Monday, 30 November 2009

NdJ: 'We have to work harder'

Our unofficial vice-captain demands more from the other players in future:
"I would love to give you a reason - if I could give you the reason, we would win all of our games," he said.

"Maybe there is a lack of confidence in some situations. We try to keep our confidence high, especially when we play at home. We are frustrated but have to continue to build for the future, and these kinds of games are always hard to play.

"There are a few factors, but we have to give more in every line of our game - midfield, defence and attack. It's a team thing and we have to work harder and harder to get where we want to be."

Martin Samuel on Tévez

It's too easy to blame our current malaise on bad defending. It's certainly a factor, but the responsibility does not lie with the defenders alone. Martin Samuel writes today that Carlos Tévez is as much to blame as anyone:

This profligacy — and Tevez is not alone — is now having a serious impact on Manchester City’s season. Failing to win a league game in two months cannot be airily dismissed, even if all matches in that time have been drawn.

City have taken seven points from the last 21. The purchase of a £32m striker — indeed of a strike force costing substantially more than £100m by the time Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz are included — is supposed to insure against such streaks.

City believed they were buying efficiency, forwards capable of deciding matches against inferior opposition, the way Fernando Torres does for Liverpool or Didier Drogba for Chelsea.

This recent run has largely pitted City against mediocrity, but Tevez is the greatest disappointment. He has failed to score in 90 minutes against Fulham, Birmingham City and Hull, 83 minutes against Wigan Athletic and 73 minutes against Burnley.

It's always pleasing to see writers as good as Martin Samuel expressing thoughts that you already held. Because this is something that troubles me more and more. If you think that the Lescott-Touré partnership is overpriced, underperforming and generally dysfunctional, then what can you possibly make of the Tévez-Adebayor partnership? Of the seven draws the two most frustrating have been Burnley and Hull City. And while defensive errors were responsible for the equalisers we conceded both times, that does not make the defenders the sole blame-bearers.

Given our possession and chances we should never have been 1-0 up against Hull after 82 minutes, just as we should never have been 3-2 up against Burnley on 88 minutes. In both matches we ought to have been far off in the distance, disappearing over the horizon. I do not want to excuse the mistakes of the defence, but our taking all three points should not have been at the mercy of such occurences. And the guilty parties are clearly our two big money centre forwards. It is immensely disheartening how far we have regressed in this field this season. Last year at home we beat Hull City 5-1, Stoke City 3-0, Portsmouth 6-0, Blackburn 3-1 and West Brom 4-2. We were abject on the road but at least we could be confident of giving bad teams a good beating when they came to Eastlands. But this year we can't even do that! Felipe Caicedo was never going to be Marco van Basten but at least he could score tap-ins in easy games. Tévez missed two dream chances against Burnley when the score was 3-2.

The sooner Roque Santa Cruz gets fit the better. At least then there will be some pressure on the current incumbents.

Richards linked with move...

... to Manchester United. No kidding:

And if City decide to offload the versatile defender, then United are ready to bid for him.

Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson is a huge admirer of Richards and tried to sign him when he first broke on the scene.

Ferguson is considering his options at right-back with growing concerns about Gary Neville’s fitness and Rafael Da Silva’s ability.

Bumper Hull reax

Jamie Jackson, The Guardian

While a glance at the table confirms his team are only three points from the fourth place which is the Holy Grail of the owner, Sheikh Mansour, there must surely be concern over the current run, and a performance against Hull that was insipid, despite the presence of Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Robinho.

Is the inability to kill teams off – City took the lead through Shaun Wright-Phillips' deflected shot on half-time – beginning to affect his players?

J0e Lovejoy, The Observer

City, as has become their wont, had the initiative throughout, but were frustratingly unable to translate the lion's share of possession and chances into goals. Individually and collectively, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Craig Bellamy et al should be doing better against bottom-half opposition. Defensively, too, Hughes has problems. One clean sheet in the past 10 league matches points up the fact that Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge are all operating way below the level that brought them England recognition.

James Ducker, The Times

But Hughes must keep his end of the bargain, and whichever way you look at it, it is hard to sympathise when a team assembled at phenomenal cost have thrown away leads in the final 20 minutes or so of four of their past five league games.

A conservative estimate would say City should be at least six points better off than they are, which would have put them on the coat-tails of Chelsea, their next opponents in the league.

John Aizlewood, Sunday Times

Because he needed a win and with Robinho’s long-awaited return from injury — although he has still to complete 90 minutes this season — Hughes front-loaded his team with strikers. They were soon setting about both Hull and, when an early lackadaisical Robinho cross evaded Emmanuel Adebayor, each other. That disunity — Manchester Disunited, you might say — would bedevil their afternoon.

Graham Chase, Sunday Telegraph

Hull looked certain for relegation after getting off to a dreadful start, but since losing at Burnley they are unbeaten in four matches. Although City lacked spark, they took the lead through Shaun Wright-Phillips but never looked like killing Brown’s team off. There was a real defiance and confidence to the visitors’ display and they deserved to equalise after referee Lee Probert penalised Kolo Touré for a challenge on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Chris Wheeler, Daily Mail

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak was at Eastlands to witness the latest setback, and, while his manager is under no immediate threat, City need to show signs of improvement in Wednesday’s Carling Cup quarter-final against Arsenal and the visit of Chelsea at the weekend.

Playing at home — where they were once again booed off the pitch on Saturday — might not be such an advantage now, and Hughes admitted his team are starting to feel the strain.

Ian Herbert and Jon Culley, The Independent

It does not help that in four of the last five of City's seven straight draws, winning positions have been given away, which is what happened on Saturday, with the Blues surrendering their lead to a penalty eight minutes from full-time. City, resting Gareth Barry, had Robinho back, after three months missing, in a line-up driven by the dynamism of Carlos Tevez that did produce moments of sizzling attack. But Hughes could only be honest in his assessment. "At times we look accomplished and a threat, attacking-wise," he said. "At others we look what we are, a team that has been brought together quickly."

Jon Culley, Independent on Sunday

For all that Robinho's first match since August in a City shirt raised expectations again, the collective efforts of a team set up to banish a frustrating sequence with a vibrant and successful performance amounted to no more than a few flashes of promise. Robinho had not forgotten how to confuse an opponent and there were moments when Hull looked mightily tormented, not least when City's five key attackers – Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Steven Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips – combined in one glorious move after half an hour. The shot on the end of it, by Wright-Phillips, flashed wide.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

City 1 - 1 Hull City

Are we serious about success or not? Does Mark Hughes want to manage
Manchester City in 2010/11 or not? Because this was the third
consecutive home game which we led but failed to win. Never mind how
rarely Chelsea, United and Arsenal blow leads at home - how often do
Spurs or Aston Villa? If we carry on like this we will finish in
seventh - and Hughes will be sacked.

More to follow...

Hull preview

If Burnley was a must-win, then what does that make this? A month or
so ago I was delighted that this fixture followed Liverpool away
(which I presumed we would lose.). With our strong start to the
season, coupled with Hull's implosion and the memories of last
season's 5-1 I could see no possible result beyond a big win.

But now I'm pretty nervous. Because in the last few weeks we've drawn
six straight. We've pissed away leads at home against Fulham and
Burnley - unthinkable for a club with pretensions of seriousness. And
Hull's implosion has been aborted: Phil Brown has stayed and they've
taken seven points from their last three games. Of course, with our
squad we should breeze past them. And we still might. But form and
confidence have a big causal role and they're both pointing against us

There will be changes from the team that drew at Anfield. I imagine
Hughes will resort to his favoured 4-2-4. Tevez will partner Adebayor
through the middle, with Bellamy, Ireland, Robinho and SWP fighting
for the wide positions. I'd go for Ireland and SWP - unless he wants
Ireland in central midfield and a chance to rest Gareth Barry.

Whichever team we put out it will be much stronger than Hull's. Just
like we were better on paper than Fulham or Burnley. This is football,
not PES. So I'm predicting another score draw.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Zabba on the EPL

He loves it:
"Every week is exciting in England - the stadiums are always full and even when you play away there is a great atmosphere because of we have so many of our fans there to watch us.

"It's different to what I was used to, but I love it. I can see why players want to play over here."

With his aggression and willingness to put the boot in he's well suited to playing over here. I think one area where Mark Hughes' astuteness has been underrated is that those players he has brought from abroad - Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong, have all settled into the rhythms and practices of the Premier League very quickly. Contrast this with Eriksson's buys - Rolando Bianchi, Javi Garrido, Geovanni, some would even say Vedran Ćorluka and Elano - who often looked as if they lacked the physical strength and warrior spirit required to succeed in England.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that Eriksson largely had to buy from abroad due to financial constraints, and that both managers' recruitment policies existed to service different styles of play. But the point still stands: Hughes' imports don't even look like imports any more.

Tévez not a supersub

Eddie N plays down reports he's going to make a habit of bench warming at City:
“That was a case of people making something out of the fact that we had gone to Liverpool with a game plan, and because he made such an impact coming on he was handed a label that was completely wrong,” the coach said.

“Because of the size of squad we have, and the players we have, there will be times when the boss has to leave certain individuals out or play a different system.

“We are very flexible with what we can do, and the boss will use that, but to label Carlos as an impact sub is completely wrong.”
I'm sure Carlos will start on Saturday as we switch back to 4-2-4. And rightly so. But after our success at Anfield it will be interesting to see if we adopt the same approach in the much harder game at White Hart Lane next month.

Zab wants Robi to stay

Putting any Brazil-Argentina rivalry aside to praise his teammate:
"I think it's vital that Robinho stays with Man City. He is a player who can give us more quality and he means a lot to his team-mates...

"But I hope we can enjoy having him with us for a long time. The truth is, we will achieve our goals faster as a club with players like Robinho here."

It wasn't always that way. Check out this video of Zabaleta tackling Robinho and getting in his face from Espanyol vs. Real Madrid back in 2007/08

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

VK wants back in

One of my favourite players is keen to get back into the side:
"I finally got 90 minutes to run around and make some tackles and I really enjoyed it. I made a lot of good, strong challenges, which is a big part of my game.

"That was the important thing for me, recovering the ball and keeping possession for the team - I had a lot of positive moments and I think I reached a decent level of performance."

"I'm looking forward to pushing for a first-team starting place. The competition doesn't bother me. I'm just as much competition to the others. I hope to be in there in the near future."

I can't see him getting in the midfield for a while. But why not at centre back? Joleon Lescott hasn't exactly set the world on fire (although he is improving), and there's always the option of shifting Lescott wide and dropping Bridge. If a berth did emerge at centre back I'd probably rather have Kompany there than Nedum Onuoha, although it is a close call.

Megson wants Benjani understands that Bolton Wanderers are set to move for Benji in January, and claim that City may accept £1.5million.

Sounds like a decent offer. Benjani's continued presence at the club this season is a bit of an anomaly. Given how Mark Hughes wants to destroy all memories of the 'unprofessional' Eriksson era it's a surprise how £3.87million of Bernardo Corradi tribute act can still train at Carrington.

Niedzwiecki on MJ

Praise from the coach for the returning Johnson:
"Jonno is a young player who's had an horrendous time with injuries, and at times you could see it in his face that he was devastated by what had happened to him.

"As a youngster, all you want to do is to play football, to be out there. Instead he had a year out after doing ever so well at Sunderland at the end of August and then breaking down.

"However hard you work, if you're not playing you put on the odd pound here and there, but believe me, he's been working really hard and he's looking better by the day and by the game."

Johnson is the main reason I don't want us to spend big on midfielders this January. Defenders, fine. I have no real attachment to any of the defenders at the club, and recognise that we can probably upgrade on them (providing MH doesn't mind buying from abroad.) But in Michael Johnson we have an Academy product who is arguably the most naturally gifted footballer we have produced yet. He may not be the best midfielder we could have lining up for us in 2010/11, but I would be willing to take the marginal downturn in quality for the pride in having one of our very own conducting play from midfield like he can.

Robi set for Hull game

According to Eddie N:
First-team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki said: "We were pleased he didn't play with Brazil because he wasn't ready. But he had good training and treatment with them and has come back looking sharper. Things look very promising for him in terms of the weekend, he should be up for selection."
This can only be good news. Robinho may not be my favourite player, but in recent games we have looked like a team missing a bit of spark. Craig Bellamy's form has slightly tailed off, and Martin Petrov's knee problems have returned. So it could be a timely return on Saturday.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

VK and MJ play for reserves

Our two talented young midfielders on the fringe of the first team played ninety minutes for the reserves last night. Speaking of talented young players, Benjani also played.

Raheem Sterling linked again

In today's Mirror. Because you can't really be a big club unless you ruthlessly hoover up smaller club's kids:

Manchester City moved a step closer to signing QPR wonderkid Raheem Sterling last night after he notified Rangers of his desire to leave.

The news will shock Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal who have all been pursuing the 14-year-old attacking sensation for months.

Rangers have said they won't stand in Sterling's way and are prepared to listen to offers for him this week.

Telegraph: City favourites for di María

That's the clear message of today's article by Jason Burt and Jeremy Wilson. They report that Chelsea have refused to pay the £36million asking price for Ángel di María, leaving us his most likely destination:

It is understood that Manchester City are keen to complete a deal next summer, when it is likely that they will move on Robinho, probably to Barcelona, but Di María's club, Benfica, are hoping to complete the transfer in January.

They have approached Atlético Madrid in a bid to sign Portuguese international Simao Sabrosa and want to try to push that deal through as soon as possible and before a lower buy-out clause in Di María's contract kicks in at the end of this season.

Interesting stuff. For why I don't think we will sign di María, as much as I would like us to, read here.

Pablo and Ade praise Tévez

He may not be a first choice starter any more but he's clearly got friends within the first team. Here is his fellow Argentine Pablo Zabaleta:
"Carlos changed the game when he came on, he played well as soon as he was on and gave us more chances to score. I was happy for him because it's not easy when a player wants to start and always be part of the first eleven. But all players are important in a squad now, and Carlos showed that on Saturday. He was great when he came on and I was pleased for him."
And his fellow big money striker Emmanuel Adebayor:
"Carlos is a striker and maybe people have been asking why he is not scoring a lot of goals," said the big front man. "At the moment he is not getting the chance to find the net every single game, but he is a good player and maybe he will start finding the net on Saturday. When he does, he might just keep scoring. We all know how good he is at the training ground, he always shows his desire and he is a talented player.

"Maybe he just needs a little confidence to start scoring goals."
There's no doubting that Carlos Tévez is a talented footballer with a lot of very good aspects to his game. But there's also no getting past the fact that he hasn't quite done it for City yet. Two EPL goals in nine games isn't a great return on £47million. (Yes he scored against Crystal Palace and Scunthorpe United in the Carling Cup too.) I'd love to see Tévez go on to get twenty goals this year but we are all going to have to realise that it's unlikely. And Mark Hughes has got to figure out whether his impact sub role from last Saturday is the exception or the rule.

Monday, 23 November 2009

More Liverpool reax

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

After the Argentine attacker delivered a feisty second-half cameo to revitalise Manchester City, it was impossible not to conclude that Mark Hughes’s use of Tévez would influence whether City replaced Liverpool as one of England’s elite four.

Like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, Hughes may be reaching the realisation that Tévez is best deployed only when running against tiring legs, when the game opens up. All hungry heart and whirring limbs, Tévez acts like a shot of adrenalin on a team, particularly one in search of inspiration.

Kevin McCarra, The Guardian

City have not had such a degree of disruption, yet there is a strange sluggishness, despite the high-octane investment. Mark Hughes really made his mark in 2008 by getting Blackburn Rovers to a seventh-place finish in the Premier League. Regardless of the means at City, it looks as if improving on that is going to be a close call. Hughes' team are sixth at the moment.

Comparisons with the Ewood Park spell are not entirely fair since the strain and scrutiny he encounters nowadays are of a different order. All the same, it is hard to resist pointing out that comparatively impecunious clubs such as Fulham and Birmingham City are among those who have conceded fewer league goals than Hughes' side. His goalkeeper and back four at Anfield had cost some £63m in total.

Tony Barrett, The Times

Unfortunately for City, the penny did not drop until the 50th minute, when Martin Skrtel’s first Liverpool goal startled them out of their torpor.Until then, they had meandered through the game with such little intent that it seemed the precious opportunity that had befallen them — to stick the knife into one of their leading rivals as they aim to usurp their place in the “big four” — would be wasted because of a chronic lack of ambition.

Ian Herbert, The Independent

The United rivalry has been built on that Mancunian ability to discern and exploit weakness and vulnerability; to make you worry for the kind of cobbled defence, callow front line and less-than-fit Steven Gerrard, which Liverpool deployed, and make a kill. But City had no killer. Gareth Barry, who took the Arab dirham and turned his back on Anfield, was not subjected to any of the anticipated derision because he barely seemed to be there. He should have been thumping into challenges and reminding his friend Gerrard why he so badly wanted him at Anfield. Instead, by taking up a series of curiously advanced positions behind Emmanuel Adebayor, he gave pockets of midfield space to Javier Mascherano. The kindest interpretation is that Barry, struggling with the calf problem he brought back from England's trip to Doha to meet Brazil, needs rest.

John Edwards, Daily Mail

City’s stellar signing of last summer owed everything to Tevez tiring of his limited involvement under Sir Alex Ferguson and believing he would be valued more highly at Eastlands.

He may think again after a development that illustrated how managing City these days comes with demands that never used to apply.

Hughes has his hands full trying to keep everyone happy, from owners who want a return on their investment to players who struggle with the concept of squad utilisation.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Mirror: Micah crisis talks

From today's Sunday Mirror:

And Sunday Mirror Sport has been told by a source close to the 21-year-old that Richards will this week demand assurances from Hughes that he remains part of his plans.

The source said: “Micah expected to be involved at Liverpool and feels that he is being unfairly blamed for some of the team’s defensive problems this season.

“It is well known that there was a problem between Micah and Mark Hughes at the end of last season.

“But he was told the matter was closed and that he was part of City’s plans for the future despite rumours that he was about to be sold.

This isn't a surprise. From what I've heard Micah Richards is finished at City - Hughes and the staff have no time for him any more. With Onuoha fit, and our other defensive options, I'm not sure he always necessarily warrants a place in the matchday squads. A January move would not be a surprise.

Stevie praises SWP + Tévez

After their performances yesterday:

"It was good to get man-of-the-match but I don't think I deserved it. I've got to thank Shaun for my goal because he put the ball on a plate for me and made it really easy for me to put it away.

"Carlos was superb, he changed the game when he came on and we've seen him do that in big games before. He can make a massive impact, even late on and bringing him on was a great decision. He was buzzing when he came on and was chasing people down all over."

Hughes too cautious?

Two articles this morning criticise Hughes' lack of ambition yesterday. First Phil McNulty in his blog on the BBC website:

The folly of City's lack of progressive thought was underlined when they scored twice inside seven minutes through Emmanuel Adebayor and Stephen Ireland once Carlos Tevez was introduced and Liverpool's fragile confidence was actually closely examined.

It begged the question [see this - JPB] as to why City did not try this obvious ploy earlier. Hughes said he did not want City to "go gung-ho." Fair point - but just a little more attacking ambition from a side with such lofty aspirations surely?

And then Andy Hunter on

Hughes bristled at the suggestion of negativity in his tactics and, on the surface, City's sixth successive draw, one that kept them a point and a place above Liverpool, having played one game fewer, represents the most acceptable of a damaging sequence. But Liverpool's patent vulnerability presented their expensive guests with an opportunity for more than containment and late counter-attack, and their manager did not alter course to seize it. His employers have preached patient empire building so far but here they had every right to expect greater ambition.

I'm not sure I agree with this. Hughes certainly did change tactics for this game - giving up on the cavalier 4-4-2 for a more cautious 4-1-4-1. And we did look more defensive than in recent games, for sure. But then we were playing Liverpool away. And given that they play with Lucas, Mascherano and Steven Gerrard in central midfield we would have been swamped had we not changed system.

So the critique can only be over the late introduction of Tévez. And he came on after sixty minutes, which isn't exactly leaving it late. I suppose he could have put Vladimir Weiss on for Craig Bellamy in the last fifteen minutes, but it would have been a big risk. And would Weiss have made that crucial tackle in our box that Bellamy saved us with late on? Those last ten minutes were a seige and it would have been folly to risk losing the match. Ultimately, we lost the match not because of a lack of ambition but because we conceded another avoidable goal. I'm not trying to get Hughes off the hook here, bad defending organisation is his fault too. But I don't think that 'being more attacking' is a solution to our problems.

Liverpool reax

Paul Wilson, The Observer

To say Manchester City gave away their advantage cheaply is an understatement. For such an expensively assembled team, they displayed the experience and professionalism of schoolboys in allowing Liverpool to score straight from the restart, less than a minute after City had taken the lead. "We were in a winning position again and we let it slip through not defending correctly," Hughes said. "That's a frustration for us at present; mistakes at key moments are costing us dearly. The players in the dressing room are quite disappointed – it feels like a chance missed."

Andrew Longmore, Sunday Times

“We’ve come to Anfield, scored two goals and got a draw, yet my players are there in the dressing room disappointed,” said the City manager. “That shows how far we’ve come.” Whether Sheikh Mansour, the billionaire owner of City, will see it the same way is open to doubt. Hughes claimed his side were tactically “spot on” in the first half. The 44,000 or so inside Anfield might have used other adjectives: dour, dire, sterile. Pick any one. When the fourth official signalled six minutes of stoppage time, the whole ground groaned in dismay.

Steve Tongue, Independent on Sunday

Although Mark Hughes did not agree, they could have shown greater adventure earlier on, rather than waiting until falling behind soon after half-time. Once he then brought on Carlos Tevez for a characteristically whole-hearted half-hour, City were in the ascendant, scoring twice but immediately losing concentration and conceding again. "Tactically we got it spot-on and always looked dangerous on the break," Hughes said. "Carlos made a real difference and at 2-1 I thought we'd have gone on and won the game quite comfortably. I've got a group of players sitting in the dressing-room quite disappointed."

Rory Smith, Sunday Telegraph

Hughes, on the other hand, must query whether a side boasting more than £90 million of attacking talent should be held to a draw by a team missing six first-team regulars and bereft of all confidence.

The latter is, perhaps, more pressing. This was City’s sixth consecutive draw, and while neither side covered themselves in glory, it was a better result for the visitors than the hosts, despite Hughes’s slightly disingenuous suggestion that City were the better side. “We felt we would have seen the game out quite comfortably had we defended the second goal properly,” he said. “But we have come to Anfield and we are disappointed with a draw. Previous City sides would have been delighted with that. Maybe that shows how far we have come.”

Rob Draper, Mail on Sunday

City or Liverpool for fourth place? On this evidence Aston Villa and Tottenham have as much chance, the draw meaning that a desperate run of results continues for Liverpool, with just one victory in 10 games, while City, unable to defend the leads their forwards secure, have now recorded their own unsatisfactory sequence of six successive league draws.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Liverpool player ratings

Given Unruffled after the disappointment of Wednesday night. One remarkable reaction save in the first half. Probably could not have done much about the goals. 7

Zabaleta At fault for both goals: gave away a silly freekick for Martin Škrtel's goal and failed to follow in Yossi Benayoun for the equaliser. Looked ruffled by Ryan Babel before he went off. Did better as the game went on. 5

Touré Only played in the first half before going off injured but did well. Alert to all dangers and mobile in addressing them. 6

Lescott A good performance by recent standards. Or at least, no obvious disasters. David N'Gog does not present precisely the same problems as Fernando Torres but you can only play against the opposition in front of you. 6

Bridge After the disaster of Burnley this was an important test for him. Must have celebrated when he saw that Glen Johnson wasn't playing, but Dirk Kuyt still gave him one or two difficult moments. But no real disasters, and no league start for Sylvinho yet. 6

de Jong
Back in the side after a rest against Burnley, returning to the site of his first really strong performance for City. Tackled very well in the first half - although he could have been punished for his two footed block on Ryan Babel that saw his Dutch teammate go off injured. Had the armband in the second half, but had less to do. 7

SWP A curious mix today: Shaun is usually either very good or very bad. Today we had some moments of real quality - the turn and pass for Ireland's goal in particular - and then some infuriating missed passes and bad decisions. An improvement on his Doha disaster though. 6

Back in what was roughly his role last year - supported by two defensive midfielders. Looked like someone who has not had much football recently but still changed our game - drifting behind the forward and playing those short passes between defenders. Took his goal - his first in the league since opening day - very well even if he did look offside. 8

Quieter than usual. Did not control the game as he sometimes does, but did take up more attacking positions, trying to feed off Adebayor's headers. Could have scored early on but headed at Reina. Not assured of a start against Hull. 6

Bellamy The fact that Jamie Carragher rather than Glen Johnson played at right back gave Bellamy both less work to do defensively and less space to run into behind. So it was a pretty quiet afternoon out on the left. Took a decent corner for Adebayor's goal. 6

Quiet in the first half but improved in time: holding the ball up and linking play well. Lost his man for Liverpool's first goal but took his header very well. 6


Onuoha His first Premier League football of the season, he was generally composed but failed to clear the ball in the run up to Benayoun's goal. 6

Changed the game when he came on. In finding space, holding up the ball and linking play he had the best twenty minutes of his career in blue so far. Will certainly start against Hull, instead of whom though I don't know. 8

Liverpool 2 - 2 City

  • Frustrating as it is to blow a lead for the second consecutive game (and third time in four in the league), this is a good result. Of course, after five straight draws you don't really want a sixth. But we are at the mercy of the fixture list here. And a draw at Anfield is still a draw at Anfield. In the context of the season this will appear to be a better result than it now feels.
  • But blowing a lead is still infuriating. If we had closed out this game - as well as the easier home ties with Fulham and Burnley in recent weeks we would now be in second with 27 points - just three behind Chelsea. It wasn't a great goal, either. Nedum Onuoha and Joleon Lescott ran into each other, no one cleared the ball and Pablo Zabaleta lost Yossi Benayoun. And this was, by recent standards, a good defensive performance!
  • And in an attacking sense too we played well. The first half was a non-event, due to injuries and interruptions. But in the second half - up until Benayoun's goal, at least - we played some very good stuff. This was largely thanks to Hughes' changing the shape from 4-2-4 to a 4-1-4-1, closer to last season's set up. The midfielders all linked well with Adebayor, and Ireland revelled in something approxomating his role last year - given the licence to roam thanks to the presence of two more defensive midfielders in the side.
  • While we're on the positives, coming back from 0-1 down at Anfield to lead 2-1 is impressive, even given Liverpool's recent form. Ultimately there are lots of different areas where you can look for mental strength, and while we're failing on quite a few of them, the comeback, at least, was heartening. For those 74 seconds we had Liverpool on the ropes. We still need to find that killer instinct, to land that final punch, but until then we're doing ok.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Robi could return

Interesting news in the M.E.N.:
Robinho played no part in Brazil's victories over England and Oman after Hughes insisted he wasn't fit.

But he is eager to get playing again after a frustrating lay-off lasting almost three months.

Hughes is understood to be reluctant to risk playing Robinho from the start against Liverpool.

He will keep a check on the playmaker's progress over the next 24 hours though before deciding whether he is worthy of a place on the bench.
I'm sure Bellamy will start on the left tomorrow (although I'm still hoping for a switch to 4-2-3-1), but Robinho off the bench is a great option to have. Certainly better than David N'Gog or Ryan Babel.

Bellamy: 'It's so professional here'

Craig Bellamy was in the papers this week, saying that with the state of his knees he may only have two years left in the game. Worrying news, to be sure, but not a surprise, and not requiring much more comment. What was more interesting was what he said about the atmosphere at City since his arrival:

“Everything at Manchester City has gone well for me from start to finish,” Bellamy said. “It is so professional here. The manager is clever — he doesn’t want to give any of the players reason to moan. He makes sure the only thing you have to concentrate on is football. The last few months have given me a huge sense of pride. I think people have seen what I am as a player now.

“I’ve always got goals, but am I a one goal in two games player? No, I’m not, but my career has been one in three, which isn’t too bad.”

The success of Craig Bellamy at City - our top scorer this season, if you haven't been following - is probably Mark Hughes' greatest achievement as manager so far. Given the opposition to his arrival, given his injury record, given the number of other strikers we signed this summer (three at a total cost of £89m), Bellamy's record is very impressive. Five goals in seven games on arrival, before spending the rest of 2008/09 out injured. And then five goals and three assists so far this season, with all the competition in the squad.

He is quite clearly revelling in the atmosphere of Mark Hughes' Manchester City. This is itself a triumph for the management. Hughes and Bowen's turning the fecklesness and unprofessionalism of the Thaksin/Eriksson era into something a lot more focussed, driven and serious over the last 18 months has been a central narrative in City's recent history, inseparable from the injection of Arab money. And Bellamy's comments are a testament to its success.

RSC talks up game

Our Paraguayan striker knows how important tomorrow's game is:

He said: "People say this is a big game for City, to prove we are worthy of being called a big club. But this is also a big game for Liverpool.

"They'll look at us and see us above them in the table

"Our main aim is to be in one of the Champions League places by finishing in the top four.

"So we need to go to Liverpool and prove we can take one of those places they want to be involved in."

He's right, it is an important game. It will be interesting to see if he's involved at all - I don't know if he's shaken off whichever injury prevented his being in the squad against Burnley. It wouldn't really take much in terms of form and fitness for him to replace Adebayor - who hasn't played well since the Arsenal game. But given that RSC has played one league game this year, and was woeful in it, he's not there yet. When they both get fit Hughes will have an interesting choice on his hands.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

New Youth Policy

Interesting stuff in The Times the other day - Garry Cook suggesting that we are going to move from our current transfer policy (buying experienced players for big fees) to a more Arsenal based system:

Asked if Arsenal’s policy of plucking the best young players from around the world was something to which they aspired, Garry Cook, the City chief executive, said: “Yes, absolutely, because financially it’s a better model than the one you get into negotiating a market price that has no predetermining factors other than the supply and demand...

“I think you’re going to see Manchester City really ramp up its activity in the youth area. There’s often the opinion that we are abandoning that as far as future investments are concerned because we’re just going to keep buying players, but that’s actually the antithesis of what we’re trying to do."

I think this is well intentioned but doomed to failure. There are, broadly, two approaches to building football teams. The first is the Liverpool/Chelsea approach. This is, essentially, the buying of a team of ready-made players for large sums of money. Only two of Liverpool's regular starters have been at the club for a long period of time - Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. At Chelsea only John Terry has been at the club since childhood, and the second longest serving player, Frank Lampard, was 23 when he made his Chelsea debut.

The other is the Arsenal/Manchester United approach. This is to create a culture at the club which encourages youth development, and leads to a conveyer belt of young talent coming through the ranks into the first team. Yes, some of the players join the club at 17 rather than 14 (think Fàbregas, Macheda, Ramsey or even Rooney - 18 when he signed), but the central point remains the same. A good number of regulars for Arsenal and Manchester United have been at the club from a young age: Nicklas Bendtner, Gaël Clichy, Denilson, Cesc, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song, Robin van Persie from one club; Gary Nevillle, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, John O'Shea, Rooney and Paul Scholes from the other. I don't mean that these teams don't buy experienced players (look at Berbatov, Arshavin etc), but there's no doubt that their teams are developed in a very different way from Liverpool and Chelsea.

And there's also no doubt over which model we are moving towards. At St. Andrew's the other week we fielded a first eleven made entirely of players Hughes had signed, as we also had done at Villa Park. (Admittedly Wright-Phillips was from our Academy but that's rather accidental here.) This January Hughes is set to spend more money on new players, and will do so again next summer as well. And he has to: he is working to ever-expanding targets, and the team must improve every season for him to maintain his job.

But where does this leave our moving to the Arsenal/United approach? It's clear that in both cases the approach is very much the invention of the manager. And it's also true that their ability to impose such a system is largely dependant on their total authority within their clubs. Years of success and trophies act as their bargaining chips, and they can comfortably reject short-term worries. This is why such a policy has failed at Chelsea. Frank Arnesen has been trying for years to recretate the Wenger project, signing up the world's best fifteen year olds. But a series of managers under short term pressures have stuck with the experienced first team squad rather than experiment with youth. It is telling that Gaël Kakuta remains the most famous Arnesen recruit. Similarly with Liverpool - Rafael Benítez has bought just as many talented teenagers, with as much waste as at Chelsea. Because neither club has a culture of blooding youngsters in the first team, it is no surprise that none of them are good enough to break through. You can't just buy a fifteen year old prodigy, train him for four years, play him in the Reserves and expect him to be be edge out Michael Essien and Michael Ballack. Fàbregas is the player he is today because Wenger has been playing him regularly from the age of seventeen.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the Manchester City project does not look one well suited to conversion into a Wenger style production line. Mark Hughes will get sacked if he does not make sixth this year. Next year the target will be raised to fourth, and then probably to second or third. We will, I imagine, be expected to win the title in 2013/14. If he slips, we will bring in someone who can - Mourinho, Hiddink, or whoever else. The idea that we will accept the possible shortfall in Premier League points that comes from playing the kids just does not sound right. The push for progress will demand otherwise. And we can buy all the talented teenagers we want but without the acceptance that they have to grow while playing in the first team we will never have the Arsenal-type system to which Garry Cook aspires.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Bentley story back

Like a monster in a horror film, the 'David Bentley-Martin Petrov swap deal' story has come back to life to ruin your Christmas. It's in the Mirror today. This was last suggested in the summer, and it's an understatement to say that I was unenthusiastic.

Both wingers have spent the season so far on the fringes of their respective sides, and while Martin Petrov has fought for his place and chipped in with three goals and three assists, David Bentley has picked up a drink-driving conviction and little else. He started at the Emirates and ought to have been sent off within the first eight minutes.

I'm not sure for how much longer we'll have Martin Petrov, and I would be sad to see him leave. But I would be distraught to see him go to Spurs in exchange for David Bentley.

Micah gets goal

Interesting news for the sadder City fans out there (I count myself firmly with them) - Micah Richards has been awarded City's first goal against Arsenal back in September.

I know the Dubious Goals Panel must have put some serious thought into this, but it is a bizarre decision. The ball was quite clearly travelling away from the goal, after hitting the post, before Manuel Almunia headed it in. (Almunia is an expert, by the way, at scoring own goals in big games.)

But their decision stands and I will amend the stats down the right hand side of the blog accordingly.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Di María to stay

So says the Benfica President:

"The Benfica fans can be calm. Di Maria will not leave the club in January," Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira told A Bola.

"We know there is interest from big clubs in the kid but we need his help for many objectives like the Portuguese league."

Petrov out

Just like last autumn, he's picked up a knee injury while on duty with the Bulgarian national side. Last year it kept him out for almost the entire season. This time it looks less bad - he's only meant to be out for a fortnight. But his recovery time has not been great in the past, so we just can't know how long before he plays again.

Good news for Robinho, though.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Bellamy's role

There's an interesting article in today's News of the World about Craig Bellamy and his leadership role at City, particularly relating to his criticisms of his teammates:

In the line of fire was City's back four - Pablo Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge - following their draw with Burnley.

He pointed the finger at all of them during an explosive dressing-room inquest, accusing them of lacking concentration in the final minutes.

They had allowed Kevin McDonald to score an equaliser for the Clarets late in the game, prompting Bellamy to direct his anger towards City's leaky defence.

Then manager Mark Hughes waded in, questioning Wayne Bridge's focus after he failed to deal with Brian Jensen's long ball in the build-up to the goal.

This is the job that Bellamy was bought for. He clearly has a closer relationship with Hughes than almost any other player-manager combination in the Premier League. He was brought to City - not just to score goals - but to represent and enforce for Hughes in the dressing room. This was particularly important last year given the number of anti-Hughes players: not just the Brazilians but the 'lazy old pros' faction - Didi Hamann, Darius Vassell and Michael Ball. Most of the anti-Hughes players have gone (only Robinho remains), but Bellamy clearly still has a job to do in this regard. He is not just Hughes' eyes and ears in the dressing room, but his mouth as well.

More on Ángel Di María

This Sunday's main transfer rumour concerning City is a story in The News of the World that we have agreed a £36million deal to sign Ángel di María in January:

Although contract negotiations are not finalised, City are confident they will bring the in-form midfielder to Eastlands.

The Argentina star has been identified by Mark Hughes as a long-term successor for Robinho.

The Benfica playmaker, 21, has emerged as the inspiration behind the free-scoring Portuguese side's quest for the Europa League and their domestic title.

I'm still not sure I can quite see this one coming off. Di María - talented though he is - just does not fit with the profile of players Mark Hughes has tried to sign since the takeover. He's young (21 - ten days older than Michael Johnson), raw, with no Premier League experience, only three full Argentine caps and just a handful of Champions League games to his name. The main qualities Hughes looks for in a footballer: physical strength, stamina, a winning attitude, professionalism and so forth don't exactly strike you as defining di María that strongly. So the story just doesn't sound right to me.

Don't take this to mean, though, that I don't want it to happen. Far from it. One of the main characteristics of Hughes' post-takeover transfer policy has been the total absence of exoticism. Under Eriksson we signed players from, inter alia, Dinamo Zagreb, FC Sion, FC Basle, Real Sociedad and two from Shakhtar Donetsk. Since the takeover we've bought from Chelsea, Everton, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and two from Arsenal. While there is certainly a real value to buying players with EPL experience, it's just a bit less fun. So the prospects of our signing a 21 year old Argentine wunderkind from Benfica is intensely attractive.

Four City players play for England

Unprecedented scenes yesterday afternoon - as four of our very own blues wore the white of England in the 1-0 defeat to Brazil.

Gareth Barry was probably the least poor, followed by Wayne Bridge, and then Joleon Lescott and then Shaun Wright-Phillips. Barry remains the only blue sure to make the final squad.

The game was won by a Nilmar header from a laser-guided long pass by some guy called Elano. Apparently he plays in the Turkish league. Do you reckon we should try to sign him in January?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sylvinho loves City

So much that he wants to stay for another season to shake off that Glauber 2.0 tag once and for all:

"I would definitely like to remain longer," he added.

"The project to make this club one of the best in Europe and the world cannot be completed in six months or a year and I would like to be part of it for as long as possible.

"What really pleased me was finding how big this club was already and that everyone around it is working hard to make it even bigger.

"We have a lot of good players and an intelligent and good man in manager Mark Hughes but the key is to make sure the mentality in the dressing room is right.

"Every minute of the day in every week has to be geared towards thinking about winning three points in the next game."

Sparky, sign him up.

Cook on January

There will be some spending, but not much:
"Mark has some thoughts and some plans but they are by no means as aggressive as they have been in the past.

"We have a great squad of players that are just getting bedded in and we might find there is more speculation about what we might do than what we actually do.
I'm quite pleased to hear this. I know I've said this before but in one sense it has been quite difficult supporting City in recent years. So much of being a football fan concerns forming relationships with individual players and when we get a whole new squad in every six months that becomes quite a bit harder.

And then there's the problem that it is difficult to buy well in January. We made some crucial improvements in January 2009 but we're now at the point where I'm not sure that anyone we can buy would significantly improve our team. Maicon's obviously better than Zabaleta but he's not exactly going to leave Inter this winter for City. I suppose Matthew Upson would probably be a marginal upgrade on Joleon Lescott but then Hughes might not want to cast off Lescott this quickly.

We could well bring in one or two more players - another right back, a creative midfielder, possibly another holding midfielder - but anything on the scale of summer 2009, summer 2008, summer 2007 or even January 2009 seems pretty unlikely in January 2010.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cook speaks

The first noise for some time from our CEO. He seems to be making fewer public pronouncements since the failed Kaká deal:
"There was a buzz about the place when we played Arsenal. Everybody's expectations were high but we got disjointed a little bit," Cook told The National.

"We lost Adebayor for a little bit and then international games broke our momentum up.

"Since then we have had a couple of games where we thought we could have probably come away with a better result but that is the way it works."
As ever with these things, the interest is not so much in the comments themselves (there is nothing here to disagree with) but in their existence. It is generally a surprise to hear people from the non-football side of the club talking about football issues. But when compared to the public spats between Shinawatra and Eriksson this is nothing to worry about.

Ireland sides with Hughes over Elano

The most interesting thing to come out of the Abu Dhabi tour so far - Stephen Ireland has been talking about the mood in the camp last year, and how Elano failed to get behind Mark Hughes' changes:

"He [Hughes] had it tough," Ireland recalls. "Some players didn't want to be there. Some players just didn't want to buy into it. Elano and Jô, they didn't want to put in the extra effort and it wasn't like it was that hard. It wasn't like you were being run like a dog, just that it was more professional and more based on team spirit, and these players didn't want to get into that stuff."

Elano was subsequently sold to Galatasaray. "Under Sven, Elano got away with anything," Ireland continues. "It was Elano's world, to be honest. The gaffer came in and there were massive changes, and Elano couldn't adjust. He's a great guy, a nice guy, I got on great with him, and he's a very talented player, but he could have added a lot more to his game and been a lot better than what he is."

I appreciate that over the year I've done this subject to death. Just the other week I wrote about Hughes' comments on the issue. Just to recap, I side with Hughes entirely on these issues. The Brazilian clique were disgraceful last season in their attitude, and Hughes was right to rout them as he did. His personal battle with Elano - the embodiment of all that Hughes perceived to be wrong with the Eriksson regime - was one of the key stories of 2008/09. Stephen Ireland, while relatively successful under Eriksson, embodied the key features of the Hughes mentalité (hard work, making the most of your talent, physical fitness, winning attitude) just as Elano did the same for Eriksson (occassional brilliance, lapses of laziness, unworldliness, individuality etc.)

So for Stephen Ireland to be as vocal and as public in support for Hughes over Elano is no real surprise. But this sort of public grievance-airing is unusual, at least in Garry Cook's professionally run MCFC. So it does offer an interesting insight into what things were like last season. And it gives steel reinforcement to my belief that Hughes was right to sell Elano.

More on Yaya

First we had Kolo - brother of Yaya - suggesting to the M.E.N. that Touré minor might just be interested in coming to City:
Asked if he would like to see City buy his brother, Kolo said: "I hope so. He is a good player, and if he could come to our team that would be great."

And he feels Yaya would jump at the chance to come to England: "He has had a few hard times in Barcelona. He doesn't play a lot, and he loves football and loves to play.

"If he can come, especially to a club in England, he would be really happy because the Premier League is a fantastic place to play football."
But then his agent Dmitri Seluk said that he most certainly would not:
"If Barcelona do not like Yaya there are eight clubs, the most important in the world, who are interested in signing him.

"If he leaves Barca, he will not go to Manchester City where, according to his brother Kolo, he would be welcomed with open arms. He would sign for a more important club."

I wrote about this the other day. I just can't foresee Barcelona letting us have Touré in January. Next summer we could have a decent chance. But if Hughes wants immediate reinforcements for the midfield then I think he will have to look elsewhere.

New deal with Etisalat

Another commercial benefit of our being owned by Sheikh Mansour: a deal with the UAE's main internet provider, Etisalat. Garry Cook is delighted:

“The profile of the club is already growing globally, and the ability to effectively expand this growth with tailored communications forms the core of our agreement with Etisalat,” he declared.

“This strategic opportunity allows us to connect to passionate football fans around the Middle East and African regions, providing customized Manchester City content through mobile communications channels.”

The higher our profile and our turnover the better, in a sense. A bit of a shame, though, that Etisalat bars access to all Israeli and 'anti-Islamic' websites (according to Wikipedia, I admit), and that it uses spyware on its customers BlackBerrys. But then if I was serious about moral objections to this sort of thing then I would have refused to watch them when owned by Shinawatra. Which, of course, I didn't.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

More on Robinho

This is the story that just won't go away - Robinho's move to Barcelona. And it's still moving. This week's training camp in Abu Dhabi has seen high profile denials from Mark Hughes and Garry Cook. The manager said:
"I am quite clear and Robinho should be quite clear that his future is very much with City. There is no reason to think that will change any time soon. These stories do not originate from anyone from City."
All is not what it seems, though. Daniel Taylor has reported that behind the scenes Robinho is desperate to move to Barcelona, and that the City hierarchy are quite resigned to his doing so:

Fourteen months after breaking the English transfer record to join the club from Real Madrid, Robinho is now so unsettled he has informed his advisers he does not "want another day in Manchester". Mark Hughes, the City manager, described the revelation last night as "people making mischief" but, behind the scenes, he has known for a long time that Robinho is disaffected and, grudgingly, the club have started the search for a possible replacement. Angel Di María of Benfica has been identified among the leading candidates and has a £27m buyout clause in his contract.

The question now seems to be when, rather than if, Robinho leaves. Hughes is keen not to lose such a talented player in the middle of the season but, if the Brazilian has his way, he will move at the earliest opportunity.

There's more, but we all know the fundamentals here: Robinho (and his wife, apparently) have not settled in the area, that he is attracted by what he sees as the more comfortable option at Barça, that Pep Guardiola wants a specialist left winger, and that the return to form and fitness of Martin Petrov and Craig Bellamy mean that Robinho is no longer the indispensable man.

None of this means that he will certainly leave in January, or even in the summer. But it is another step in that direction.

Hughes defends Bridge

After our left back was crucified by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day on Saturday evening:
"The pundits on Match of the Day just have an opportunity to nail individuals in the public domain," he said. "That process involves looking at incidents in games but not taking it as a whole. That's the role in life that they have decided to follow. There's a frustration, though, from our side when they don't go into particularly in-depth analysis. I'd question how many games they actually watch live, from the start to the conclusion of games. Everybody knows that's the case...

"Wayne is an experienced player who has won Premier League titles and been part of a Chelsea team at the top end," Hughes, right, said. "He understands what it's all about. At times individuals will make decisions that affect the team and sometimes you have to hold up your hand.But we're not going to do the same as the pundits because that's not what we're about. We look to analyse our mistakes and make sure, in future, we are better in similar situations. We won't single out individual players; that job is done by pundits."

Fair enough, I suppose. It's Hughes' job to defend our players in public. It's good for morale and part of the whole seige mentality that Hughes is keen to build. Hansen was right, though - Bridge was woeful on Saturday. And Lescott wasn't much better.

Monday, 9 November 2009

More Burnley reax

Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail
City’s problems are obvious. The two central defenders Hughes bought in the summer, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott, have not developed an understanding, while his full backs, especially Wayne Bridge, are struggling with their positional play.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Times: City move for Di María

A new transfer rumour in the Sunday Times: City are set to move for Benfica's 21 year old Argentine winger Ángel Di María, should Robinho leave:

Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira met City officials in Liverpool on Thursday before his club’s Europa League victory over Everton. Though Benfica will resist selling Di Maria during a season in which they hold a realistic chance of regaining the Portuguese title for the first time in five years, they will encourage suitors in the summer. Di Maria, whose transfer rights are 20% owned by a third-party investment fund, is valued by the club at more than £27m. At 21, the player has established himself in Argentina’s World Cup squad, having scored an audacious winning goal in the final of the 2008 Olympic tournament.

It's certainly a new one, and quite a surprise. I've seen quite a bit of Di María over the last year or so and he doesn't look much like the sort of player Mark Hughes would go for. Just go through the main criteria he looks for in signing a player: experience - at the top end of the EPL, and of winning trophies, a winning mentality, athleticism, being at the peak of his game. Put simply, none of them are there with Di María.

He's clearly a prodigious talent: technically gifted, able to breeze past defenders, with a good shot and a taste for the unexpected. But that's not to say that he's anywhere near the finished article. If we have to replace Robinho with a big money left-winger we are surely more likely to go for a more developed player. The News of the World today claimed that we are in talks to sign Franck Ribéry. I can't see us getting Ribéry, but he certainly seems more like a more plausible target than Di María.

An interesting possibility, though, is that a potential move for Di María signals a move to a new transfer policy; focussing on the best of young talent rather than established stars. Ultimately, I think that the pressure to get as close to third or fourth as possible this year will mean that we stick with targeting established names. But it's a good story either way.

Burnley reax

Joe Lovejoy, The Observer

Hughes put a brave face on yet another disappointing result, praising his players for fighting back from a 2-0 deficit into a winning position and excusing the outcome by saying: "There are times when we look like what we are: a team trying to gel." The good Sheikh, however, may be less sanguine about a slip from fourth to sixth place in the table which, even at this early stage, must call into question City's prospects of turning European potential into solid achievement.

On this evidence, they are still very much a work in progress, fallible at the back and caught between two stools in midfield. Joleon Lescott's England credentials were damaged by indiscretions that led to Burnley's first two goals, while the return of Stephen Ireland, at the expense of Nigel de Jong, left the team unexpectedly vulnerable in the central crucible.

Ian Herbert, Independent on Sunday

Manchester City could scarcely have done more before yesterday's game to remember those who laid down everything in defence of these shores. What their manager wouldn't give for someone who will lay anything down in defence of his side's goal.

Laurence Binyon's For the Fallen was the verse they read before kick-off, a fair description of City's back four last night as they crouched on their haunches in the drizzle and winced. They can have no complaint that their ranks, with one win in seven in the Premier League after a fifth successive draw, met with muffled boos at the end; nor that Kevin McDonald's 87th-minute equaliser had denied them a win.

Jonathan Northcroft, Sunday Times

Mark Hughes and his players were jeered when Stuart Attwell, who had a difficult game as referee, trilled the final whistle. When Hughes used a few oil drums of Sheikh Mansour’s vast stash to lavish £110m on new players over the summer, more was anticipated than home struggles versus Burnley. The fact the visiting team were vibrant, skilled and indomitable — virtues that are coming to characterise Owen Coyle’s brand of football — was irrelevant to City’s followers. All they know is their club have drawn five league games in a row and are not going to get into Europe, never mind the Champions League, like this.

Mark Ogden, Sunday Telegraph

“We’re 11 games into the season and we’ve done OK, no better than that,” Hughes said. “I warned everybody at the start of the season, there will be times when we look like what we are, which is a team trying to gel, and at other times an outstanding side.”

Both of City’s faces were on display, the former more than the latter. Having come back from 2-0 down to lead the game, City should have run out convincing winners as they poured forward in the second half, Craig Bellamy to the fore. But instead of settling things, they conceded a late equaliser that means they have taken just eight points in seven games.

Joe Bernstein, Mail on Sunday

A lot of fingers will be pointed at Lescott, who has looked unsettled following his acrimonious £24m departure from Everton. Yesterday, he gave away a penalty with a needless handball and then went to sleep when thinking that the game was almost won.

'I don't think Joleon was at fault for every goal. It's a collective thing,' said Hughes.

But you know next week in the Gulf he will be asking about the possibility of signing another couple of defenders. Whether he will be entrusted with the money - the back five City put out yesterday cost £70m - is another matter.

Burnley player ratings

Given How he must despair of scenes like those. Why exactly did he leave Newcastle? Blameless for all three of the goals. Clearly frustrated at bad marking both from open and set plays. 7

Zabaleta A peculiarly inconsistent performance. Looked as poor as most in the first half but improved after half time. For all I say about his crossing he had ten or so good opportunities to deliver and made nothing of them. 6

Touré No individual errors but as captain and centre-half he has to wear some of the blame for the collective mistakes. Carried the ball from the back as calmly ever and took his goal well. 7

Lescott Strange decision to raise hands conceded an early penalty, and he never fully recovered his poise. Let David Nugent through in stoppage time - I would not have enjoyed a 4-3 defeat. 4

Bridge Very poor. A series of mistakes, leaving the rest of the defence under pressure. And a terrible mistake which led to MacDonald's late equaliser. Sylvinho can't be far from a start. 4

SWP His best game in some time: got past Stephen Jordan repeatedly and his delivery was much better than at St Andrew's last Sunday. Set up Craig Bellamy and with better performance from the strikers would have set up more. Helped out with a big deflection for his goal. 7

Ireland Terrible in the first half but grew into the game later on. But did not provide the control we would have had with Nigel de Jong starting and did not exactly make up for it with his invention. It would be a surprise if he were to start at Anfield. 7

Out of sorts for a few matches and he was poor today. Failed to impose himself on Graham Alexander and André Bikey. We could have done with both his control and invention at different points. 5

Bellamy Tireless running down the left, repeatedly getting past the full-back and cutting inside. Took his goal well, and continued to bother the defence when moved central for the last twenty minutes. 7

Tévez The same as recent games: endless running, dogged strength and hold-up play - but poor finishing when it mattered. Had two chances at 3-2 - one from a cut back from the right, one half volley from two yards out - which a £47m striker really ought to score. At this rate he's not going to get ten in the Premier League. 6

Adebayor Came back from injury to replace Santa Cruz but did not look fully fit himself: drifted out of the game and did not trouble the defence as much as he ought. We could do with his sitting out of Togo's crunch international against Gabon on Saturday. 5


Tried out both flanks, almost set up Adebayor and had a good shot on goal himself. 6

City 3 - 3 Burnley

  • What happens when you don't win a must win? I feel pretty low today after that. The one precondition of our having a good season this year is to repeat last season's home form. And if there was one thing we were good at in 2008/09 it was beating bad teams at home. So for us to welcome Burnley - two goals and zero points in five away games before yesterday - and to concede three and draw is nothing short of a disgrace and an embarrassment.
  • There's only one place to start. What sort of a defence concedes three goals at home to Burnley? The errors, individual and collective, were enough to make you question why Hughes had smuggled in Laurent Charvet, Tal Ben Haim and, despite appearances, Stephen Jordan to play in blue for the day. Lescott's handball for the penalty was mindless, and the collective switch-off for Fletcher's goal even worse. The climax, though, was Bridge's letting Brian Jensen's punt hit his back rather than head it away, David Nugent picked the ball up who fed Steven Fletcher who fed Kevin MacDonald. It wasn't great.
  • The question, though, is whether this is an individual or collective problem. Do we need better defenders? Or do we need more time for the current lot to gel? Wayne Bridge and Joleon Lescott are not bad defenders - they have excelled in the Premier League before and the last two England managers have both been sufficiently impressed to pick them. But they're clearly not functioning as a unit. Whether or not we need to shell out on a new left back, centre back (and maybe a right back too), or just stick with what we've got and hope they improve is a big decision for Hughes.
  • But as bad as Lescott and Bridge were they are not the only ones who deserve blame. Between the goals of Wright-Phillips and MacDonald we were all over Burnley, and while turning 2-0 to 3-2 is good, failing to turn 3-2 into 4 or even 5-2 is not. The number of times we got into scoring positions and failed to kill the game suggests that our defenders are not the only ones out of form. Carlos Tévez missed two glorious chances at 3-2 and Emmanuel Adebayor drifted out of the game.
  • Our draw at Villa Park was good. At the DW Stadium we did quite well. Blowing a 2-0 lead against Fulham at home is very poor. We were abject at St. Andrew's. And this was atrocious. We're getting worse, quickly. Who knows what horrors await us the far side of the international break, if we maintain this trend? Blowing a three goal lead at Anfield? A four goal lead against Steve Coppell's Hull City?

Friday, 6 November 2009

A note to the idiots

Don't boo Stephen Jordan or Tyrone Mears tomorrow.

Just don't.

Burnley preview

If you thought that the last game was a must win, this is something else. Just imagine the headlines, the top of Match of the Day billing, the laughing neutrals, the crisis club labels we'll get if we don't beat Burnley. Now remember that Burnley have 2 goals, 17 conceded and 0 points in five away games so far, and breathe out.

But after our third consecutive collapse at home against Fulham, we can't afford to be complacent about our home form. We ought to win, but then we ought to have held that two goal lead two weeks ago. This is City, remember.

After the stalefest last Sunday it would be nice to see a slight change to the team and formation tomorrow. I'm with the 97% of voters who would like to see Stephen Ireland from the start tomorrow. And I'm also with the majority that want to see him in his position from last season - in the hole behind a lone striker. Emmanuel Adebayor will replace Roque Santa Cruz up front whatever happens, and, in my dream scenario, Ireland would come in for SWP. Carlos Tévez would shift out wide in the Dirk Kuyt right channel role.

I can see the merits in returning to the early season set up; 4-4-2 with Ireland and Barry anchoring for Bellamy, Adebayor, Tévez and SWP. But it's not the team I'd choose. Mark Hughes hinted at the eventual re-introduction of Ireland in his press conference today, without committing on formation options:
"We've changed the shape of the team.

"For the majority of the season last year we played 4-3-3, but we have changed to a 4-4-2 more often than not this year.

"Nigel and Gareth became a pair when Stephen went out of the team, did well, so Stephen has found it a little difficult to get back in...

"He is too good a player to keep out of the team for too long."

I hope we see him tomorrow. Another possible change to the team is Sylvinho coming in for Wayne Bridge if he fails to recover from his injury, but that shouldn't really alter the balance of the game too much.

On a personal note this is my first home game since West Brom in April, so I'm hoping to be impressed. Prediction? A breezy 4-0.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Jonno back in U21s

Good news: Michael Johnson is back in Stuart Pearce's England U21 squad for the games against Portugal and Lithuania next week. If he plays (there are already some good midfielders there - Jack Rodwell, Fabrice Muamba, Fabien Delph), it will be good news. He needs games and while we keep on drawing we do not have the luxury of easing people back to fitness through the first team.

Lucky for us that the man who gave Johnson his City debut is no longer City manager in charge of the England U21s. Pearce had this to say:
‘Michael Johnson has had a massive absence from injury for a long, long time, so being in the squad will be a big lift for him."
Fellow MCFC Academy grads Micah Richards and Daniel Sturridge are also in the squad.

Bowen: RSC will improve

The Assisstant has spoken out in defence of Santa Cruz after his St. Andrew's horror show:
"Just when you think you have come through it and are 100 per cent, the weekend reminded us that this was his first league start in maybe five or six months of football.

"Plus he took a blow to his ankle which blew up like a balloon. He wanted to play on, but we could see the knock was holding him back.

"He will come on, and the more football he plays and the more training he gets, the more you will see the player we know that he is."
I'm sure he's right. If anyone knows the quality RSC has within himself then it's Bowen and Mark Hughes. And, frankly, if he wasn't up to it they would not have bought him. Nevertheless - and I really don't like criticising players too hard - his performance on Sunday was woeful. He managed to combine the mobility of Bernardo Corradi and Antoine Sibierski with the touch and awareness of Bradley Wright-Phillips or the second coming of Paul Dickov. No kidding.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Kolo: 'Our mentality has to change'

Spot on from the captain:
"We need to impose ourselves as we have some gifted players in this dressing room.

"We can enjoy our football by passing it and controlling games. That's what we need to achieve now. The team needs time but as time goes by we need to improve.

"City is not the team it was before, a lot of things have changed and our mentality has to change as well.

"We cannot be happy with a draw or drawing four games in a row. Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool would never be happy with that, which is why they have been at the top, so neither can we."