Saturday, 31 October 2009

Birmingham preview

If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times: our success this season will be defined by the number of points we manage to plunder from the battlefields of the bottom half. We were terrible in this regard last year, six points from a possible thirty. This year we've done better: seven points from three games so far, wins at Ewood and Fratton Parks and an honourable draw at Wigan. So this game is important in this respect.

It's also important in the sense that we seem to be slowing down. No league win since September, no clean sheet since August and a slight feeling that we are losing ground on the top sides. As good as the win against Scunthorpe was in mid-week, we need a league win to keep the pressure on our new rivals.

Unfortunately I'm not sure that we will win. Birmingham are a pretty good side and will not be easy to break down. They might just have enough to cause us problems. So it's going to be a battle. In terms of a line-up, it sounds as if we will have most of our players fit. The one interesting issue is therefore in wide areas. On current form I would go for Craig Bellamy and Martin Petrov, but Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips both had good games on Wednesday. So this is Hughes' big decision.

Prediction? A frustrating 1-1.

Arsenal reserves at home

A decent draw all things considered. Of course, Arsenal reserves are very good and I certainly wouldn't want them at Emirates. But our experienced players and home advantage should make us narrow favourites.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Mills on KK and Pearce

Former City star Danny Mills has an interesting interview in The Sun today where he reveals what working for Kevin Keegan and Stuart Pearce was like. Neither comes off too well, with Pearce accused of being too controlling and Keegan of being insufficiently so:

"At City, Kevin Keegan had no discipline in his training sessions.

"Players turned up late but there were no punishments. I told him 'You cannot let players keep turning up late' and he said 'I don't like fining players'. I said 'You fine them once, they won't do it again'.

"Stuart Pearce came in and was terrible. He only liked players he could control. He got rid of David James, Ben Thatcher, Claudio Reyna and tried to get rid of Joey Barton.

"From the outside it was 'Psycho - Stuart Pearce - don't mess with him'. But if you stood up and had a go, he didn't know how to respond. When he took his daughter's toy horse into the dugout, the lads thought 'Hang on a minute... '.

"Also, he didn't have a big enough personality to deal with big players - and still doesn't."

Adebayor defends himself

Rather standard self-justification from Adebayor, in an interview in Loaded:

"People can say what they want and I will just score goals in a team that wants me to be here, and in front of fans that appreciate me.

"I'm happy at City and people who question my decision to come here can go away.

"To be a part of City's first Premier League title, getting into the Champions League is a great challenge for me. I'm here for the football, not money."

There's no point going into this any more, the 'Adebayor character' debate has been pretty much done to death. I've made up my mind on it and I'm not sure many City fans will agree with me. But if he can re-conjure his August and September form on Sunday I will be delighted; Birmingham City won't be able to touch him.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A 'big seven'?

There have been two interesting articles written in the last few days about a less rigid, more fluid order at the top of the Premier League this season. The relative weakening of all of the Big Four (no point-making inverted commas here), and the improvements of Manchester City, Spurs and Aston Villa could combine to make for a more competitive top bracket than we have seen since the start of this decade.

Henry Winter, in the Sunday Telegraph, said that the old order was finished:

Occasionally, those upstairs would be troubled by cheeky forays from those downstairs. Everton even got into the Champions League briefly one year. Villa pushed Arsenal close last season but faded. Spurs had a go but choked on their lasagne.

The Premier League mood music has changed. This season is proving gloriously unpredictable. The old order is under sustained threat from the new firm of City, Villa and Spurs. They have money, lashings of it in City’s case, and outstanding managers in Mark Hughes, Martin O’Neill and Harry Redknapp, respectively (and don’t completely rule out David Moyes’ Everton).

And he had particular praise for City:

Look at Eastlands. If Bellamy’s knee plays up, Martin Petrov sprints on. Even when Robinho is fit, the Brazilian who will start for the World Cup favourites next summer is not guaranteed a place at City. Any bench also containing Stephen Ireland, a shoo-in for most starting XIs, deserves respect while Michael Johnson makes a welcome return from his assorted travails.

Anfield must glance longingly at the exceptional Gareth Barry, who should have replaced Xabi Alonso but Liverpool dithered, allowing City to strike.
Kevin McCarra, writing on, made a similar point:

A Premier League in decline is heading in the right direction. This season's competition should remain engrossingly entertaining now that the leading teams are no longer good enough to feel safe. Manchester United, the defending champions, have been beaten twice and the initial lapse came at newly promoted Burnley. Sir Alex Ferguson's team endured four losses in the league during the last campaign, but the defeats then were comprehensible if not palatable.

It's interesting stuff. It seems true, at this stage of the season, that Manchester United and Liverpool are both less good than they were last season. It's less clear in Arsenal and Chelsea's case but still possible. Of course, these judgements are all on hold until May. And it certainly looks like City, Spurs and Villa have all improved. So we may see a more competitive and less predictable season.

One final point, though. The improvements of City, Villa and Spurs have not turned the Big Four into a 'Big Seven'. Even if there was a 20 point gap between, say, Villa in seventh and, say, Sunderland in eighth no such thing would exist. This is because the Big Four has more meaning than simply the teams that finish in the top four places every year. The point is that the Big Four benefit hugely from the money and the prestige of the Champions League, which means that finishing in the top four perpetuates their domination in a constant feedback loop. Unless Michel Platini reduces (or extends) the Premier League's representation in the Champions League there can never be a big two, three or five, because of the impact playing in the Champions League has.

Scunthorpe reax

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

Santa Cruz has had to wait this long for his first start because of recurrent knee problems but here, finally, was evidence of why City paid £17m to sign him from Blackburn Rovers in July. The Paraguayan scored City's second goal with a classic centre-forward's header before Joleon Lescott, Carlos Tevez and the substitute Michael Johnson ended Scunthorpe's hopes of an upset with second-half goals.

Johnson's left-foot strike was especially popular with the crowd as he continued his recovery from a year of injury issues and this was also a productive night for Stephen Ireland, the midfielder opening the scoring with a stylish goal after missing the previous four matches. There was an accomplished debut for Sylvinho at left-back while the fit-again Vincent Kompany impressed alongside Lescott in the centre of a defence that was seldom threatened apart from Jonathan Forte's breakaway goal.

James Ducker, The Times

Most squads would have been sorely depleted by the absence, through an assortment of long-term injuries, of Roque Santa Cruz, Vincent Kompany, Michael Johnson and Benjani Mwaruwari, but it says everything about the strength and depth in Hughes’s squad that he has barely missed that quartet of players so far this season.

That said, City will be all the stronger for having them fit and available, as Scunthorpe would testify. Having just about held their own during the first period, the visiting team were brutally beaten down in the second, ultimately overwhelmed by vastly superior opponents. By the end, you almost felt sorry for Nigel Adkins’s team.

Mark Ogden, Daily Telegraph

A trip to Wembley and a trophy. No matter what the final cost to Sheikh Mansour, if Hughes and his players can achieve that particular double this season, it will be regarded as money well spent by Manchester’s long-suffering supporters.

Recent League Cup defeats at the hands of Doncaster, Chesterfield and Brighton only serve to emphasise the trouble Manchester City have had with cup football.

Chris Wheeler, Daily Mail

When City's owners dream of eclipsing United and lifting trophies, it is unlikely Scunthorpe and the Carling Cup are what they have in mind.

But, for the time being, they would settle for any tangible return on their vast investment, and a comprehensive win at Eastlands saw Manchester City comfortably into the quarter-finals of a competition that brought the club its last silverware nearly 34 years ago.

Jon Culley, The Independent

Aside from a momentary scare when Scunthorpe, who fancy themselves as a footballing side, had the front to equalise midway through the first half, this was a cruise for City, who may be regarded now as a force in the game but whose appearance in the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup will be only their fourth in the competition in 20 years.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

MH praises RSC

In the light of his performance tonight:

"I was really pleased for him. It's important whenever a striker comes to a club that he gets off the mark and I thought his all-round game was excellent.

"I know the quality he has and I was pleased today that he has been able to demonstrate that to everyone in the stadium, and he's going to be a really important player for us as the season progresses."

MJ back

What a thrill to see him back in the side, and doing so well. Mark Hughes said of his performance:
“Michael scored an outstanding goal, and we’re really pleased. For long periods while he was out, it was a worry for everybody whether he could get back to the level of the first team.

“Thankfully, he’s back now. And the likelihood is he’ll be able to keep fit and well because we understand the problem that he had.”
Just as interesting was Emmanuel Adebayor saying this about him this week:
"He's coming back from injury but now I have seen him in training, and I like his style of playing.

"He's very calm, even when it gets difficult he keeps calm, takes the ball and does what he think is the right thing. I've always admired that kind of player."
He's not near starting in the EPL yet, but he's only getting closer.

City 5 - 1 Scunthorpe

  • Nottingham Forest it was not. For all my fears that this would be something from the bad old days, an unwelcome head-rearing from the monstrous 'typical City', it was turned out to be exactly what it ought to have been: a comfortable and comforting win against lesser opposition, with important goals and minutes from players that needed them.
  • With the Premier League as competitive as it is, we cannot afford to risk dropping points by playing weakened teams. So this evening was a welcome chance to give game time to those that needed it most: Vincent Kompany, Roque Santa Cruz, Michael Johnson and Sylvinho.
  • And how well it turned out for them! It would have been a success if just one of our players returning to fitness had scored, but goals from both Santa Cruz and Johnson represents a real triumph. Santa Cruz was always going to be a matter of time, but this was Johnson's first for over two years (he missed a penalty in the shootout at FC Midtjylland, remember). Remember how relieving it was when Valeri Bozhinov scored at White Hart Lane in May? Well this is as good as that.
  • Before we signed Emmanuel Adebayor I was thrilled at the prospect of the Carlos Tévez/Roque Santa Cruz partnership: an all-South American Rösler and Quinn for the twenty-first century. With Adebayor's signing and Santa Cruz's knee injury this had not materialised until today. But with Adebayor set to spend January in Angola with the Togo national side it was pleasing to hear that that they did so well.
  • Fortunately, we have a great record in cup quarter finals. If there is one time when Mark Hughes wants to prove that he has slain the 'typical City' beast once and for all then this is it. Of course we'd love Portsmouth or Blackburn Rovers at home but the chances are we will either get a top team (Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United, albeit with changes), or one of our fiercest rivals (Tottenham and Aston Villa.) We're only one game away from a cup semi-final for the first time in ages. This is big.

Scunthorpe preview

It may not feel like it but today could be a genuine hinge point in our season. If we win, as we should, then we are through the Carling Cup quarter-finals and just three games from Wembley. If we lose, as we might, then the 'crisis club' label that Liverpool managed to shake off on Sunday may just get pinned on us.

Of course, we ought to win this evening. Just as we ought to have beaten Chesterfield, Doncaster and Brighton. And if last Sunday taught us anything then that is that we have not come sufficiently far that we can be so complacent as to think that we have banished 'typical City' for ever. It's still there, waiting to pounce. The whole playing staff and management need to be aware this evening, to beat it away if it tries to make a move.

And how better to prepare for a cup tie than without our captain and current form winger? It would be nice to see some variation in the side tonight: Sylvinho and Vincent Kompany will start, Stephen Ireland and Roque Santa Cruz could also play, with Michael Johnson and Vladimir Weiss as outside bets. It should be enough, even if we are slightly slipping of form. Prediction? A flattering 3-0.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Scunthorpe injury update

Two big names out:

"Kolo is not fit, and neither is Martin, while there is a doubt over Wayne and he may well not be involved. Kolo and Martin should hopefully be alright for the weekend, but they are not quite right at the moment.

"They went for scans on Monday and they don't have anything too serious, but Wednesday will be too soon for them.

Monday, 26 October 2009

MH criticises defense

No clean sheets since August is not what good teams do:
"Then it was how we dealt with balls into the box and a guy in Dempsey who is acknowledged as good in the air - and we haven't dealt with it.

"We've been caught out a couple of times this season and it seems to be prevalent this year, not just with us but with quite a few of the teams around us.

"We started really well in terms of our defensive work but we have conceded goals and we are working hard on that. There are always elements of our game we need to focus on."

Kolo, Petrov doubts for Scunthorpe

Mark Hughes has reported that both picked up knocks in yesterday's hilarious annual collapse against Fulham:
"Martin took a bang on a knee which has been sore for a while now, but hopefully it won't be too serious.

"Kolo landed on his heel near the end of the game - it's something he has been playing with for quite some time.

"It has been painful and he got a bang right on the spot again. Hopefully, both injuries will calm down over the next two days."
This is real shame for Petrov, who would have made his third consecutive start for ages. And with goals in consecutive games he was looking very good for the TLDORC Player of October. If he doesn't play on Wednesday it's still up for grabs.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fulham reax

Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail

For all the improvements in Manchester City's play and prospects over the past few months, a fundamental problem threatens to undermine Mark Hughes' team.

If City do not improve their defending, they will not qualify for the Champions League.

Having started the season with four clean sheets, they are without one in seven. Yesterday, against a fast improving Fulham side, they conceded two more goals in a match that they did not really deserve to win.

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

Typical City, you could say, and for the first time this season it would not have been misplaced. They have come to hate that tag, but a side with genuine top-four aspirations should not allow a two-goal lead to slip at home, even if Fulham do have a belligerent streak. The mind flashed back to the faltering last few weeks of Sven-Goran Eriksson's tenure when Fulham came here and won 3-2 from 2-0 down, and it could have been the same again if Roy Hodgson's side had accepted one of several late chances. Unfortunately for them, their best opportunity fell to the wrong man and, having got past Lescott, Zamora turned his shot narrowly wide.

James Ducker, The Times

By discarding a two-goal lead with all the recklessness of a drunk, Hughes’s team spurned the opportunity to move into the top four of the Barclays Premier League as Fulham exposed the defensive deficiencies that may prove to be City’s Achilles’ heel this season.

Take nothing away from Fulham, who thoroughly deserved their point and, but for one of the misses of the season from an otherwise praiseworthy Bobby Zamora, might have taken more from this absorbing encounter. But as formidable as City can be going forward, they have a distinctly fragile look at the back.

Rory Smith, Daily Telegraph

Two consecutive draws, at Aston Villa and Wigan, have halted their unrelenting early-season progress, and for 50 minutes here City’s performance was enough to suggest they would be fortunate even to earn a third. Their passing was sluggish, their play disjointed.

Barry speaks

An interview with Paul Hayward in today's Observer. He suggests that he is better suited to playing alongside Nigel de Jong than Stephen Ireland in central midfield (something which I am sure is true.):
"I'm never going to be seen as an attacking midfielder who's going to dribble past anyone, create untold chances and score lots of goals but going forward is something I've always enjoyed doing. It's something I've tried to push into my game, going up and down the pitch.

"In the first four games I played for City I was in there [central midfield] with Stephen Ireland, so I was seen as the more defensive player, but since Nigel [de Jong] has come in he's done a great job. Alongside him, I'm probably able to get forward more. With the attacking players we have here, the movement they have, it's great to be playing alongside them."

As good as Stephen Ireland is, the team looks much more balanced with de Jong alongside Barry in central midfield. This needn't see the long term exclusion of Ireland from the side; he could play wide right ahead of Shaun Wright-Phillips, or even behind a centre forward in a 4-2-3-1 set up. Barry also praised the team made:

"I certainly wasn't expecting people to be saying after two or three months: 'It looks like you've made the right decision'," Barry says. "The start's been a very positive one and that's helped me settle a lot quicker. I want to look back two or three years down the line and say I really made the right choice. As we stand here today it's been a fantastic start."

9 in 11

Rolando Bianchi's hot streak continues. He scored the second in Torino's 2-0 defeat of Reggina. Torino are up to second in Serie B.

City 2 - 2 Fulham

  • For the second time in three years we failed to win having led Fulham 2-0 at home. For the third time in three years we failed to win having led Fulham at home. And Fulham's bizarrely good record at Eastlands continues.
  • It's so obvious as to be banal but this was clearly two points dropped. We lost a two goal lead at home. Big teams don't do that. This season is about our attempts to turn ourselves into one of the big sides and until today we were doing well. But would Chelsea ever go 2-0 up at Stamford Bridge to a mid-table side and fail to win? Or, mutatis mutandis, would Liverpool, Arsenal or Manchester United? More work needed, clearly.
  • I've said it before but we seem to be doing the splits regarding our set-piece ability. It tends to be true that teams that are good at defending set-pieces are also good at attacking set-pieces. Last year we were poor at both attacking and defending set-pieces. This year we've improved attacking: another goal today came from a corner, but regressed defensively - conceding another from a free-kick. It's frustrating.
  • Three draws in a row is not a crisis. It's not even close. But we are under pressure and everyone wants us to slip up. A comfortable win against Scunthorpe on Wednesday is a must, as is a win at Birmingham City on Sunday. After Liverpool's win today the media are going to be keen to find a new 'crisis club.' We must not let it be us.
  • As I said, three straight draws is not a crisis. You know what is though? No clean sheets since Fratton Park in August.

Linked with Krhin

A new transfer rumour this morning - Inter's 19 year old Slovenian midfielder Rene Krhin. And the People seem pretty sure of it:

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was hoping to add Krhin to his small squad, but People Sport can reveal that City have stepped in first and tied up a deal behind the scenes.

Krhin should join Hughes's revolution in the New Year, with City keen to do business now before he costs even more - and possibly appears in the World Cup finals for his country next summer.

Alan Nixon's article also goes into his role within City should we sign him:

Hughes has a lot of quality in his midfield already, but he does not have someone with Krhin's physique on the books and sees the 19-year-old as a first-team squad man immediately and a starter soon after.

Krhin will cost big money because Inter have him under contract for another 18 months but City think they will be successful as they carry on their push to dominate the transfer market.

This is interesting stuff. I don't know much about Krhin - I saw him come on for Inter on ESPN a week or two ago and looked him up on Wikipedia. But I certainly haven't seen anywhere near enough of him to have an opinion on him as a footballer. But I wouldn't be surprised to see us go for an extra central midfielder in January, and if we do then I imagine that height and size will be important criteria. Nigel de Jong is strong but short, Stephen Ireland is of similar build, Gareth Barry isn't huge either. Michael Johnson and Vincent Kompany are both big, but have fitness issues. Hence the Yaya Touré rumours.

File this one under 'watch this space.'

Fulham preview

If we are to do anything this season we need these games - at home against anyone but the very best - to be routine wins. We need to cruise through them with the same air of presumption and entitlement that the big four do. Not that it will be that easy: Fulham are a decent side. But we need visiting teams to feel as if they're beaten when they come to Eastlands, as they do at Anfield or Old Trafford.

And I don't think it is hubristic to say that we should be winning this, comfortably. Fulham are good, yes, but they are not excellent and simply do not have the quality that we do. Since our last game they have played twice. And we're at home. It ought to be remembered, though, how disproportionately good Fulham's record at City is: 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.

The team looks good too: Wright-Phillips' dip in form has seen him dropped to the bench with Martin Petrov and Craig Bellamy playing on the wings. Everything else is as expected, with Captain Kolo back in the side and Micah Richards replacing the suspended Pablo Zabaleta at right back. Prediction? 2-0.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Hughes' authority

Mark Hughes has done an interview with Oliver Holt today, and he touches quite explicitly on one of the most interesting topics of the last few months: his authority within the club, particularly relating to the Brazilians.

The central point the interview makes, and one which I think is true, is that Hughes has more authority at the club now than he ever has done in the past. And this is because of his discomfiting the Brazilian clique, which was a clear insult to his position. The evidence is mountainous: Jô's unauthorised clubbing, Elano's public complaining over selection, Robinho's storming out of the Tenerife training camp, Jô and Elano's alleged accompanying of Tal Ben Haim in his complaint to Garry Cook about Hughes, and Robinho's flouting of the club dress code. And then, most importantly, their lack of application in training and their decision to pick and choose the games in which they tried. Yes, Elano and Robinho were exceptional in Autumn and again in Spring. But in winter they chose not to try, and that is a disgrace to the club.

This is a point that Hughes admits in the interview:

“Last year,” Hughes said, “there were occasions when I compromised my own standards and values and that didn’t sit comfortably with me so I knew it wouldn’t continue.

“Little details involving disciplinary indiscretions become big problems if you don’t address them but in the short term, I couldn’t do anything about it. It was the wrong time.

“The benefit of addressing those little details at that time would have caused problems. Instead of solving problems, they would have created bigger problems. That was why at times I let things go. Not to my comfort, I have to say."

I don't think he's ever been this honest about this issue. But that, I suppose, is a reflection of his strengthened position. Not only have Elano and Jô been moved on, but the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tévez, Gareth Barry and so forth means that Robinho no longer has a monopoly on stardom. He is no longer an automatic pick, no longer the only story at City, no longer surrounded by allies and no longer a rival to Hughes. He may go to Barcelona in 2010, he may not. But he does not have the status he once did. Hughes is the master now:

“Managing a football club is about building a culture. I would suggest a lot of other managers don’t get involved in trying to build a mentality but I don’t think you can be successful without it.

“It is about trying to get a work ethic and a way of thinking that enables you to be successful as a group. If you have too many pulling in the wrong direction, you have to cut them off.

“My values won’t be compromised in the future because we are in a different place now.”

This transformation - from a dysfunctional club, with the Hughes faction at war with the Brazilians, capable of occassional beautiful football but weak under pressure, to one with grit and nous, that wins on the road and grinds out results, is the only story at Manchester City this year. And Hughes' victory over the Brazilians is a central part of this.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Bellamy loves assists

Craig Bellamy won the Etihad Airways September Player of the Month; only fair having won the much more prestigious TLDORC Player of the Month. And on receiving his (Etihad Airways) award he had some interesting things to say about his game:

"I much prefer to be setting a goal up for someone in a better position. I've never built my game around goals, it's about my performance and work ethic. I think fans appreciate me giving my all.

"I don't like to come off the pitch able to walk properly - I want to give everything I have, because I know that I'm a limited player. If I do that, it gives me the best chance to play well."

This came after saying that of all the goals that he has been involved in this season, Wright-Phillips' against Arsenal (which he set up) was his favourite, because he won the ball off Gaël Clichy in our half before breaking and putting SWP in. It is fascinating to hear as well. One thing that people ignore about Craig Bellamy is what an exceptional team player he is. People think that his past misdeeds and tantrums mean that he is an inherently selfish footballer, and has little interest in work ethic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bellamy is more willing than any player for years to devote himself wholly to the team, to run himself into the ground and risk running his knee ligaments into disrepair for the cause. And he does himself down by calling himself a 'limited player'. He may be less technically gifted than Robinho, but in terms of the complete game there is barely a choice to be made between them on current form. And Robinho's technical gifts are among the best in the league. Mark Hughes knew the qualities that Bellamy would bring to City. Many fans doubted it. We all look rather silly now.

Jonnno linked with £6m Spurs bid

In The Sun today:

Boss Harry Redknapp feels Spurs are short in the middle of the park.

And he is ready to test City's resolve to hang on to a player who has fallen down the pecking order after a year out.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Robinho on way back

Hughes says that we should get him some time in November:

"There is a possibility that Robi will be on the bench for Scunthorpe, but it might be a bit soon and I don't like to throw players in before they've had games in training or in the reserves.

"We had to throw Vinnie Kompany in because of the circumstances but ideally he'd have had more time, and with the options we've got we can afford to give Robi some more time."

His main problem will be unseating Craig Bellamy from the left wing position. And the Welshman is on the way back from an injury of his own:

He said: "He's been working with the physios and he's done OK, he'll be back in training with the group on Friday with a view to him being available for selection at the weekend."

The competition between those two will be one of the fascinating stories of the Autumn. This is how I think it will go down.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Balague: No Robinho offer

News from the Spanish transfer oracle - FC Barcelona are not ready to make an offer for Robinho this January:
However, contrary to reports, we can reveal that FC Barcelona have made no contact with Manchester City since the summer regarding a move for Robinho.

The Premier league club have no intention of selling their star player and Barcelona do not have sufficient funds to even consider making a large enough bid that might give City reason to reconsider. Furthermore, the Spanish champions are taking the prospect of Mark Hughes` club becoming a major European player seriously - and are eager to treat City with respect - which is why they have not even considered approaching them over a loan move for a player whom they know City have no desire to sell. (Emphasis Balague's)
Balague has very good sources at Barça and so if he says this then it could well be true. This could all change, though, when Robinho gets fit and finds himself on the bench behind Craig Bellamy or even Martin Petrov as well. The current situation is very much subject to change.

My sense is this: Mark Hughes does not necessarily want to lose Robinho, given the quality he can provide and the different option to Bellamy and Petrov. But: he does not see him as a guaranteed starter and is quite comfortable with picking Bellamy ahead of him. So if Robinho does kick up a fuss and demand a move - and if it looks like disrupting the dressing room at a crucial point of the season - Hughes will allow him to move, and won't let it ruin his Christmas.

More on Tardelli

The Diego Tardelli rumour has got a boost over the last few days, thanks to Martin Samuel's decision to devote almost the first half of his 2,000 words to City's alleged pursuit of the Atlético Mineiro man on Monday. Samuel used the article to contrast Tardelli with Robinho, making the point that City were a step down for Robinho when he left Real Madrid - hence his attitude problems in blue - while it would be a step up for Tardelli:

Hughes may feel City do not need another striker, even if Robinho leaves in January. If he is interested in Tardelli he will no doubt have seen more than one game, and it may have been a poorer performance than he turned in against Sao Paulo. Yet whether Tardelli is the man is immaterial; he is the sort of man that Manchester City should be targeting, because to come to the club would be better than playing in deserted stadia in an inferior league.

It's an interesting point - it's certainly worth reading the whole thing. Martin Samuel writes very interestingly about City, largely thanks to the fact that he's not in the knee-jerk 'money ruins football' party. I'm still not convinced that Tardelli is a genuine target, because he is so at odds with what Mark Hughes looks for in a player. He has twice come to Europe - loan spells at PSV Eindhoven and Real Betis - and twice failed, and twice returned to his comfort zone in the Brazilian league.

The peerless Pitaco do gringo blog has also written about Tardelli, saying that he could well emulate Luís Fabiano:

Comparisons can be made between the two [Tardelli and Fabiano]. Both picked up a reputation for petulance – especially whilst playing for São Paulo – and both got more than their fair share of yellow and red cards. Tardelli’s spells in Europe have not been that impressive. But neither was Fabiano’s stint at Rennes were he appeared 11 times and failed to score. When he returned to Brazil, Fabiano started banging in the goals (62 in 84 games to be exact). After three seasons, he made the move to Porto and has not looked back since. Tardelli has put away 35 goals so far this year. Admittedly, the majority of those have come in some iffy competitions such as the Campeonato Mineiro and Copa do Brasil. But 15 in the Brasileiro is not a bad haul for a 24-year-old.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Zabaleta linked with Juve

News coming out of the Italian press today:

According to Il Corriere dello Sport, Secco has a list of players, almost all foreign, who can help the Bianconeri in that area.

Zabaleta is Juventus’ No 1 target as he is just 24 and holds a dual passport meaning he wouldn’t fall into the non-EU category.

This all hinges on whether Hughes decides to upgrade at right back in January. There have been reports suggesting that he will. I am certainly quite sceptical as to whether we can seriously improve this position in a winter transfer window. It's not like Maicon is going to be willing to jump ship with Serie A and the Champions' League still up for grabs - even more so given that his position in the Brazil team is under some pressure from Dani Alves.

And if we don't get Maicon - the best there is - then there's not much point in paying well over the odds for a right back who will not massively improve the team. I'm not saying that Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Phillip Lahm etc aren't better than Zabaleta, but that marginal improvements in the first team are not worth their costs in terms of the transfer fee, the disruption to the team, bedding someone in mid-season and so forth.

Anyway, I love Zabaleta and don't want to see him go, even if his conduct yesterday was rather mindless.

Kompany signs new deal

Very good news from the club today: Vincent Kompany has signed a new five year deal, committing him to City until 2014. Mark Hughes said of his second signing at City (I don't count that £19million monstrosity as one of Sparky's):
"Vincent is a model professional who has proved his worth time and time again in a variety of positions. He adapted very quickly to the Premier League and is a great asset to the team."

“He has been desperate to get back into action and in fact we have had to hold him back a little since his operation in the summer such was his desire to return to action.

“But that is the kind of lad that he is. He is still only 23-years-old but is so mature in his outlook; that is why I made him captain last season on occasions. He wants to improve, he is ambitious and he is desperate for success. He was one of our most reliable performers last season and it is great that we have been able to secure his services for the next five years. It is another sign of our commitment to young talent. Vincent is a big part of our future.”

This is great news: I love Kompany. He was one of our best players last season until his toe injury spoilt the second half of his season. I think that if he'd been fit to return to the Nordbank Arena we would not have lost 3-1 and could well have reached the semi-final. Not that it matters anymore.

It's also good news in the sense that he is willing to stay and fight for his place in the side. With Barcelona sniffing about (Yaya and Keita have African Nations Cup in January, leaving them with just three central midfielders) he could easily have left the club in a strop as Martin Petrov tried to do on deadline day. It is certainly going to be difficult given the quality of our squad. But with his ability to play centre back or holding midfield, and to do both with real ability and grace he should get a few games this season. He is one of the many players - like Roque Santa Cruz, Nedum Onuoha, Sylvinho, Martin Petrov, even Robinho - who, if we were in Europe, would start enough games this season to satisfy them. (Check out how many players at United started more than ten games in all competitions last year.) The key for Hughes is to convince them to sit tight this year, not expect to play every week, in the understanding that they will all have greater roles next season. In this case he's clearly succeeded.

Wigan reax

Sam Wallace, The Independent

Mark Hughes' team racked up their eighth away point of the season at this outpost of north-west football, which gives them a total only three short of the amount they earned for the whole of last season. They saw out the draw with only 10 men after Pablo Zabaleta's dismissal. They are one point off the Champions League places. And yet with City's lofty ambitions this might count as a disappointment.

This game made it two points from the last three games for City, not quite the run Hughes will have envisaged but there are good reasons for all those results: a last-minute defeat to Manchester United in controversial circumstances, a hard-fought draw at Villa Park before the international break and yesterday's draw playing with 10 men for 25 minutes. Even so, there can be no mistakes against Fulham at home on Sunday.

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

It is a measure of Manchester City's new ambitions that they will have been disappointed not to have completed a second-half recovery, even having had to play the last 25 minutes with only 10 men. Pablo Zabaleta's second yellow card will cost him a one-match suspension but, of more immediacy, it significantly damaged their hopes of concocting a winning goal.

Oliver Kay, The Times

Hughes did not whine excessively about the sending-off or about a “nailed-on” penalty appeal that was rejected late on when Wright-Phillips felt he was tripped by Maynor Figueroa. He seemed to accept that, with numerous players missing through injury and others jaded after their exertions on international duty, this represented a decent result, one that seemed to confirm their ability to challenge towards the top end of the Barclays Premier League. Certainly, as Hughes talked afterwards of his belief that City and other clubs — presumably Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur — were threatening the “feeling of invincibility” among the established elite, it was hard not to share his confidence.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

8 in 10

Rolando Bianchi continues to dominate Serie B: he scored a heroic late winner for Torino on Saturday, as they won 2-1 at Ascoli.

In Serie A, fellow Eriksson signing Valeri Bozhinov scored the only goal in Parma's 1-0 win over Siena.

Johnson's return

Talking in the Sunday Mirror today:

“A muscle in my abdomen would keep popping every time I thought I was getting back to full fitness, but that stopped after the injections.

“I’m probably still another few months away from getting back into the physical shape I was in before the injury.

“I reckon it will be another eight or 10 games before I’ll really be knocking on the door of the first team.”

This can only be good news. I don't see him getting in ahead of Gareth Barry or Nigel de Jong but he could certainly surprise us, as Stephen Ireland did last year.

Wigan player ratings

Given A few crucial saves including one from close range in the last few minutes which kept us in the hunt. Not at fault for the goal. 7

Zabaleta Silly red card cost us a decent shot at a win. Yes, the first yellow card was harsh but he should not be making the sort of challenges for which he got his second while on a booking. 4

Richards Drafted in for his first game at centre back for almost a year (can anyone clarify this?) he did ok but did lose a challenge in the build up to N'Zogbia's goal. Moved to right back for the last twenty minutes - will have a chance to win this place back next week. 6

Lescott Perhaps his best game for City: he was genuinely dominant in his defending and had a touch of class on the ball too. We must hope that this is the start of something. 7

Bridge Not one of his better games, he looked rather hesitant in attack and defence. May still be suffering from his groin strain picked up on international duty. 5

SWP Looks to be in one of his form dips at the moment. Had one or two good flashes but did not really stretch Wigan too often. Could have won a penalty perhaps. 6

de Jong
Another tigerish performance from the man whose warrior spirit is so important to our newfound strength. Showed Zabaleta how to tackle like an animal without getting carded. 7

Exceptional in the first half with his vision and passing. Won a crucial freekick in our own area at 0-0. Faded a bit after the break but his experience was important to us late on. Ireland cannot be very confident of breaking back into central midfield. 7

What a luxury to have this man as third choice left winger! He did not look 100% fit today - he was unusually reticent about running at defenders - but his passing was pretty good and he took his goal very well. 7

His best game for City. Drifting into the space between the midfield and Adebayor his work rate and link up play were excellent, including the run and pass for Petrov's goal. He's not going to score twenty goals this season but his contribution should not be underestimated. 8

Adebayor Looked off the pace - he struggled to see much of the ball and when in possession was not particularly threatening. 5


Came on for his first appearance of the season at centre back and looked good. Pleased to see him back. 6

RSC, Ireland Got a few minutes late on, with little impact.

Wigan 1 - 1 City

  • I've said this a few times before: our success this season will be determined by our performance on the battlefields of the bottom half. It was the standout failure of last season: losses at Wigan, Stoke, Bolton, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and West Brom, draws at Blackburn, Hull and Newcastle and a solitary win at Sunderland. Six points from a possible thirty. And in that context today's point was good: we've now got seven from a possible nine and remain unbeaten in these games.
  • It was a good point in other ways too. To come from behind to draw is almost always good, to hang on to a point with ten men likewise. And Wigan aren't a terrible side either: they've beaten Chelsea already this season and won at Villa Park. Just ask yourself this: would previous City teams - and I don't just mean Pearce and Eriksson sides but even last season's - have come back and dug in for a point? Would they have maintained that point having gone down to ten men? Of course I want us to win every game: but today was proof that we are moving in the right direction.
  • And the performance was quite good. I thought that we were the better side in the first half and that we looked good for the win after Martin Petrov's equaliser. Obviously when down to ten men we looked less threatening but we defended well and still had one or two good attacking moves. We still have a lot of improving left to do - in attack and defence - but given first team absences and other things I have already covered we did well.
  • One issue that stands out is how Stephen Ireland gets back into the team. With Hughes' clear preference for a cavalier 4-4-2 with two wingers, the two central midfielders have to bear a serious weight. And a Barry/de Jong pairing is much more able to bear that weight than Barry/Ireland. Ireland came on today and played on the right. That may be the best position for him in the current system.
  • It's testament to our big new squad that we put out such a strong eighteen today despite key injuries to Robinho, Craig Bellamy, Kolo Touré (and Nedum Onuoha who would presumably have started alongside Lescott). Our bench today was magnificent. For this fixture last year we had a bench of Kasper Schmeichel, Michael Ball, Tal Ben Haim, Dietmar Hamann, Gelson Fernandes, Danny Sturridge and Ched Evans.