Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Juventus preview

Prestige European ties return to City. The UEFA Cup run under Mark Hughes was great fun, but we didn't entertain any of the elite. Tomorrow we host Juventus, our first European glamour tie since the 1980s.

I'm certainly excited about it. Having won in Salzburg the imperative to win tomorrow is slightly weaker, and so we can, within reason, relax and enjoy it. We don't get Alessandro del Piero at Eastlands too often.

Because it's so novel, it's hard to search in the precedents for anything meaningful. We have played them before, of course, in the UEFA Cup in September 1976. We won 1-0 at home, thanks to a Brian Kidd back post header but lost 2-0 in Turin. Interesting enough but this is hardly a sign of how things are going to go tomorrow. Will Emmanuel Adebayor be inspired by Kiddo's pre-game reminiscing?

I do think Adebayor will start, for the first time since our last home European game, over one month ago. The question, then, is whether he will be partnered with Carlos Tévez in 4-4-2 or left alone in 4-5-1. I would have guessed our captain would start, but on the other hand I think he'll bring back Adam Johnson too and that precludes 4-4-2 diamond. So it's 4-5-1 without Carlos or a flat 4-4-2 for the first time this season. Ultimately I don't know enough about Mancini or how he plans to use this squad to predict these things.

I don't really know enough to make a prediction, either, but I like the sound of 1-1 so I'll go with that.

Monday, 27 September 2010

'A clean sheet is holy'

After the best defensive performance I can remember from a City side, Nigel de Jong has been talking about the emphasis Roberto Mancini places on defending:
“Everybody knows what kind of manager he is,’’ De Jong said. “He has come from a country where defence is No 1 and he has brought that mentality from Italy. It took time but the main focus for him is to get the defence right because he knows we have enough quality to score goals — especially at home. That’s what he preaches: make sure we don’t concede.

“It is the mindset of every player. The belief is there. I don’t want to say the belief wasn’t there under Mark Hughes but with the manager coming from Italy defence is No 1. He spends more time on the training pitch with the defenders to get them to realise that a clean sheet is holy. You can see the message is getting through because we haven’t conceded a goal in the last three games and only two in six Premier League games.’’
If you add to those six games the two against Timişoara plus the win in Salzburg (all the games we have played our first choice defence), that's two goals conceded in nine games this season. One of those was certainly a gift, and Darren Bent's penalty might also have been too.

To those searching for evidence that Roberto Mancini has made a positive impact since his arrival (or rather, to those pretending that no such evidence exists), this is the simple and obvious response. It's not even to do with summer spending. Mancini has done this with Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Kolo Touré, Pablo Zabaleta, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards - all players Mark Hughes used.

James Ducker, of The Times, has put some data together. He wrote today that Mancini's Manchester City are conceding 0.70 goals per Premier League game (19 in 27 with 11 clean sheets), while Mark Hughes' MCFC conceded twice as many - 1.4 per game (77 in 55).

Bumper Chelsea reax

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph
De Jong and co rarely looked like letting Chelsea through on Saturday. One particularly emphatic (but fair) tackle by De Jong on Nicolas Anelka summed up the unquestioning execution of Mancini’s orders. Gareth Barry ably assisted De Jong in the centre while Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré were imperious at the back, blunting the battering ram that is Didier Drogba.
Chelsea weigh in as the biggest and heaviest side in the League but City stood up to them in some shuddering collisions, no one more so than Nigel de Jong, whose challenges this time were generally more legitimate than for Holland against Spain in the World Cup final. Carlos Tevez rivalled his team-mate for individual honours and claimed more headlines with the only goal, scored following an exciting burst from his own half that finally brought the game to life.
Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail
How they achieved it was simple, at least in its design if not its execution. Mancini's three holding midfielders - Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure - denied Chelsea the space they needed. When they did have the ball, City broke with pace and dexterity through Carlos Tevez and David Silva.
Daniel Taylor, The Guardian
Mourinho spoke of a culture whereby Barcelona's opponents "give away the game because they think they cannot win". The same, loosely speaking, has occurred in England. City, however, demonstrated all the attributes that are needed to bring Chelsea to their knees. They were fast to the ball and hard in the tackle. Mancini talked later of not giving Chelsea's attackers space and his players, in particular Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong, carried out such instructions with an efficiency that suggested they have all grown to understand the Italian's philosophy.
City played a relatively deep defensive line, but also kept Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry solidly ahead of the back four. They were ambitiously trying to deny Chelsea space both in behind the defence and between the lines – and it just about worked, thanks to some excellent individual defensive performances. Vincent Kompany was man-of-the-match but Barry and De Jong’s tackling stats (9/10 and 4/4 respectively) were equally important in breaking up the play and Ramires, in particular, struggled to cope with the pressure. Rather than attempting to stop Drogba, they instead stopped the supply to him – he only completed one pass in the second half, and was removed after 75 minutes.
Ian Herbert, The Independent
A defence against which no Premier League side is yet to create a goal this season – the two City have conceded were a penalty and a mix-up – has been subjected to a mantra, rather than a systematic reorganisation, according to Nigel de Jong, who revealed Mancini "preaches" clean sheets.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Chelsea player ratings

Hart A quieter day at the office than expected. There was one notable save, diving to his right from a Branislav Ivanović header but for the most part it was routine: a few good saves low down but nothing out of the ordinary. 7

Drafted in a right back for only his second Premier League start. Could easily have been sent off for a tug on Didier Drogba, or could have conceded a penalty. But for the most part he was assured, not allowing Ashley Cole or Florent Malouda to get beyond him. Better on the ball than I thought too. 7

Kolo Touré
A shaky first half - allowing Ivanović to get in the header that almost put Chelsea ahead, and coming worryingly close to repeating his mix-up with Hart. But he had an excellent second half, making some crucial interceptions. 7

Show me a better centre-back in the Premier League. He's been imperious all season but this was probably his best ever performance for City. He shackled Didier Drogba, as he has done before, to the extent that the Ivorian was withdrawn in the second half. His positioning was immaculate, he won every challenge and at one point he went on a forward run that Lúcio would be proud of. 9

A typically enthusiastic performance at left back. He was very keen to get forward early on, in support of Milner, and led to the creation of our best early chances doubling up on Ivanović. Booked for a nasty lunge on the Serbian and could have received a second yellow for a hack at Essien later on. 7

Nominally playing on the right but when we were in possession he drifted all the way across the pitch. As ever, his imaginative movement unlike anyone else on the pitch. It was one such run off the ball, dragging John Terry away from Carlos Tévez, that enabled our goal. Off the ball he was tougher and more dogged than people might think, which is very welcome, though his nasty kick on Alex was not. 7

Yaya Touré
Kept his position well in the first half, but as things started to open up later on he moved forward, to the extent that we were almost playing 4-4-1-1 at times. His leggy runs are getting better, though his final ball does suffer from not quite being on the same wavelength as his team-mates. 7

de Jong
Just as good as in this fixture last year. He was crucial, just in front of our back four, breaking up Chelsea's attacks with tackles and interceptions. Florent Malouda and Michael Essien just couldn't break through. His foward passing was more incisive than usual, too. 9

A very accomplished all-round performance. He did the basics well, and often: nine out of ten successful tackles, and all 42 attempted passes completed. He looks sharper and fitter than last year, which is probably connected to the fact that his place in the team is no longer automatic. A big improvement this season. 8

Worked hard up and down the left flank, and put in a few good crosses although with only one 5 foot 8 striker on the pitch it's not as easy as when he played with John Carew. 7

For the most part he looked fairly isolated up front, although he did work hard dropping deep. But when presented with a half chance he took it, making it four in three for City against Chelsea. 7


A. Johnson
One good run but generally quiet. 6

Ran well into the box once but went down easily. 6

Nice for him to make his debut, coming on for three minutes at right back. Didn't have much to do. n/a

City 1 - 0 Chelsea

  • This feels like a marker. It might not be the biggest achievement of Roberto Mancini's career; that has to be the once in a generation win at Stamford Bridge last year. But it is his most significant. In September we are still in the window of opportunity for season-shaping wins, and this certainly looks like one. Beyond that, it is a empowering personal vindication for Roberto Mancini. If our defeat of Chelsea last December was the idealised Mark Hughes performance, this was an idealised Mancini display: as impenetrable defensive arrangement as I've ever seen from a City side, providing the platform for a piece of Carlos Tévez magic to win it for us.

  • Chelsea have started this season unlike any Premier League side I can remember. If you include the final scenes of last season they had scored 38 goals in their last eight league games. But they created nothing from open play. Two close headers from set pieces and that was it. I have never seen a City side defend that well. The back seven (eight if you include Yaya Touré) held their shape perfectly, as well as all putting in a number of exceptional individual performances. Didier Drogba, snuffed out, was eventually replaced. Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda - the two musketeers who have blown away so many sides this year - were anonymous. Michael Essien was reduced to shooting from distance. This was the first Premier League game since Boxing Day in which they have failed to score, a run of 26 matches.

  • We didn't create much more, either. It was a very cagey game, not unlike the 0-0 draw with Liverpool last season. But unlike Chelsea we capitalised on our one opening. Yaya Touré won the ball in midfield and fed Carlos Tévez, breaking from inside our half. David Silva persuaded John Terry not to commit to Tévez, who found enough space to shoot through Ashley Cole's legs and into the bottom corner. This is becoming a key part of how we win under Mancini: establishing a sound defensive platform and waiting for Tévez to do something special. In an ideal world we'd create more chances playing thrilling football with a fluid movement of all outfield players. But it's not like there's a bad way to beat Chelsea.

  • From that point the game opened up a touch. Chelsea committed bodies forward but never looked like breaking through. We threatened more as Yaya Touré started driving forward into space. We might not have created that much, but neither did Chelsea. Danny Sturridge, Yuri Zhirkov and Josh McEachran came on but there was still no breaching the Barry-de Jong-Kompany-Kolo shield. Joe Hart barely had a difficult save to make. If you want an example of what Roberto Mancini has brought to City, what he's all about, then this is it. That's two goals conceded in nine games with this team now, and one of those was a freak. It takes some adjustment - it doesn't feel right - but we have to confront the possibility that we have the best defence in England.

  • Now I can cope with the Blackburn draw and the Sunderland defeat. I can even cope with the limited side we put out on Wednesday night. I said I would have put Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong out at the Hawthornes, and while I maintain a greivance on this issue, I can certainly see that they looked well rested and fresh today. Had they played in midweek things might well not have turned out this way. In this regard, and in others, today was a striking personal vindication for Mancini.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Chelsea preview

How better to follow-up a cup trauma than with one of our biggest games in the Premier League? Whatever happens tomorrow lunchtime it will stop people talking about whether Ben Mee was one gamble too far.

We've had a fairly middling start to our Premier League campaign. I do think we've played better than I thought we would, but we're probably a few points behind where we ought to be. But a good result tomorrow, some momentum for the Juventus and Newcastle games and we can really march into autumn with some authority.

There's no doubt, either, that this is our hardest game of the season yet. I can barely remember the last time a side started a Premier League season with as much swagger as Chelsea have. They look like a side hitting their stride in January or February, as United sometimes do. To be playing with their confidence and cohesion in late summer is something special. I fear we're going to struggle to live with them tomorrow.

We did beat them last year; a strange game looking back in that it represented the footballing peak of the Mark Hughes era but came just weeks before his dismissal. At the time we spoke of Shay Given's late penalty save as a 'Mark Robins moment', but it seems as if a decision had already been taken.

Tomorrow will be a very different game. That was the best single deployment of the Hughes gameplan: an aggressive, high-tempo 4-4-2 with Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips pressing from wide. On Saturday it will be more of the cautious and composed, football at arm's length that we have seen this season. There are injury problems in defence: I don't know if Gareth Barry or James Milner will have to play left back but it's possible. This might be a shame; the Milner-Barry-de Jong-Yaya-Silva midfield feels like our first choice and is well balanced. Moving one back would mean playing Adam Johnson against Ashely Cole, which sounds like a one-sided battle in both a defensive and attacking sense.
It's going to be tight. We're certainly going to look for a 0-0. I don't think we're quite going to get it, but I'm confident we're not going to get rolled over either. 0-1.

Samuel / Mancini

There's a good interview in today's Daily Mail of Roberto Mancini, conducted by Martin Samuel. (Samuel did a similarly good one of Mark Hughes in roughly January 2009.) He comes across as determined and ruthless, which isn't exactly news, but there's some interesting stuff in there too.

He talks about the attraction of City being the chance to turn an unsuccessful club into a successful one, which offers a different sort of appeal from maintaining the status of an already dominant club:
'That is why I liked Manchester City. It is like Sampdoria: if we are successful, we change the history of this club and we change it for life. This is our moment. When people ask why do I come here, I tell them it is because Manchester City never win.

'For me, that is the best challenge. Inter Milan were a top team but they had not won the league for a long time; Lazio the same; Fiorentina the same; Sampdoria never win.

'These are good challenges because when you work for Real Madrid or Barcelona it is easy; all managers win at those clubs. But if you build a squad, work very hard for months and years at Manchester City and then you win, for me that would be more important. That would be fantastic.'
This is something that some of our new players spoke of on joining. Carlos Tévez has mentioned it too. (I can't find links right now but will try to rectify this later today). Of course for players that join for the money this is an effective cover story. But I don't think it's entirely artificial either. Mancini then goes into the importance of a 'winning mentality' at City, which we've heard of incessantly over the last few years. (Can't we just buy one?):
'There are players whose only target is their day off and that is a big problem. You must replace them with those whose target is the win against Chelsea, then against Arsenal, then against Manchester United, who will work every day for this. Yes, there is still the day off, but you must never lose your focus even then.

'Before, at this club, there were players whose targets were wrong, but that mentality is changing. Those whose targets were wrong are the ones who have left. I tell them there is no day off now. The top players will play Saturday in the Premier League, Tuesday in the Champions League, Saturday in the Premier League; it is impossible to rest. Yes, there is one day you can use to recover, to have a massage, but your head must always be on the pitch and on your job...

'At some clubs you do not have to change mentality,' explained Mancini.

'For Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea it was already there.'
Generating a winning mentality seems to be the alchemist's trick in Premier League football. Sir Alex Ferguson has spent almost a quarter-century nurturing one at United, José Mourinho imposed one through force of will, Arsenal had it but appear to have let it slip. I don't think we have it yet but I do think that we're moving in the right direction, and that Mancini has the right idea. I certainly support him in his attempts to cajole and bully the players in the right direction.

There's more interesting stuff there, including his relationships with Adebayor, Shay Given, Mario Balotelli and even the line that Adam Johnson could 'change his mentality to improve', which I think isn't quite as surprising as it might be. The whole thing is certainly a good Friday afternoon read.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

WBA reax

Jon Culley, The Independent
Even the recall of Shay Given, for what may have been his last start in a City goalkeeping jersey, could not compensate, much as the Irishman demonstrated his quality for Mancini's benefit with a string of fine saves.

For his part, the Albion head coach, Roberto di Matteo, made 10 changes from the side that had beaten Birmingham last weekend but had enough experience and determination in his 11 to expose City's vulnerability and, although West Bromwich trailed at half-time, two goals in as many second-half minutes produced a just result.
Ian Edwards, Daily Telegraph
Given had made four excellent saves to thwart Albion by the time Gianni Zuiverloon surprised him with the sheer speed of his shot from the corner of the 18-yard box to equalise, and the huge gap which allowed Simon Cox to exchange passes with Roman Bednar to complete a deserved victory for Roberto Di Matteo's side was symptomatic of a dismal defensive performance.
Phil Shaw, The Guardian
Vieira relished the role of senior citizen, rarely straying from the centre of the pitch or breaking into a run but directing and cajoling his raw colleagues. Given needed no such coaxing, swiftly resuming his defiance after half-time by racing out to pluck the ball off Barnes' feet after a through-pass by Bednar.

WBA 2 - 1 City

  • If I had one desire for this season it was a trophy. Even a final would have sated me. And knowing that we are not going to win the Barclay's Premier League this year (and who would want to - it's so frightfully vulgar), all energy must surely be channelled into the cups. And of the three cups, the League Cup is surely our best bet. Yesterday afternoon we were just five games away from Wembley. The numbers are the same in the FA Cup but the stronger opposition makes it harder. We've played three Europa League games already but we've got another thirteen until Lansdowne Road. And so for Roberto Mancini to justify his team selection by saying that this is the fourth most important competition strikes an obvious wrong note.
  • Of course I understand the need for rotation. And I appreciate that players are tired, that we need to be at our strongest for consecutive home games against Chelsea and Juventus. But there is a middle way. This was not a home game. This was not against a team that should be rolled over, like, say, Northampton Town. It was an away tie against a Premier League side. So to go into it with a back four of Greg Cunningham, Ben Mee, Dedryck Boyata and Javan Vidal (one Premier League start between the four of them) was so knowingly suicidal as to make you wonder what the point was.
  • The key in the Carling Cup, as Manchester United show, is to do just enough. Yes, rest and rotate. But you can't just send your lads aimlessly over the top towards the German lines. You've got to give them a chance. So why he didn't supplement the team with more quality and experience is beyond me. In previous games where Mancini has rotated - Scunthorpe away in January, Timişoara at home in August, he has always kept his two lieutenants, Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong in the side. With those two instead of Ben Mee and Abdi Ibrahim we would, at the least, have had a decent spine running through the side. It might not have been enough: I would have wanted James Milner instead of either Roque Santa Cruz or John Guidetti too, in all honesty. But those changes do seem consistent with putting out respectable teams in our next few games.
  • Whereas now our chances of winning trophies this year have probably halved. I didn't watch the game (£60 well-saved in retrospect) so I don't have any opinions of my own about it, but by all accounts West Brom's side (not their first choice, either, it must be said) comfortably deserved to progress. Now, it's quite possible that we'll continue to progress through Europe, or that by the time the FA Cup rolls around we'll have seen off injuries, Silva will be fully settled in and we'll be flying. We could even be on for a treble by then, but that contingency is a fairly remote one. We have maimed our chances of trophies this year. What makes Mancini think he can be so casual and flippant about this?

Monday, 20 September 2010

On Tévez as captain

I'm conscious of the fact that I've barely written anything about the captaincy situation so far this season. This is out of character - I've previously written about it, criticising Kolo Touré's performance of the role and advocating for his replacement by either Nigel de Jong or Vincent Kompany. I was surprised by the Tévez appointment, and didn't know what I thought at first. But the more I think, and the more I watch, the more I sympathise with it.

Initially I thought Tévez was poorly suited to the role. His lack of English, his erratic and bolshie behaviour might well have excluded him; how different to the loyal, honest Richard 'Boxer' Dunne. He's certainly not a conventional captain in the way that Vincent Kompany is: vocal, consistent, articulate in both English and French (thus allowing him to cover two of the squad's three major linguistic groupings). He would have been the natural pick, and Nigel de Jong would not have been too far behind. (Given that de Jong is one of the world's most infamous footballers after the World Cup the idea of him captaining one of the world's most hated football clubs - from a seige mentality, 'two fingers up' perspective does hold some attraction.)

But there are reasons to appoint a captain beyond merely the case of the player who best fits the checklist. One of the key facts of City in 2010 thus far has been just how dependent were are on Carlos Tévez. He's scored 20 in 27 games this calendar year, but even that stat feels like it undersells him. Just think of the games where we looked flat before he opened the scoring and turned the game. The 3-0 win at Molineux, where he scored twice, both goals in the League Cup semi against United at home, and the goal at Old Trafford that almost took it to injury time. At Stamford Bridge in February we were 1-0 down but out of it just before half time. But Tévez spun Terry, tore past Carvalho and drew us level. Or the Wigan game, where we played miserably and relied on a Tévez hat-trick within the last twenty minutes to win it for us. Then on Sunday, against Wigan again, it was his chip just before the break that allowed us to go in on a high, with the win in our nostrils. If you don't think that changed the game, compare the respective second halves of the Sunderland and Wigan games this year.

I think it's fair to say that no team in the Premier League is as carried by one individual as we are by Tévez. For Gerrard there is Torres. For Rooney there is Scholes and now Nani and Berbatov. But Tévez is the sole carrier of our torch, the only man capable of lifting a flat performance, of carving something out of nothing through his own bubbling blend of will and talent. At times last season he was not just our only competent finisher but also our only creative player, the only one who could create a chance - even if it he had to take it himself. With Robinho back at Santos and Ireland drifting out of favour he was certainly our most effective trequartista even if he lacked the chances to show this.

Carlos Tévez is the difference between a pedestrian, tidy but fairly inconsequential team and a very different outfit: with Tévez charging around up front we can beat almost anyone: we did the double over Chelsea last season, and he scored three of our six goals. If we are going to achieve anything, this year or in the next few years, he will be at the centre of it. And therefore Mancini is right to do everything possible to keep him interested and motivated. If giving him the captaincy is what is required to sustain and enhance his emotional involvement with the club, then it has to be the right decision.

Tévez needs to be as invested in the project as it is in him. If his time at Manchester United taught us anything, it is that he needs to feel like the most important man at the club, as if the whole enterprise rests on his shoulders. Now, this wasn't the case at Old Trafford. But, as it happens, it is at City. By giving him the armband Mancini is reminding Tévez that our stories, and our chances at glory, are intertwined. When Kolo Touré discussed losing the captaincy, he said the manager told him it was so Tévez would be 'more involved in the set up' - and made reference to Diego Maradona at Napoli. Just because a comparison is lazy doesn't mean it's irrelevant. As an unlikely captain himself Maradona led Napoli to the most successful spell in their history. He carried the team, the armband was a manifestation of that fact. If we ever win anything under Roberto Mancini, it will be thanks to Carlos Tévez. It is only right that it should be Tévez who would lift the trophy.

Given's future

Shay Given looks likely to leave MCFC on loan in January. Roberto Mancini confirmed after the Wigan game that he would be allowed to leave should he wish:

“I have a lot of respect for Shay,” the Italian said. “I told him before the transfer market finished that he could choose, that I hoped he would stay but that if he wanted to leave, then he could.

“He decided to stay here and now he must stay until January.
And it seems increasingly clear that Given's future plans lie away from Eastlands. He said in an interview this weekend:

“If I’m flying around like Clark Kent in goals, I still won’t play on Saturday. That can be demoralising. We’ll see what happens come January and hopefully, if the situation is the same, I can go on loan and get some games in.

“I’ve never said I want to leave City. I believe it’s a big club that in the next couple of years is going to do big things. I want to be part of that, but I also want to be playing football.

“I wouldn’t mind where a loan was I and wouldn’t rule out abroad if it was a good club and a good team.”
This has been the inevitable outcome since the summer, when we had two 'keepers too ripe and too good to be back-ups. Whoever was benched was likely to leave, and it happens to be Given. I was surprised he didn't join Fulham on loan, and I suppose that's still a plausible outcome.

Wigan reax

Andy Hunter, The Guardian

City were workmanlike on the whole. There was little between two teams at opposite ends of the financial spectrum and until Tevez stamped his class on proceedings, the biggest influence was a bog of a pitch that made a mockery even of the warm-up. Players were slipping and sliding with or without the ball, you could hear squelching from up in the stands and a groundsman had to re-mark the centre circle at half-time.

Rory Smith, Daily Telegraph

For all the money lavished across Europe by Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini, none looks better spent than the £25 million which smoothed Tévez’s short journey from Old Trafford to Eastlands. The Argentine, who scored the first and made the second to see off Wigan Athletic, stands alone as City’s difference maker.

Here, he was the difference between a comfortable, though perhaps not inspiring, victory, and the disappointment of another two points dropped. He is the difference between fourth and 13th in the nascent Premier League table.

Ian Herbert, The Independent

It has been hard to deduce at times in the past 12 months, just how much the Argentine has wanted to be at Manchester City, and that odd, unheralded decision to make him captain seemed like an exercise in keeping a prime asset happy. It was good work, given how integral to City's progress he still is, for all the £130m which has been spent this summer.

Danny Pugsley, Bitter and Blue

The partnership of Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany has been excellent. I was watching Kompany's positional play and movement today and it was very impressive. Time and again he made the right choice as in when to tackle, when to cover and when to stand his ground. He has been as consistently good as anyone this season.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Wigan player ratings

Hart Barely had a save to make. Most notable contribution was his goal kick which led to our first goal. 6

Richards Not troubled defensively. Going forward his enthusiasm is impressive - he is our only full-back inclined to run beyond our front line into the opposition penalty area - but his ability to aid us offensively is limited by his technical and tactical deficiencies. 6

Kolo Touré Another assured performance from this season's most improved player. Good ball retention too - completing 38 of 42 attempted passes. 6

Kompany More serene and composed play, always where he was meant to be. If there was one blemish it was a mis-placed pass that put us under pressure. 7

Zabaleta Back in the side at left back, a role which I think he performs better than anyone else at the club (Aleksandar Kolarov remains unknown.) Defensively excellent, giving Charles N'Zogbia nothing, he made six successful tackles and as many interceptions. When going forward tended to come inside, naturally. 7

de Jong Could have been sent off for too many machete tackles but mostly did well. Excellent ball retention, making 65 of 69 attempted passes. Even showed up in the opposition box more than usual. 7

Silva Some lovely touches playing from the right. For all the talk he didn't look cowed by the famous 'wet and windy afternoon in Wigan' so often evoked by critics. Will be interesting to see if he plays on Wednesday. 7

Yaya Touré Will be pleased with his first goal for City, breaking into the box as he needs to in this 4-1-4-1 system. Still tidy in the middle, if not imposing. 6

Barry Busy and energetic in the midfield; words that would never have been used to describe him last year. Like Kolo and de Jong, this Mark Hughes purchase has clearly raised his game to keep his place with the new regime. 6

Milner Worked hard down the left hand side without ever quite getting his final ball right. 6

Tévez Best performance of the season. He obviously relishes the responsbility of both the captaincy and the lone striker role, and while there are times when he tries to do too much himself his all round game is still excellent. Took his goal perfectly, and his cut-back for Yaya was equally felicitous. 8


Got a decent run out, but never looked too threatening. Won a tackle on the edge of our own box! 6

A. Johnson One deflected cross troubled al Habsi but he was never really in the game. 5

SWP Barely in the game n/a

Wigan 0 - 2 City

  • What a welcome return from professionalism. After five frittered points in consecutive league games it was crucial that no such mistakes were made today. Particularly as this was precisely the sort of game that can surprise and disrupt: three days after a match in Europe, away at one of our bogey-grounds, in the rain, against unpredictable opponents. But we eliminated error for the afternoon, kept the ball and scored at the right times.

  • Roberto Mancini switched back to 4-5-1; but of our pair of English wingers rested in Salzburg only James Milner returned - David Silva kept his place on the right wing ahead of Adam Johnson. With a midfield of such ability and variation we were the better side in a fairly entertaining first half. But Wigan were better organised than we might have hoped. Silva and Carlos Tévez had some good moments but we lacked penetration.

  • How fortunate, then, that the chancey, contingent hinge-moment should break in our favour this week. Just before half time Joe Hart launched a goal kick up field, Mohammed Diamé flicked it backwards and Carlos Tévez raced onto it. Ali al Habsi charged out but Tévez chipped the ball over him. I suppose some might say that a £160million football team ought not to rely on the sort of goal that Blackburn or Stoke score. I could see their point. But after the goal we conceded last week I feel no embarrassment at accepting gifts. Plus it was a nice finish.

  • It was - as the cliché goes - the perfect time to score. Having gone ahead the players could relax and keep the ball. And with Wigan more keen to come out and attack, chances were easier-found than they were in the first half. Again, everything that was good came through Silva and Tévez. They combined for the second goal - Silva headed to Tévez who squared to Yaya Touré - arriving and finishing at the far post. From there it was comfortable.

  • To add to the general satisfaction of the afternoon, this was a previous bogey ground of ours. We slayed the Stamford Bridge monster in February and while the DW Stadium isn't on quite the same scale we had never won there in five attempts.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Silva love in

You can barely move this morning but for people telling you how good David Silva is.

There's Yaya Touré:
“David is a very important player for us,” said the former Barcelona ace. He has very nice qualities. I played against him in Spain, so I know all about his technique.

“He scored a good goal and after that kept possession very well in a good team performance.”
"He's an amazing player," he said. "Like every foreign player he needs time to settle in the Premier League. But we've seen a lot of his quality in training already. There will moments this season when he will be very important for us."
"I think David is a fantastic player," said the City manager. "It's a different situation playing different football, but after one month he's ready to go 100 per cent for the team. He will be an important player for the future.

"David is a strong player. He's played for Valencia in the Champions League for many years. The Premier League is different and every player needs one or two months to understand English football.

"David can play in every position. For Valencia he played either right or left wing, but I think this position is the best for him. People may say he's too small, but he knows how to play football. Arsenal have two or three players like David and they play very well."
Indeed they do. Yesterday certainly felt like the start of something. City fans do love imaginative players (I'm not claiming this as a unique quality of City fans but you know what I mean), and so there is a willingness from the fans to give him time. But Robinho scored on his debut, Elano took West Ham to pieces on his, Eyal Berkovic had a great debut - and so the bar is quite high. But Silva's excellence last night should remind people what a treasure we have in our hands, and how all patience and forgiveness will surely be rewarded in time.

I'm a fan, to say the least.

Salzburg reax

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian
Operating at the front tip of a midfield diamond, Silva played as though he wanted to shed himself of any frustrations, a firefly of a player, always wanting the ball, elusive to mark and, when he had possession, running with his head up, looking for the killer pass.
Chris Wheeler, Daily Mail
A stuttering start to life in England and concerns about his slight frame being suited to the physical demands of the Premier League have led some to wonder whether City had made the right decision in paying Valencia £24million for the Spain forward this summer.

But manager Roberto Mancini insisted on the eve of his side's opening Group A clash he had no doubts Silva was ready to deliver, and the World Cup winner took less than eight minutes to start proving him right as his first goal in a City shirt helped his club launch their Europa League campaign with a win in this picturesque Austrian city.
Sandy Macaskill, Daily Telegraph
Jo exhibited signs of rust, but he created Silva’s goal and generally made a nuisance of himself, scoring his first goal for City since September 2008, his fourth goal in total, but it was Silva’s performance which will have been the one on supporters lips last night.

Even though he has only been in the England since July, the 24 year-old has already been criticised as too lightweight for the Premier League. Not a bit of it: his eyes, like a lizard, permanently on a swivel, makes his size inconsequential. On this evidence he will soon challenge those stick-in-the-muds who think you must be built like a baobab tree to cut the mustard in English football. “He is a fantastic player, he can play in every position,” Mancini said.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Salzburg player ratings

Hart A fairly quiet evening in terms of shot stopping. Red Bulls did pose an aerial threat, and while he miscued one punch he was generally firm underneath it. 6

Zabaleta Always nice to see my favourite player involved. He played fairly well, giving us important width outside Yaya, and always keen to be involved in the final third. Put in a decent cross or two. Could have been booked for a late tackle. Moved to left back later on. 6

Kolo Touré Another competent game,warning off problems when they threatened to emerge. Sound under balls into the box. 7

Kompany Smooth and powerful, again. He had to make some crucial interventions on the edge of the box, and he did so perfectly. 7

Bridge His first start of the season, he gave some much needed natural width down the left. Joleon Lescott tries hard but he's so diffident with his running and crossing; Bridge was refreshingly cavalier. His low cross to Jô led to Silva's goal, and there was another good near post delivery later on. A competent return. 6

de Jong His best game of the season so far. He commanded the space in front of our back four, winning every tackle, closing down space and moving the ball to our more imaginative midfielders with no fuss or pause. Would get an '8' but gets a point knocked off for a nasty two-footed jump tackle. 7

Yaya Touré Fairly quiet. Made some physical interventions when needed but didn't impose himself on the game in the manner that he can. 6

Barry An energetic return to the side, he ably broke into the box when necessary, as well as covering defensively centrally or down the left. His versatility makes him well-suited to that role on a corner of a diamond. 7

Silva His best game for City. He was trusted with a start in his preferred position - on the tip of the diamond - but he drifted deep into midfield or into the right channel at will. His intelligence and ability marks him out as a footballer from a different category, tonight more than ever. Scored his first goal for City, breaking through the middle, and ought to have had a second. 8

Tévez Energetic, without quite finding the ruthless edge of last season. He caused problems, dropping, turning and running at the defence, and it was his vicious shot that led to our second goal. The goals will come in time. 7

His first goal in almost exactly two years (since 21 September 2008), it marks a remarkable transformation in his career. Mancini tried to redeem the City career of Benjani - but to do so with Jô would be a whole new achievement. His goal was well-executed, to be fair, as was his lay-off to Silva in the first half. Those two moments aside, the ball just bounced off him. 6


Boyata Had a decent run at right-back. Good physicality but he's not Maicon yet. 6

Vieira Kept things ticking over in the middle. n/a

SWP Too late to mark n/a

Red Bull Salzburg 0 - 2 City

  • Tradition won out. The callous franchise outfit, the caffeine-drink hawkers were routed by romantics of Manchester City, pierced by strikes from local lads David Silva and ; the greatest such triumph since the 1967 European Cup final in Lisbon. (This might be the last time I can write this, I need to extract every drop while I can.)

  • To give it the right kind of praise, though: this was a European performance of almost perfect application. I've got an uncharacteristic confidence about the Europa League this year, and this felt like precisely the sort of performance that might take us far. We controlled possession, suggesting that playing three defensive midfielders might not be quite as pointless as Tony Cascarino suspects it to be. Our attacks were built around Silva and Carlos Tévez, who look and play with the kinship and understanding of cousin imps, both dropping off , running at defenders, linking well with team-mates and of course with each other. Thirteen more performances like this and we'll be flooding Dublin in May.

  • It helped that RBS were defensively incontinent, lacking any control or discipline. At the least I expected them to be well organised. We were arranged in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Silva at the peak. It was from a forward break of his that we scored our first - arriving in the box to slot home Jô's lay-off from Wayne Bridge's cross. The goalkeeper might have done better, as he might with our second - when he palmed a Carlos Tévez shot into the path of , who finished smartly. That's not to say that our only chances came through errors - both Silva and Tévez went close at other times, and on another day we might have scored three or four more.

  • All this was founded on another solid midfield performance. It was another outing for the iron triangle of Nigel de Jong, Yaya Touré and Gareth Barry - clearly the default foundation stone for any potentially challenging game. They controlled the play - de Jong had his best game this season. We won't do anything in Europe without being able to keep the ball, and whatever you think about the suitability of Mancini's approach in the Premier League it's certainly and obviously appropriate for European competition. There were times when Red Bull slung some balls into the box under which we looked vulnerable, but I rarely felt like the win was in jeopardy.

  • Progress from the group stages requires three wins and a draw or two. We could very easily throw it away from here, but there is no doubt that this is a strong start. Juventus at home will be very different. But we've got three games in two different competitions between now and then. Rotating enough to maintain freshness while not doing so much as to dissipate momentum is Mancini's next task. James Milner and Adam Johnson in on Sunday, I think.

Salzburg preview

For the first time in years, and possibly the last time ever, City will be on the side of tradition and romance in club football this evening. We're playing Red Bull Salzburg, a club birthed by the annexation of SV Austria Salzburg by the Red Bull company five years ago. On taking over Austria Salzburg (once managed by a certain Hans Backe), Red Bull re-named, re-badged and re-kitted the club, all in the name of selling caffeine drinks.

If you think that City are pissing on the traditions and dignities of club football, just check these guys out; it's serious MK Dons stuff.

Writing about this allows me to get past the fact that I know less than nothing about them as a football team. I've never seen them play before, nor have I seen any of their players representing other clubs or countries. Wikipedia tells me they've won the Austrian Bundesliga three of the last four years, and that they made the Champions League play-off this summer but lost to Hapoel Tel Aviv. In the Europa League group stage last year, they won all six games in a group containing Lazio and Villareal so they can't be too bad.

So in terms of expectations I can only work from general principles. And they dictate that away draws ought to be the target. Three wins and a draw or two are usually enough to get through to the last 32. I'd take a point tonight, I think. Particularly as Jô might be playing. With Mario Balotelli and Manu Adebayor out injured, we're just left with him and Carlos Tévez up front. David Silva will be playing, and either Wayne Bridge or Pablo Zabaleta will come in at left back. I don't know how we'll line up, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Silva coming inside - maybe playing alongside Tévez just behind Jô in that 4-1-2-2-1 we've seen a few times.

The Europa League is a bit of a schlep; we're still fourteen games from Lansdowne Road. But we've got the squad and the experience to do it. I fancy a controlled draw tonight.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Silva to start in Salzburg

Roberto Mancini confirmed as much, while talking about the Spaniard's deployment:
"The thing with Silva is that we have been able to work with him only a couple of days at a time since he arrived. He had just signed for us when he went off with his national team to play in Mexico [during the August international break]. Then he came back and very quickly was off again with the national team again, this time to play in Argentina – another long trip.

"I thought he did very well when he came on [Silva was an 85th-minute substitute in the 1-1 draw against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday] but I always said that he would need time because it is very different here than playing in Spain. The internationals are over now and I think it will be time for him to play in the team from the next game."
Good news, for sure. I must admit to being worried when Shaun Wright-Phillips started ahead of him on Saturday. Which league games would Silva play if not those at home against weaker opposition? But I suppose his international commitments have to be accounted for. (At the risk of sounding like Alan Green, a midweek international friendly in Buenos Aires, where all twenty-two starters and eight of the nine used substitutes play club football in Europe is ludicrous).

But Silva was so much more intelligent than anyone else who played on Saturday that giving him just five minutes seemed strange. Had he come on for SWP at half-time, say, it might have been a different game. I'm not getting worried about this yet - players do take to adjust to the pace of the Premier League, just look at the improvements in Luka Modrić or Samir Nasri. But I don't see how that improvement can come about without just a touch more trust from boss to player.

'The problem is we keep giving gifts away'

That's Roberto Mancini talking after the Blackburn game. He goes on to say that he hopes 'we have finished giving gifts away until Christmas now.' Well, quite.

I know that it's rather out of vogue to explain football matches through events rather than patterns and systems, but I have no doubt that had Carlos Tévez scored against Sunderland we would have seen the game out, and had Joe Hart just knocked that ball out for a throw then we would have beaten Blackburn. No doubt at all.

It's our own unforced errors which put us on five points rather than ten.

Had it been problems of cohesion and synergy that had been dragging us down, well, that would be expected. (We have looked marginally more cohesive than I expected thus far, although there's work to do here.) But individual errors? What is the point of spending the annual GDP of American Samoa on footballers if you don't eliminate things that would embarrass my Sunday league team?

Monday, 13 September 2010

Blackburn reax

The point brought some relief, but City's start has been far from the impressive one their owners dreamt of. Only one win in their first four games means they are already seven points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and they are nowhere near the kind of ruthless, efficient unit that Mancini needs.
Daniel Taylor, The Guardian
City, in fairness, were not short in endeavour and energy and though it has not really clicked for them since that defeat of Liverpool, Roberto Mancini was entitled to think they could be a lot better off. They lost their previous game, at Sunderland, when Micah Richards gave away a clumsy stoppage-time penalty. In this match Joe Hart's mix-up with Kolo Touré presented Nikola Kalinic a goal wrapped in bow and ribbon.
Graham Chase, The Independent
Visiting teams packing the midfield is the immediate worry for Mancini, who hopes to have Emmanuel Adebayor, Nigel de Jong and Wayne Bridge back from injury for Thursday's Europa League game at Red Bull Salzburg, where David Silva is also expected to start. "Every team will play with this method and we must find a solution. For Blackburn this was a good situation," Mancini said.
Daniel Taylor, The Observer
The highs have been exhilarating for Joe Hart, the praise almost unremitting, featuring a player-of-the-month award, some glowing headlines, the promise of a treble-your-money contract and the confirmation of his place as England's first-choice No1 – but then football reminds you how the life of a goalkeeper can also throw up some excruciating lows.
Graham Chase, Sunday Telegraph
With just one goal in three hours against that opposition, Mancini, who finished the game with two holding midfielders, acknowledges that his team must be more incisive.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Blackburn ratings

Hart A nasty shock for him and for us. After the best month of his career he made the mistake that cost us the match: straying mindlessly out of his box and seemingly not letting Kolo Touré know about it. Made a good second half save. 5

Richards Given Mancini's decision to deploy James Milner and Adam Johnson as outside-in wingers, I don't think we can afford to compromise on natural width from full-back. And so the decision to play two full-backs who can't cross is baffling. Richards didn't make a single successful pass in or into the final third. I'm not operating under the illusion that Pablo Zabaleta is Maicon, but he can pass and he can cross and that really ought to count for something. Richards defended well enough, but in games like this you expect some multi-functionality from your full-backs. 5

Kolo Touré
Not as responsible as Hart for their goal, but he still could have done better - heading it out for a throw-in at the least, rather than standing inertly in Hart's way. Played well otherwise, including an impressive break into the box which might have resulted in a penalty had he beaten Paul Robinson to the ball. 5

Kompany Another good performance: comfortable in the air and completed all 36 of his attempted passes - none of the long-ball sloppiness that crept into his game last month. 6

Lescott What I wrote about Richards applies here, too. I have sympathy with Lescott in that he is not a natural full-back, and he did make two successful passes into the area. But put it like this: I would rather have had Wayne Bridge there today, who is enthusiastic about getting to the byline and causing a bit of disruption to the opposition. 6

Vieira Was never under too much pressure from the Blackburn midfield, allowing him to relax and pick his passes as he likes to. Also scored our equaliser, breaking forward and executing a left footed finish that was harder than it might have looked. 6

Yaya Touré Accomplished in central midfield - completing 61 of 64 attempted passes. I might have wanted to see him break into the box more as we attempted to impose ourselves on the game, I suppose. 6

Our most exciting player, again. His running at players is always good to watch and he came closest to finding us a goal a few times; particularly with that curling shot that went just beyond Paul Robinson and, unfortunately, his far post. Found Carlos Tévez with a nice pass or two. 7

Milner Tended to swap positions with Shaun Wright-Phillips. Delivery from wide positions was fairly patchy but no worse than that of SWP or Johnson. Ran into problems a few times. 6

SWP Unfortunately the bracket of games where we can afford the luxury of starting SWP is getting narrower and narrower. His starting ahead of David Silva was strange to the point of being worrying. His contribution in his 56 minutes on the pitch was close to nothing. See you in the Carling Cup in ten days time. 4

Tévez Possibly his best performance of the season. He was well involved, dropping deep, linking play and holding the ball up. His finishing isn't as good as it can be - he had a few half chances and snatched at them. 7


Had a long time - 34 minutes - up front with Carlos. Managed to get a few shots away, although never looked like a player who had entertained the idea that he might score a goal that day. 5

Barry Helped to raise the tempo with some sharp passing when he came on. 6

Silva Made a big difference in his brief cameo. Needs to start on Thursday night. n/a

Saturday, 11 September 2010

City 1 - 1 Blackburn

  • How infuriating. We threw away points for the second consecutive game, taking a score draw in a game we had no excuse not to win. It was a fairly stylish performance - not much less good than that against Liverpool. We created more chances than we did then, and not much would have to have gone differently for us to score four as we did in this game last year. But we wasted them, and so the ludicrous first half goal we conceded ended up costing us two points. Five points from four games is not what we hoped for.

  • It can't really be blamed on cautious selection. Nigel de Jong was not in the 18, and Gareth Barry was on the bench, which displayed a willingness to break up that iron midfield triangle I was hoping to see. Patrick Vieira came into midfield, while Shaun Wright-Phillips started wide. David Silva was on the bench, which I hope was due to his coming back tired or injured from Buenos Aires - if he's behind Shaun in the pecking order for games like this then something's wrong. He certainly improved us when he came on though, which might suggest a misjudgement from Mancini.

  • Something that is frustrating now - but ultimately heartening I suppose - is that this was not a particularly poor performance. We played worse than this and won home games last year: the 3-0 against Wigan, the 1-0 against Wolves etc. For the most part, we dominated possession, moved the ball imaginatively and created more than enough chances to win. Paul Robinson made a series of good saves, we wasted opportunities and the ball kept on breaking into safe positions for Blackburn: I felt like a Spurs fan on opening day. I could list the worst moments, but I don't want to recall too much of it now. Adam Johnson in the first half, Gareth Barry in the second half, Carlos Tévez's left foot volley were the closest but there were more. We gave it everything, improving in confidence after Patrick Vieira's equaliser. But it was not to be.

  • Of course, what really stopped us from winning was the pathetic goal we conceded. Joe Hart came too far out for a ball that was not his. Kolo Touré confused matters and Nikola Kalinić rolled the ball into the empty net. I think the majority of the blame should lie with Hart, who was where he shouldn't have been, and did not obviously give Kolo a call either. But that's not to say Kolo could not have done better either. It was the sort of avoidable unforced error that serious teams do not seem to make. From that point on Blackburn needed no invitation to line nine players up on their eighteen yard line. Had that not gone in we probably would have scored first - and then it's a very different game.

  • Looking at the table at this stage of the season is pointless. I genuinely don't care where we are tonight. But points matter, and five points from four is probably three or four points fewer than I expected from these opening fixtures. Gelling takes time, particularly when combined with bedding our two key midfielders into the Premier League environment and while rotating to maintain satisfaction and competitiveness on multiple fronts. This is a difficult course for Mancini to navigate, and his position is far from enviable. But drawing home league games against average opponents is a sackable offence at Manchester City, and I'm sure he's aware of that.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Blackburn preview

There's nothing quite like the refreshing feeling of the first match after an international break. It's been twelve days since Darren Bent's hilarious stoppage time penalty. It would have felt long enough without the need to make up for such an avoidable defeat.

So it's good to return to what should be a negotiable fixture. One of the enjoyable changes of the last year or so has been a relaxed confidence about our home games against opposition from the bottom fourteen of the Premier League. In times gone by the build-up to these games would be more sickening than away ones, because of the fear of failure. None of that now.

This confidence is only enhanced by good wins in the last two seasons. We won 4-1 in January thanks to a Carlos Tévez hat-trick, and beat them 3-1 the previous season with three more South American goals (Caicedo, Robinho and Elano).

This means that we should be able to play a more exciting line up than in recent games. I am interested to know just how attached Roberto Mancini is to the iron triangle of Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré. The three of them have started all but one game so far this season, and while it is a very effective system for achieving certain ends I don't think it's always required. There will be home games, particularly against non-top six opponents, where it's just a safety net too far. I hope that one of those three is rested, preferably Nigel de Jong.

Gareth Barry has shown for England that he is capable of playing as a problem-solver just in front of the defence. He might not be as fiery as de Jong but given Sam Allardyce's approach to the game there is no delicate playmaker we need to intimidate. With Barry alongside Yaya in the middle we can play one extra attacking player. I'd like to see James Milner, David Silva and Adam Johnson lined up behind Carlos Tévez but it's just as likely that we'll see Emmanuel Adebayor start and only two of those attacking midfielders. I'm not really an Adebayor fan but we could still win the game like that.

At the back we might see a debut for Jérôme Boateng, which makes predicting the back line fairly difficult. It will be four from him, Pablo Zabaleta, Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany, Kolo Touré and Micah Richards. My preference would be for Zabaleta-Kompany-Kolo-Boateng but I can't predict what it might actually be.

I suppose there's a value in Lescott instead of Zabaleta, just to give us the most physically imposing back line possible, to allow us to repel comfortably Blackburn's aerial assault. But we should have enough to win this one: 2-0.

UPDATE: Carlos Tévez is 'doubtful' and will have a late fitness test; if he doesn't make it then surely it will be 4-5-1 with Adebayor up front. Boateng is out.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mario under the knife

Mario Balotelli's knee injury has not healed and he is to have knee surgery - and he could be out for up to six weeks.

This means that he will probably not make his home debut until either the Lech Poznan or Arsenal games on October 21 or 24 respectively. Fellow summer Serie A import Aleksandar Kolarov should be back at roughly the same time.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Six blues play in England win

Records were broken last night, as at one point six MCFC players were on the pitch in England's 3-1 win over Switzerland in Basle.

Four started, Adam Johnson came on in the first half - and when Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced Wayne Rooney with 11 minutes left there were more City players on the England team than those that weren't. It's certainly something worth reflecting on. It's one of the best examples yet of the near-unique richness and depth of our squad. It also shows, I think, how low the bar is of England squad entry: simply having a contract with a top half Premier League side seems to be enough. Although not, for some reason, for Tom Huddlestone.

The four starters were Joe Hart, James Milner and Gareth Barry - who started against Bulgaria - and then Joleon Lescott, replacing Michael Dawson. Lescott was a surprise. Not only because it was Gary Cahill who came on last Friday, but because Lescott had not started a competitive game at centre-back since March 14. He did well enough on his return to the side, winning a few important headers.

In the midfield, Barry and Milner both had good games. This was England's best midfield performance for at least one year, and the passing and movement was crisp and imaginative. Barry did particularly well cleaning up in front of the back four (so much so that I think he could perform Nigel de Jong's role successfully), and Milner played intelligently - staying wide when necessary but sometimes coming inside to help out.

The headlines, though, are Adam Johnson's, again. He came on early in the first half for the injured Theo Walcott, again playing off the right. With his first touch he darted down Reto Ziegler's outside, and crossed low with his right to Jermain Defoe. Johnson is open to accusations of predictability and so his having this Plan B to call upon is of immense value. Soon later he shot just over from distance, but his goal was to come in the second half.

England were counter-attacking and he drifted inside, ran off one of the centre backs and was found by Steven Gerrard's through ball. Facing down the 'keeper, he swerved left, took the ball past him and finished into an empty net. Two competitive international appearances - both off the bench - and two goals.

Joe Hart could not replicate his Friday night heroics, letting in a swerving shot from Xherdan Shaqiri and making two or three uncharacteristic handling errors. He was better, though, than Shaun Wright-Phillips who was twice in dream positions behind the left back but sent two woeful final balls across.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

RSC still wants Lazio move

Roque Santa Cruz has talked of his frustration at not being able to team up with Javi Garrido at Lazio:
"I had hoped to arrive in Rome, that was my dream. Unfortunately, the deal fell through. There has been a lot of talk of my arrival to Italy and perhaps next time it will materialise. We will see what happens in the next few months.

"I don't like to look too far away and I don't know what Lazio's intentions are. I have received many offers but I had hoped to play in Rome. I have been happy in England but Italian football fascinates me and I would love to have an experience in Serie A."
Lazio Sporting Director Igli Tare has also suggested there might be a deal done in January:
"In January we will see if is appropriate to make a transaction, perhaps with Santa Cruz," Tare told Il Tempo.
This is good news. The problem with players like Santa Cruz is that we took them on contracts that were ridiculous not just for their largesse but also in terms of duration. A four year deal for someone of his age and fitness history had the potential to cause Winston Bogarde-style problems. But if he's actively keen on a move to Lazio then that suggests we will be spared that in this case. He might well play a handful of games between now and Christmas, but I'm sure the club would be willing to let him go to Mancini's former club in the new year.

'There is a tremendous amount of jealousy'

Nigel de Jong 'tells it like it is' in a Daily Mirror interview this week:
“What makes it really hard for us, is that every team we play, sees us as the big favourite for the title. We are now a hot item in England only because our club have spent such a lot of money on new players. I am not saying they hate us in every stadium, but I do feel there is a tremendous amount of jealousy.

“I really think we must compete with Chelsea and Manchester United this season. Two years ago a new owner arrived here. Last year we laid the foundation, this year we have to fire from all cylinders. We must go and win trophies."
This might rile some opposition fans, but it's not as if de Jong was a neutral's favourite before he came out with this. And there is something fun about having a play so unpopular with other fans - just remember Joey Barton. Later in the same interview, though, de Jong makes a strange diversion into 'telling it like it isn't':
“Vincent Kompany and I are the only two players who have been with this club before the sheik arrived,” he said. “So I think I am a player with a lot of experience at the club.’’
This is just flat out wrong. De Jong signed for City on 21 January 2009. We were bought by Sheikh Mansour on 1 September 2008. There's nothing else to say. (I'm not sure what Shaun Wright-Phillips, Pablo Zabaleta, Micah Richards, Joe Hart, Michael Johnson and of course Jô make of it either.) Ultimately I suppose it's rooted in de Jong's admirable but slightly silly desire to paint himself as a life-long blue, who cried when we were relegated under Alan Ball, who was held on his father's shoulders to see us beat Gillingham and who invaded the pitch at Ewood Park in May 2000.

Monday, 6 September 2010

'Neither Hughes nor Mancini understood me'

Robinho has spoken even more freely than usual about his time at City:
"Neither Hughes nor Mancini understood me. Perhaps they only believed in the sporting side of things but that wasn't enough for me. There was a lack of contact between the players and the club.

"It was much like an office - to training and goodbye, to a match and goodbye. I am Brazilian and I can't offer my best performance if I'm not happy in every aspect of life. That was my problem. I am a special footballer and I need to be happy when I'm playing."
Well, maybe it was. There were times when I saw Robinho play for Brazil and thought that his failure to really do what he could for City was our fault. But then I can't bring myself to blame Mark Hughes or Roberto Mancini for not indulging Robinho to the extent that he wanted. They could have bent over backwards for Robinho but I still don't think it would have satisfied him. Because ultimately I don't think that Robinho is cut out for club football, or at least, football at a high-level results-driven European club. The fact that he has forced moves from the clubs he has played at so far says a lot.

I'd love to see him do well at Milan, and hope he finds a more accommodating atmosphere. But I don't feel any sense of regret that we didn't make things easier for him.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Hart stars and AJ scores in England win

A big night for Manchester City players at Wembley. Joe Hart, James Milner and Gareth Barry all started, while Adam Johnson came on and scored a late goal.

Hart was the most impressive of the four. While England were much the better save, Hart had to make key reaction saves from Stanislav Angelov, Dimitar Rangelov and Glen Johnson to preserve his clean sheet. He also dominated his area and made no terrible mistakes, which might sound unremarkable but is in fact a novel approach for an England goalkeeper.

Milner and Barry were both strong and solid in midfield (Barry's perfectly judged cynical foul on the edge of our box, unpunished, was a beautiful example of his ability with the dark arts), but it was Johnson who scored. He came on for Theo Walcott, with twenty or so minutes left, playing from the right wing. And it was from one of those favoured positions of his that he scored, receiving the ball from Wayne Rooney, swerving inside and beating Nikolay Mihaylov - a little bit too easily - at his near post.

Valeri Bozhinov and Martin Petrov both started for Bulgaria, and I would certainly have applauded any achievements of theirs and written about how much they meant to me. But there was almost nothing to note there.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Spirit and loyalty

Two players who left City over the summer have criticised the spirit within the club this week. First Martin Petrov:
"I went to see Mancini in January to ask about my future because my contract was up in June. He said it wasn't the right time and 'let's talk in two weeks' but after that there was nothing. Nobody spoke to me about my future again. Nobody looked me in the eyes and said: 'Martin, thank you for your time, you are a very professional player.'

"It surprised me. I am not an 18-year-old, I am a 31-year-old who has played in different countries and for my national team, so I think that I have a reasonably good name and deserved to hear something."
And then Benjani:
"It sounds great, but in football money is not everything. What is needed is people who can hang around and love you to be there.

"Sometimes you are loved to be there because of money, which is not good. I would prefer to be here without having all those facilities, be happy and trust everyone around you."

Asked if he thought some players at City were interested in money more than anything else, Benjani said: "Yes, it seemed like that and behind the scenes, there is no trust. I would prefer to play for a club where you are being trusted and you trust everyone around you."
This can't be too much of a surprise.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Caicedo goes, RSC stays

Even with the departure of Robinho and the bizarre retention of Jô we still had two unsettled South American strikers at the club yesterday evening.

Felipe Caicedo, who had been set for West Ham United before they pulled out of a loan deal, moved on loan to Levante, where he will team up with Premier League winner Asier del Horno and Dennis Wise favourite Iganico González.

Roque Santa Cruz was set to team up with Javi Garrido at Lazio but that fell through. So he'll now be staying at City and fighting for his place:
“I have heard from the manager he won’t be counting on me too much,” Santa Cruz said. “I heard that a week before the season and I had time to see if I could arrange a move.

“But in the end the club were happy to keep me and they weren’t happy with anything that came through.

“Now I’ll try and prove myself in training and I’m looking forward to taking my chances.”
I can't see him playing too much.