Monday, 31 August 2009

SSN: TBH in Pompey talks

I'm sure he'll be off sometime in the next twenty-four hours. Sky Sports are reporting he's in talks with Portsmouth.

Petrov to Spurs?

In The Times today:

Tottenham have had a longstanding interest in the Bulgaria winger, but have pulled out of previous moves because of concerns about his knee injury and age.

Petrov has been an unused substitute for City’s three league matches this season and his chances of starting have been adversely affected by the high-profile arrivals. At 30, his signing would highlight Tottenham’s change in transfer strategy under Redknapp, who is less concerned about buying players with a sell-on value than Daniel Levy, his chairman.

This one seems quite likely. Redknapp has been interested in Petrov for a while, and even before Luka Modrić's injury they looked like they could do with a conventional outside-left option - hence their interest in Ashley Young. But with Modrić injued this must be a key priority for Redknapp.

And, as Henry Winter twittered earlier, Petrov is 'too good to languish in City reserves.' The fact that Mark Hughes wanted a quicker and more direct alternative to Robinho on the left yesterday - and that that player was not Petrov but Craig Bellamy - suggests that his future may not be at City. I wouldn't be too thrilled at seeing him at Spurs though: they look like they're going to be our closest rivals this season. Can't we sell him abroad?

Portsmouth reax

Oliver Kay, The Times

While their football was never fluent, City looked extremely comfortable until the final stages, dominating with the kind of assured, disciplined performance reminiscent of Chelsea or Liverpool on their travels. Given that City took only 11 points from 19 away games last season, that is quite a compliment.

It is too early to say where Mark Hughes is up to in his efforts to turn City into world-beaters, but this hard-earned victory, courtesy of Adebayor’s header on the half-hour, offered clear evidence that they are moving in the right direction. Just how quickly they are moving should become a little clearer after the next two games, at home to Arsenal and away to Manchester United, but, having taken maximum points from their first three games, with Adebayor scoring in each, they have the look of a solid, competitive team.

David Hytner, The Guardian

It ought not to have come to that for City's millionaires but they can, at least, reflect upon another clean sheet – they have yet to concede this season – and the comfort that when the disparate parts of their new team come together, they will give somebody a hiding.

City felt their way slowly into the game but their threat from set-pieces had been advertised before the goal that proved to be the winner. From Gareth Barry's free-kick, Portsmouth's stand-in goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic, failed to collect under pressure from Joleon Lescott and, when the ball dropped to Micah Richards, he seemed set to score. Begovic, though, reached out instinctively to make a fine recovery save.

Sam Wallace, The Independent

Mark Hughes is spoilt for choice when he selects his attacking options – for an awkward win on the south coast yesterday it was the £25m man from Togo who he picked ahead of Robinho. Robinho might have the tricks but Adebayor has the power and the presence to make Manchester City effective away from home. He delivered again yesterday.

Adebayor's third goal in three league games was a classic centre-forward's header; left alone at a corner he powered through the crowd to meet the ball. It is not as if Adebayor lacks the grace of a truly great striker – you could see that in the way he weaved through two defenders to shoot from the left in the second half. But when it comes to these tricky away games that City have to mop up if they are to be serious contenders, Adebayor is invaluable leading the line.

Jason Burt, Daily Telegraph

How they will love that at City, but they will also enjoy, during a summer in which money has sloshed around, that the expensive components of Mark Hughes’ squad are quickly coming together.

This was an impressive, hard-working performance with City solid in defence - bolstered by Joleon Lescott’s Premier League debut - and fluid in attack.

They went ahead just after the half hour with Adebayor rising powerfully, after easily losing his marker, the new Portsmouth captain Aaron Begovic, to head Gareth Barry’s corner beyond stand-in goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

Matt Barlow, Daily Mail

Emmanuel Adebayor's header on the half-hour maintained a 100 per cent record for both teams. City have won their first three Premier games without conceding a goal, while Pompey have yet to acquire a point and, although only one goal separated these two hastily assembled teams, it was clear which one possessed the greatest quality.

Gareth Barry and Stephen Ireland purred in front of City's back four, Shay Given remains immense and Adebayor played with an appetite lacking at Arsenal last season.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Hughes reacts to win

Clearly pleased with our most solid league performance of the season thus far.

TLDORC August awards

The first month of the new season started with real promise: four wins, four clean sheets and a sense that City's stockpiling of players with Premier League experience has left us better organized and harder to beat than we have been before. Harder challenges await, though.

Blackburn Rovers (a) 2-0 (thoughts, reax, more reax)
Wolverhampton Wanderers (h) 1-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Crystal Palace (a) 2-0 (thoughts, ratings)
Portsmouth (a) 1-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax)

Player of the Month

Emmanuel Adebayor may have scored three goals in four games but for me he's not even in the running. It's a choice between two of Mark Hughes' less expensive, less galáctico signings, but the two who are to be the most influential in our drive for success. Shay Given and Gareth Barry cost a few million less and more than £10m respectively, both arriving with years of Premier League experience and literally hundreds of EPL starts to their names, both worrying that their peak years were to be wasted at clubs who were either stagnating - in Villa's case - or moving backward at full pelt - as were Newcastle. Both represented the true heart of Mark Hughes' transfer strategy in a way that Robinho did not: the elevation of Premier League experience, at the top end, ahead of all other criteria in potential targets. Both have captaincy experience, a cool head under pressure and a sensible demeanour. A spine is made up of many vertebrae, but these are the most important links - above even new captain Kolo Touré - in our newly constituted backbone. It is thanks to these two that we can now grind out wins in games that previous City teams would have lost or drawn. I feel so much more safe knowing that they're playing for us.

I'm tempted to award them the August Player of the Month award jointly. They both make compelling individual cases. Gareth Barry has given our midfield a control and maturity I have never seen in a City team before. In all four games this year he has been excellent, putting out fires wherever they burst, battling for the ball where need be, setting up attacks, and always, always, keeping the ball. Shay Given's achievements have been as impressive, if only of one category: saves. We all wanted Joe Hart to be our long-term 'keepr, but Given just makes saves that Hart wouldn't make. There were three or four against Blackburn - from Jason Roberts and Chris Samba, if I remember correctly - which kept us in the game. One from Matt Jarvis against Wolves was a feat of agility and preserved our one goal lead. His best saves at Selhurst Park came when we were 2-0 ahead. But at Fratton Park only his right shoulder meant that we came away with three points rather than one as he blocked David Nugent's late shot.

But there can be only one winner, and after minutes of agonizing I'm going to give it to Gareth Barry.

Performance of the Month

Gareth Barry vs. Portsmouth.

Total control and domination of the midfield, in the face of a real assault from Michael Brown and others. But he was at the centre of everything good that City did. An invaluable player.

Goal of the Month

Emmanuel Adebayor vs Blackburn

Lovely ball down the right for Wright-Phillips who put Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock on his behind before cutting the ball back for Adebayor on the edge of the box. Surging forward, Ade smashed the ball on his right foot past Paul Robinson. Two minutes into the 2009/10, City were away.

Ireland interviews

The Sunday papers are all full of Stephen Ireland interviews, which are certainly worth looking at. The topics are the usual ones with Ireland - his serious commitment to extra-curricular fitness work, his ambition to stay in the team no matter how well we do. Some of the details are new, though, and make for interesting reading.

Like this from the one in the Sunday Times:

The desire to push his limits extends to his career as a whole. He talks about being to City what Keane was to United. “I want to lead. I want the players, staff and manager to know they can rely on me. I want to put my body on the line and that’s why I do this extra training. I never want to be left out, I want to play every minute,” he says. “We had an open day at the stadium. The old names (of City legends like Colin Bell) were written there and Gareth Barry says, ‘Stevie, the next one to join those names could be you, so don’t hold back and go for it’. I said, ‘That’s the plan’.”

Or this:

“The more games go on, the more I come into my own, fitness-wise. Most games get into the last 15-20 minutes and I’m on my own, running box to box, gambling on things. If you look at many of my goals — like the one recently at Blackburn — teams switch off and when they do, I come into my own and score.”

You can also find it in the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph.

Portsmouth player ratings

Given Did not have very much to do (although, of course, he did it well) until the final minute when he made a save from David Nugent suggesting quite inhuman reflexes - think Marouane Fellaini at Goodison last May. He makes saves that Joe Hart doesn't. 8

Richards Never looked comfortable against Niko Kranjčar but was not given much help by Howard Webb either. Unfortunate to have a goal disallowed for offside. Went off with a knock in the second half. 6

Touré Another solid performance from our new captain. Won everything in the air and showed off his marauding instincts in the second half. Shooting still has some way to go. 7

Lescott Piquionne's size and strength was no match for Joleon, who makes Kolo Touré looks as physically imposing as Willo Flood. Gave the ball away a few times but a pretty good league debut all things considered. 6

Bridge An unsurprisingly rough treatment from the Portsmouth fans but he did very well. Tommy Smith got nothing out of him and he impressed again with his intelligence going forward: he's much quicker than people realise and his delivery is first class. Our most improved player of the new season. 7

Ireland Another relatively quiet game in the middle for Superman. Took a few knocks early on from Michael Brown and never settled down. Competent in is passing, and made a few good forward runs, but the spark and dynamism had been kicked out of him. 6

Barry His finest performance yet. His control of the midfield was total and unquestioned. Took kicks from Brown all day but did not let it bother him. His tackling and passing was better than ever - including his corner for our only goal, and twice he took up good positions in the Portsmouth box only for Adebayor to shoot rather than pass. Rivals Given as Hughes' best buy. 9

Wright-Phillips Had a quiet game before coming into his own in the last half hour. Beat Portsmouth defenders at will and twice went close with shots. Could have had a penalty late on but Howard Webb gave him nothing all day. 7

Adebayor Headed in Barry's corner for his third goal in three games. Impressive yet again, with his work rate and his ability with the ball on the ground. Ghosted past defenders as ably as SWP, whom he is almost a foot taller than. Will be hoping to stay fit for the next game: Arsenal at home. 8

Tévez It's so obvious as to be banal, but his work-rate is phenomenal. Performed a crucial role in winning the ball in midfield when Barry and Ireland were otherwise occupied. Ought to have had penalty in stoppage time when he was pulled down. 7

Bellamy Preferred to Robinho on the left wing and did well, although came up against a good defender in Anthony Vanden Borre. Stretched Portsmouth enough to make things easier for our other forwards. But enough to play against Arsenal? I'm not sure. 7


Did well for the last half hour, both at the back and going forward. Picked up a characteristic booking. 6

de Jong
Too late to mark.

Portsmouth 0 - 1 City

  • The key to success this season lies in conquering the battlefields of the bottom half. And now we're two for two. Today was an object lesson in how to win these sorts of matches; a real novelty from a City side. Everything that we failed to do in these games last year - and at Fratton Park in particular - we did today.
  • For a start, we kept the ball. Portsmouth did a good imitation of Crystal Palace three days ago - pressing us hard with their three central midfielders (Michael Brown, Richard Hughes and Hayden Mullins.) But Gareth Barry and Stephen Ireland were unruffled throughout - Barry in particular was excellent - and our midfield managed to control the game in a way that they have not always done so far this season.
  • Another sign of our improved maturity and solidity is our newfound proficiency from set pieces. In this fixture last season, Hermann Hreiðarsson was left unmarked from a corner at the Fratton End to head in and put Pompey 2-0 up. Today Emmanuel Adebayor headed home a Gareth Barry corner from the same end. Having barely scored from a corner for years we now have two in four days. In a defensive sense, too, we have improved in this area: Kolo Touré and Joleon Lescott never looked like letting Portsmouth in.
  • Last season we were nowhere near dynamic enough in attack. Elano and Robinho, who started either side of Craig Bellamy, were pathetic in their inertia and ambivalence. But effort and running were enshrined in today's selection, with Robinho dropped and a front four of Craig Bellamy, Adebayor, Carlos Tévez and Shaun Wright-Phillips. The moves did not always click, but the work rate was unquestionable. They ran and ran and ran, tiring out the Portsmouth players and pinning back the potentially dangerous Nadir Belhadj and Anthony Vanden Borre at full back. The goals will come.
  • We go into a thirteen day break now with a 100% record thus far. Our £50million strike force has not torn a team to pieces yet, and neither Robinho nor Stephen Ireland has yet recreated last season's form. But there's a lot to be optimistic about. The spine of the team is the strongest I have ever seen it: Shay Given has been excellent, both new centre halves look good, and Gareth Barry is the form central midfielder in the Premier League so far. And Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips both look better than they did last season. Some time in October we'll beat someone 5-0. But until then these ground out wins are joys in themselves.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Portsmouth preview

I wrote before the Blackburn game that our season would be defined by our ability to neutralise or to conquer the battlefields of the bottom half. Last season we took six points from a possible thirty in those games. If we are to do anything this year, we need to be pushing eighteen or even twenty. We got this particular campaign off to a good start, and have a points ratio - 3 from a possible 3 - which I don't imagine will be maintained. Nevertheless, the momentum must be continued tomorrow.

The problem is that we are up against a quite familiar force. Just under one year ago, we smashed Portsmouth at home while buoyed by 'Arab takeover bounce'. The Portsmouth team we face tomorrow, limited as they are, will be riding the very same Arab takeover bounce that was their downfall last September. The fortune of last autumn has come full circle. Since their takeover, Portsmouth have embarked on an acquisition spree which is reminiscent more of the early days of the Shinawatra era than the ADUG one. Just this week they've signed Aruna Dindane, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Tommy Smith, Jamie O'Hara and of course Michael Brown - the young star of the Alan Ball, Steve Coppell and Frank Clark eras.

So I'm not feeling very confident about this. Let's not forget either our terrible record at Fratton Park. We've taken one point from our last four visits there: a drab 0-0 under Eriksson which followed two 2-1 defeats under Pearce (the first more dramatic than the second), but neither of which were as bad as the disgraceful 2-0 defeat there.

And there's one other, better, reason for caution this evening. I have this feeling that our three results thus far this season: 2-0, 1-0 and 2-0 have painted a quite inaccurate portrait of how those three games have gone. In all three matches we have both created and conceded many more goal-scoring opportunities than the results suggest. With our new 4-2-4 formation games always remain open and it is only profligate finishing and the brilliance of Shay Given that have kept them so scarce in goals. I'm not saying that we haven't deserved our wins. We are, in fact, due to beat someone heavily. That could well be Portsmouth. But we are also due to concede a few, and could well have a draw or defeat meet us soon.

It's for this reason that I'd advocate a slight change in the system: dropping one of the front four and adding an extra man into midfield. The replacement is obvious - Nigel de Jong - but the replaced is a bit harder. But with consideration it can only be the one forward who has contributed the least in the three games thus far: Robinho. This should give us more control in midfield while maintaining pace and incision up front. I would also bring Zabaleta in at right-back. My best guess, though, is that Hughes will stick with the team that won at Selhurst Park. Prediction? 2-1 to Portsmouth.

McGivern joins Leicester

From the Leicester City site:

Nigel Pearson has bolstered his Leicester City squad with the loan signing of Ryan McGivern from Manchester City.

The 19 year old left-back joins the Foxes until January from the Premier League side and City are waiting to hear back from the Premier League for Ryan to receive clearance to play in Monday night's clash against Newcastle United, at St. James' Park.

Unlike most of our loaned-out players, there might just be a future at City for McGivern. With Sylvinho on a one-year deal and Javi Garrido on his way out a good year for McGivern could well see him become our first choice back up left back in 2010/11.

Fulham at home

Next round of the Carling Cup drawn.

As a London-based blue I would have loved the reverse of this fixture - I enjoyed Selhurst Park on Thursday - but consecutive London games was too much to ask.

Ought to be televised though.

Praise for Shay

From his manager: (from the official site)
“Shay brings maturity and experience to his position,” heralded the manager. “It is not just his ability to keep the ball out of the net that benefits us but the way he commands the defence and reads the game. He is a great talker and organiser at the back.”
And from Kolo:

“Shay is a fantastic goalkeeper to play in front of,” enthused the central defender. “He is so calm and he reads the game very well and that is always a great thing for those in front of him. Shay is very experienced and whenever you make a mistake he is there at exactly the right time.

“Keeping clean sheets is not just about the back four and the goalkeeper though it is about the whole team defending as unit. We have to make sure we keep doing that and improve on it where we can.”

Hart slams the haters

Daniel Taylor has a very good interview with Joe Hart in The Guardian today. Hart, despite his rejection by City, is still very supportive of the club, and rejects 'the haters':
"There are too many bitter people. Too much jealousy. Everyone wants to knock them down but I hope they do really well. They have not broken any rules. They have paid the money, they are not doing it with backhanders, it's legitimate money. So good luck to them, I say."
And all this while he has no assured future at City:
"There's no guarantee I will ever play for them again," Hart says. "I would love to but, if I'm not needed, then fair enough. I'm at Birmingham now and I've got nothing to do with Manchester City any more. I still find myself supporting them, their result is the first one I look for and I want the lads to do well, but Birmingham are my priority now.
I don't imagine he will ever play for us again. If Shay Given was 36 or 37 Hart could well have a decent shot at being our first choice keeper on Given's retirement in a few seasons' time. But Shay is only 33. He should be able to play beyond his current contract, which expires at the end of the 2012/13 season, when he will be 37. And I can't forsee Hart wanting to spend the next four or five seasons in a perpetual state of loan, biding his time for Given's retirement.

It's tough on Joe. But revolutions have to have losers as well as winners, as we are about to see with Richard Dunne's departure. And can any City fan with open eyes watch the first three matches of this season and honestly say they'd stick with youth?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Balague: MH rejects Pep's Robi bid

From Guillem Balague's Mirror column:

Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola started the week desperately trying to contact Mark Hughes by phone in a bid to convince Manchester City to sell him Robinho.

Hughes and Guardiola had chatted at the Camp Nou before last week’s friendly, and the Barcelona coach was told there was no chance of Robinho leaving.

Why did Guardiola persist? A very well known intermediary had suggested that City could sign Arjen Robben and told Barcelona that Robinho would be willing to move.

However, Guardiola found that Hughes’ phone went unanswered – and sources at City now say that their transfer activity for this summer is over, but plans are already in place for further additions in January.

This is interesting. Followers of Spanish football will know that Barça have spent all summer looking for a left forward: both Thierry Henry and Andrés Iniesta can play there, and very well too, but neither are specialists, which is why they went for Franck Ribéry. That bid having failed, they have switched attention to Robinho.

But that's just background. The key point here is that, if we believe Balague - and he does have good sources at Barcelona - Hughes has rejected an approach for Robinho. Now, this is quite a surprise given what we learnt last season about their relationship. I had understood that any serious offer for Robinho would be accepted quite happily by Hughes this summer. So for a move to be rejected may well suggest that something - perhaps Robinho's upturn in form last April and May - has changed the manager's mind on this.

Palace ratings

Given Yet again he bailed us out with three or four quality saves, particularly from Freddie Sears in the first half and then a few others low down and late on. I do wonder how we would have done in our first few games this season with Joe Hart still in goal. Arguably the team's most important player. 8

Richards Was given a torrid time by Palace left-winger Victor Moses, picking up an early yellow card and never really looking comfortable against his direct running. Was beaten too many times as Palace surged forward. Did not offer too much going forward. How much longer can the case for Zabaleta be ignored? 4

Touré His first game as City captain, and we can only hope that it is the first of many. A towering presence in the air, he had some real battles with Alassane N'Diaye from Palace set-pieces and looked more assured than the occasionally jittery Lescott. 7

Lescott In some ways the man of the day - every touch was cheered in the opening minutes - but he didn't have the smoothest of debuts. Caught out too many times by the pace of Freddie Sears and missed one or two important clearances or interceptions. A few touches of real class bringing the ball out of the back show that he's got the ability to be a big star though. 6

Bridge Linked up well with Robinho and Gareth Barry down the left, as he has done so far this season. Generally competent at the back, although he could have been booked at the very least for a tackle on Moses that Neil Warnock described as 'manslaughter.' 6

Barry A real class act. His ability to retain possession in the most difficult of circumstances is a marvel, and most of our attacks last night started with him. Already looks like he's been playing for City for years. As good a piece of business as Shay Given, and as important a player to our team now. 8

Ireland Another game in his new Xabi Alonso role and he still does not look fully comfortable with it: denied time on the ball and unable to dictate play as was his job. There were bright moments - his assist to SWP and a one-two with Tévez - but only when he broke his shackles and surged forward. 5

SWP Our brightest attacking player on the night, and one of the form players in the first month of the season. Every time he got the ball he looked dangerous, jinking past Palace defenders in a way Robinho could not. Took his goal coolly and swung in the corner which Tévez headed in. 8

Tévez Clearly relished the cup tie atmosphere and battled hard with the Palace defenders all evening. Missed a few good chances - one after two minutes - but took his first goal for City well. 7

Adebayor Did not continue his scoring streak - had a very good chance but was denied by Julián Speroni. Otherwise effective at knitting attacks together and linking with Tévez and Robinho. 6

Robinho With the competition for places that we now have, he cannot continue to perform like this and keep his place in the team. He was poor last night, failing ever really to influence the game or cause any problems for the Palace right-back. Unlucky with one offside decision from the linesman. 4


Bellamy Too late to mark
de Jong Too late to mark

Palace 0 - 2 City

  • More like our previous two league games than most would have expected, in terms of selection, performance and result. I was anticipating wholesale changes - Petrov, Zabaleta, Weiss and Onuoha all in the team - but a comfortable win against placid opposition. What we got was quite the opposite in every regard: our first choice team, a spirited Palace side and a narrow win with some rather nervy moments.
  • Just like the Blackburn and Wolves matches, we failed to control the game as much as we may have liked. With only Gareth Barry and Stephen Ireland there to prop up what was essentially 4-2-4, and Palace's energetic midfield constantly pressing us, we could never fully settle as we would have liked. Wright-Phillips did track back, but too often it was three or four Palace midfielders up against Barry and Ireland and we were overrun.
  • The plus side of 4-2-4, though, is that there were brief periods when our attacking play was compelling. We impressed in the first twenty minutes or so of both the first and second halves, creating more than enough chances to win the game. But Tévez, Wright-Phillips and Adebayor all missed good opportunities and we could never really get clear of Palace. We're going to tear someone apart next month.
  • The same group of players have now played four games in the last twelve days. I know they're all professional footballers and all that, but I do wonder if Hughes will make any changes at Fratton Park on Sunday. Robinho isn't exactly earning his place in the side at the moment, and it's possible that Hughes will want another body in midfield - presumably Nigel de Jong - if not this Sunday then certainly against Arsenal and United. Because I'm just not sure how sustainable this four forwards set up is.
  • But let's not take our eyes off the key point here: unlike last season, we managed to negotiate our way past a difficult away trip. Given our trophy hunger we can't trivialise simple progress. And two key players scored their first goals of the season. Hughes has talked about the winning mentality we need - the ability to grind out results in difficult circumstances. Of course, I'd rather we won by playing well. But we shoudn't turn our noses up at simply winning for the time being.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The long game

Hughes talked quite openly about long term transfer strategy yesterday:

"We are very comfortable with what we've been able to do. I outlined my plans to the board in December 2008, told them the players and the quality of players that we needed.

"Obviously at that point there was a budget allocated, but that budget was accelerated and we've done a lot of work in a short space of time - probably three years' work in nine months."


“In the future we won’t be going into the market to this extent again. We have gone very quickly into the market and brought in big numbers of players."

The point seems to be that this summer's spending: six players for £12m or more, three of whom cost over £22m - plus two free transfers - will not be repeated. Which is good. If I have one criticism of this summer's spending it is this: that too many of my favourite players (Onuoha, Dunne, de Jong, Kompany, Bellamy) have been marginalised by the spending. Of course, those favourites will be swiftly replaced by whichever players I take to this season. But a key part of being a football fan is the forming of emotional bonds with specific players, and we can't just keep on turning over the player squad every summer - the last few years have been chaotic enough.

So the squad we now have is going to be here, for the most part, for the next few years. The strategy is going to revert to a more conventional two or three players per window. I imagine that this will coincide with a real attempt to bring, after a year of trying, a genuinely world class player to City. A big money move for Maicon next summer? Don't bet against it.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Barry up for the fight

Our new midfielder is ready to battle for his place in the team:
"I have joined a club that has a bigger squad than I have been used to at Aston Villa, so in terms of being rested, it might be something I have to get used to," he says.

"As a professional you want to play every game, and if fit I will be trying to keep my place in the team."
And Barry's injury record means that he's likely to be able to play as many games as Hughes wants hm to:
"I have had a lot of luck, and hope I'm not pre-empting things by talking about it!" he said. "But you try to do things right on the training pitch, and try to live your life in the right way.

"Totting up appearances is nice, but it's all about winning things. That's why I am here, rather than to try to clock up appearances."
This isn't good news for Nigel de Jong. I thought that we'd line up this season in a 4-3-3 with de Jong, Barry and Stephen Ireland in central midfield. The first two league games, however, have seen us line up in what is almost a 4-2-4 with Barry and Ireland in the middle and four forwards in front of them. Now there are circumstances - Arsenal at home and United away in September, for example - when we might play that 4-3-3 I predicted. But there's not going to be many of them. And if de Jong is only going to be used in specific circumstances then when, exactly, is Vincent Kompany going to play? We we were going to play 4-3-3 but cannot because de Jong is injured? It's not like he's going to get a game at centre back, being as he is now fifth choice centre half.

I'm looking forward to seeing how exactly these issues will be resolved this season.

Lescott's ambitions

I might not, but Lescott certainly thinks we can get top four this year:
"I'm excited to have joined a great club, and after talking to Mark Hughes I know that the Club's ambitions and mine are similar. Now I just want to get ou there with the lads.

"It was time for me to make the change, and my target now is to just play as many games as I can this season - you don't join a big club like this and expect to go straight in.

"We want to finish as high as we can in the League of course, and fourth place is achievable when you look around the dressing-room. We've signed players from some of the biggest clubs in the world, and that shows the ambition here.

"I think we're better equipped than Everton to finish fourth. I reached the FA Cup Final last season, which is an achievement. The next step is to win a trophy. I sense that feeling here.

Palace preview

It's pretty commonplace to say that 'if there's one thing City need to improve this season, it's their away form in the league.' Wrong. There's two things: away form in the league, and our performance in the domestic cups. Last season our performance in the domestic cups was as bad as it possibly could have been: two first round exits, to Brighton and Hove Albion and Nottingham Forest, in dramatic and traumatic circumstances respectively.

We are in the strange position this season of having a squad of the depth and quality to compete in Europe, but no European competitions in which to deploy it. And so the domestic cups become much more important than they otherwise would be. Not only could we do with a trophy this season to really boost our global profile (and, you know, because it's been a while), but because a dozen or so games in the cups could be the difference between Pablo Zabaleta, Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy and Vincent Kompany getting enough minutes to keep them happy and a less pleasant outcome.

So tomorrow night's game is big. It could well be the start of a run that will end in glory at Wembley. And we're up against a team who are promising to rest players. A win is a must. With our squad the size it is, we can rest the big names and still put out a strong, hungry and fit side with enough quality to see Palace off. How about this:

Onuoha, Zabaleta, Petrov, de Jong and Bellamy will all definitely play. Weiss is a good bet too. Of the new recruits more game time might push Tévez and Touré into the side. And it's arguable that Ireland needs games if he's going to grow into this Xabi Alonso role Hughes is getting him to play.

Regardless, it should be enough for Crystal Palace. Prediction? 3-0.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Lescott, at last

At least it's over. We've spent the last few months waiting for this transfer to go through; it's been dull, drawn out, and damaging to our reputation in the game. But it all finished this evening, and I suppose that we've won.

It's certainly good news for Hughes. To have taken one of the prized assets of another team who finished ahead of us last season is a real achievement. To be a sufficiently attractive prospect that top players of top six clubs are willing to force moves to City is not only good news in the present, but points to a potential future - presuming we continue to progress - when the world's elite players, who have thus far rejected City, may be enticed to come to Eastlands.

And, of course, it's good news for our defence. Lescott may not be John Terry but he's also not Richard Dunne. Hughes has long identified a left-sided centre half as a top priority and, ultimately, we have to defer to him on these issues. Lescott has the top six Premier League experience of which Hughes has made such a fetish this summer. In his three seasons at Goodison Park Everton finished sixth and then fifth and then fifth. He's powerful, quick, good in the air and can play at left back too. I've no doubt that City will be a better team with him in.

But there are other reasons which make me less than enthusiastic about this deal. Apart from anything else, the fee is ridiculous. Of all the purchases we have made this summer, this is the price least proportionate to market value that we have paid. 150% of market value is one thing, but 200% is quite another. I'm not worrying about this particular few million pounds, but it is a simple fact of the marketplace that if we get a reputation for paying 200% of market value then we will get asked to pay as much in future. This is a cycle which can get out of hand if left unchecked. Next time we go for David Villa what is to stop Valencia asking for €100m, given that they almost got €50m from Real and Barcelona this summer? It's not healthy.

And then there's Everton. Let's not forget that they finished thirteen points ahead of us last season. Since then we've certainly improved, and they've lost their second best centre back. But David Moyes now has £24m to invest in the playing squad. This is the man that picked up Mikel Arteta for £2m, Tim Cahill for £1.5m, Phil Jagielka for £4m and Lescott himself for the same fee. He's already spent some of the money on Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, and is set to move for City legend Sylvain Distin to replace Lescott. Should Moyes succeed in bringing in four or five good players who bed into the squad well (as most Moyes signings do), we can have little complaint if they give us a real battle for the Europa League spots.

And what of Nedum Onuoha? One of my main reasons for supporting the purchase of Sylvain Distin rather than Lescott was that a 31 year old would retard the progress of Onuoha less than a 27 year old. As well as Lescott on a five year deal, we have Kolo Touré signed on until 2013. How exactly Nedum Onuha, the great hope of the Academy, fits into our future plans lies unclear. If we make Europe this season then he can perform the third centre-back role Jonny Evans has United - playing fifteen or so games each year depending on injuries and rotation. But it's neither what he needs nor what he deserves.

A key part of being a mature football fan is the acknowledgement of the gulf of knowledge and understanding between the supporters and the management. Hughes and his team know so much more about these issues than I do that my quibbling is essentially irrelevant. If Hughes says that Lescott is a good buy and good business, then he has to be respected. But I can't pretend I'm not rather ambivalent about this one.

Lescott confirmed

Confirmed by the club, on a five year deal.

Hughes is pleased:

"I am absolutely delighted to welcome Joleon to Manchester City. He is an England international who has proved his Premier League ability during his time at Everton," said the Blues boss.

"In bringing Joleon to the Club I feel we have recruited a defender of the very highest quality. He can play in a number of defensive positions, and I’m positive he will make a significant impact for us."

Ogden: Lescott done

This is only breaking news in so far as Wednesday's Telegraph has been published online and the other 'papers have not, but Mark Ogden's report says that a deal is now done after a day of wrangling:

Despite Lescott, 27, agreeing personal terms and passing a medical in Manchester on Monday, City were forced to hold further talks with the player’s representatives before finally wrapping up the transfer on Tuesday evening.

The England defender has agreed a five-year contract worth £90,000 a week at Eastlands and he could make his debut in the Premier League encounter with Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Sunday.

City had hoped to unveil Lescott officially at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, but talks relating to fees owed as a result of negotiations resulted in the planned unveiling being shelved.

This has clearly gone to the papers today before City have made an official announcement, so I'm sure that when Daniel Taylor / Ian Herbert / Ian Ladyman's articles all go up we'll hear more about it. But at least the hitch has been ironed out.

UPDATE: Not Daniel Taylor but Andy Hunter in the Guardian has a very similar piece:

Manchester City took their summer spending to a staggering £120m tonight when they resolved a late hitch over Joleon Lescott's protracted move from Everton to add the England international to their ranks for an initial £22m.

The 27-year-old has signed a five-year contract worth £90,000-a-week with City, having passed a medical on Monday afternoon only for the deal to be put on hold for 24 hours due to a dispute over payments owed to the defender's representatives. A further round of talks broke the impasse this evening and Lescott could make his debut for Mark Hughes' team against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Sunday.

We can all relax now.

The next paulista

I wrote last September that all four of Brazilian contingent were paulistas - that is, from the state of São Paulo. As it turned out, having four Brazilians did not work out either on or off the pitch last season, and Elano, Jô and Glauber have all now left. But Mark Hughes clearly has a heart, because not only has he brought in a new Brazilian to pal up with Robinho, but he's another paulista too: straight outta São Paulo.

He is, though, a former Corinthians player, and I gather that Corinthians and Santos (Robinho and Elano's former club) are rivals. Can any of my Brazilian readers (58 visits from there last month) shed any light on this?

Lescott on Tuesday

So it seems from Tuesday's papers.

The Guardian's Andy Hunter reports:
Joleon Lescott is on course to become the second most expensive defender in British football history having passed a medical ahead of his proposed £22m move to Manchester City.

The 27-year-old underwent a series of tests at a private clinic in Manchester this afternoon with City anxious for assurances over the knee problem that delayed the England international's £5m move to Everton from Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2006. Lescott, a virtual ever-present at Goodison Park despite those initial injury fears, has agreed personal terms on a deal that will double his £47,000-a-week salary at Everton and eventually take the fee to £24m with add-ons. Wolves will receive a £2.55m windfall as they are entitled to 15% of any profit made by the Goodison club.

Let's hope for a double unveiling tomorrow.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sylvinho signs

One of the smoother transfers that we've done this summer; City have signed veteran leftback Sylvinho on a free transfer from Barcelona.

On the surface this looks quite out of sync with our other major business this summer. Having tied up Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tévez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Barry and Kolo Touré so far this feels like a bit of a throwback to the Keegan/Pearce recruitment policy: picking up experienced thirtysomething internationals on short term deals, whose hauls of caps and medals seemed to insulate them from being dropped as they drifted through games. Think Steve McManaman, Michael Tarnat, Hatem Trabelsi, Ousmane Dabo, Bernardo Corradi and even Dietmar Hamann for 2006/07 if not 2007/08.

But one of the great luxuries of our current position is that we don't have to pick players just because they're famous. Sylvinho's not going to be first choice, and so if he wants to play he's going to have to earn it. When we can have Nigel de Jong, Pablo Zabaleta and Craig Bellamy on the bench, no-one's going to get into the team by default.

Back to my main point, though: this signing is more in keeping with the main trends of this summer's recruitment policy than is first apparent. The three key themes so far are: top six Premier League experience, trophy success, and the phasing out of the Eriksson purchases. Sylvinho fits with all of these.

First: top six Premier League experience. I've written about this before but every player Hughes has signed this summer (including Terry who did not join and Lescott who will do so soon) has at least two seasons' experience of finishing in the top six of the Premier League. The one exception is Roque Santa Cruz who finished seventh in his one full season with Blackburn. Hughes' thinking is clear: how better to take MCFC to sixth or higher than to fill them with players who have already achieved the same at other clubs? And Sylvinho fits this. He spent two years at Arsenal, making 23 EPL starts in both 1999/00 and 2000/01. In both of those seasons Arsenal finished second.

Second: trophy winning experience. Hughes spoke recently of the importance of players who have won major trophies in their career. He mentioned that a list of current players' trophy successes would impress. I compiled the list, and it does. Two Champions League medals, six Premier Leagues, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two La Ligas and many more besides. In his career to date Sylvinho has won one Brazilian title with Corinthians, three Spanish titles with Barcelona and of course two European Cups. I'll update the trophy winners list later and re-publish it with corrections. But it's an impressive addition to the squad in this regard too.

The final strand of this summer has been the phasing out of all those players Eriksson signed in that exotic summer of 2007 (and January 2008). Tévez, Adebayor and Santa Cruz have allowed us to loan out Caicedo and Bozhinov, while the introduction of Barry in midfield has seen us sell off Gelson and Elano. The arrival of Sylvinho can only end Javi Garrido's spell at City, with a move to Racing Santander rumoured. Then, only Benjani and Martin Petrov would remain of the SGE signings. And I wouldn't be surprised if they both left before 1 September.

Rather than a departure from established transfer policy, this is almost as representative of it as the Lescott deal.

Sylvinho imminent

You wait for City to sign an experienced left sided defender and then we go and get two at once.

Both Sky Sports and the M.E.N. are both reporting that we are to confirm the signing of Brazilian international Sylvinho within the next few hours, on a one year deal.

This is really quite exciting. More to follow, I'm sure.

More Wolves reax

Chris Wheeler, Daily Mail

While it is difficult to fault a return of six points from two games without conceding a goal, it cannot hide the fact that City have looked vulnerable at times against Blackburn and Wolves.

Portsmouth are next up in the Premier League but then come Arsenal and neighbours United at Old Trafford in what will be one of the most eagerly awaited Manchester derbies of recent years. Those games will provide a more accurate reading of City's progress.

Certainly the open, attacking football that Mark Hughes's side have played in their opening two games will leave them exposed at the back. Lescott will have to work for his bigger pay packet.

Tony Barrett, The Times

Digging in, withstanding pressure and dealing with momentum going against you are indeed the kind of qualities that have underpinned many a title challenge. But Sheikh Mansour probably did not expect to see them in evidence against a Wolves side who were put together for a fraction of the spending that marks him out for displays of public gratitude.

A combination of wasteful finishing and the pluck of a Wolves team, who, unlike their opponents, are more than the sum of their parts meant that the outcome remained in the balance long after Adebayor had given Carlos Tévez’s deft touch the finish it so richly deserved.

Joe Lovejoy, The Guardian

After two games against run-of-the-mill opposition it is much too early to venture conclusions about City's prospects of translating potential into real progress. They have had so many false dawns before, most recently under Sven-Goran Eriksson, who had them running third in October 2007, until the wheels came off spectacularly with a 6-0 drubbing at Chelsea. Hughes has cherry-picked better players than Eriksson had, but the product does not yet amount to the sum of their individual parts. A win is a win, as any manager will tell you, but against homespun Wolves they created nine acceptable chances yet scored only the one goal, from the admirable Adebayor.

Clive White, The Independent

Of course, one would be mad to suggest there are not enough goals in this side – there was enough even on the bench on Saturday – but it remains to be seen how well they gel because this is a team that is all about movement in the final third of the pitch rather than distinct formation. Neither Emmanuel Adebayor nor Tevez are target men, so headed goals will be out of the question unless they come from defenders at set-pieces.

Not that City threw in too many aimless crosses. Almost everything was gloriously to feet, like the goal for instance which, to be fair, Tevez played a major part in setting up. It started with Robinho, as most things did, wide on the left.

Phil Shaw, Daily Telegraph

City took only one of their many chances, however, which encouraged late pressure by Wolves in which Andy Keogh hit the bar. Which is where Hughes’s less flamboyant signings, Gareth Barry and Kolo Touré, came in. With so many attacking players, the risk of getting the balance wrong, as Ossie Ardiles did with his utopian team at Tottenham, is a real one. Barry’s diligence and Touré’s solidity, allied to Shay Given’s agility, enabled City to see out the game.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Elano opens Gala account

City legend Elano scored his first goal for Galatasaray today, in their 4-1 defeat of Kayserispor.

It was a stunning volley from long range, the sort of goal Elano scored more often for Brazil than he did for City. You can see it here.

Lescott fee agreed

As now reported on and our official site.

Interesting move from the club announcing the agreeing of a fee rather than waiting until everything was tied up.

I guess we'll see him presented Monday or Tuesday.

SSN: Lescott medical

Sky Sports News are reporting that Joleon Lescott is undergoing a medical at City. How about a debut on Thursday at Selhurst Park?

First half good...

Perhaps the main disappointment of yesterday - up there will the profligate finishing - was the failure to dominate possession in the second half. The best teams can close out narrow but comfortable wins in home games but yesterday we failed to control the game after the break. Wolves moved to 4-4-2, pressed us hard, and we ended up under real pressure, and only really threatening Wolves on the break.

You can see this on a Guardian chalkboard of yesterday's game. In blue are our successful passes made in open play: look at the volume of them in the first half, as Gareth Barry and Ireland knocked the ball around quite freely. But see how few passes there are, relatively, in the second half.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Lescott latest

It looks almost done: once Moyes dropped Lescott and asked him to train on his own there was only ever going to be one outcome. And Nick Townsend reports in today's Sunday Times:

The only comment from Everton manager David Moyes yesterday was: “Something might happen very shortly. You might get some news soon, possibly today.” Everton had rejected offers of £15m and £18m but a deal worth about £25m, including add-ons, is understood to have been finalised yesterday, although City are unlikely to have heard the end of the matter.

Over at Eastlands, before City’s 1-0 win over Wolves, City boss Hughes said: “The clubs are speaking, which I’d suggest is a positive sign. Whether or not anything is concluded in the next day or so only time will tell.”

Asked if Lescott would be City’s last defensive recruit, Hughes said: “Not necessarily.”

Wolves reax

Duncan Castles, Sunday Times

At times magnificent in the flexibility and invention of their forward play, the Manchester multimillionaires garnered a single Emmanuel Adebayor goal from long periods of dominance, ultimately allowing Wolves to play on their famed defensive frailties. Here, the equalising goal did not come, but on another day, against stronger opposition, it will. Lescott’s task could prove proportionate to his inflated transfer fee.

Clive White, Independent on Sunday

It was just the kind of goal, coming at just the kind of time, to help dispel any first-night nerves on the part of City in front of their hugely expectant fans. Had they followed up quickly with a second, as they could have done through Adebayor again and Robinho, they may have turned on the style. As it was, they were gripped by a developing panic, that was probably kick-started by Matthew Jarvis when he forced Given into a full-length save. It almost did for them.

Jamie Jackson, The Observer

They kept on coming. Robinho forced a free-kick from Richard Stearman which had Tevez worrying the keeper from the rebound. The Brazilian danced down the left and squeezed off a shot that was heading for the angle. Then Tevez, when offered a header by Barry, could only miss past Hennessey's right post.

This all meant the worry Hughes had as half-time came and went was the usual one that manifests as a result of missed chances and a 1-0 scoreline. "I would be more concerned if we weren't creating. We've had a good week – three games, three wins, three clean sheets," was Hughes's verdict on the profligacy and an eight days which has also included a win over Barcelona at the Camp Nou, following victory over Blackburn last weekend.

Mark Ryan, Mail on Sunday

Robinho wanted his share of the limelight as City toyed with the opposition and twice failed to stretch keeper Wayne Hennessey with his finishing. Adebayor had unselfishly set up his fellow striker on the second occasion. Then, when Ireland fed Adebayor again with a threaded pass in the second half, the ex-Gunner was clean through with Hennessey at his mercy. Rounding the keeper with nonchalant ease, Adebayor took the ball too wide and found the side-netting as the goal gaped.

The introduction of Craig Bellamy failed to provide another goal, with the Welshman proving equally wasteful in the danger area. And you began to wonder what sort of punishment better opponents would have organised for a group of men who almost seemed drunk on their riches.

Danny Pugsley, Bitter and Blue

A home win, as expected, and continues our impressive home record from 2008/09. An average performance though, one in which we could have come unstuck in on another occasion, but equally, one in which we would have won at a canter if we had gone in at the break 2-0 up - which on the balance of play we should have done.


I guess we have to take the positives from the performance. We did create several chances and another goal would've probably seen us relax a bit and stick to our a-game. Adebayor was perhaps the only one of ours who had a very good game, he again seemed very hungry, leading the line well, dropping out wide, even into midfield to put himself about. With Thursday night's game in Barcelona it was perhaps to be expected that we might look leggy later on, and we certainly did. Three valuable points on the board, though, and two clean sheets. As much as we could have played better today sometimes you just have to muck in and graft for the three points, and we certainly did that.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Wolves player ratings

Given Still looks like our best piece of business in the ADUG era, producing some crucial saves to keep us in the game. Can't have enjoyed seeing the centre backs panic under Wolves' long balls. 7

Richards Again preferred to Zabaleta at right back, and made a few of his trademark gallopping runs down the flank. Perhaps gave Matt Jarvis more room than he ought to have had when Wolves were attacking in the second half. 5

Dunne Never looked fully assured under the high ball but did make a few important blocks and interceptions. Second half performance indicative of poor captaincy but this is something we've seen before. 6

Touré Very little to do in the first half but did ok in the face of the Wolves assault late on. Will have to deal with much better strikers coming to Eastlands this season, and will be the senior partner in any defensive pairing. The ease with which he can pick out Adebayor with long passes is impressive, if not suprising. 7

Bridge Took a prominent role in our attacks, as he increasingly does. Movement and crossing up to his usual standard. He is handicapped defensively by having to play behind Robinho but he coped ably. 7

Barry Showed some lovely touches in midfield, especially in the first half. Questions must be asked, though, about how we surrendered possession to Wolves as the game progressed. 6

Ireland Still adjusting to his new Cesc Fàbregas role and so was not his usual vivacious self today. Missed a very easy chance in the second half. Respect for his backheel to Adebayor early on though. 6

SWP His best game for City for some time. His runs were penetrating, either from a midfield position or wide on the right. He troubled whichever Wolves defender he came across and was a constant menace. Ought to have been awarded a penalty in the first half. 8

Tévez Put in a good shift, playing mainly in the Dirk Kuyt role on the right hand side. Tireless running disrupted the Wolves defence, and he set up Adebayor's goal with a lovely short pass. Could have scored a header but the sharpness in front of goal will come. 7

Adebayor Our most threatening attacking player: his runs with the ball, and movement without it troubled all four Wolves defenders as he moved across our front line. Took his goal very well and always provided an option for a high ball from the back to relieve pressure. 8

Robinho One or two nice moments but never really got going. Home games against bad teams are meant to be his thing, but aside from a few tame shots he never really threatened. One lovely ball to Bellamy late on should have been converted. 7


Bellamy Rather poor - made a few bad decisions and failed to make the most of situations on which he usually thrives. Missed a good chance too. 5

de Jong Too late to mark

City 1 - 0 Wolves

  • If we are to do as well as we want to this season it is imperative that we continue last season's habit of winning our home games. As you all know, we won the second most away games in the Premier League last year - thirteen - and this must, at the least, be maintained this season. And so in that sense, today was a success. In others, though, it was rather disappointing.
  • I hate watching City when we're 1-0 up. Every missed chance brings more fear of subsequent punishment, and so our profligate finishing made for a very worrying ninety minutes. The worst was probably Stephen Ireland's miscue when through on goal in the second half, but let's not spare from criticism Adebayor's rounding Hennessey and missing, Adebayor's weak shot from Ireland's backheel, Tévez's first half header, Bellamy's failure to make contact from Robinho's cross, or any of Robinho's first half shots. Of course, it is to our credit that we created those chances, and some of our attacking movement in the first half was beautiful. But chances are meant to be taken.
  • That parade of missed chances was made all the more worrying by our midfield surrender in the second half. Wolves changed their system at half time and soon started to boss the game. We did continue to create opportunities on the break, but at we were at home against a promoted club and failing to string passes together. What is the point of Gareth Barry if not to maintain cool heads and possession of the ball? By the time Nigel de Jong was introduced Wolves had already hit the bar and forced a few saves from Shay Given.
  • It is a truism to say that Everton's defence is unsettled due to the impending Joleon Lescott transfer, but can the same now be said of City's back line? Richard Dunne is about to be replaced by a £22m England international, and with Nedum Onuoha recently signing a new deal Dunne's future surely lies away from Eastlands. Today, when we needed leadership and solidity from the back we got neither, as Wolves pounced on our discomfort under the high ball. Our defence is still in transition, and it shows.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Premier League experience

The thread which draws together our transfer policy in 2009 - both in the January and summer windows - has been the elevation of Premier League experience above all our considerations in the selection of targets. Of the ten players signed in 2009, all but Nigel de Jong have been playing in the Premier League for at least two years, and most of them for much longer.

Shay Given had made 354 EPL starts on his arrival at City, Gareth Barry 353, Wayne Bridge 226, Kolo Touré 203, Craig Bellamy 185, Adebayor 86, Tévez 68 and Santa Cruz 53. Yes, Nigel de Jong was brought in from abroad but only after we failed to sign Scott Parker (195 EPL starts). This summer we have also pursued John Terry (261) and Joleon Lescott (109). So the pattern is clear, as is the recent focus on specifically top six EPL experience and on trophies won.

These priorities, and their impact on the team, are discussed by Hughes in a recent interview:
"When you look at the amount of games our new players have played in the Premier League, it is huge," he said.

"That was something we were lacking as a team last year and, at times, we were found wanting because of it.

"We didn't have the experience of seeing games out and banging out results.

"We have improved that right down the spine of the team, which is always important, with Kolo at the back, Gaz in the middle of the park and Ade up front. It gives us a good solid middle to the team."
I think our ground out win at Ewood Park is already testimony to the success of this policy. Neither our soft centred 2008/09 side, nor Eriksson's 2007/08 team won at Ewood Park, nor at many other similar grounds. Of course, there's still thirty seven EPL games left but based on the evidence so far it looks like a sound plan.

Injury update

Hughes speaking in the M.E.N. about RSC:
"Roque went to a specialist yesterday and he was really pleased with his progress," said manager Mark Hughes.

" We are talking about two to three weeks for him. I don't like to put games as a target because it's difficult to predict but I imagine he will be available round about the time of the United game or West Ham after that."
And Vincent Kompany:
"The surgeon who did the operation on Vinny is very pleased," said Hughes.

"Fitness-wise there is no problem because he is a good, dedicated pro, and as soon as he gets the green light he will be back very, very quickly. There is a little way to go but he is progressing really well."
I got tickets this morning for Crystal Palace on Thursday and was hoping to see Roque Santa Cruz's debut but it looks like he won't be back in time. Will have to make do with Bellamy and Tévez instead. I do fear for Kompany though: neither Onuoha nor de Jong started at Ewood Park, and Kompany is less good than either of those two in their respective positions.

Gamper reax

Stuart Brennan, Manchester Evening News
Barca do not like to lose in this Joan Gamper Trophy game, having won 13 of the last 14 – and in the last three seasons they have beaten Inter Milan 5-0, Bayern Munich 4-0 and Boca Juniors 2-1.

And critics of City’s trip to Catalonia have suggested it was disruptive and tiring, just three days before an important home fixture with Wolves.

But the win now gives their confidence a shot in the arm heading into the Premier League clash.
We can't fool ourselves, this was only a friendly, but it was as much our second side as theirs. Only three or four we played would be in our first team, ditto for Barca. We coped brilliantly well. Dunne was a rock, as at Blackburn. Ned coped admirably at right-back. Ben Haim didn't look out of place. Ireland didn't stop. Tevez showed promising signs. Petrov looked more hungry than in pre-season, and most impressively, Weiss gave the first real signs that he's ready for a role in the senior squad. Brilliant!
Mark Hughes

"You expect to concede possession to a team of Barcelona's quality, but you have to take your chances when they come. We were calm, organised and understood what we were trying to achieve.

"We're very proud, it was a great evening. To have a good night and win at the Nou Camp doesn't happen to many teams, so when it does happen, you have to enjoy it. It doesn't get much better.

"We're told it's the first time an English team has won the Joan Gamper trophy. OK, it's a friendly, but it's still a feather in our cap. Barcelona aren't allowed to lose friendlies, especially on their own patch."

Barça 0 - 1 City

  • We should get the qualifications out of the way first: yes, it was a friendly, and yes, Barcelona were missing their two chambered heart of Xavi and Iniesta. But the Joan Gamper Trophy is quite a big deal in Barcelona; a Catalan Thomas Cook Trophy it is not. Barça still had Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Eidur Gudjonsen and Yaya Touré starting, while Messi and Ibrahimovic played the second half. And anyone who watched the Wembley Cup knows that the Barça reserves can play a bit.
  • In fact, anyone who watched the first twenty minutes last night will have thought we were in for a serious beating: we barely touched the ball. Barça's control was total, and when we were in possession Tévez, isolated in a 4-5-1, could make little impact. Yaya was collosal in central midfield and it looked like we were in for a long evening. But for all their possession, Barça created very little. Given had little to do, and while Barça hit the woodwork twice they were both from long distance efforts. Our back four certainly did a good job.
  • Our one moment of real attacking quality came with the goal. On 27 minutes Kolo Touré won the ball in defence, and a few passes later Ireland put a delightful ball through to Martin Petrov, breaking from the left. He surged through and placed the ball past Pinto. It was our only real attack before Craig Bellamy ran through, in similar circumstances, in stoppage time - but shot wide.
  • Between the goals there was more of the same. Barça passed it aroud nicely but couldn't get through. Ibra and Messi came on at the interval (while we put on Ben Haim), but two big tackles on Messi from Stephen Ireland - unquestionably the best player on the pitch - shut him up. Ireland aside, there were heroic tackles from Onuoha, Dunne and even Ben Haim. Further up the pitch Vladimir Weiss impressed with his work rate and flashes of quality. We may not see him on Saturday, but he's surely booked his place at Selhurst Park.
  • Let's not lose sight of the true purpose of the game, either: the global promotion of the MCFC brand. It's unlikely that any other Premier League club would countenance that most unusual thing - a mid-season friendly, at this point. So to go to the Camp Nou, play for the Trofeu Joan Gamper and to take it back to City: it's not an insignificant moment in the ADUG/Garry Cook project. If it makes world class players even marginally more inclined to join MCFC in future, it's done its job.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Team spirit

One of the most interesting things to come out of the Blackburn win were comments from Stephen Ireland about improved team spirit:

"The difference between this season and the last is the team spirit," the 22-year-old Irishman said. "From the moment we arrived back for preseason the manager has been drumming it in to us about how we had to be mentally stronger this season. He said we had to have a better attitude and he was right.

"There were some bad habits in this squad last season. The manager and coaches were trying to get us out of them but because we were in Europe and had so many games and so much travelling, I always felt as though we just didn't have enough time on the training field and away from match situations to sort it out and put things right.

"What he has done this time is get players who have the right attitude. They are quality players of high calibre but they are also winners and that's the difference. These guys are inspirational. There is a hunger there and a desire and they have the right approach to everything."

The introduction of a tougher and winninger mentality has been one of the central planks of Sparkyisation. And the purchasing this summer of a number of experienced, trophy-laden players - real champions - has been, if not the culmination, then certainly a significant step forward in this regard.

Of course we've only played one game this season. But grinding out a difficult away victory suggests that this is a mentally stronger City side this season.

Monday, 17 August 2009

More Blackburn reax

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

The songs of praise ran from “Ireland is Superman’’ to “Tevez is a Blue’’; significantly, there was a show of approval for Hughes with “Sparky, Sparky give us a wave’’. Saturday’s victory, and the manner in which new players like Emmanuel Adebayor and Gareth Barry settled in, immeasurably strengthened Hughes’ position, with the fans, with ambitious employers.

On the rare occasions that Hughes feels under pressure, he tends to sit back in his chair during press conferences, as if on the back-foot. At Ewood, after this satisfying opening to City’s season, after seeing Adebayor answer a few questions with his fine goal and all-round application, Hughes leant forward, clearly relishing being in control. Some dark strands are beginning to appear in his grey hair.

Along with respected coaching staff like Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki, Hughes has worked hard with his team pre-season, developing a 4-2-3-1 formation that saw Adebayor pulling the strings behind Craig Bellamy, who will surely make way for Roque Santa Cruz when the Paraguayan recovers from injury.

Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail

Given, meanwhile, made two outstanding saves, one in each half. It was, though, Bellamy — full of endless intelligent running — and Barry who stood out.

No wonder Aston Villa tried to so hard to keep hold of Barry.

No wonder Liverpool bleated so much when he decided not to join them.

Here was the perfect example of a player blossoming on his release from an environment in which he perhaps had stayed too long.

His reading of the game on Saturday was exceptional and as precise as his passing.

No wonder he was so dreadful for England in Amsterdam last Wednesday. He was obviously saving himself for the important games.

Richard Williams, The Guardian

Arsenal regulars will raise an eyebrow at the idea of Adebayor being among those instrumental in building team spirit. But the £25m Togo striker took his goal with an imperious flourish, worked hard to make his presence felt in defence, and did enough to suggest that he might flourish in an atmosphere where he will be treated as a superstar.

Kolo Touré, another arrival from Arsenal, also made a positive impression in partnership with Richard Dunne, the club captain, who defended with his characteristic mixture of lion-hearted blocking and potentially catastrophic clumsiness in front of the superb Shay Given. Dunne will surely be the one to step down if, as still seems likely, Hughes succeeds in persuading Everton to part with Joleon Lescott.

Ian Herbert, The Independent

Of course, bringing working-class qualities out in players of aristocratic demeanour is what Hughes is all about. Morten Gamst Pedersen, Blackburn's prime threat in a first half which suggested Sam Allardyce has restored their old qualities, was a lost cause when Hughes replaced Graeme Souness at Ewood. He ordered the Norwegian to spend more time in the gym and watched him become a player many top clubs coveted for a time. Stephen Ireland, who toyed with Rovers' defence before passing City's second goal into the net, is similarly transformed. "The training and the mental preparation we've done has already transferred itself to our football," Ireland said. "The difference is the team spirit. From the moment we arrived from pre-season the manager has been drumming it into us about how we had to be better and mentally stronger this season."

Tom Dart, The Times

After this narrow victory, Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn manager, pinpointed Shay Given as City’s key player. The visiting team were not rampant, owed a debt to their goalkeeper and were grateful that Blackburn’s forwards did not have the pace to expose Richard Dunne in defence. If Emmanuel Adebayor’s third-minute goal was a statement of intent, so was what followed: Given’s saves, Kolo Touré’s tackles and Gareth Barry’s quiet interruptions of Blackburn attacks. In Barry’s efficient movement and prudent distribution, at least there is something economical about City this season.

Vass backs Elano capture

Here's Darius Vassell, now of Ankaragücü, backing Süper Lig rivals Galatasaray's decision to buy fellow City legend Elano:

Vass scored his first goal for Ankaragücü in a 1-1 draw with Manisaspor last week.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

NdJ: 'Everybody is talking about Manchester City but there is a calmness in the team'

'It's a good thing that the owners do not want to change the manager every season just because it's not working out in the short-term," he told The People.

"They are trusting people and they have shown that trust in Hughes and also the team. That is good for all of us.

"It helps us to be calm when we know everybody's eyes will be on us.

"I'm really excited. Everybody is talking about Manchester City but there is a calmness in the team....

"If we don't work hard, we won't be able to compete with the big four," he said.

"I hope we can challenge United but, along with Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, they have been at the top for many years.

"Many people expect us to be up there in just one year but we have to be realistic - but in two or three years, why can't we compete with United?"

Ade: 'The fans showed that they loved me'

From the official site:

"The most important thing is that we won the game, but I'm very happy," said the prolific Togo striker. "The fans showed that they love me - the noise they made was unbelievable.

"It was very different from Arsenal. I want to give back to them what they give to me. It's not difficult to give 100 per cent for fans like that, and I look forward to keeping this going."

Adebayor revealed: "The boss knew they would be up for beating their old manager. He asked us in the dressing-room to go out and win it for him, and I think we showed our character.

"I'm working hard for the team, everybody is working hard. What is important now is to keep that going - I've shown the fans I'm here to fight for the club, and we'll carry that on.

Ireland deeper

Henry Winter was at the game yesterday and has an article (not a match report as such) in today's Sunday Telegraph about our performance and formation. He makes two interesting points. First, that Bellamy, rather than Adebayor, was at the point of our fluid 4-2-3-1 formation - with the Togolese drifting behind in the hole. Just as interesting, though, is his description of Ireland's more withdrawn role alongside Barry in central midfield:

To the delight of 7,000 City fans, Hughes could certainly not be accused of lacking adventure away from home. He started without an orthodox holding midfielder, leaving Nigel de Jong on the bench and pairing Stephen Ireland and Gareth Barry.

Ireland is a hard worker but more suited to pushing on, linking with attackers, a trait thrillingly shown in striking City's second goal.

If Ireland, in particular, is to be used in this deeper role, clearly more time will be required on the training ground. Little tinkering is needed with the front four, a kaleidoscope of movement at times.

The evidence certainly backs this up. Check out this Guardian chalkboard of Ireland's passing yesterday. Very successful, yes, but with nothing into the penalty area or even into the channels within twenty or so yards of the byline. Contrast this with his performance in a similar game from last season: the 2-1 win at Goodison Park, where Ireland, playing in the hole, was much more incisive in his passing. Whether Ireland's role develops in this way remains to be seen.

 by Guardian Chalkboards