Sunday, 31 January 2010

17 hours left: New Johnson bid

It's being widely reported that we have made a new bid for Adam Johnson. Having failed to get Victor Moses it would not be a surprise if we doubled our efforts for Johnson tomorrow. The Times reports that we bid £4m on Friday and £5m on Saturday evening. I don't know how much will be enough - possibly £6m, probably £7m, but the chances are that we will offer it some time tomorrow. And we know that Johnson is keen to speak to us. Don't be surprised to see him in blue.

Still no confirmation on McDonald Mariga, although it seems to be done, and we can presume that Marco Motta is not going to happen.

But one other move is being reported again: Fernando Gago. According to the Mirror we're due to bid £20m for him tomorrow. Sounds like a lot of money for yet another midfielder.

Pompey reax

James Ducker, The Times

“We didn’t play well,” said Roberto Mancini, the City manager, with considerable understatement. But, given that Liverpool and Aston Villa won on Saturday, the Italian could have been forgiven for not getting too worked up about the performance and instead savouring the three points and the goalscoring return of Emmanuel Adebayor.

The outcome might have been very different had John Utaka, in the fifth minute, and Anthony vanden Borre, in the 37th, not spurned excellent chances to take the lead. But even with City out of sorts, there seemed little chance of Portsmouth mounting a fightback after conceding twice in the closing stages of the first half.

Louise Taylor, The Guardian

Indeed after a low-tempo 45 minutes City were somewhat flattered by a ­two-goal half-time lead. With their usual attacking catalyst, Craig Bellamy, benched and Barry taking time to reacquaint ­himself with the wide left-midfield role, ­Mancini's team stuttered.

Michael Walker, Daily Mail

City are one point behind Tottenham in the all-important fourth place with two games in hand. Adebayor is back in the fold. Superficially things are looking up.

But this victory was achieved without anything approaching eloquence.

As Roberto Mancini said: ‘It’s a victory, it’s a clean sheet, but we didn’t play well. But today is important because sometimes it’s like this.’

TLDORC January awards

Not quite as dramatic as December 2009, but if the rest of this decade is like January 2010 we're in so for some fun. The month was dominated, understandably, by our thrilling League Cup semi-finals against Manchester United. We won the first one at home 2-1, thanks to two goals from Carlos Tévez. We went to United, went 2-0 down before Tévez pulled the scores equal. The tie was set for extra time before Wayne Rooney won it for United in stoppage time. Upsetting, yes. But to lose 4-3 over two legs, with United scoring their winner in the 182nd minute of the tie is no shame. Particularly when Sir Alex Ferguson had compromised his policy of playing the kids in the League Cup. But that wasn't the whole story this month. In both the Premier League and the FA Cup we continued our steady progress under Roberto Mancini. In the league we brushed off Blackburn - thanks to a Tévez hat-trick, before losing dismally at Goodison Park and then beating Portsmouth 2-0 at Eastlands today. We also progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup with wins at Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe. And, of course, Robinho left. It's been a busy month.

Middlesbrough (a) 1-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Blackburn Rovers (h) 4-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Everton (a) 0-2 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Manchester United (h) 2-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Scunthorpe United (a) 4-2 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Manchester United (a) 1-3 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Portsmouth (h) 2-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax)

Player of the Month

He wasn't quite as productive as in December - scoring six goals in six games (one as sub) rather than eight in seven - but for the second consecutive month Carlos Tévez was our indispensable man. It is easy to sneer at one man teams - Liverpool's dependence on Fernando Torres, United's on Wayne Rooney - but Tévez is at least as crucial to our attacking player as either of those are to their respective sides. This month was he was central to everything good that we did. It started with a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers - his first in the Premier League - where he showed the quality that accompanies his work rate, with two delightful curled finishes. But the main story this month was his being reunited with Manchester United in the League Cup semi-final. It was all about him, and he revelled in it. Two goals in the home leg, including a nerveless penalty, and he put us ahead. An inspired flick at Old Trafford levelled the tie but he never got the chance to put them out in extra-time. He did succeed though, in making himself our main man, our icon, and the man on whose shoulders our chance of success rests.

Honourable mentions for the two Belgian centre-backs, Vincent Kompany and Dedryck Boyata, who were both very good. We always knew that Kompany could play, and he has been better recently than any City centre-back has been this season. But we didn't know much about Boyata. He played five games this month and was much more assured than we could have hoped. He won't be a regular for a while yet but he's certainly promising.

Performance of the month

Tévez against Blackburn. A hat-trick, the first we've had at City for a while, and while the first was bundled in the second and third were goals of real class. He's not just a trier.

Goal of the Month

Sylvinho v Scunthorpe

Thirty five yards. And the 'keeper had no chance.

Pompey player ratings

Given Unsettled under one high cross in the first half, but generally a comfortable game. Saved from Piquionne at close range late on but it was straight at him. 6

Zabaleta Played 37 minutes before going off with a broken nose but he looked very lively when on the pitch: snapping into tackles and linking up well when going forward. 7

Touré Did well in his first game back since the African Cup of Nations. Made some crucial tackles and brought the ball out from the back from time to time. 7

Kompany Another confident defensive performance from our best centre-back this season. Won us the game with a towering header from a corner, his second goal for City and first since September 2009. Went off with a groin strain after an hour, which is a shame for him and for the team. 7

Garrido A very dodgy first half hour - he was very unsettled and should have conceded a penalty, but he improved as the game went on, standing up for himself in tackles and attacking well. But I want Wayne Bridge back in the side, and that's not just out of solidarity. 6

Petrov Again asked to play out of position - in the hole at first, and then out on the right. Neither seems to suit him too well. Was always running into bodies, tried a few through balls but with little success. Fired a free-kick into the wall. 6

de Jong Probably our best player. Tackled hard, doing his clear-up job as well as ever. Got forward a bit more than usual too. Eager not to lose his place to Vieira or Mariga. 7

Barry Another quiet game from a man in need of a rest. He had a few nice touches - he always does - and won a few free-kicks but in terms of his ability to dictate the pace of a game he's not near his level last Autumn. 6

Ireland Did not quite re-produce his performance in this fixture last season, but it was his best performance for a while. Put a perfect pass through to Adebayor for our first goal, and tracked and tackled well enough to suggest he might be able to play in a 4-4-2 after all. 7

Tévez No goals for once but he ran hard and almost made things happen. Hit the post in the second half. Might be carrying a bit of a strain. 7

Adebayor Delighted to see him score today, in his first game since the events in Angola. Took the ball down well and slammed it past David James. That aside, he ran quite hard, taking the ball wide and trying to beat players. 7


Onuoha Played most of the game at right back, coming on for Zabaleta. Got into good attacking positions and was untroubled defensively. 7

Boyata Another half hour at centre-back, confident and assured again. 7

Bellamy Took pressure off with his direct running late on. 7

City 2 - 0 Pompey

  • A poor game, and not a particularly good performance - but three points, and the strides of our rivals matched. The risk of letting Wednesday night suck the life out of our season seems to have been avoided. I said before that this could provide the same buzz of optimism a few weeks into the Mancini era as the 6-0 did last season, a few weeks into Hughes' reign. It wasn't nearly as thrilling as that. But it was good enough: one point behind fourth with two games in hand.
  • As predicted, Emmanuel Adebayor returned to partner Carlos Tévez up front. But the midfield was a surprise: Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry kept their places, and were joined by Martin Petrov and Stephen Ireland. The team started off in a 4-3-1-2 with Petrov in the hole, later moving to a 4-4-2 with Petrov wide on the right and Gareth Barry on the left. Set up like that, we could only really play through the middle, which when it does not work is rather frustrating. And Portsmouth contributed to this, of course, being much better organised than we could have expected.
  • They even unsettled us, at times. There were spells where they built up pressure. Jamie O'Hara hit the bar and hit a shot wide. Frédéric Piquionne nearly scored by accident late on. If this had been the Portsmouth of Niko Kranjčar, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe we would not have got away with it. But it wasn't. So we did.
  • And it was occassional moments of quality than swung the game towards us. First Stephen Ireland picked out Adebayor with a 40 yard through ball reminiscent of some of those he played in this fixture last season. Ade controlled it well and finished expertly past City old-boy David James. The second goal - just before the break - came as Vincent Kompany evaded another former blue, Tal Ben Haim, to head in Petrov's corner. With a 2-0 lead at half time the points looked assured.
  • Now it's one week off before a run of six big games in twenty-one days. A full back and maybe a winger in within the next twenty four hours and we will be well set.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Portsmouth preview

After the disappointment of Wednesday night it's important that we realise that the season isn't over. Losing the semi-final hurt bitterly, but letting it spoil the rest of our season would leave a longer ache. We're well placed in the hunt for fourth place, and can continue this pursuit tomorrow in our game at home to Portsmouth.

And Portsmouth should be easy victims tomorrow. It's sad how quickly they have declined from being a dynamic overachieving club to an utter shambles of one, but it's been an ever steeper such decline than Leeds United seven or eight years ago. City fans ought to have a particular sympathy for Portsmouth because we've scored such starkly contrasted outcomes on the foreign owner lottery. But the fact is that they are there for the taking tomorrow - having just lost Younes Kaboul to Spurs, and with question marks over both goalkeepers. And we need an opposition who we can really batter tomorrow - to regenerate some confidence and momentum before a crucial run of six games in 22 days.

I imagine there will be some change to the team from Wednesday night. Like Danny, I anticipate a return to 4-4-2, with Emmanuel Adebayor at the peak. Carlos Tévez will probably be behind Adebayor but Craig Bellamy or Martin Petrov could also do the job. One player who will surely be rested is Gareth Barry, who has looked exhausted for some time. I would like Stephen Ireland to replace him but Sylvinho or Pablo Zabaleta might also do so. Kolo Touré at centre back instead of Dedryck Boyata is another possibility.

This fixture last season was a triumph. We smashed them 6-0, inspired by Robinho and Stephen Ireland and buoyed by post-takeover optimism. Since then we've found out that performances like that would still be the exception rather than the rule. We only finished tenth in the league last season, exited both domestic cups at the first hurdle but salvaged some pride with a brave quarter-final exit of the UEFA Cup. We've also changed managers, lost our first semi-final since 1981 in dramatic circumstances and shipped out our record signing. It's been a turbulent period but there is a sense now, as there was the September before last, that we are entering a new era - or at the least, a new phase. That optimism can be prolonged and enhanced by a result akin to last season's. I predict 3-0.

46 hours left: Moses not coming to MCFC

Neil Warnock has said that Victor Moses is going to a Premier League club that isn't us:

"I think it's done. Victor is going to the Premier League and I think £2.5million is a snip for one of the best young players we've got," confirmed Warnock.

"Manchester City should have bought him ages ago instead of messing about, but another Premier League club have made an offer.

"I've spoken to a lot of managers over the last six months and one of the managers who should have taken him in the last window has come to his senses"

It's a shame. But I'm not sure a move to City is the smartest decision for a talented 19 year old right now. And if we really wanted him we would have bid £5million a few weeks ago.

But if we want a young talented English wide player based in the Championship this window we had better hurry up about it.

48 hours left: Mariga linked, Johnson unlikely

Two stories this afternoon. The first is that we are said to be getting closer to a deal to sign Parma's 22 year old Kenyan midfielder McDonald Mariga. Stories on this have been doing the rounds on the internet for the last few days, without anything too concrete to get stuck into. Danny has more of the details, and two of his commenters give us an informed opinion on Mariga's abilities.

I'm not sure we need another destructive midfielder. It wasn't very obvious to me when we signed Patrick Vieira that he was what we needed. But having signed Vieira the idea of signing a player who is, by all accounts, similar to Vieira strikes me as rather needless. Stephen Ireland isn't having a great season but do we want to freeze him out entirely?

On Adam Johnson, he started for Middlesbrough today and played the entirety of their 0-0 home draw with Bristol City.

And if we're going to sign Marco Motta we ought to get on with it.

The captaincy

With the return to England of Kolo Touré, and the return to fitness of Patrick Vieira, we're set for a period of speculation over our captaincy. Shay Given has been standing in recently, and has done well. Well enough to keep the armband even when Touré's back, probably. But I wouldn't give it to either. We're still early enough into the Mancini era for him to make grand gestures of imposing himself on the club, and the re-allocation of the captaincy is the perfect means to do this. And there is one outstanding candidate: Nigel de Jong.

I don't think there can be much doubting that Kolo Touré has been a poor captain. He's quiet, diffident and doesn't lead by example. I don't think Mark Hughes ever really wanted him as captain. The plan was for Gareth Barry to take over from Richard Dunne in the role. He had done it for years at Aston Villa. But I think Hughes was underwhelmed by Barry's leadership qualities when he arrived. Like che is quiet on the pitch. He has also has a frustrating habit of hiding in big games. Hughes saw this - and was right to - but erred in giving the armband to Touré ahead of Given, de Jong or Craig Bellamy.

Five months on, Mancini has a chance to correct Hughes' mistake. He might well stick with Given if he does not reinstate Touré. And Given hasn't done a bad job. But I do think we have one exceptional candidate in the ranks. Nigel de Jong is consistent. He plays every game - starting every match under Mancini so far. He is a leader on the pitch: brave, vocal and determined. He tackles like a tank but still hasn't got sent off yet for City. He sets an example. He's tactically disciplined. He tends to play with all but Given and the centre-backs ahead of him on the pitch - if something is going wrong he tends to know about it. In short, like the best of captains, he plays with his heart and with his head.

I don't think that this is a blazing priority, and I don't even think that the success of our season depends upon it. But I do think that Nigel de Jong would be an excellent captain of Manchester City. Certainly better than the current incumbent.

55 hours left: Johnson move blocked

Apparently our £5m bid won't be bid enough to bring him to City, despite the player's own interest in joining. This is from a report in The Northern Echo:

Despite making renewed contact yesterday, City are still to increase the £5m offer they tabled late on Wednesday night, and Boro continue to insist that is far too low a fee for a player likely to command a compensatory fee of around £5m if he leaves when his contract expires in the summer.

Johnson is understood to be keen to hear what City are willing to offer him, but that will not happen unless the Manchester club increase their offer significantly over the weekend.

Friday, 29 January 2010

M.E.N.: 'Closing in' on Johnson

The latest reports:
Manchester City are closing in on Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson to replace the departing Robinho.

MEN Sport understands the Blues have tabled a £5m bid for the 22-year-old, whose contract at the Riverside expires in the summer.
With Victor Moses to Newcastle rumours growing, I think Johnson might now be the focus.

Benji in Sunderland talks

The Benjani Renaissance was never going to last.

He is in talks with the strangely worsening Sunderland.

Mancini confirms:

"I spoke with him five days ago and he said to me that if there was the possibility to go and play he would like it," said the Italian.

"I said to wait, but if he wants to go and play that's OK. For a player, it's important to play. We have a lot of strikers and he will decide if he wants to stay here.

"I'm happy if he wants to stay here. I'm happy because he's a good player. In the next few days, I will speak with him again."

Taylor: Cook under threat

The second interesting insider piece on City in Friday's papers: Daniel Taylor writing that Garry Cook's job as Chief Executive is under threat after recent events:

Manchester City's owners in Abu Dhabi are starting to give serious consideration to the position of the chief executive, Garry Cook, at the end of the season after becoming increasingly perturbed about his leadership style and the frequency with which he has attracted bad publicity...

That particular episode was not under ADUG's watch, but Cook's propensity for saying the wrong thing has started to jar with his employers and also affect the way the supporters consider him.
Interesting stuff. Even more so because it is in such contrast with Ian Herbert's article on similar issues in today's Independent:

The club are also undertaking work to ensure that the chief executive, Garry Cook, hugely valued in the Middle East, is not exposed to any more of the embarrassments which have contributed to his gaffe-prone image. Mubarak and his team are reported to believe Cook was left exposed when a video phone was used to record his declaration, in a bar in New York two weeks back, that City would become "without doubt, the biggest and best football club in the world".

Cook had been assured beforehand that it was safe to deliver a rousing speech to fans at the City-supporting Mad Hatter pub, where he had arrived to present a blue plaque to the bar to mark its affinities. The publicity created by the speech has helped fuel the latest chatter among the enemies Cook has made in the game that he is destined to be ousted this summer, though there is no evidence that this might be the case.

Ian Herbert and Daniel Taylor tend to be on the same page on most City issues so to see them disagreeing like this is fascinating. We'll have to wait a while to see which is proved right but it's certainly an interesting light on recent events.

Transfer window: 80 hours left

With the loan departures of Vladimir Weiss to Bolton Wanderers and Robinho to Santos, we could probably do with one more attacking wide player this month. We currently only have Martin Petrov, Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips and while they're all good players the first two suffer with long-standing knee problems while SWP is himself returning from an injury. So a fourth option would be very nice if we are to maintain our push for fourth place plus the FA Cup.

There seem to be two names in the frame: Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson, and Crystal Palace's Victor Moses. Both young, English talents currently playing the Championship, they certainly represent better value for money options than Ángel di María. I wrote about Johnson last night but the news seems to be that we have made a bid and the player is keen to speak to us. So we may well tie this one up.

Victor Moses looks more attainable than Johnson - due to Crystal Palace's going into administration - but we are up against more competition. So far Newcastle United and West Brom have both offered Palace £1.5million, while West Ham, Nottingham Forest and Fulham are also interested. I don't know how this will play out - obviously we could outbid these teams by a distance but whether we do probably hinges on Moses' perceived willingness to come to a side where he will be some way from the first team on arrival.

I think we will buy one of these two, and I think it will probably be Johnson. But I'm not sure. We can also expect to see a deal done for Marco Motta on loan between now and Monday evening.

Herbert: Mancini safe

Ian Herbert of The Independent has a long article in Friday's Independent, claiming that Roberto Mancini is safe as manager even if we fail to make it to the 70 points / 4th place target:

City lost the battle, for sure, 3-1 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate, but it would be foolish to rule them out of the turf war. The detractors who would like the Arab riches to fall on stony ground, and for City's years without silverware to extend for more decades, are fond of imagining that Mancini's grip on the club is a precarious one which may end this summer. But the Italian has a security which his predecessor, Mark Hughes, lacked. The club's chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, wants Mancini to hit the 70-point target in the Premier League this season which Hughes agreed to at a board meeting in August, but the Italian will still be in situ next season if he does not.

The whole article - with insights into Garry Cook and his relationship with the owners - is fascinating but this is good news if true. Providing we don't tank and finish fourteenth I'd be quite keen for us not to change manager again in the summer.

Sky: Johnson interested in MCFC

There might be movement on a possible replacement for Robinho: Sky Sports News 'understand' that Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson wants the chance to speak to us over a possible move.

This one has been simmering for a while now, with Gordon Strachan recently confirming that the club had received offers for Johnson. If he really wants a move then we've only got two and a half days to tie it up before the window closes. Definitely worth keeping an eye on this.

Robinho goes

He's gone - on loan to Santos FC until August 4th.

Coming the day after our semi-final defeat to United, the edge has been taken off the drama of this move. It was no surprise, after weeks of rumours. But it's a big story. Robinho is a key part of the history of the ADUG era at Manchester City, and so by extension a big player in the history of MCFC. His arrival on September 1st 2008 symbolised this thrilling new chapter in our club's history. He came at midnight that evening, poached from underneath Chelsea's nose, for a British record fee of £32.5million. It was the club's most thrilling moment since Paul Dickov smashed the ball past Vince Bartram at Wembley in 1999.

Robinho was meant not just to symbolise our new era but to take us there. And he had a good start to his City career. Playing on the left of a 4-3-3 he impressed, scoring 12 goals in his first 19 games. He provided us with some magical moments: the chip against Arsenal, the hat-trick against Stoke, the beautiful strike against FC Twente. He is as natural a finisher as I have seen in blue. But as the winter set in it became increasingly clear that he was not quite the player we hoped he was. He was lazy on the pitch, disruptive in the dressing room - infamously leaving our Tenerife training camp without permission, and refusing to wear the club uniform on trips - and disgraceful in away games. I maintain that his performance at Fratton Park last winter was the worst I have ever seen from a Manchester City player.

An injury at the start of this season put him out for months, and when fit he fell behind Craig Bellamy and Martin Petrov in the pecking order, who both combine a pace and directness that Robinho lacked. When he did play - as at Goodison Park - he was ineffectual and played as if his heart wasn't in it. After his goal-laden start, he went on to score just four in his last 34 games for the club.

Robinho as a footballer came to mirror Robinho as a signing. All symbol, all gesture, with no solid foundation or basis. Just as he was bought to add glamour and spice to a team that needed strengthening in key areas, his performances themselves prioritised style over substance. A pedalada here, a rabona there, but when there's no effort, no thought, he is revealed to be the bauble he is. His play, just like his purchase, was a case of putting the icing before the cake.

He is officially only at Santos until August 5th. But I would be surprised if we see him at City again. So what does this tell us about ADUG and the whole project? Most obviously, that transfer policy is best conducted by football people. Mark Hughes didn't always spend well - just look at that £40million pair of centre backs - but there's no doubting that chairman-driven transfers aren't smart. But it is certainly to the board's credit that they have sanctioned this, and not insisted on 'their man' continuing to play a role he has no interest in performing. Equally, it reflects well on Roberto Mancini that he has made such a ruthless and clear-headed decision so soon into his management of the club. The luxury of our position is that we can afford to cast off those unwilling and able to do their bit, even if it means losing money. I hope this acts as a deterrent to those who feel they can avoid pulling their weight.

I hope he does well at Santos. He was never my favourite player - I tend to prefer the warriors to the conjurers. But he provided us with some special moments, and showed us a glimpse of the quality of players we could now attract to MCFC. Like his mate Elano, it is a shame that it didn't work out. But I can't wait to see them reunited in the World Cup.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Derby reax

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

No amount of consoling words can possibly comfort City, particularly with the Stretford End crowing long and loud, but they should take pride in defeat. Carlos Tevez never stopped running, never stopped worrying Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. Micah Richards never stopped seeking to break down the right, even bringing an unbelievable save from Edwin van der Sar.

Sam Wallace, The Independent

It was a monumental effort from City to haul themselves back into the game from two goals behind to take it to the brink of extra time. There were impressive performances from Craig Bellamy and Tevez; there were equally important contributions from Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher but in the end there was Rooney and only Rooney who really mattered.

Oliver Kay, The Times

On balance, United deserved it. They had been in control for long periods of the first leg last week, when two goals from Tévez gave Roberto Mancini’s side a 2-1 win, but last night, after an uncertain first half, they turned the screw.

Scholes, Carrick and the excellent Darren Fletcher took a grip of midfield and, as the pressure increased on City’s makeshift defence, there was a familiar air of inevitability about the outcome, even after Tévez had made the aggregate scoreline 3-3.

Kevin McCarra, The Guardian

The chance had been laid on by Bellamy, who ought to be a candidate for the footballer of the year award. His side was also vigorous and, before the interval, neither team had been in command for long. Mancini has had an early impact at the club by instilling a touch of rigour into the defence. This has occurred despite the current need to put a youngster such as Dedryck Boyata at the core of the back four while Joleon Lescott recovers from surgery.

Derby player ratings

A great save from Darren Fletcher but he might just have done better with the first goal. And the third came from his failing to win the ball when coming out of goal. 6

Richards Another good performance from Micah, whose return to form has been very welcome. He dealt much better with Ryan Giggs than he ever has done before, and did well carrying the ball from the back. Almost scored a great goal with a left foot I never knew he had. 7

Kompany For 91 minutes he was immaculate - cutting off almost everything and throwing himself into blocks. Let Rooney escape in stoppage time, though, which must have been as upsetting for him as it was for us. 7

Boyata It's testament to his maturity that Mancini trusted him ahead of Onuoha for the game. He did well again - composed and confident. 7

Garrido Never looked comfortable with the skill and movement of Nani, and was withdrawn after an hour. Is the Garrido Renaissance coming to an end? 5

Zabaleta He lives for the battle and he fought hard on the pitch. Tried his best to get Wayne Rooney sent off in the first half, unsuccessfully, and after that put in a number of strong tackles across the pitch. Moved to left back for the last half hour. 6

de Jong Tackled hard, as ever, but could not stem the tide when Fletcher and Scholes really started playing in the second half. Passing not always perfect - gave away the ball in the run-up to the second goal. 6

Barry Still looks like he needs a rest, which limited his attacking potential, but was still largely effective in putting out fires in our half. 6

SWP A few good moments, bursting past players, but could never quite find enough space for a good final ball. Took a bit of a kicking, as he always does against United. 6

Tévez He had to score, and he did - with a remarkable finish that would have got a lot more attention if the last fifteen minutes had happened differently. He worked hard all evening, giving Rio Ferdinand a difficult time, although not everything came off before the goal. 7

Bellamy Another one who lives for these big games, he was a constant menace - he clearly enjoys playing against Rafael - getting into good positions and crossing for Tévez's goal. Did well to play on after getting coined in the second half. 7


Ireland Found some space and played some nice passes. I'd love him to start on Sunday. 6

Adebayor Ran hard when he came on. n/a

United 3 - 1 City

  • So much for Wembley. We went to Old Trafford this evening needing a draw or a win, and we got neither. For a brief period it looked as if we were going to take the game into extra time, but we couldn't even make it that far. Ultimately, United were too good for us. Taking the game to extra time would have been an achievement itself. Losing the game in stoppage time was heart-breaking, but was no breach of football justice.
  • As in the first leg, we stuttered at first. We conceded too much space to United, and they subjected us to a level of pressure that we deserved. We improved as the first half went on, and 0-0 was probably fair at the interval. But again we faced the problem of retreating in the face of pressure, and again we were reliant on Vincent Kompany and Dedryck Boyata to keep the game level.
  • But their resistance could not last forever. The upsetting thing about the second half was that both goals were avoidable. Both came from a sequence of missed tackles, both could have been avoided had best defensive practices been followed. It was a shame after such a good defensive performance, but it was almost inevitable from the off: we never quite looked like having the experience to hold them off.
  • Once we went 2-0 down we finally started to play. The addition of Stephen Ireland and Emmanuel Adebayor added more to our game, and our goal when it came was deserved. But a really excellent team would have pressed that advantage and gone into the lead. We didn't. After a brief spell of pressure we ceded control back to United, and as much as I would have liked to complain about Rooney's goal, if it had not have come in the 91st minute it would have happened in the 101st or 111th minute.
  • To get through this evening we would have needed to have been either defensively flawless or brutal on the counter-attack. We were neither, which is why we failed. But we're still in the FA Cup, and in competition for fourth place. This season isn't over yet, and glory is still within reach.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Mancini: 'We have to play to win'

I don't know if this is mind games (it could easily be), but Mancini has said that we won't just sit back tonight and hit United on the break:
"I want us to start the game by playing high up the pitch and don't hold back like we did at home. We have to play to win from the first minute."
If we are going to do this then we really ought to be playing 4-4-2. And so it's a real shame that we won't have a fully focussed Emmanuel Adebayor. We've tried 4-4-2 with Carlos Tévez and Craig Bellamy at Molineux, and it worked well, but Old Trafford is a different proposition. Teams have gone to Old Trafford and attacked this year - and been successful - but you've really got to be bold. Trying to contain Wayne Rooney in the hope of hitting them on the counter is probably beyond us.

More on Marco Motta

A regular reader (hat tip to Phil) pointed me towards this article in FourFourTwo which serves as an introduction to Marco Motta:
Motta, who began his career as a winger, is a direct, explosive player with a sense of adventure. But the 6ft tall full-back doesn’t shirk defensive duties, relying on wonderful aerial ability and a tough streak. Some consider him calcio’s Sergio Ramos. Thanks to his idol Paolo Maldini, there is little chance of Motta going off the rails should he shine in the World Cup: “Maldini has always been my role model because of the person he is and how he is off the pitch.”

More on Robinho

This Ashley Gray article is full of information on the Robinho move, which looks likely to happen even if his destination still isn't definite. Though Santos are front-runners:

Santos vice-president Odilio Rodrigues Filho and club lawyer Joao Vicente Gazolla will hold face-to-face talks with City before the Carling Cup semi-final second leg at Manchester United.

The Brazilians described the deal as '98 per cent done' on Tuesday night and believe that merely signing the contract is all that is left to be done after conducting most of the negotiations by e-mail

More on Marco Motta understands that we are 'closing in on' Marco Motta.

And an article on claims that Motta said this yesterday:

'I want to thank everyone for the months I spent with the Giallorossi. See you soon,' he said.

This looks likely to happen.

So what do we know about Motta? Not much really. He's 23, he plays at right-back and has 31 caps for Italy U-21s. He started off at Atalanta and had spells at Udinese and Torino before joining Roma, where he hasn't really won a place in the side.

It's interesting regarding the team. We have two right backs already, although they have both been used out of position recently - Micah Richards at centre-back and the woefully out of form Pablo Zabaleta in central midfield. Motta provides another option but whether he's much better than Richards or Zabaleta we'll just have to wait and see.

Marco Motta linked

Apparently we're close to making our second signing of the window - Roma's defender Marco Motta:

Manchester City have opened formal talks with Roma about signing their out-of-favour defender Marco Motta on loan for the rest of the season. Motta is a 23-year-old right-back who has lost his place at the Stadio Olimpico since Claudio Ranieri replaced Luciano Spalletti as coach.

Negotiations are at advanced stage and Roberto Mancini, the City manager, confirmed to Italian journalists yesterday that he was keen to sign a player who used to captain the Italy Under-21 side as well as representing the full side in the last Olympics.

Sounds good. More if and when it goes through.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

United preview

Tomorrow evening hosts our biggest game since Gillingham. All we have to do is win or draw at Old Trafford, against what will presumably be a full-strength United side, and we've made the final against Aston Villa on February 28th. Lose 3-2 or 4-3 and we make it through after 120 minutes.

It's going to be difficult. United were very good in patches of the first leg. Tomorrow they can only be excellent. Wayne Rooney is in the form of his life, Luis Antonio Valencia is improving and even Nani had a good game on Saturday. Feeding off the tension and emotion of the anti-Glazer protests and the whole Tévez/Neville feud they will take some stopping. And if the first leg is anything to go by the game will be played almost entirely in our half. Mancini is clearly quite comfortable sitting back, trusting our defence and taking our opportunities when they occur.

But I worry. I just can't see us keeping a clean sheet. Rooney has twelve in twelve in all competitions. We have some of our first choice defenders out. We can be as well organised as we want but I fear at a crucial moment Rooney will produce and we will concede. I'm not sure that we can do this without scoring. We will be effective on the break - Tévez and Craig Bellamy will play, plus one of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Martin Petrov. There will be a chance or two, which we can't afford to miss.

There is evidence, though, that attacking at Old Trafford is the best policy. They are no longer infallible there. So far this season they have lost at home to Leeds United, to Aston Villa and to Beşiktaş. They've drawn against CSKA Moscow and Sunderland, relying on two stoppage time equalisers to do so. And these games suggest that if you come out and play, 4-4-2, you can push them back and succeed. I don't know whether Mancini will play that way tomorrow night. With a fully focussed Adebayor we certainly could, but without I think we'll go 4-5-1 again: with the third central midfield spot just going to Pablo Zabaleta over Stephen Ireland. Great for shutting most teams down, but United at Old Trafford, with Rooney on form is different.

Will it be enough? Not quite, I think. We'll give it a good shot, we'll play well but I don't think we'll make it to Wembley. Not this time. 2-0 to United.

Ned looks forward to the derby

The first team squad's only boyhood City fan (unless I've forgotten anyone) can't wait for the game:
"It's probably as big a game as we've played in, an absolutely massive game and one that won't be forgotten for a long time. We need to make sure that at the end it's in our favour.

"It's the first time in a long time there's been so much pressure on United to beat us. But if you start thinking of defending at Old Trafford, it usually leads to bad things happening.

"We have to attack. If we score the first goal then it puts a lot more pressure on them. And if the game gets stretched later on, there are players on our side who will relish it."

He's right. If we sit back for the whole game I doubt we'll keep a clean sheet. If it's 1-0 at 90 minutes we will have extra time left to score but if we go out with the wrong mindset I think we'd struggle to make it that far. But with Bellamy, Wright-Phillips and Tévez all starting we just might be able to hit them on the break once or twice.

And Nedum goes on to say that the mentality to play this game correctly might now be in place, after the change in managers:

"You could see the way that the mentality changed in a short time, and there was even greater expectancy.

"It was good to be able to watch things develop and know the level you needed to be at if you want to be in the side. It's a challenge, but if it's too easy you probably lower your standards."

Thiago Motta linked

In the Independent today:
With Robinho expected to leave, Roberto Mancini would like to sign the midfielder Thiago Motta on loan. The Brazilian who has an Italian passport would be Mancini's second signing from his former club Internazionale after Patrick Vieira
I imagine this is a back-up if we fail to sign either Flamini or Gago. We're not exactly crying out for defensive midfielders.

More on Robinho

The Santos press officer, Arnaldo Hase, says that a meeting in England - attended by Robinho's father Gilvan de Souza - on Monday could be decisive:

The Santos press officer Arnaldo Hase said the Brazilian club have sent two representatives to Manchester for talks with City. "There will be a meeting [today] that may be decisive for good or for bad. City would accept a six-month loan, Santos want to negotiate for six months or longer, but we will be happy if the deal is closed for six months," Hase said.

"Under our proposal, Santos would pay Robinho's wages. The player already said to us he is open to earn less here than in Manchester. If everything works out well, Robinho could be a really cheap signing for Santos because we have a lot of partners interested in financially supporting Robinho's return."

And Roberto Mancini has just confirmed that the club are in talks with both Santos and São Paulo FC over Robinho's departure.

Robinho pay details

According to The Times we're going to pay a decent amount of his wages if he goes back to Santos:

The forward is ready to take a pay cut of about £45,000 a week from the £150,000 that he secured when he became the most expensive player in this country after moving from Real Madrid 18 months ago. Santos are in talks with sponsors to help to fund about £35,000 of the remaining wage — three times more than their present top earner — with City expected to pick up the balance, about £70,000.

Apparently we're also getting first refusal on the next two 'new Robinhos', which I suppose could go either way.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Robinho: 'It's 90% certain'

More talk about his proposed move back to Santos, in an interview with TV Globo:
"It's all on the right track," he told TV Globo this morning. "Santos are looking at the duration of my loan.

"Santos want a year, but City want just six months. It's 90% certain. In two or three days it should be sealed."

Scunthorpe reax

Oliver Kay, The Times

If there is a temptation to regard Robinho’s goal, his first in 12 appearances this season, as an irrelevance, it should be avoided. Scunthorpe United’s performance was so full of character that, at 3-2 down, an equaliser would have surprised nobody. They were often the better team and, while the class of the goals scored by Martin Petrov, Nedum Onuoha and, in particular, Sylvinho were a measure of City’s overall superiority, Mancini looked like a relieved man afterwards, his team taking their record to six wins in seven matches under him.

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

It is undeniable that Robinho remains one of football’s marquee names, and the Brazilian’s glamour may be enhanced at the World Cup. If City’s No 10 were committed, giving unstintingly home and away, then he would be worth keeping.

But whenever is he fully committed? Robinho scored here but Martin Petrov was comfortably his superior. Carlos Tévez has shamed Robinho with his work ethic this season.

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

Sylvinho will never strike the ball more sweetly and that might have been the moment when the Championship side decided it should be an exercise in damage limitation and set about ensuring that their first-ever live appearance on terrestrial television did not end in a more crushing defeat. Instead Nigel Adkins's side came back valiantly, subjecting their opponents to near-unremitting pressure once Dedryck Boyata, the young City centre-half, had turned Cliff Byrne's shot past his own goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor, to make it 3-2. Scunthorpe will also reflect on a number of other close misses but ultimately this was a story of the Premier League side's superior finishing.

Jon Culley, The Independent

Doughty Scunthorpe, fighting for survival in the second tier, were good enough to equalise after slipping behind early in the game and came back a second time to trail 3-2 with 20 minutes left. But their manager, Nigel Adkins, was quick to acknowledge the Premiership side's sure-footed performance.

Matt Lawton, Daily Mail
For a fair chunk of this absorbing FA Cup tie, Scunthorpe United proved themselves a pretty difficult obstacle to overcome. Difficult enough to make Cook, unable to make it to Glanford Park because of illness, sweat a bit, anyway.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Robinho discusses exit

He's done an interview with Brazilian radio where he's said that he might well leave, and re-join Santos - as reported in the newspapers on Saturday:

"The whole board of directors [at City] has decided that the best thing is to loan me out," Robinho said. "It would be extraordinary to come back to Santos. Playing for Santos would help pave my way to the World Cup. It's my home, where I know everyone...

"The first thing to say is that it is a bad moment I am going through," Robinho told Rádio Bandeirantes in Brazil. "The managers are different here. They decide a system and want you to fit in and it doesn't matter if you're tall or short. The manager was honest with me. He told me I was just going to play every other game. I told him that wouldn't interest me because this is a World Cup year and I need to play...

"He [Diego, Robinho's former Santos teammate] invited me to be happy with him at Juventus," Robinho said. "I told him: 'Di, I think it's better for me to go to Peixe [Santos's nickname] and go back to Brazil."

So it looks like this just requires a deal between City and Santos to go through. I imagine this hinges on whether Santos are willing or able to pay a big part of Robinho's wages. But I do think that the key parties are all quite willing for this to happen. It's nice that his final touch for City might well be his sending us through to the fifth round.

Scunthorpe player ratings

A rare start for our second choice 'keeper. He did well enough, tipping one expertly over the bar. Possibly asking a bit for him to get to Boyata's own goal. Would be surprised if he starts in the fifth round. 6

Onuoha Not a natural right-back and had a slightly difficult time with the lack of cover he got from Robinho. But did his job competently, making most of his tackles, and took his goal - his fourth for City - well after Ireland's glorious pass. 7

Kompany A little bit shaky early on but grew into the game and did very well under Scunthorpe's aerial bombardment. Wore the captain's armband in the second half, which fits him well. 7

Boyata Another good game from the fast-maturing Belgian. He was assured and confident throughout. His run in the side has been one of the best aspects of the Mancini era so far. 7

Sylvinho Played the first half at left-back, where he struggled with pace but was generally tidy. In the second half he moved to central midfield where he impressed - his neat passing and good football brain allow him to excel in a midfield three. Scored a stunning goal to put us 3-1 up, smashing it in from a good 30 yards or more. 7

de Jong Had a decent first half - when he was captain - putting in some big challenges and keeping the ball well. Came off at half time, which could be worrying given how important he is for Wednesday night. 6

Ireland A big chance for Ireland - playing in close to his favoured role. Struggled to find space at first but had improved in the last ten minutes of the first half, culminating in a delightful chipped pass through to Onuoha for our second goal - his best moment for City for months. Came off early in the second half. 7

Ibrahim Another City debutant. The 18 year old Norwegian played in central midfield and looked strong and confident with good feet and a sensible choice of passes. Another one I'd like to see more of this season. 7

Robinho A typically mixed performance in what could be his last game for City. He had some lovely touches - before Petrov's goal, and taking his own very well, having missed a good chance before. But he also lost those tackles which he even bothered to make and gave very little help to the rest of the team. Nice to go out on a high note though. 7

Benjani He tried hard, running into channels and holding the ball up. It didn't always come off for him but it was still a decent performance. I doubt he'll start at Old Trafford, though. 6

Petrov Our best performance on the night, always threatening and coming up with a few moments of real quality. His goal was excellent, an unstoppable finish from a tight spot, and his pass through to set up Robinho's was almost as good as Ireland's through to Onuoha. 8


Cunningham Made his debut, coming on at left back for the second half. Picked up an early booking but had a quiet game that aside. 6

Zabaleta Half an hour in central midfield, where he did well enough, including a run down the right hand side to set up Robinho's goal. 6

Bellamy Five minutes on the left wing. n/a

Scunthorpe 2 - 4 City

  • With a semi-final second leg at Old Trafford on Wednesday, today was always going to be overshadowed by events to come. Selection was a balancing act between resting those that we need for Wednesday but doing enough to progress to the fifth round. And Mancini achieved it perfectly: Gareth Barry, Shay Given, Carlos Tévez, Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips were all rested, while Craig Bellamy was only needed for the last five minutes. We didn't play brilliantly, but we did enough, which is more than we sometimes do.
  • The performance was a bit mixed. We didn't control possession as well as we might, which with Stephen Ireland and Nigel de Jong starting in central midfield was slightly disappointing. We settled better in the second half, but Scunthorpe had quite a few chances. When they equalised in the first half it had been long coming, and we were fortunate to be 2-1 up at the break. In the second half we were bombarded with high balls, and for the most part we looked comfortable. And with Scunthorpe coming at us it was never going to be that easy.
  • The way you get out of these situations: a well organised, competitive opposition in unfavourable conditions is with isolated moments of excellence. All four of our goals demonstrated the quality we can call upon, the one key difference between the two teams: Martin Petrov's finish for our first, Stephen Ireland's beautiful pass for our second, Sylvinho's cannon-shot from distance, and Petrov's ball for Robinho for our fourth. It would have been nice to out-pass them, maybe, but with goals of this quality it was still very good. A great reminder, too, of the players we can call on even without some of our biggest names.
  • It was pleasing to see more of the Academy players in the game. Dedryck Boyata made his third start under Mancini, and looked increasingly confident. Abdisalam Ibrahim played the whole game and looked good, while Greg Cunningham came on at left back for the second half. Add Stephen Ireland and Nedum Onuoha and it was a good turn-out for the Academy boys. Mancini's willingness to blood youngsters has been a pleasant surprise thus far - I wouldn't mind seeing one or two in the next round.
  • That's not to say that Stoke City will be an easy game. They're a competitive side and they look secure enough in the Premier League to really throw their all into the FA Cup. That said, it is still a relatively favourable draw for a fifth round game. Stoke have come to Eastlands twice and we've beaten them 3-0 and 2-0. We've got to be big favourites though.

Line up v Scunthorpe

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Scunthorpe preview

Wednesday is our biggest game for years, without doubt. And Mancini should do as much as he can to maximise our chances of getting to Wembley. But - and I appreciate the contradiction here - we shouldn't be ignoring this game either. Because it's a big one. With Manchester United and Liverpool already out, we're third favourites. By the time we kick off Arsenal could be out, given the team they are going to field at the Britannia.

But it's only natural that we will rest key players. Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry look exhausted, we can't risk Tévez - who might have a hamstring strain - and Craig Bellamy is unable to play too regularly. With Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips coming back to fitness I imagine that they will play, leaving us with a team looking something like this:

These games rest often rest on a balancing act - picking a side just good enough to win without compromising future fixtures. Obviously playing Barry, de Jong, Bellamy and Tévez would increase our chances of winning but I hope that this will be enough. It should be difficult in an 'old fashioned English cup-tie' sense: small stadium, bad pitch, bad weather and all that. It's possible that this will unsettle Mancini, in that he's new to the English game and so forth. But I think that analysis is more to do with lazy stereotyping than anything else.

It will be tight, certainly, and we might have to bring on some of our bigger names to secure the win. But I think we'll come through it.

Marca: €15m offer for Gago

Real Madrid mouthpiece Marca has reported that our interest in Fernando Gago has led to a €15million (£13.2m) bid, although we would also consider a loan. The offer was apparently made to Florentino Pérez and Jorge Valdano through Gago's agent Marcelo Lombilla, who is trying to convince them to let el Pintita leave. Gago wants out, having lost his place to Xabi Alonso, and needing games to get him into Maradona's World Cup squad.

Everton and Juventus are also interested.

Mancini pessimistic on Serie A buys

The prospects of our taking Mathieu Flamini from AC Milan seem to have taken a bit of a knock, as Mancini has said that a move for Flamini - or for Giorgio Chiellini of Juventus - are unlikely:
Mancini said: "I think it's impossible Chiellini will leave Juventus, because he's their best defender right now. He's the best defender in Italy, probably.

"Flamini is a good player. But he is part of a Milan side who are doing very well in Serie A at the moment. They are only six points behind Inter. I don't think he would want to leave that at the moment. For me, Chiellini and Flamini are impossible."
It's a bit of a shame but not a disaster. Having signed Patrick Vieira Flamini would be more valuable as a full-back than a midfielder, and we do have a good stable of centre-backs at the moment without Chiellini. I'd love us to spend big there but with Vincent Kompany in the form he's in I'm not sure our season necessarily depends on it. And there are other targets out there.

Robinho linked with Santos loan

That's the transfer rumour in today's papers. First Mark Ogden in the Telegraph:

Although the two clubs remain some distance from agreeing on financial aspects of the deal, which would involve Santos paying a substantial proportion of Robinho's £160,000-a-week wages, sources at City believe a compromise can be reached.

Manager Roberto Mancini has been dismayed by Robinho's performances since succeeding Mark Hughes at Eastlands and he has informed City's football administrator, Brian Marwood, that he is ready to part with the player.

And then there's Neil Custis in The Sun, who says that Robinho will 'play his last game for Manchester City tomorrow', and that we are in talks with Barcelona and Santos.

I initially thought that Robinho would stay in January while Mancini had a look at him, but it does seem possible that he might leave before the window is closed.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Johnson, Behrami, Canales linked

Big day of transfer rumours.

First there's Jason Burt claiming that we have bid £15m for West Ham's Valon Behrami:

The offer for the Swiss international will test the resolve of West Ham’s new owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, to hold on to one of their star players. However the co-chairmen may decide that, by cashing in on the 24 year-old, they may be able to provide extra funds to bolster Gianfranco Zola’s relegation-threatened squad.

West Ham have so far made it clear that Behrami, who was signed from Lazio for £5 million, on a five-year deal in July 2008, is not for sale.
Then a story from Shaun Custis saying that we are 'weighing up a swoop' for Middlesbrough's 22 year old winger Adam Johnson:

City have asked the winger's agents about his situation, with Chelsea, Sunderland and Wolves also showing strong interest.

Johnson is out of contract in the summer and Sunderland had stolen a march on their rivals by getting an agreement in place with previous Boro boss Gareth Southgate.

Weiss loaned to Bolton

For the rest of the season.

It's a good move for him - he needs Premier League experience for his development, and he needs games if he wants to make Slovakia's World Cup squad. (On Sunday 20th June at lunchtime he faces Roque Santa Cruz's Paraguay, which will be a massive game for City fans.)

The one bad moment is the timing of this move - I was hoping he'd play on Sunday at Scunthorpe. But then SWP needs gametime so I guess he might start anyway.

Carlos speaks

To Argentine radio, about his spat with Gary Neville:

Speaking in a radio interview on ESPN Argentina, Tevez said: "My celebration was directed at Gary Neville. He acted like a complete sock-sucker [boot-licker] when he said I wasn't worth £25m, just to suck up to the manager. I don't know what the hell that idiot is talking about me for. I never said anything about him.

"I will never show a lack of respect towards anyone. Just as I was running off to celebrate the penalty I had scored, I came across Gary and I said to myself: 'Shut your trap, keep quiet.' I didn't go overboard in my celebration and it was directed at Gary, not at Ferguson and not at the fans. I think he did the wrong thing because I was his team-mate and I never said anything bad about him. He was ­saying that Ferguson was right when he said that I wasn't worth £25m, when he was saying this and that ... I always respected Neville...

"My team-mates were asking what I thought. And I wondered to myself: what's the tarado [moron] talking about me for when I never said anything about him, when there was never any [issue] with us. It was a lack of respect for a compañero [fellow ­footballer], aside of the fact that we had won a lot of things together.

I've always thought Neville was a bit of a tarado too, to be honest.

Jô joins Elano at Gala

Our one time record signing Jô has had his loan deal with Everton cancelled and has joined Galatasaray for the remainder of the 2009/10 season. With a Premier League scoring record of six in 36 and disciplinary issues at both City and Everton I imagine this brings to an end his career in England. If Galatasaray do not buy him in the summer I am sure that no English club would touch him. A return to eastern Europe awaits.

It feels right, though, that he has been reunited with his compatriot and former MCFC team-mate Elano. Both found themselves sharply at odds with the Mark Hughes regime in that discordant autumn of 2008 - both failed to adjust to the new standards in training, both were fined wages for indiscretions, both looked out of place in a side based on pace and will. For those City fans that hope the Mancini era will herald a return to the pre-Hughes relaxation and fun factor, Galatasaray will provide a fascinating 'might have been.'

And it's a great place for him. He joins not just Elano but Shabani Nonda, Harry Kewell, Milan Baros, Tobias Linderoth and now Lucas Neill in the Premier League could-have-made-its at the Ali Sami Yen. Crucially for Elano and Jô they are managed by Frank Rijkaard, a man who achieved great things with a group of lazy Brazilians at Barcelona.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Goater wants MCFC return

I would love this quite a lot:

“I miss the game, so I’ve got to start and get myself back in somewhere at youth level. We’re talking a few years down the line, but I want to get the licence and myself involved again.

“I still keep myself involved in and around the club, my heart’s still City. It’s just great to be involved at the club at whatever level.”

Our Cantona?

An intriguing comparison raised by Mark Ogden in today's Telegraph:

Cantona was Man United's missing link, the final piece in a title-winning jigsaw that had taken 26 years to complete. He scored decisive goals, injected charisma and became an iconic figure. His face adorned billboards (1966 was a great year for English football – Eric was born) and United supporters relished the delicious irony that he had come their way having been carelessly discarded by a bitter rival.

Eighteen years on and history is beginning to repeat itself at Eastlands in the form of Tévez. The 25 year-old might lack the regal presence of Cantona, but his two-goal performance in Man City's 2-1 Carling Cup semi-final first-leg victory on Tuesday emphasised just what he has added to City and what United are missing.

It's an interesting comparison and I think there's something to it. It might be pushing it a bit to compare our position pre-Tévez to United's pre-Cantona - we're a few years behind - but it is certainly worth reading. If we go on to win something in the next year or so then this will look very prescient.

Mancini wants Flamini and Gago

Roberto Mancini's willingness to speak to the Italian media about life at City is going to give us a bit of an insight into his thinking from time to time. Today's it happened as he candidly discussed transfer targets with Gazzetta dello Sport:

"I need players. I hope that Vieira is fit for the return.

"Perhaps Real Madrid will give me Gago, maybe Milan (give me) Flamini..."

We've heard about the Flamini link before. I'm quite keen on it: he's tough, versatile, experienced at the top end of the Premier League and will give us cover in key positions. The rumour is further strengthened today by a Stuart Brennan article in the M.E.N. saying that MCFC sources have confirmed that Flamini is 'in their sights.' So I think this one is quite likely to happen.

The other rumour, though, is a real surprise. Fernando Gago is a 23 year old Argentine midfielder who has just been pushed out of the Real Madrid side by the arrival of Xabi Alonso. He's quite a nice player to watch, and has had a well-decorated career to date with trophies at Real and Boca Juniors. But I just can't see him being a success in the Premier League. His style is essentially a composite of criticisms people make of Michael Carrick. He's got a great eye for a pass, but he's not that quick, not that strong, needs time on the ball to be successful and he doesn't like being tackled.

How a squad with Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry, Vincent Kompany, Stephen Ireland, Pablo Zabaleta, Patrick Vieira and quite possibly Mathieu Flamini is improved by Gago's arrival I don't know. On the positive side, if we signed him we would have three Argentines, which would be cool - four if we bought Cristian Ansaldi. Gago was in the same Olympics squad last summer as Zabaleta, and he grew up in the Boca Juniors academy alongside Tévez - playing together briefly in December 2004.

Ansaldi linked again

This story - which I thought was dead - is back again. Rubin Kazan's sporting director Mukhsin Mukhamadiev has said:

'It's not just a rumour,' admitted Mukhamadiev. 'The English really do have their eyes on Ansaldi, but they are not alone. Today there are several major European clubs interested in his services.

'But it is not in Rubin's plans to sell Ansaldi. He has a contract with the club and we are counting on him for the new season.'

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

More 2-1 reax

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

Neville’s club know they are locked in a dogfight of gathering danger. Whether United find themselves engaged in a scrap to prevent a shift of power can only be properly assessed after a year or two, but failing to hold on to Tévez now looks an almighty own goal. Whatever the champions’ concerns about Tévez’s financial demands, whatever Sir Alex Ferguson’s scepticism about the Argentine’s impact in the major matches, there can now be no doubt that United erred badly in not retaining his substantial services. He makes a difference.

Where some cast quizzical aspersions over the adhesiveness of Tévez’s first touch, his remarkable work ethic more than compensates. Few flaws could be detected in the emphatic way he converted his first-half penalty, while his headed second bore all the hallmarks of a serial poacher.

Oliver Kay, The Times

In many other respects, Manchester City and, above all, a vengeful Carlos Tévez, went a long way towards proving Ferguson wrong and silencing the barbs that have been coming across the fence with more regularity and more ferocity than even the United manager appears to realise. All talk? Not good enough? Small club? Small mentality? Tévez overpriced? None of that sounds quite so convincing this morning.

Matt Dickinson, The Times

It had already said everything about the potential power swing in English football that Sir Alex Ferguson — a man who should be measuring his final years in titanic European Cup duels with Real Madrid and AC Milan — should be willing his team with all his might against City in a Carling Cup semi-final.

The United manager would love to have risen above this game, to have concentrated on bigger prizes, but the uprising is so strong, the shifts in football’s tectonic plates sufficiently alarming that he had no choice than to take on City with his very best XI (ie Wayne Rooney, United’s one-man attack, leading the line).

Daniel Taylor,

This was the moment Tevez had been craving since his defection from Old Trafford and the lingering sense of bad feeling could be seen in the exuberant way he chose to celebrate compared to the respect he has afforded West Ham when scoring against another of his former clubs. Tevez was so pumped up he made a beeline for the touchline where Gary Neville had been warming up and informed his former team-mate (imagine Rod Hull with an invisible Emu) that he talked too much. Neville had said on the eve of this match that he could not argue with Ferguson's assessment that Tevez was over-priced at £25.5m.

Our chances

The boss puts them at 51% - he's probably right:
"It is not a big advantage, but it is an advantage," said Mancini.

"I am happy with the result because we were behind after 20 minutes and I felt it could be difficult.

"But we recovered, scored two goals and played well.

"They had three or four chances but, in Shay Given, we have one of the best goalkeepers.

"Now I would say we have a 51% chance."
Of course, we are more likely to go through now than we were 24 hours ago. But once it was clear that Ferguson was going to play a full-strength team the chances of our progressing from a two legged tie - with the first leg at home - were on the slim side of 50/50. Last night's win will have improved our chances, but a lot of likely results still send United through. All two goal margin wins and more, of course. Any one goal margin win of theirs will go to extra-time before being decided by away goals. I'd quite enjoy a repeat of the 4-3 this time round, actually, if it meant we progressed.

I'd love us to draw or win, naturally. But it's a big ask.

The players speak

They all loved it, naturally. Pablo Zabaleta:
"Carlos was fired up because of what was said. United fans know he was a big loss because he was a great player for them. He can repeat this in the second game. Every team wants Carlos Tevez, and we have a great opportunity to enjoy him at this club. I am sure that Carlos will try to take Manchester City right to the top.
Vincent Kompany:
We got the result we wanted, and before the game I had called for some extra support from the fans for tonight and they were terrific. Even when we have gone behind against the best teams, at home they have really made a difference...

He adds, “If you’re not going to be confident after a result like this, when are you going to be? It’s the perfect situation, I believe we can score again as well and that’s a big difference for us.”


“It was a very satisfying win,” declared Wright-Phillips. “The players showed great character to come from a goal down.

The fans drove us on and on and in the end it all came good. To hold on to the win was terrific but we know there is still a job to do at Old Trafford.

“What we have to do is savour this tonight and then put it aside, we have a game on Sunday night that we have to win and we will be back in training for that match tomorrow morning. Preparation is everything.”

Gareth Barry:
He continued: "We knew, as individuals, we were all going to have to dig deep. Shay has performed well as well so we're delighted with the tie.

"It's still in the balance, it's half-time obviously, and we expect a tough game at Old Trafford. They're going to push on and give all they can, and we're going to expect a battle again."

On the derby atmosphere, Barry added: "It's my first one here and the noise was tremendous at times and hopefully we can give them something to shout about in the second game."

United reax

Kevin McCarra, The Guardian

The match, all the same, held other ­stories that the victors will rejoice in retelling. They had, after all, come back from a goal down to attain this joy. It is much too soon to tell whether City have been transformed but Tevez is certainly in the midst of an astonishing spell.

He altered the whole nature of this game. The equaliser in the 42nd minute was perplexing since the visitors dominated the first half as if their opponents had never been drenched in the torrent of Sheikh Mansour's wealth. United displayed a command they had not necessarily enjoyed even when City were downright poor.

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

The atmosphere had been crackling from before the off, the enmity between these neighbours inescapable. Already a guttural roar, the noise intensified when City paraded some greats of yesteryear, members of their 1969-70 side, including Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee and the peerless Colin Bell.

Unfortunately for Man City’s impassioned support, the heirs to Nijinsky’s thoroughbred tradition were too slow out of the starting gate, sitting too deep, seemingly too imbued with caution.

Sam Wallace, The Independent

When Tevez scored his second after the break he already had his celebration in mind, pushing team-mates out the way to stand in front of the United bench with his hands cupped behind his ears. If you think you have seen that one before, you have. Tevez did the same to the Old Trafford directors' box after a goal against City last season and by last night his protests were starting to get tiresome.

What was not in doubt was that an already edgy atmosphere has been given a new dimension by Tevez, the man who crossed the city from the red side to the blue last summer. Having played for them for two years Tevez would do well to remember that the time to stick two fingers up to United is when they are definitively, irrevocably beaten – not when they have 90 minutes at home to rescue the tie.

Matt Lawton, Daily Mail

The advantage is with City. Not by much when the away goal United scored could yet prove decisive if the scores are level at the end of extra time next week. But it is an advantage Mancini should be content with after rather bullishly declaring that City could soon supersede United as the biggest club in Manchester.

Old Trafford should prepare for another classic contest. A contest that could yet rival that seven-goal thriller in September Ferguson considers the greatest Manchester derby in history.