he has to, because when you get the opportunity you have to be in the right physical state to make an impact."
Petrov certainly played well on Monday night, and proved why Hughes was right to forbid his going to Spurs. We are very lucky to have Petrov - arguably the best old-fashioned outside left in the Premier League (certainly ahead of Albert Riera) as our third choice left sided player. If he can stay fit and focussed it can only further marginalise Robinho.

Scunthorpe date confirmed

The Carling Cup fourth round tie against Scunthorpe United has not been selected for live television coverage and will be played on Wednesday, October 28th with a 7.45pm kick-off. Ticket details will follow in due course.

Via the official site.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

TLDORC September awards

A more exciting month than August: twelve goals scored, rather than six, eight goals conceded, rather than none. In one sense less successful - three wins from four rather than four - but despite all this it was a thrill, almost a triumph, and another step on our road to success. The derby stands out - dramatic but not, ultimately, disastrous - but then there were three wins, two of which were quite special.

Arsenal (h) 4-2 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Manchester United (a) 3-4 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Fulham (h) 2-1 (thoughts)
West Ham United (h) 3-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)

Player of the Month

People underestimate the importance of our January 2009 signings. They forget that we were in the relegation zone last Christmas, that we were a team without spine, without guts, without the nous to turn our occasional bouts of nice football into goals, wins and points. We did not become Chelsea overnight, but we did become strong enough to finish as high as tenth (don't scoff - we were eighteenth after seventeen games) and reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. It's no exaggeration to say that those signings transformed our season, and that they represented - in a way that the signing of Robinho did not - Mark Hughes' using the ADUG money to impose his own vision: determination, experience, a winning mentality - on the club.

In the summer people continued to ignore the importance of these signings. The presumption was that prodigious summer spending would sideline the importance of those additions - that, Given aside, they may be swept aside in a new bout of spending. That Craig Bellamy was now fifth out of five forwards and that Nigel de Jong would never play, in particular. Rather, all four have continued to play a central role in the side's progress in 2009/10. And it is those last two - Bellamy and de Jong - who many did not fancy to play much this year, who are the only two candidates for TLDORC September Player of the Year. On the fringes in August, both played every game in September, driving the time on with their characteristic grit and energy. If one of the pair didn't play for City, the other would be known as our angriest, toughest, fightingest, winningest player. The presence of both makes the title up for grabs.

First de Jong: brought in to shut down Fàbregas et al against Arsenal, he was immaculate. Hassling, harrying, never giving them in inch, he helped to prevent Arsenal for turning their possession into chances with his anticipation and aggression. His tackling combines the precision and ferocity of a boxer and his distribution - cautious by contrast - relieves pressure on our defence. He was arguably even better in the first half at Old Trafford, before failing to prevent our second half swamping. Another solid performance followed against Fulham, before returning to his bullying best against West Ham on Monday. Henry Winter aptly described him as a 'upmarket threshing machine.' It was certainly his best ever month as a City player.

But now Craig Bellamy. Having forced his way in ahead of Robinho for the trip to Fratton Park in August, he was selected again against Arsenal on the left wing. He was tireless, covering the entire flank and slamming home our go-ahead goal at 2-1. He later slid through Wright-Phillips for our fourth. Given a similar left wing job at Old Trafford, he did even better. Aside from his traditional hard defensive work he produced two equalising goals of the highest quality, firing into the far corner from twenty yards for 2-2 before dashing past Rio Ferdinand and Ben Foster for 3-3. Energetic again on Monday he gave West Ham's defence no let up, not making the score sheet but responsible for the freekick which Tévez headed in.

It's a tough call. I was very close to giving it to Nigel de Jong on the basis of Bellamy's conduct in the derby. Slapping a restrained fan was rather unpleasant to see, not only in itself but also because of the bad press it brought to the club. When thinking about this award I nearly disqualified Bellamy and gave it to de Jong by default. But, ultimately, this is for Player, rather than Club Ambassador of the Month. And Craig Bellamy has been so good in August - three goals and three assists in four games - turning the game against Arsenal and almost single-handedly winning us a point at Old Trafford, that I have awarded him TLDORC Player of September. And, for the sustained successful contribution of him and Nigel de Jong, Hughes' decisions last January continue to be vindicated.

Performance of the Month

It can only be Bellamy against United: two goals of the very highest class, the sort that if Fernando Torres scored would lead to story after story telling us how he's the best striker in the world (a position I hold, for what it's worth.) Again, I could have denied this to Bellamy on the grounds of the slap, but I'd already bottled that decision once so may as well do so again. As above, Nigel de Jong was exceptional against Arsenal and West Ham too.

Goal of the Month

It's a Bellamy hat-trick: his first (our second) at Old Trafford, when he picked the ball up on the left, drifted inside, and hammered the ball into the far top corner of the net, leaving Ben Foster no chance.

Micah's crossroads

Mark Ogden writes in the Telegraph about how Micah Richards' recent relegation to the bench raises questions about the future of his career:

But Richards is not even on Capello’s radar. He has not been capped since Steve McClaren’s reign came to an abrupt end in November 2007.

At 21, Richards’s glorious future is now obscured in a fog of uncertainty and the picture is now even less clear with Mark Hughes appearing to chime with Capello in terms of his views on the young defender.

Ogden also affirms what I - and many other City fans - have been saying for some time: that Pablo Zabaleta is simply a much more capable right back than Richards:

Zabaleta is no mug. Argentina, even under the haphazard management of Diego Maradona, do not select no-hopers to play for the Albiceleste. He is not blessed with nature’s gifts like Richards, but while he lacks his rival’s physical attributes, Zabaleta's reading of the game and calm assurance have seen him leap ahead of Richards.

Richards is now struggling even to earn a start for his club. He is not approaching a crossroads, he is now standing at one.

Read it all here.

West Ham reax

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

The game was so one-sided, indeed, that Mark Hughes, the City manager, could justifiably argue his team should have won by a more handsome margin, but it was only a small complaint on a hugely satisfying evening for City in which the fit-again Roque Santa Cruz finally made his debut and Michael Johnson also came off the bench for his first appearance in over a year.

Tevez was an easy choice for the man of the match award and it was impossible not to detect the sense of optimism inside the stadium as a fifth win in six league games was skilfully constructed. Hughes talked of a side "playing with confidence and real purpose" and the feel-good atmosphere here is being rewarded by the attendances, too. To put it in context, there were 6,000 more fans here than at the corresponding fixture – on a Sunday afternoon – last season.

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

Bellamy matched Tévez’s industry and both worked well in tandem in Mark Hughes’ 4-2-3-1 system. Bellamy was up top while Tévez buzzed around to great effect just behind him. They swapped positions, swapped passes and were twin terrors to West Ham’s defence throughout.

As the Blue Moonies filed merrily out of Eastlands, savouring all manner of delights from Tévez’s double, Bellamy’s persistence, a fine free-kick goal from the excellent Petrov, Zabaleta’s composure at right-back, a debut for Roque Santa Cruz, the return of Michael Johnson and pondering the question of whether Robinho can get back in the side, City fans should still have found time to consider how worryingly open they were.

Tim Rich, The Independent

And yet this is a Manchester City side infused with the spirit of two men who were not in the audience. Not since Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's brilliant, uneasy alliance at Maine Road have City looked like credible title challengers.

It is only September but the manner in which they swatted aside West Ham was in keeping with everything else they have done this season. It was stylish, brilliant and slightly arrogant. Craig Bellamy thought this the best team he has ever played in and since he turned out for a Newcastle side that twice qualified for the Champions League and played for Liverpool when they overcame Barcelona in the Nou Camp, that is quite a statement.

James Ducker, The Times

It was a night when the positives abounded for City. Roque Santa Cruz, the Paraguay striker signed from Blackburn Rovers for £18 million in July, made his debut after three months on the sidelines with a knee problem, while Michael Johnson, the midfield player, enjoyed his first appearance for more than a year. Hughes confirmed, though, that Robinho, the City and Brazil forward, will be out for another three weeks because of an ankle injury.

Monday, 28 September 2009

West Ham player ratings

Given Very little to do aside from the goal. Tipped over a Diamanti shot in the second half. 6

Zabaleta First league start of the season and, like Petrov, proved why he deserves his chance. Never caught out at the back and offers more quality (if less gusto) than Richards going forward. One cross from the byline to Bellamy was of the Glen Johnson/Ashley Cole class. Fans (like me) can enjoy the vindication. 8

Touré Played well today, and looks to be settling in increasingly well. One crucial interception as he ran back in the second half, and faultless that aside for the rest of the game. 7

Lescott Another game of some promise but not exactly form fitting his fee. Lucky that Carlton Cole was judged to have fouled him in the first half, and not always comfortable under set pieces for the rest of the game. 5

Bridge A few bright sparks in attack but not as solid, defensively or in possession, as he has been in recent games. 6

de Jong Has made himself indispensable in the last few games, repeatedly shutting down West Ham with astute but ruthless tackling and prudent distribution. Looks less like a Mascherano/Makélélé tribute act and more like the real deal. 8

Barry Looked as if he enjoyed the presence of de Jong, getting forward more than usual and getting into some good attacking positions. Did not quite influence the pace of the game as much as usual, though, and even misplaced the odd pass. 6

SWP Got past Ilunga once or twice but could never quite match his run with a fitting delivery. Place at Villa Park not guaranteed, given present competition for places. 6

Bellamy No goals today but an assist and another quality performance. Led the line (with Tévez just behind), and gave his former colleagues a very difficult evening. Perfectly delivered free-kick for Tévez's second goal. 8

Tévez At last his first goals in the league, and his first at home. An easy finish from a Petrov cross and a smart header from a Bellamy free-kick but it could have been many more. Better teams will offer fewer chances. Touch of class in the non-celebration too, which makes a nice change for City this season. 7

Petrov His first start of the season and played as if he was making up for lost time. Combined all of what makes him so popular with the City fans: the greyhound pace down the left, the exocet crosses from the by-line (he set up Tévez's first goal), the opportunistic shooting and the right foot on which he cannot quite impose his will. In this fixture last season (roughly this time of year, too) he hit the post with a free-kick. He made up for this tonight. 8


RSC Missed one decent chance and did little to otherwise influence the game. Good to see him though. 6

Johnson Only a few minutes but one or two chances which reminded why we rated him so highly back in 2007. n/a

City 3 - 1 West Ham

  • I wrote before the game that City need to make these games more routine. When Chelsea or Manchester United go into these matches there is no plausible result other than a home win, and all twenty-three men on the pitch know it. This was not quite that: not enough care or precision in either box. We were too open at times, and better teams will punish us. But it was still good, with some attacking football better than anything we have played so far this year.

  • With Stephen Ireland missing Hughes reverted to the 4-2-4 approach we saw earlier in the season against Blackburn, Wolves, Crystal Palace and Portsmouth. Nigel de Jong is a more natural fellow anchor for Gareth Barry than Ireland, and so the midfield had a more balanced feel than when Ireland has been asked to do that job in the past. de Jong's mastery of the destructive arts is such that West Ham could never really dominate possession as much as they might have liked.

  • The front four - from right to left Shaun Wright-Phillips, Carlos Tévez, Craig Bellamy and Martin Petrov were quicker, sharper and more inventive than any other line up we have put out this season. We created more chances than in any other game, and ought to have won the game before Carlton Cole's first half equaliser. Tévez was a particular culprit, scoring two but missing four opportunities almost as easy.

  • Still defensive questions, though. As good as we are at attacking set pieces we are no better at defending them: Cole's goal came from our failure to police a freekick, and we never looked comfortable with West Ham corners throughout the game. Touré had a good game, but Joleon Lescott still looks like he needs to settle in. He was fortunate that Carlton Cole was penalised for muscling him off the ball, in the build up to a Scott Parker goal.

  • We have been waiting for months - for different reasons - for the Roque Santa Cruz and Michael Johnson appearances this evening. Neither looked 100%, and neither will start at Villa Park, but it is a genuine thrill to see them both back around the side. Next year, presuming that we are in Europe, they will be crucial.

Ireland out

A stomach bug puts him out of the West Ham game this evening.

My guess is that we will revert to 4-2-4 with Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong in midfield and a front four of Carlos Tévez, Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips and one other - either Martin Petrov, Vladimir Weiss or maybe Roque Santa Cruz.

One other option would be to stick with 4-3-3 with Micah Richards back at right back, Pablo Zabaleta sitting alongside Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry in a more advanced role and a front three of Bellamy, Tévez and SWP.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

West Ham preview

One of the common themes of these season is the inculcation of a winning mentality at City. And one of the main manifestations of such a mentality is the routine home win. It's what makes the hegemony of the big four so powerful and so self-perpetuating; the presumption that home wins in the league are the norm, that defeats are not just a shame but an aberration. So it's a real prerequisite of a successful Premier League campaign this year and for years to come.

It's good news then that it's already a strong area for us. Only Manchester United won more Premier League games at home last year - we won thirteen and they sixteen. And many of those wins: West Ham, Portsmouth, Stoke, Hull, Newcastle, Villa, Sunderland, Blackburn and Bolton all passed with the ease one would associate with a big four side.

This season we've had a decent start in this regard: a win against Wolves that was harder than it ought to have been, and a dramatic defeat of Arsenal which we could have lost. No one would quibble with the six points but at some point we need to regain the breezy inevitability of last season. What we need is a routine win. And West Ham could well be the team to provide it. They're quite a good team who play some quite good football. But with the quality we now have a win should be within us.

It will be interesting to see if Stephen Ireland makes the team tomorrow - if not we could see a start for Martin Petrov on the left with Craig Bellamy moved up front in a 4-2-4, or even Roque Santa Cruz up front if he's sufficiently fit. So it could be interesting. Prediction? A comfortable 2-0.

VK ready to fight for place

The returning Vincent Kompany has said that he is willing to fight for his place in the team and is enthusiastic about his future at MCFC:

“I want to become one of the main players in a very big team that wins trophies. City is heading in that direction. It is a very big challenge but it is something that I expect to achieve in my career or it would feel like a failure.

“I have to be patient when I come back but everyone has to be patient. Usually it happens in football that one player comes in and other goes out whether that is through injury or fatigue. The game changes so quickly that there is always something happening down the line to give you a chance.

“The spirit and camaraderie is amazing because we have been under so much pressure and criticism for whatever reason. It has helped us become closer as a group and we are going to get better as a team."

This is good to hear. It is difficult to see how he gets straight back into the side when fit. He needs an injury to either of the first choice centre halves - and even then he is competing with Nedum Onuoha, or an injury to Nigel de Jong - and even then for a match where Hughes plays 4-3-3 rather than 4-2-4. But it's a long season and injuries do happen so he should get a few games.

There are a few players - Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Petrov, Roque Santa Cruz, Nedum Onuoha and Vladi Weiss in particular - who may not start too many games this season. But next year, presuming that we are in Europe, we will have enough football for a fairer distribution of starting berths. Look at how much Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United use squad players. The versatility of Kompany and Zabaleta further plays into their hands. Hughes' task is just to keep these players happy for the remainder of this season, with the promise of more games in 2010/11.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Scunthorpe at home

Good news today: Scunthorpe United at home in the next round of Carling Cup.

Pablo finally makes it

So that's what 120 minutes of Carling Cup football can do for you.

Diego Maradona has finally relented and picked Pablo Zabaleta for Argentina's two definitive World Cup qualifiers next month against Peru and Uruguay. After too many defeats in this campaign Maradona has torn up the squad and rebuilt anew, dropping Fernando Gago, Javier Zanetti, Maxi Rodriguez and others.

And he's replaced them with a handful of new European based players, including Pablo Aimar, Gonzalo Higuaín and our very own Pablo Zabaleta. I imagine this was a change for its own sake - it couldn't really be one based on Zabaleta's recent performances, because there haven't been any. But if he does well and Argentina make the World Cup squad he could make the twenty three. Which would be good.

Carlos Tévez also made the squad.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Defending Bellamy

Ian Ladyman has a fascinating article in praise of Craig Bellamy in today's Mail. His attitude and professionalism has impressed since his transfer last January, and Ladyman has some good stories about him:

A dressing room packed with too many egos and too many introverts needed somebody to act as the manager's voice.

The Brazilian Robinho soon found out that Bellamy doesn't like those who don't share his views on teamwork. The Premier League's most expensive player was made to look and feel about six inches tall after Bellamy got stuck into him - verbally - after a particularly insipid display at Portsmouth last season.

I was at Fratton Park last season, and can say with honesty that I have never seen a lazier performance from a City player than Robinho that afternoon. So Bellamy belittling him afterwards is exactly what ought to have happened. The two are in competition for one place this season, and the more I see the more I think that Bellamy ought to be first choice. Even if that means upsetting Robinho to the point of crisis. It's a towering vindication for Mark Hughes.

Zabaleta ready to battle

Pablo Zabaleta is ready to fight for the right-back slot:

"I was happy to be given an opportunity to show my quality. It's not easy being on the bench, everyone wants to play but it's so difficult - there are so many quality players, you need to work hard every day for your opportunity.

"There are a lot of games. We are fighting for every competition - the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Carling Cup. It's important for us because we need an opportunity to win a competition."

It will be interesting to see if Hughes sticks with Zabaleta at right back on Monday. The fact that there were no other changes suggests that Wednesday's team was our first choice, which bodes well for the Argentine. If Richards returns to the team then Zabaleta may have to wait for Gareth Barry or Nigel de Jong to get injured so that he can play in holding midfield. But with Vincent Kompany coming back even that may be difficult.

Kolo to mentor Micah

And rightly so. He is the captain, and our most senior defender. Who better for Micah Richards to learn from?
"I am always speaking to Micah because I think he is a great lad - he listens to everything you say," added Toure.

"It is really important to me that I help him get back, because I think he is a great player and one day will be one of the very best defenders in England.

"We talk at training about different situations in the game. In the derby game, the game was nearly over and we went forward when we should have just stayed back in our box and kicked every ball that came in.

"But we have learned from that, and that is important."

Thursday, 24 September 2009

City 2 - 1 Fulham

  • I didn't see the game so I don't have too much to say. But that we cannot allow ourselves to get so sucked in by the prospects of a top four finish that we ignore the importance of the domestic cups. For many obvious reasons, domestic cup success is crucial this year and so the further we get the better.
  • And it's testament to the newfound mental strength of City this season that we came from behind to win this game in extra time. Of course, we are good enough to beat Fulham reserves at home, but it's not always that easy.
  • Given that it was an otherwise first choice team it was interesting to see Pablo Zabaleta in at right-back ahead of Micah Richards. It's not like this was a much changed side of the type that big four teams put out in the League Cup. It will be interesting to see if he starts on Monday.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

MJ back from the dead

Well, in a sense. City's prodigal son played 45 minutes for the reserves today, as did the £18m man Roque Santa Cruz. It was a behind-closed-doors match against Wrexham, as reported by the invaluable Gavin Cooper:

With the Manchester Senior Cup game being postponed and the uncertainty of next week's Premier Reserve league game happening on its scheduled date due to Liverpool's Champions League commitments the need to arrange a game for Roque Santa Cruz and Michael Johnson was quite important and so due to Mark Hughes' close links with Dean Saunders it was a logical solution to arranging a game at quite short notice.

City's goals came from Jack Redshaw and a brace from young Slovakian Robbie Mak who also set the other goal up as well. As the scoreline shows however City did not have it all their own way as Wrexham certainly gave City a good game.

Sheikh Mansour completes takeover

From the official site:

Manchester City can confirm that a transaction involving 10% of the shares of Manchester City Football Club Limited has been completed.

The 10per cent of shares, previously owned by Worldwide Investments Limited has now been transferred to ADUG, the wholly owned company of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, for an undisclosed sum. As a result of the transaction Manchester City Football Club is now 100 per cent owned by His Highness Sheikh Mansour.

More on Bellamy

If you're not bored of it yet you can read Danny Puglsey and I discussing the issue over at Republik of Mancunia. Check it out here.

Fulham preview

With the stoppage time row subsiding (much as it pains me to say it the referee does, in retrospect, seem justified in playing as much time as he did), and Craig Bellamy having, somehow, avoided punishment for hitting the fan, the remaining open issues from the derby seem to have been tied up. Which is a relief. Disappointments like Sunday can eat away if not dealt with correctly.

To complete the process of moving on, to get what victims of crime call 'closure', we need a good win against Fulham this evening. We must not allow our frustration at failing to get a point at Old Trafford (not many teams do, you know) to let our eyes drift off our targets. And for all the 'City can make the top four' stuff we're hearing at the moment (maybe we can, but we'll see) we cannot ignore the importance of the domestic cups.

So a win tonight is crucial. Fortunately, we've got a decent shot. Roy Hodgson, who is attempting to juggle three tournaments (one of which is the newly-inflated Europa League group stage), has declared that he will put out a second string side this evening. I'd like to think that we could beat Fulham's first team at home, but it stands to reason that we are more likely to beat their second eleven than their first choice. It is worth remembering Fulham's bizarrely good record at CoMS: since the start of the 2005/06 season they have won only nine away games in the Premier League - and three of them have been at Eastlands.

What sort of team will we put out? It seems as if Craig Bellamy, despite avoiding an FA ban, will not play anyway due to his niggling knee injury. Which leaves us with no fit forwards. Carlos Tévez seems to be less injured than Roque Santa Cruz or Robinho, and less suspended that Emmanuel Adebayor and so will have to lead the line again. Unless Vladimir Weiss is given his first start we should see Martin Petrov and SWP either side of Carlitos. The midfield three will presumably continue to be Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Stephen Ireland. And I don't forsee any changes in defence unless Hughes decides to give Pablo Zabaleta or Sylvinho a game.

I like it. And I'm feeling confident. How does 3-0 sound? Two for Tévez and one for Ireland. And some game time for Vlad and maybe even David Ball too. I won't be able to watch the game though so my post-match post will just be a few general points. If you want analysis and player ratings you will have to go elsewhere.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Bellamy clear

News this evening that he will not face an FA charge regarding his slap on the United fan on Sunday.

Insofar as I have an interest in the maintenance of decent conduct, and the fair application of footballing justice this is bad news. Bellamy was wrong to hit the fan, regardless of any alleged provocation, given that the fan was being restrained at the time. It was nasty, unneccessary and provided another bad PR moment of the sort we seem to be collecting. A three match ban would have been fair.

But I would be lying if I said my commitment to justice was so thoroughgoing that this news was not a relief to me. On current form he is a real asset to the club, and a better option in that left forward role than anyone at the club - even the occasionally brilliant Robson de Souza. And we could really do without his having a three match ban right now.

Injury update

The three long-term absentees: Roque Santa Cruz, Michael Johnson and Vincent Kompany - are all looking better, according to the manager:

"Carlos got 90 minutes under his belt without a reaction, so we're pleased about that. In the next 10 days we should get Roque Santa Cruz and Michael Johnson back, fit & well,

"Roque won't be featuring against Fulham, but the likelihood is that he will play a part in the next game if we can get him involved.

"Michael Johnson is shaping up really well, and Vinnie Kompany is way ahead of his schedule so he is going to be an option for us very soon."

Bad news, though, for Nedum Onuoha:

"Unfortunately Nedum is injured at the moment," the boss confirmed. "He's pulled a thigh during the reserves game last week, he played around 55 minutes but felt a bit of discomfort. There is a tear in there and he will be out for three or four weeks."

Hughes and Ferguson

Daniel Taylor has an interesting insight into the relationship between Mark Hughes and Sir Alex Ferguson on today. His point is that unlike many former United players he does not get on very well with Ferguson, having thought that he never rated him as a player.

The popular though inaccurate theory is that it all dates back to a 4-3 defeat for United at Blackburn Rovers in February 2006, when Hughes was in charge at Ewood Park and Ferguson had a post-match drink with him, congratulated him for the win and then, in a moment of vintage Ferguson, went on television to berate Rovers' playing style. Others say Hughes just likes to be his own man. Some managers cling to Ferguson's coat-tails and convince themselves he is their friend. Hughes is dispassionate. He does not see the need to cosy up just as, in any walk of life, when you leave one job for another it is not always necessary to keep in touch with your old boss.

It's worth reading. I certainly think that there's something in this. I imagine that it is also connected with Hughes' famously cold relationship with his former United teammate - and Ferguson's protégé Steve Bruce.

Captain Kolo looks forward

We must not let the frustrations of Sunday distract us from the next few games:
“Fulham gives us the chance to get back on the winning trail and show another side to our character,” he declared.

The Carling Cup is very important to us and we are now 100 per cent focused on the tie tomorrow night. Winning a trophy of any description is a fantastic feeling and that is what we want to do.

“I wasn’t surprised when the manager sent out such a strong side for the last round at Crystal Palace because we have a lot of new players and it gave us more valuable on the pitch time to gel as a team. We did the job well that night and hopefully we will reproduce that tomorrow. We want to show everyone that we are one of the best teams in the competition.”

Monday, 21 September 2009

David Conn on Sparkyisation

The third and final part of David Conn's 'Inside Manchester City' series came in Sunday's Observer. This article is more football-based, and discusses the changes to the team under Mark Hughes. Back in March I started to use the word Sparkyisation to refer to the process of changing the mess that Hughes inherited into a team built in his image: competitive, physically fit, experienced and burning with a will to win. Of course this started with his first day in the job but the beauty of the ADUG money is that it has given Hughes a free hand to do exactly as he wanted. (It is rare in football that a manager's preferences and intentions are as fully revealed as Hughes' have been over the past year, as every other manager has to measure what he would like up against what he can afford. Hughes' unique position has been a fascinating insight into his true intentions.)

We are now one year into Sparkyisation and the evidence of the season so far has been positive. Wins away at Ewood, Selhurst and Fratton Parks, goals from corners in the second and third of those games, four consecutive clean sheets, three equalisers at Old Trafford etc etc etc. Both Khaldoon and Stephen Ireland - the two men most important to Hughes' keeping his job last year - agreed:

"Mark came into an imperfect situation," Khaldoon accepts. "The balance within the squad was extremely erratic and it was very important to add depth in every position."

Stephen Ireland, one of only three players – the others are Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Philips – in Hughes's first-choice team who were at City before Mansour's takeover, is flourishing under Hughes. "The happiest and most content I have ever been at Man City. Before, I always felt on edge, like I'm not sure what's around the corner."

Ireland says the dressing room was "cliquey" last season, divided by the influence of Elano, who, although "a great guy and very talented player", was, Ireland believes, over-indulged under Eriksson. "The gaffer [Hughes] took some time to get a grip of the club," Ireland says. "He had it tough; he came into a club that had been damaged down the years, with players not having a winning mentality, accepting defeat, accepting losing away from home, accepting things that just weren't right. Mark Hughes came in with his own staff and worked to make that right."

The battle between Hughes and Eriksson - with Elano as Sven's proxy - has been the main story of the last eighteen months. In this summer's spending spree - and cull of all but the last three remaining Eriksson buys - Hughes finally won out. There is now no question of whether or not this is Hughes' team, and unlike last year whatever happens is the ultimate responsibility of the manager. There are a few other interesting bits in that article - including the revelation that Khaldoon had 'an interesting debate' over the signings of Shay Given and Craig Bellamy. Do read it all, and the first two as well.

Hughes on the derby

Rousing stuff from the manager:

“We will be stronger as a result of today, not weaker,” Hughes said. “We have got the means and the resources and the will to be better in the future.

“We know we can have an excellent season this year. We wanted to start quickly and start well and give ourselves an opportunity to do something special later in the season. We still believe we can do that.

"We are not going away any time soon. We are going to be around for a long time."
I agree. We just need a good result on Wednesday to get everyone re-focussed.

David Conn on behind the scenes changes

One of the great untold stories of the ADUG transformation of Manchester City is the money which has been spent revamping the club's training, medical and office facilities. After years of underinvestment under both the Thaksin and John Wardle regimes Mark Hughes - and, three months later, Sheikh Mansour - inherited infrastructure that was simply not up to the task of supporting a Premier League football club with any pretensions of success. David Conn's second Guardian article, which focusses on the mess the club were in last summer, picks up the story soon after the takeover:

"I must say I was extremely surprised," Khaldoon recalled. "I took a tour with Mark and I couldn't believe what I saw. It was not the minimum level of infrastructure required for a top-tier club.

"When I returned I immediately went to Sheikh Mansour, showed him pictures of the facility and he was very straight to say, 'this is unacceptable'. There were some quick fixes, quick wins, we could do at City, like fixing the gym, the medical facility – we had to do it quickly, because it was simply unacceptable."

The combination of Mark Hughes' drive and expertise and Sheikh Mansour's limitless cash meant that the facilities could finally be dragged up the required standard. And now City are fortunate enough to have the structures in place to support the playing staff as much as they need:

Where before there were a handful of stationary bikes, a couple of treadmills, no dedicated weights room and desultory gloom, now there are 20 bikes, all the weights and the multi-gym Hughes' staff wanted for training and rehab, a six-bed medical centre, refurbished hydrotherapy plunge baths, a new kit room, and motivational messages slapped optimistically on the walls. One is Muhammad Ali's famous quote: "The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."

A very similar story applies to the organisation of the administrative and commercial side of the club. Years of underinvestment, amateurism and complacency had seen it fall way behind the standard required:

Khaldoon was also taken aback by the holes he found in the organisation. A businessman schooled in corporate systems, chief executive of an Abu Dhabi fund with more than $10bn of government assets under investment, he found City had no personnel department, no finance director.

"I found it shocking," he reflected. "In the famous Premier League, to run without basic functions like these. I'll be frank, I expected it to be more structured. One of the big surprises was how amateurish it was."

It's a story of a transformation as remarkable as that from Gelson Fernandes to Gareth Barry, or Benjani to Adebayor. In the darkest moments of last season the club leadership - Hughes, Cook and Khaldoon - always stayed on message: the club is going through transformative changes behind the scenes, there are likely to be teething problems, but our focus and our commitment to the current management is clear. I took them at their word, and am pleased now to have had my faith vindicated by evidence of what was going on.

Cause for optimism, ctd.

Oliver Holt in the Mirror has a very similar article to Martin Samuel's in the Mail - reminding us that the future is still looking pretty good for City:

But if ever a match was a metaphor for a changing of the guard in English football, it was this one.

If ever a performance from a losing team sounded like the rumble of a train in the distance, it was this one.

Because amid the magnificent bedlam of this classic encounter, City provided the proof that not only are they breathing down the necks of the big four but that they are bearing down on the champions themselves.

On the evidence of their performance yesterday, City’s grand project to conquer the Premier League is a lot further advanced than we thought.

Cause for optimism

Martin Samuel, who is more supportive of the ADUG project at City than most, has a rather positive piece about us in the Mail today:

The better team still won at Old Trafford on Sunday, but City's performance demanded respect. They have won here in recent years, but it has always been in the manner of the underdog, raising their game to meet the occasion.

On Sunday they lost, but as equals. Do not be fooled by Manchester United's domination of the second half. United can safely expect to dominate every game at home, regardless of the opposition.

The fact that Manchester City drew level after going behind on three occasions, the fact that Craig Bellamy scored the two best goals of the game, the fact that it took United until 16 seconds from the final whistle to put the result beyond doubt are all tiny victories for Mark Hughes and his men.

And that is what City are about this season: tiny victories.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Derby reax

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

Owen was taken to United hearts for embodying their DNA: a refusal to surrender. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had dominated for much of this absorbing game yet City, resilience personified and inspired by the outstanding trio of Given, Nigel de Jong and Bellamy, kept fighting back, kept equalising. As the team who live closest to United, City should really know about their neighbours’ most celebrated quality. United never give up. From Nou Camp ’99 to Old Trafford ’09, injury time is their time.

Matt Lawton, Daily Mail

But there were times when United were second-best and Hughes looked so right when he dared suggest United were not the same now Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez have moved on.

Tevez was terrific, ignoring the boos and a lack of fitness to deliver a display that would have been perfect had he not squandered one first-half chance with a shot that bounced off a post.

For long periods City were the better team in crucial areas: in midfield, where Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong and Stephen Ireland dominated their opponents in much the same way they had Arsenal, and further forward, where the superb wing play of Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips exposed Ferguson's failure to find a decent replacement for the world's best player.

Bellamy > Robinho

On current form would Robson de Souza get back into the first eleven? Not for me.

And I don't mean not at Old Trafford, or at Fratton Park or at any difficult match. I mean, not in any game because he's noticeably less good than Craig Bellamy at that left wing role he's been given.

If Robinho had scored Bellamy's first goal we would have heard all about how 'that's what £32.5m gets you.' And Bellamy's second? I'm not sure Robson has the pace to get past Ferdinand like that.

Derby player ratings

Given Crucial saves in the second half kept us in the game. Possible misjudgement for Fletcher's first header but this is another game which would have gone much worse with almost any other Premier League keeper between our sticks. 7

Richards Lost Patrice Evra for Rooney's goal, gave away the free-kick for Fletcher's second. Otherwise performed manfully but two mistakes is two too many against United. 4

Touré Slipped in front of Rooney for the first goal, lost Fletcher for the third and Owen for the fourth. Otherwise perfect - including the surging run for Tévez's first half miss. But if we wanted solid defence but for occasional and damaging errors we could have stuck with Dunne. 5

Lescott Looked rattled early on but improved in time. The gelling of him and Kolo could be the difference between our finishing fourth or fifth. 6

Bridge Sloppy in possession in the first half but made some important interceptions in the second half. None of his characteristic forward surges either. 5

de Jong Immense in the first half in his tackling and ball-retention. Did not allow United to go back ahead after Barry's equaliser. Could not quite influence the game in the same way in the second half but still demonstrated his importance against the better sides. 7

Barry Not as dominant as he has been so far this season, thanks to the pressure of Darren Fletcher. Took his first goal in blue very coolly. 6

SWP Worked hard, coming in off the right for the ball but could never really get past Evra as easily as he does against lesser left-backs. 6

Ireland One or two very nice touches - the back-heeled spin on the turn for Tévez was genius - and one or two important tackles - but still in keeping with his generally quieter performances this season. Needs a big game. 5

Bellamy This was so close to being 'the Bellamy derby.' Tireless work down the left hand side - as we have come to expect - but two fantastic goals too. The first was a thunderbolt from a relatively wide position - reminiscent of Robinho, who I wouldn't put back in the team based on Bellamy's current form, and the second was a fantastic burst of pace and a cool finish past Foster. One of the stars of the season. 8

Tévez Tireless work created our first goal but when called upon to score his second he failed. Who knows what would have happened had he scored. 6


Petrov Good pass to Bellamy but little else 6

United 4 - 3 City

  • On the balance of the second half, we probably didn't deserve the point that I thought Craig Bellamy's equaliser had brought us. We were under siege for the whole thirty-eight minutes between Bellamy's two strikes. Were it not for Dimitar Berbatov and Shay Given conspiring to keep the score first at 2-2 and then 3-2 we could have been swamped. Imagine what Adebayor (who cost £5m less than Berbatov) would have done with those headed chances. All this is a way of saying that a 3-3 final score would have flattered us, and therefore that we can't complain too much with the final result.
  • But I can't quite make myself buy it. To lose in the sixth minute of four minutes of stoppage time stings something quite serious. I'm really not a big fan of the explanatory power of officials' bias in explaining the outcomes of football matches and seasons, and certainly not in relation to a particular conspiracy against one's own team. It stinks of solipsism. That said, I don't think you need to be a lifelong blue to question whether the six minutes of stoppage time - after the initial award of four - was justified. And I don't think you need to be a Munich-singing neanderthal to question whether Manchester United needing a goal at Old Trafford was a factor in the generosity of the award.
  • Anyway, back to the performance. It was mixed. In both halves United started with pace and guile and scored early. In both halves City looked rattled before finding an equaliser out of nothing. But there the similarities end. In the first half we grew after Barry's goal, matching United and creating the best chance of the half - Carlos Tévez hitting the post. In the second half we sat back after Bellamy's goal and came under serious and sustained siege. Not much would have to have been different for us to lose this by a distance.
  • For all United's domination of possession, I wonder if Hughes will worry that all four of United's goal were avoidable from our perspective. Richards and Kolo Touré slipped for Rooney's goal, while errors of marking were responsible for Darren Fletcher's two headed goals. I don't want to remember Owen's winner but he certainly escaped Kolo after we'd lost the first ball. Defensive errors are certainly part of the game. United have the two best centre-backs in the world and still conceded three. So you can't wholly eliminate them. But after spending £38m on centre-backs one would hope that we could avoid conceding four in one game.
  • Realistically, our challenge for the top four is not going to be defined by our result at Old Trafford. It hurts to lose the derby in such circumstances, but better than dwelling on any possible injustice we must hope that the same errors of marking and defending are not made in our next two home games: Fulham in the League Cup on Wednesday, and West Ham in the EPL next Monday. The wheels must not come off.

Derby preview

Much of what I wanted to say is covered here.

As a prediction, I'm going to go for a narrow defeat. With everyone fit we may have been competitive, but I just can't see us getting anything with only Craig Bellamy up front on his own. And I love Craig Bellamy.

All I can ask for is a little bit more fight than either of our surrenders last year. For all the talk before about how Mark Hughes understands the Manchester derby, how he keen he is to beat Sir Alex, how he wants to instill a winning mentality and so forth, the two derbies last year were two of the weakest derby performances I can remember for some time. So an improvement on that would be welcome.

Winter on Hughes

Henry Winter is a big fan of Mark Hughes, and has a very positive piece about him in today's Sunday Telegraph. Do read it.

So we really should be celebrating the emergence of an engaging, savvy, spirited British manager who has learned under masters like Ferguson and now spends his club’s vast wealth shrewdly. We should appreciate Hughes’ balanced tactical approach, ordering defensive midfield zealots like Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry to erect a stage for four attacking stars.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

David Conn on the last days of Thaksin

We have a lot to be grateful to Sheikh Mansour for. Spending £200m on players in twelve months has been rather helpful. We are, if you hadn't noticed, a significantly better team because of it. We have a decent shot at a trophy or two in the next few years, for the first time in my lifetime. I could go on and on but I don't need to.

One thing, though, that needs to be said is this: we ought to be grateful to Sheikh Mansour for what he saved us from, almost as much as for what he has turned us into. Because in the months leading up to the takoever, we were in a real mess. The Thaksin project had been unravelling for some time, but by August we had no money, an owner on the run, players almost being sold without the manager's say-so (remember that August weekend when Corluka and Ireland almost left), and £19m strikers coming in with just as little managerial input. There's nothing quite like a badly run football club, and for those summer weeks, I would go as far as to say that we were in a worse state than any top flight club in English state. Debt, chaos and panic are one thing. But international arrest warrants? That's a whole new ball game.

This is the central point of David Conn's second exclusive City news story, appearing in Saturday's Guardian. And what he reveals suggests that things were even worse than we thought. The biggest single revelation is that Mark Hughes considered quitting, such was the mess he walked in on:

"I made the switch from Blackburn because I thought City was a club with potential, in a good financial position, and there would be money available," he reflected ruefully. "The reality wasn't exactly what was described and sold to me. In fairness we were able to go into the transfer market, but there seemed a focus that players had to be sold, and I realised that maybe the resources weren't in place that I thought."

The Carrington facilities were also not as he had expected, bearing no evidence of investment. "The training ground was not fit for purpose," Hughes recalled plainly. "I was quite shocked by how run down it was. Blackburn Rovers is a good club, well-run and organised, it has top-drawer facilities as a consequence of the money Jack Walker invested, and I made the assumption …" he paused. "That was my failing last year; I made too many assumptions. I assumed that people and facilities would be top quality and it was patently obvious they weren't."

The other man who stepped right into the middle of the mess was Garry Cook, brought by Thaksin in June 2008 to run the club following Alistair Mackintosh's depature and Thaksin's Richard Kimble moment. And, as with Hughes, by August he was regretting his decision to come to City:

Cook felt that the job he had been brought to do, to lead a "renaissance" of City, was impossible, and that "the fabric of the football club had been taken away". He soon realised there was no money; City borrowed from Standard Bank against Premier League TV money not yet received, and bought players on deposit.

"Thaksin's money was locked away. Every bit of revenue was being accelerated and the players were being mortgaged. We got into a position where we couldn't pay the players – and John Wardle [the former chairman who had sold his shares and left the board] was asked to lend the club £2m. I was working stupid hours to make sure I was not missing anything; I was living in this paranoia...

"My wife had packed up everything in our house in the States, the furniture was in transit, and I sat in my hotel room in Cheshire crying down the phone. I felt I had unravelled everything, undone all my hard work, because I had been seduced into this role. I realised I had taken my family into the lion's den."

This is pretty serious stuff. Just think of a possible alternative history here: no buyer comes in late in August 2008, meaning that those late purchases - Shaun Wright-Phillips and Pablo Zabaleta - were never possible. The chaos continues. Hughes and Cook quit later that autumn. Graeme Souness is brought in to keep us up. Thaksin, on the run, can only hope that the club continues to function in his absence. Souness is forced to sell Elano, Martin Petrov, Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland and Micah Richards. Jô is sent back to CSKA Moscow. Thaksin desperately tries to offload the club to John Wardle or David Bernstein. Souness gets City relegated. Then what: more sales? Administration? The takeover was as good news for what it brought us as for what it delivered us from.

David Conn on Abu Dhabi motivations

We are very lucky this week to have The Guardian's David Conn doing a big three part series on the Abu Dhabi takeover at City. Conn is an excellent journalist who writes very well about the internal operation of football clubs; it is no surprise that he has turned his attention to City.

I appreciate that I'm a few days with this - the first part was in Friday's paper - but I'm going to tackle them in the order they appeared. The first article focussed on Abu Dhabi itself, with a fascinating Khaldoon al-Mubarak interview, and the motivations behind the takeover. The common perception is that it was launched as a means to enhance the reputation and prestige of Abu Dhabi. And the association between the club and the emirate in the minds of many westerners is something that the chairman acknowledges:

"There is an appreciation of the association the club have with Abu Dhabi that we hold very dearly," Khaldoon, with calm, steady conviction, explained. "There is almost a personification of the club with the values we hold as Abu Dhabi, as Sheikh Mansour. These are loyalty, commitment, discipline, long-term thinking, respect, appreciation of history...

"We are acknowledging that how we are handling this project is telling a lot to the world about how we are," Khaldoon said. "The UAE is different from other Arab countries. People think the Arab world is one, but it is not. This is showing the world the true essence of who Abu Dhabi is and what Abu Dhabi is about. That is something new, something we didn't really plan for."

The interview gets more interesting later on, as Khaldoon suggests that this prestige by association dynamic was not in fact the driving force behind the takeover:

The reasons, he explained, were twofold. Mansour believes City will be an investment, worth even more than he will have spent on it, if built into a top European club. But primarily, Khaldoon said: "Sheikh Mansour is a huge football fan. There is an enjoyment, a pleasure, which comes from owning it."

This idea that after an initial burst of investment a club can be made profitable is one that is shared by Roman Abramovich. Insofar as there are precedents for what Abu Dhabi has done to City, Abramovich's Chelsea is the best one, and their attempts to become self-financing have seen the club's trophy acquisition slow down relative to the Mourinho years of the mid-2000s. But Sheikh Mansour is insistent that City can, in time, stop sucking in his money:

"Sheikh Mansour is an astute businessman, who believes you can create a value from football that has not yet been accomplished," Khaldoon explained. "There is a pure, football, emotional side to it, and a big business side, too. I think what attracted Sheikh Mansour was the great football journey, but also there is a business sense, that we can create a franchise, a business, over years, which will create value and reap a long term return."

Well, we'll see. Football clubs have a habit of resembling financial black holes, particularly those which are built up on large cash acquisitions of players. Even United and Arsenal, who have successful youth development programmes and managers committed to them still need to spend big money on players to succeed. I'm sure Sheikh Mansour and Khladoon have done the sums and everything, but I'd be surprised if we're returning much of that investment to Abu Dhabi for some time.

Derby interview

I've done an interview with United blog Republik of Mancunia in the build-up to the derby. We discuss Carlos Tévez, my hopes for the derby, and those charming songs City fans sing about our two new strikers.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wenger's criticisms

Arsène Wenger has hit out at Mark Hughes over his position on Adebayorgate:
“I played football and I know exactly, in a fraction of a second, where you leave in or move out. You know exactly at that fraction, I can injure somebody or I can not injure somebody, and you ease off or you leave in. I have seen some challenges where if you do that in the street, you go to jail. It [the challenge on Van Persie] looks very bad. You ask 100 people, 99 will say it’s very bad and the hundredth will be Mark Hughes.”
On a basic level he's right. Mark Hughes' public position on Adebayor is heterodox to say the least. The proportion of people who agree with him is probably less than the 1% level Wenger attributes. And, in so far as we can interpret Adebayor's intentions, Hughes is probably wrong. The more times you see the stamp on van Persie the more intentional it appears. I'd be surprised if Hughes has only seen it once.

But. This is criticism is at best curious, at worst ludicrous, coming from Arsène Wenger. This is a man who never publicly acknowledges the misdeeds of his players, who always falls into the '1%' who does not see or does not condemn some offence by an Arsenal player. Don't get me wrong: I love Wenger. I'm a fan of his on Facebook and everything. But it betrays a surprising lack of self-knowledge for him to fail to recognise this.

The fact is that almost all managers say things they know to be false in public in order to defend their players. Sir Alex Ferguson said it best recently regarding the Eduardo ban:

"You become insular and protective of your own player and own team, we're all selfish that way.

"I would have been saying 'what about all the rest of the players?'.

"But I wouldn't have been pleased if my player had done that.

"I wouldn't say it publicly though, because when you do that you're in danger of losing the morale of the dressing room.

"Privately, as I've done many times, you have a different view, but I wouldn't do it publicly."

Bringing this back to Adebayor, I hope that Hughes has a different position in private than his public one, and I hope he has made it clear to Manu.

Siege mentality

Henry Winter makes an important point today:

Rather than damage a club, moments like this can forge a togetherness if a manager is as canny as Hughes. He has heard many defiant speeches in the dressing rooms at Old Trafford and now he must deliver one of his own, fostering a siege mentality in the very best Sir Alex Ferguson tradition.

It is time for Hughes to rail against the outside world, to tell his players that the Football Association, Premier League and media are against them.

Inside the City dressing room, it will not register that Adebayor actually deserves three matches on the sidelines for cynically raking Robin van Persie.

A siege mentality is a characteristic of most successful teams, particularly ones as unpopular as we are. The better we do the more people are going to dislike us (and we're not exactly the neutral's favourite now) and so all Hughes can do is really turn this to our advantage.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tévez to miss out

Disappointing news from Mark Bowen:
"He is back here today and we'll assess it from there, but he is very doubtful," City assistant boss Mark Bowen told

"What we are hearing is that it's probably going to keep him out, but until the doctor assesses him hands-on we don't really know.

"The boss has been in contact with the Argentina medical team, as has our medical team.

"But the signs are not encouraging. We wouldn't 100% rule him out yet - fingers crossed and we are always hopeful, but it's very doubtful."

Expert analysis of City v Arsenal


Ade charged

With violent conduct and improper conduct:
Under the fast-track disciplinary process, Adebayor has been charged with violent conduct following an incident with Robin van Persie, which resulted in the Arsenal player receiving facial injuries.

Referee Mark Clattenburg has advised The FA that he did not see this incident, but has confirmed that had he done so, he would have sent Adebayor off for violent conduct. The player has until 6pm on Wednesday evening to respond to the charge.

Adebayor has also been charged with improper conduct following his actions when turning and running the full length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal supporters after scoring.
Looks like a three game ban for the stamp and then maybe the same for the celebration. We'll have to wait and see. But Craig Bellamy must now be assured a start through the middle at Old Trafford.

Bellamy positive

Good stuff from my favourite player at the moment:

“We are tougher and stronger,” admitted the striker whose energy and commitment has been a big part of the last two wins.

“There is a big difference from when I walked through the door. We had an abundance of quality and could rip teams apart last season but were also capable of not tracking runners and not picking up the points we may be should have done on occasions.

“The quality of player that has come in has improved the mentality there is no doubt about that...

“I really am enjoying it, I feel as if I can do a job all over the pitch,” he enthused. “I am enjoying playing in a team with real ambition.

For all his problems earlier in his career, Bellamy has been a model pro since Hughes bought him last January. In fact, he could well be one of Hughes' most underrated signings. Not only did his goals last February arrest a very damaging slide into the relegation zone - winning us games against Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Copenhagen and helping us take a point at Anfield - but he has remained a committed and valuable member of the squad even after the signings of three new strikers.

And with Adebayor due to sit out the next few games with a ban, Bellamy could well be back to spearheading our attack. He deserves it.

Monday, 14 September 2009

4 in 4

No, not Adebayor, but another mercurial City striker of recent years: Rolando Bianchi.

Torino were relegated last season and, rather than abandon ship and find a Serie A club, he has stuck with the Granata, aiming to return them to the top flight at the first attempt. Thus far he has been good to his word. He started with two goals in the 3-0 win at Grosetto on opening day. Then it was Empoli at home, and another 3-0 win - Bianchi scored the third.

A disappointing 1-0 defeat at Brescia followed, before last weekend's 2-1 victory over Albinoleffe. Il Toro went one goal down early on, before Francesco Pratali pulled one back. And it was Bianchi who won it with a goal early in the second half.

Torino are currently third in Serie B with nine points from four games.

Ireland doubt for derby

Bad news from the M.E.N. this morning: Stephen Ireland is an injury doubt for the derby next Sunday. Combined with the absences of Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tévez, Robinho and Vincent Kompany - and presuming that Adebayor gets the ban he deserves - we're left rather short.
But Ireland suffered an aggravation of the ankle problem which affected him in the win at Portsmouth a fortnight earlier.

"On Saturday it was touch and go whether he went out for the second-half, so we had to get him off," said manager Mark Hughes.
We will be very limited on Sunday without him. This is the best team I can come up with:

It's not a bad team. It could well be enough to beat West Ham at home two weeks' today. But to get anything from Old Trafford? It's a long shot. I suppose there is one alternative - a first start for Vladi Weiss, on the biggest of stages. How does this look?

I'll stick with the first one. It's a solid midfield base - we can try to swamp Carrick and Fletcher and hope to catch them with our pace on the break. But I'm not holding out much hope for a result.

de Jong complains

Slightly worrying stuff in the sunday papers from Nigel:
De Jong, 24, said: “I have not come to Manchester City to sit on a bench. I am staying positive, the season has just started, but this can’t go on for too long.

“All week, I could not stop thinking about what would happen if I was not going to start again against Arsenal. These are the games I came to England for.

“Last season I played every game. I know the great feeling that gives a player...

“I find it difficult to accept. I’m not a model reserve player.”

It's a problem if we're encountering these problems and it's only September. Now, if I was picking the team I would play de Jong in a 4-5-1 system similar to how we set up on Saturday. So in one sense his grievance is legitimate. But: these are Mark Hughes' decisions to make and he's done pretty well so far - five games and five wins. And so it's a shame to see him question the manager like this in public. I'm sure he'll play on Sunday though.

More Arsenal reax

James Lawton, The Independent

Adebayor was immense in this game, huge and luminous in his natural ability. Unfortunately, this only made his lapse into dangerous and shocking professional irresponsibility all the more dramatic and, for Hughes, disconcerting on a day when he might otherwise have been celebrating a significant and untrammelled step forward in a project that has invited so much scepticism.

The big man from Togo showed us the beauty that lies in his natural gifts and why Hughes parted so enthusiastically with £25m – and then the beast.

Oliver Kay, The Times

This should have been Emmanuel Adebayor’s day — and in one sense, as he helped Manchester City to secure the fourth consecutive victory that underlined the genuine threat they pose this season to Arsenal and the rest of the established elite, it still was. But his performance all afternoon was one that called to mind the famous quote from a French football official who said of Eric Cantona, another maverick centre forward who made his home in Manchester, that “behind you lies the trail of sulphur”. Like Cantona, Adebayor allowed the sulphur to intoxicate him.

Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail

It is regrettable that memories of Adebayor's own play will fade into the background. His remarkable run down the left side towards the end, leaving his arch enemy Nicklas Bendtner slashing fruitlessly at his ankles, was perhaps the season's best piece of individual skill so far.

Also, it is a shame that the contribution of Craig Bellamy - selfless, industrious and skilful - will not receive more column inches today. The Welshman was playing because Robinho is injured and he was fundamental to this victory.

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

Amid all the recriminations, the rushed apologies and the rancorous fingerpointing, it was almost overlooked, for example, that City's fourth successive victory represents their best start to a season since 1961. Not many people seemed to pick up, either, that a record City of Manchester stadium crowd was there to see it, too – 47,339 shoehorned in to see the latest evidence that English football's Big Four are on the cusp of becoming a Big Five.

Mark Ogden, Daily Telegraph

Adebayor’s temperament, which proved flawed during his closing months as an Arsenal player, failed the test once more when he should instead have allowed his undoubted football talents to make his point against his detractors. But the Togolese was on a mission. Apparently 'unloved’ by his former club, Adebayor certainly made his mark, but apart from a stunning headed goal, the imprint he left behind was formed by brutality and incendiary self-indulgence.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

More on Manu

First there's the moral point: inciting football violence is a bad thing to do. Raking studs down the side of someone's face is even worse, particularly given the proximity to one of Robin van Persie's eyes. It's a cliché but if it happened on the street it would be called assault. It was malicious, nasty and an embarrassment to Manchester City FC - the worst act of violence at Eastlands since Ben Thatcher almost decapitated Pedro Mendes.

But there's also the selfish point. Emmanuel Adebayor is a fantastically talented forward, currently at the top of his game. He's played for EPL games for City and scored in all four. He is crucial to the team and the way we play. With Carlos Tévez and Roque Santa Cruz currently injured he is our only fit centre forward remaining.

Next Sunday is the Manchester derby - for the first time in years we have a team who could give United a decent game. Adebayor - in his current form - would give Ferdinand and Vidic a tougher time than almost any other striker in England, with the exceptions of Torres and Drogba. But in two acts of stupidity - one malicious, one childish - he will leave us without his services in this massive match. And we'll be left with no fit centre forwards - having to move Craig Bellamy central.

The stamp

I'm with Danny on this: it was a clear, deliberate and malicious stamp and Adebayor deserves to be banned for it. The celebration was stupid and childish but, on reflection, the stamp was much worse. There was no 'reaching for the ball' or 'finding his feet' - it was exactly what it looked like. Adebayor will be banned, and rightly so.

And with him go our chances of taking anything from Old Trafford.

Arsenal reax

David Walsh, Sunday Times

And the match was pretty sensational too. City’s victory was important and deserved. Hughes is doing a good job. Joleon Lescott is a fine acquisition and looked wonderfully composed for most of yesterday’s match. Hughes’s good judgement was reflected Nigel de Jong’s gritty and disciplined performance in midfield. There were times in the second half, with the game delicately balanced at 1-1, when Arsenal were outplaying their rivals. But with de Jong, you felt City would never be over-run.

Ian Herbert, Independent on Sunday

While each of City's goals were gifts - the visitors were "defensively shaky; when you mistake at that level you pay for it," Wenger admitted - Arsenal discovered what they lost when Kolo Toure, now City skipper, departed up the M1. A particular moment for City to treasure: Toure's immaculate challenge as Cesc Fabregas advanced into the box with them 1-0 up. His defence headers always reached blue shirts. And when City had, to quote Hughes' pre-match plan "battened down the hatches," they twice destroyed Arsenal on the counter attack. Further evidence of the way Hughes has instilled worldliness where once there was only prettiness.

Rob Draper, Mail on Sunday

A shame then that the headlines will be hogged by the misdemeanours of
Emmanuel Adebayor, whose idea of team unity is to ensure the entire event revolves around himself. Understandably fired up for the clash after his acrimonious departure from Arsenal over the summer, he might have relished this occasion to prove his detractors among their fans wrong

Instead, despite a magnificent performance in footballing terms, he simply displayed all the characteristics which made him so unpopular in north London.
Neil Ashton, News of the World

Mark Hughes' side are the new kids on the block, the emerging force in English football, putting away one of the established order.

Arsenal are all about top-four finishes and fantasy football, yet City are on the upturn after this exceptional performance.

Even without Robinho and Carlos Tevez they were free-flowing going forward, full of flair and without fear.

Louise Taylor, The Observer

After this, City have to be taken seriously as Champions League contenders and it is legitimate to wonder whether they might make the top four at Arsenal's expense. Granted Wenger's men were bigger on artistic merit, but a once frail City creditably refused to fold while playing some eminently decent stuff of their own.

"Who knows how significant this result will be," said Hughes, whose decision to replace Stephen Ireland with Martin Petrov during the second half proved inspired. "But there was some fantastic football from both sides and Emmanuel was outstanding.

Mark Ogden, Sunday Telegraph

Adebayor’s antics overshadowed a fine victory by Mark Hughes’s team, who maintained their 100 per cent record this term.

And he could now find himself suspended for next Sunday’s Manchester derby if the FA decide to punish him for either of his flashpoints this week.

Arsenal, unfortunate to lose 2-1 at Old Trafford two weeks ago, started brightly and dominated possession throughout the game.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Arsenal player ratings

Given For all of Arsenal's possession he had less to do than in previous matches. One or two routine saves, and one very good one low down in stoppage time. 6

Richards His best game for months, justifying Hughes' faith in him. He dealt with Diaby and Clichy very competently, and was beaten less often than usual. Going forward he was more effective than usual with two assists - setting up Manuel Almunia to head home in the first half and putting a perfect pass across for Bellamy for the go-ahead goal. 8

Touré The new captain was very solid against his old club. Some crucial tackles, and a marshalling of the back line which limited the possession-dominant Arsenal to only a few chances. 7

Lescott Generally very good but for one misjudgement which allowed van Persie in to equalise for Arsenal. Some time behind Touré in his settling in at City. 6

Bridge Another good game - he's starting to look more like a £10m player. Quick and alert at the back, giving Bendtner nothing. He was not as involved going forward as usual but still useful. 7

Barry An excellent first half from the TLDORC Player of August, whose competency in all aspects of midfield play shone through again: tackling and passing everywhere while gliding across the pitch. Suffered after the interval, though, as Arsenal pegged us back. 6

de Jong Possibly his best ever game in blue. He was brought in to stifle Arsenal, to replicate Darren Fletcher's 'anti-football' tactics against them - and he did it perfectly. He bullied and hassled Arsenal all over our half, and was crucial to Arsenal's failure to turn sufficient possession into only a few chances and only one goal. A must at Old Trafford. 8

SWP As good as he has been throughout this season. Like Bellamy his running up and down the wing never stopped, and while he was up against a better class of defender than usual he kept on trying. He was crucial in helping out Richards in defence, and was key to our late three-goal surge. First he surged down the right, crossing for Adebayor's header. And then he picked up Bellamy's through-pass and chipped Almunia. 8

Ireland Another quiet afternoon. One would hope that two holding midfielders (as we played last year) would give him the license to influence, but it never really clicked for him. Substituted in the second half for Martin Petrov. 5

Bellamy Almost identical to Wright-Phillips on the opposte wing. He followed Bacary Sagna all over the pitch, giving Bridge the help that he never gets from Robinho. Never has any team missed Robinho less. Bellamy's supreme stamina meant that he grew as the game went on: he slammed in the goal to put us 2-1 up, before finding Wright-Phillips for our fourth. 8

Adebayor Was always going to be newsworthy and did not disappoint. Rather than accept isolation as the lone striker he spent most of his time dropping and drifting into deep and wide areas, chasing the ball and pressuring Arsenal. All this was rewarded with a perfect header for 3-1, although any gloss is removed by an unfortunately ill-judged and rather silly celebration. 7


Petrov Ran with the ball a few times late on, in his best run out for a while. n/a