Monday, 29 November 2010

TLDORC November Awards

At first glance it was not as good a month as it ought to have been. We're being held to very high standards this season and a return of three draws, two wins and a loss isn't as good as it should have been. Certainly nine points from a possible fifteen in the Premier League feels probably two points shy from what we should have achieved. But nevertheless I emerge from November with a stronger sense of the unity and coherence of the side than I did before. We did throw away points, in failing to beat Birmingham City at home and in discarding that lead at Stoke. But the performances at the Hawthorns and at Craven Cottage were two of the best I've ever witnessed as a City fan. (I appreciate that going to the games we win in any given month will always skew my analysis). To win twice on the road with that level of discipline, control and invention is a serious achievement. Add to that a second half performance at Stoke that was as good as any and of course the solidity of the draw with Manchester United and things feel like they're starting to come together. There's still concerns, of course: we don't score enough goals. Fourth is still going to be a battle. But I think we're moving in the right direction.

Lech Poznań (a) 1-3 (thoughts)
West Bromwich Albion (a) 2-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Manchester United (h) 0-0 (thoughts, ratings)
Birmingham City (h) 0-0 (thoughts)
Fulham (a) 4-1 (thoughts, ratings)
Stoke City (a) 1-1 (thoughts, ratings)

Player of the Month

Very even, this month. There was no obvious stand out performer, but rather a number of consistent and successful performers in a range of positions. Pablo Zabaleta played his best football for some time before getting a ban for accumulated yellows, Nigel de Jong reminded everyone just how important he is in those tough away games while David Silva continued to play a level football that few sets of supporters are lucky enough to witness. His passing against West Brom remains the best artistic performance in any medium. I know he'd be many people's choice for Player of November and with very good reason. He's a football genius. But I'm not going to give it to him this month. Instead it can only be Vincent Kompany, again. I suppose the difference is that while Silva's performances are linked to those of the team (he plays well, we play well), Kompany is always excellent, whether the other ten players are or not. After making an uncharacteristic mistake in October (conceding that penalty against Arsenal), he was back to his faultless best in November. I could list everything he does well but I've done it so many times you'd all just switch off. You know why I love him, and you love him too, for the same reasons.

Performance of the Month

I'd love to give this to Mario Balotelli against West Brom but the real answer is David Silva against West Brom. He's a better passer than Ali Benarbia.

Goal of the Month

Micah Richards against Stoke, I think. Though Yaya Touré against Fulham did not go unappreciated.

Stoke player ratings

Hart Dealt well under the aerial barrage of Stoke, better than Shay Given did last season. Both his decisions and execution when the ball came into the box were good. Only a harsh critic would say he might have done better with the goal. 7

Richards Preferred to Jérôme Boateng at right back, and had a characteristically mixed game. Scored a very good goal, which required a level of imagination and technical ability I must admit to thinking was beyond him. That said, there were times when I thought he could have helped us stretch the play a bit further in the attacking phase. Defensively he was doing ok until he abandoned Matthew Etherington in stoppage time, with predictable consequences. 6

Kolo Touré Generally stood up well to the challenge of Stoke, making eight out of twelve attempted tackles. His passing was generally good, too, but the one time he did give the ball away led to Stoke's goal. To compound it, he lost the first ball to Kenwyne Jones. If he'd avoided either of those errors we would have won the game. 6

Kompany Another strong performance. Won six out of nine tackles, although his passing was not quite as good as it has been recently. Again, the goal we conceded was nothing to do with him. Early favourite for Player of the Season. 7

Kolarov Good, again. Made some important tackles and interceptions and was a constant threat in the final third. His delivery is good and he knows how to trouble defences. Only going to improve. 7

de Jong Felt rather subdued in what should have been his sort of match. Only made two tackles, although in mitigation there wasn't much play for him to break down - the ball was just being fired over his head. Good in the second half as we controlled possession, and completed over 40 passes (53/61) for the fifth consecutive Premier League game. 6

Silva Beautiful as ever. Any suggestion that he 'wouldn't fancy it' on a cold November afternoon at the Britannia was shown up to be facile and lazy. He was our best attacking player, dancing across the frost and constantly exploring for space. In the first half completed 17 from 22 passes, but drifted inside after the break and contributed 38 from 38, allowing us to control possession. What a frustration for him that we couldn't hold the lead. 7

Milner Moved into his Aston Villa role of central midfield in the absence of Yaya Touré. Unfortunately he could never really get into the game, noticeably our worst passer from midfield, making just 21 from 36. That said, he did work hard and if he'd still been on in stoppage time he might just have tracked Etherington into the box. 5

Barry Very good, I thought. One of his intelligent, mature, hard-working midfield performances that we don't really see enough of, but are noticeably useful when they do happen. He effectively did de Jong's job for him, making nine out of nine attempted tackles, as well as contributing another important passing performance: 55/61. More of the same, please. 7

Balotelli Uncharacteristically low profile. No goals, no acts of violence, not even a booking. Quite a few dives, though, which were enjoyable enough. 6

Tévez A bit quiet. Understandably so, given how he's run himself into the ground twice a week for the last year and a bit. But nothing really came off for him. Suspect he'll get a rest on Wednesday night. 6


Johnson Quiet n/a

Jo Too late to mark n/a

Stoke 1 - 1 City

  • Certainly a sense of disappointment: it's impossible to lose two points in stoppage time without one. But also some pride at another good away performance, and an acknowledgement that we dealt better with Tony Pulis' idiosyncratic approach to football than we have done in the past. I would have taken a point before the game and so cannot be too upset with the result, even if the manner of its achieving was imperfect.

  • As good as the second half was, we cannot ignore Stoke's superiority in the first half. We conceded as many goal-scoring chances as we have done in any half of Premier League football this season. Joe Hart was better at dealing with the trebuchet approach than Shay Given but Stoke were sharper to us on second balls and probably ought to have scored one or two. We had a few glimmers of opportunities on the break but David Silva's genius was just beyond his reach; those no-look reverse balls into the channels weren't quite coming off.
  • But the second half was a different country. In that respect this was a lot like the draw at White Hart Lane on opening day. First half, we were buffeted, could not get a foothold in the game and were lucky to still be at 0-0 at half-time. But in the second half we played the game we wanted to play, controlled possession and looked much more assured. This was the way of it on Saturday: we kept the ball excellently in the second half, as David Silva dropped centrally to dominate the midfield. We spent most of the half camped on the edge of the Stoke box, waiting for a space to materialise. When we finally broke through, it was from a surprise source: Micah Richards spun a defender and fired into the bottom corner.
  • I must admit to being confident we'd hold on. Our ball retention is sufficiently good that we are adept at holding onto leads, even on the road. We were doing fine until Kolo Touré gave the ball away, lost the return header to Kenywne Jones. Micah Richards then got sucked towards Tuncay and away from Matthew Etherington, who received the Turk's back-heel and equalised. A good goal, certainly, but still a frustrating one to concede, especially that late. Much like the result, then.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Fulham player ratings

Hart Not too much to do, really. Fulham's threat was primarily aerial and Hart did well with it. Distribution targeted towards Jô, with some success. 7

Zabaleta Clearly enjoying his football at the moment, here he combined the usual defensive solidity with real contribution in shooting positions. Not only did he score his second ever goal for City from a similar distance as his first ever, his second half shot was flicked in by his compatriot and mate Tévez. 8

Kolo Touré Another lesson in calm competence. Kolo won six tackles and did not misplace a single pass. After a brief return to his form of last seaon his partnership with Vincent Kompany feels as good as ever right now. 7

Kompany His performances are of such a consistent high level that you almost take them for granted. He was very good, as usual, winning headers and making one crucial block from Andy Johnson in the second half. Unlike Kolo, he misplaced one pass. 7

Kolarov Best performance yet for City. Clearly a very canny defender but a real threat in the final third. His runs down the left and his crossing were both useful and he nearly scored on the break in the first half. Knows how to take a corner, which makes a nice change. 8

de Jong As usual, indispensable in these sort of games. I can't conceive of an away win without him. He is so important, not just with his breaking up of play (four interceptions, four tackles) but his ability to retain possession in difficult positions just by turing and playing the simple pass. He completed 45 from 48 attempted passes, and is always at the pivot of those long spells of possession we enjoy when ahead. 8

Yaya Touré Has an important job as a link between the defensive seven and the attacking three, and he got forward well. Took his goal calmly. Not quite on the same wavelength as team-mates but that will come. 7

Barry Much better than for England in mid-week. Top of the passing stats, again, with 53 completed from 56, including that smart ball to Tévez for our opening goal. So important, alongside de Jong, at keeping the ball but also adept at moving it forward when required. Good stuff. 8

Silva Not just creative and surprising - but both of those, as ever - but also hard working defensively. Any suggestions that he was the new Robinho have been shown up as absurd. Did not score or create but still confused Dickson Etuhu will his ability to appear where least expected. 7

Tévez Probably his best performance of the season. Scored two and could have had a few more, Fulham just had no way of stopping him. His movement, strength and drive - what makes him such a compelling footballer - were all on show. Dropping back into the inside right channel and running at defenders was thrilling. The fact that we played the ball to his feet rather than over his head was not unconnected with this. 8

A surprise pick on the left wing, he was useful at winning the ball in the air and his all-round play wasn't too bad. Could have scored had his captain not taken the selfish option and refused to square the ball. 6


Johnson One run or two, and some hard defensive work. 7

Milner Too late to mark n/a

Vieira Too late to mark n/a

Fulham 1 - 4 City

  • For the second time this month we have confronted a mudslide of negativity, accusations regarding harmony off the pitch and imagination on it with the sort of brave, proud away win that can shape a season. Just like the win at the Hawthorns, yesterday's victory came after a decent performance against a strong team and a poor showing against a weak side, and a definite sense of points dropped. And just that that 2-0 it was achieved with some excellent football, a touch of swagger and a very definite sense of solidarity, with each other and of course with Roberto Mancini.

  • So it was the perfect time to produce what was one of the best performances of the season. (Pace Gareth Barry I'd still have the 1-0 win over Chelsea at the top.) Aside from the implications in the Premier League table, just imagine the whole 'Hughes >>> Mancini' narrative that had been fairly pregnant all of last week. But from the moment of Carlos Tévez's fifth minute goal the result looked secure. Our three man midfield dominated possession throughout, and while it can be a hindrance when we're drawing at home, it's perfect when we're ahead on the road.

  • With as much midfield control as we had, it was a case of picking our moments in the final third. Fulham were accomodating: all of our goals were probably preventable, the first and third most obviously. But that is to take nothing away from what was our best attacking display this season. Not only were Tévez and Silva predictably wonderful, but they had more support from deep and wide than ever before this season. This was not the 'broken team' we've seen a lot this year: Aleksandar Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Touré all attacked whenever possible, allowing us the numbers in the final third we've barely put together this year. Zabaleta scored one and set up another, while Kolarov could have scored and was always a threat with his crossing. I don't know if this was a new approach, but it certainly worked.

  • Fulham didn't have too much of a threat of their own. They had a plan to move the ball wide and swing in crosses, but with only Andy Johnson up front it was not as effective as it would be should they sign Roque Santa Cruz in January. Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré were as reliable as ever, and aside from their goal Joe Hart had a quiet afternoon. Again, the defensive functionality of the de Jong-Barry-Yaya screen was clear.

  • So despite everything we are three points off the top. It's been a strange season so far, and just like Arsenal and Spurs we have won away games we'd be expected to lose and not won home games we really should have won. After a difficult trip to Stoke City our fixtures start to clear up a bit. If key players stay fit we could have a fruitful December, hopefully without any of the painful convulsions of last Christmas.

Friday, 19 November 2010

City 0 - 0 Birmingham

  • Again, sorry for being late on this. Circumstances have combined to inhibit, severely, my ability to blog recently. I didn't watch this game, and I'm pleased that I didn't.
  • Because if the Manchester derby represented the good side of the Mancini system (and I maintain that it did), this represented its inherent problems. As much as we might like to write this off as a freak result we know that it is not one: we are just not set up to break down teams that park the bus.
  • Last year we relied on Carlos Tévez to bail us out in similar situations. But he did not produce here and so neither did the team. And while I've come to think that Roberto Mancini is in a different league from Mark Hughes, I do think that under Hughes we were much better set to win these games. With Stephen Ireland and Robinho given freedom to play we would nearly always break the opposition down early and score a few. Now, we're still playing cautiously for too long.
  • But we're still fourth! Things are better than they seem. A win on Sunday would be nice, mind.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Birmingham preview

I'm perfectly happy to settle for a point against United as long as we can take maximum points at home against lesser sides. This isn't something we have done too well this season, dropping two points against Blackburn Rovers in September.

While I won't criticise Roberto Mancini's tactics from Wednesday, there is a legitimate concern over our approach in these games. The set up of the side, the famous 'broken team', is not designed to break down teams that defend deep and in numbers.

So I hope we see some changes tomorrow. Adam Johnson is a must, as, probably, is Aleksandar Kolarov. I've got a sense Yaya Touré might be rested (he's still exhausted after trying at West Brom), so I wouldn't mind seeing James Milner playing centrally. Emmanuel Adebayor instead of Carlos Tévez is a long shot but would not be a surprise.

I just hope we can get an early goal. Last year we scored just in time and won easily, 5-1. A goal or two in the first half hour and it will be a comfortable afternoon. Prediction: 3-0.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

United player ratings

Hart Only had two meaningful saves to make - from Patrice Evra in the first half and Dimitar Berbatov in the second. Other than that it was a fairly quiet day, one of his high points was athletically preventing a corner. 7

Boateng Defensively solid, again, winning three tackles - two of which were right on the edge of our box. I suppose I'm still waiting, though, to see the same cavalier runs we saw in the World Cup. He didn't make one successful pass in the final third. Whether this is to do with instruction from Mancini or adjustment from the Premier League isn't clear yet. 6

Kolo Touré Another decent performance. Willing to put his foot on the ball (we could never have knocked it around in defence if we still had Richard Dunne) and kept his position well. Lost out in the air to Javier Hernandez when he came on, but otherwise fine. 7

Kompany Second only to Paul Scholes in passes completed last night, with 60 to the little master's 68. The importance of retaining possession from the back to the Mancini plan cannot be underestimated. Defended excellently, too, always in the right place and making three important interceptions. 8

Zabaleta His second consecutive strong performance from left-back. Why Mancini played Wayne Bridge earlier in the season remains a mystery. He kept Nani quiet, holding his position, not diving in, and while he's not a naturally attacking full-back he gave it a decent try and actually had our best chance of the second half. Didn't even get booked! 7

de Jong Did a good job of limiting United's attacking opportunities even while they were allowed to dominate possession. His positional awareness is excellent (he's really not a 'rich man's Michael Brown'), while three interceptions and five tackles kept United at bay. Invaluable in games like these. 8

Silva I was hoping he'd do something historic so was a touch disappointed. He got a fair bit of the ball in wide areas but could never quite produce. Admittedly, crossing a 5'7" Carlos Tévez is difficult but he took four or five of our eight corners - when we have some fairly big players in the box - and couldn't beat the first man. 6

Yaya Touré I think he's getting there. Not quite as good as he was against West Brom, but his bounding runs through the middle are clearly one of the few ways to link what Jonathan Wilson has described as our 'broken team.' His decisions and execution in the final third aren't what they should be though. Tired in the second half - I'm not sure he was fully recovered from Sunday - my guess is he'll rest against Birmingham City. 7

Barry Did a crucial job helping out Zabaleta in the left back position, winning four tackles there and making three interceptions. This shut down Nani which was crucial in our keeping a clean sheet. Couldn't complete as many passes as he did last Sunday, and never really got forward, but he did the job that was asked of him. 7

Milner Important work covering Patrice Evra's runs down the left, in a way that Adam Johnson just wouldn't. Didn't produce much going forward; like Silva his corners were poor (though he did win most of them himself). Must wonder what the point is swinging in crosses that get headed away. 6

Tévez I'm not sure he looked 100% fit but there was never a question of his not playing. He scurried around and nearly worked space to shoot a few times but his only decent chance was a free-kick that Edwin van der Sar saved comfortably. Might get a rest on Sunday. 6


A. Johnson Beat his man with his first touch but otherwise quiet. 6

Kolarov Too late to mark n/a

Adebayor Too late to mark n/a

City 0 - 0 United

  • Well that was certainly better than losing in stoppage time. It was a fairly dour game, with only one or two goal-scoring chances at either end. We looked for a 0-0 and we got it. United played nicer football than we did but we're a good enough defensive unit that when we want a clean sheet at home we can usually get one. Some people might criticise Roberto Mancini for being so cautious, but I'm fairly relaxed about it. After the events of the past year or so there are worse things than being very averse to losing derbies.

  • The plan was the same as the Chelsea match. If possible, dominate possession, if not, stifle the opponents and at all costs keep a clean sheet. Then, where possible, breaking through David Silva and Carlos Tévez. It was harder than the Chelsea game: United were much better in midfield. They effectively had Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung in central midfield, outnumbering us, with Scholes and Carrick seeing a lot of the ball. But in terms of goalscoring chances there was one for Patrice Evra in the first half, one for Dimitar Berbatov in the second half and that was it. Our second consecutive clean sheet, I think we're over our brief defensive blip.

  • The second half of the plan - nicking a goal - was harder. In truth, we didn't create a single proper goal-scoring opportunity. With United dominating the midfield, we found some space in wide areas. But with only Tévez up front there was only so much that could come from James Milner and David Silva's crossing. Too many times we swung crosses in and they were repelled by Nemanja Vidic. We won eight corners, and with Vincent Kompany, Jérôme Boateng and both Tourés in the box we ought to have done better with them - but our delivery was never quite there.

  • There were moments when Yaya Touré or Carlos Tévez nearly broke through the middle but United defended too well to gift us the spaces we needed. I'm not entirely sure Carlitos was 100% fit, but this was a further illustration that when he isn't on top of his game we struggle to create chances. Was there anything Mancini could have done differently? Put on Emmauel Adebayor, maybe, for more of an aerial threat. But for whom? We could barely have afforded to lose another man in the middle. Adam Johnson from the start, and risking United full-backs running rampant. Containing United is difficult, and necessitates trade-offs from other areas of the side. I can't say I'm too upset with his decisions.

  • Ultimately, I don't think Mancini's decision today - that not losing was the most important thing - was far wrong. After five straight league derby defeats, three stoppage time derby defeats last season, a run of three defeats that only ended last Sunday, it cannot be underestimated how damaging another defeat would be. Yes, in times gone by, we could go for United, knowing that the difference between no points and three would not make a major difference in a season that would see us finish somewhere in mid-table. But this season is different. We need to be fourth, and we need to be clear-headed about achieving that. This is the game we're in.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Derby preview

The biggest single test of Roberto Mancini's reign so far. There have been bigger games, of course, the League Cup semi-final, the Champions League play-off with Spurs, but that was Mancini doing his best with Mark Hughes' team. This is his team now, he owns it, and his fortunes are entirely married to it.

Of course, we've already beaten the champions this season at home, in what remains the greatest single display of the Mancini system and approach. But this means more in so many ways. I'm not entirely certain that I'd take three points against Chelsea at home and none against United rather than, say, draws against both. I'd certainly have to think hard about it.

What makes this game even more terrifying is that my traditional attempts to play the low-expectation game are getting less and less credible every year. This isn't like the days when Roy Keane, David Beckham and Paul Scholes lined up against Gerard Wiekens, Jim Jeff* Whitley and Ian Bishop, and it's wrong to pretend that it is. As aggregates of player abilities, there is not much between the two squads. On paper, at home, we are not distant outsiders, much as it might comfort me to pretend that we are.

If we lose tonight, it will represent points dropped in a way that has never really been true of derbies before. So what do I expect? A tight game, certainly. I don't think United would be too disappointed with a point. Providing we defend as we can (joint second best defence in the Premier League, even with the recent blip) there's no reason we can't keep a clean sheet.

So I'm going to take the coward's way out and predict 0-0, or at least 0-0 after ninety minutes. Exactly what goes on in the murkiest recesses of Fergie time is anyone's guess.

*Why of course, Gwil. J.

The importance of Tévez

Not just symbolically in Manchester derbies, as we will see tonight, but every time City go out onto the pitch. There have been two interesting pieces on Tévez in the last day or so which are worth looking at.

First from the great Jonathan Wilson, explaining Tévez's 'false 9' role within our system:
Tevez, though, makes it work, as he almost defines the role of the false nine. His movement prevents the team breaking up, providing a link with the midfield, and as he drops deep, so he can interact with Touré or Barry. That is not natural to Adebayor – very much a real nine – and the difference in their approach is seen here. Adebayor did drop deep and pull wide, but far less than Tevez, and against Wolves he attempted only just over half the number of passes Tevez did against West Brom...

The theory is simple: the back four defends with only occasional forays from the full-backs; the three midfielders dominate possession, and if they can't, they sit deep to provide an extra layer of defensive cover; and a fluid front three tries to turn the possession into chances and goals. Tevez, though, adds something extra, linking the two parts of the team, and making the whole more fluent. He scores goals, but more important is that he lubricates the whole mechanism.
And then the great Uwe Rösler, City fan, talking about the man who in some sense replaced him:
"City often appear to lack enthusiasm when Tevez isn't in the side... He lifts his team-mates and also the crowd through his style of play. In my time at City, Paul Walsh was similar: very busy, never giving up, chasing everything and always looking to create chances.

"In the game at Wolves in October [when Tevez was injured], City got an early goal and then played as if they thought the job was done. They invited Wolves back into the game and ended up losing. With Tevez in the team you have a guy who is up for it all the time and he carries the rest of the players with him."
There's also some interesting stats in that piece, the most striking being that we have won 91.6% of games in which Tévez has scored.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

More on Mario

I feel like I have to write more on Mario Balotelli. His performance on Saturday was so compelling, such an open and complete revelation of character, that one paragraph just doesn't do it justice.

There is always a degree of exaggeration, of overshooting, when discussing new signings. Everyone wants to claim that they were there at the start of something special. I am conscious of this trap.

But: Balotelli's performance was unlike anything I have ever seen from a footballer. And the fact that he won us the game, scoring both of our goals, is just a small part of it. From the very first minute it was one long mad battle, against the laws of the game, against the officials, against both West Brom as a team but also against every single one of their players and supporters.

We all know that the thrill of young players is their fearlessness, their lack of reverence of for traditional footballing etiquette and hierarchies. We experienced this with Shaun Wright-Phillips, and, to a lesser extent, with Micah Richards. But I've never seen a young player with so much contempt for etiquette and hierarchies as from Balotelli. Every dive, step-over and flick was soaked with disdain: even for him to raise an accompanying sneer would have been to make too much of an effort.

I'm not sure yet whether it was Never Mind the Bollocks stretched over twice its original length or Rebel Without A Cause compressed to half but it certainly had the smack of either. And, just like James Dean or Sid Vicious, Balotelli at the Hawthornes was willing to storm in, burn a deep impression on his surroundings and his audience and then be expelled from it all in a quick blaze of violence.

But he will be back, at Stoke City on 27 November.

WBA reax

Tim Rich, The Independent

This was not a victory that ends the debate about his suitability to marshal the disparate and brilliant talents of this club but it stilled the crisis triggered by their last trip to the Black Country, eight miles away and eight days ago.

At Wolves, they had looked a disjointed jumble of egos. At West Bromwich, we were reminded why they might be the most refreshing thing to have happened to the Premier League since Kevin Keegan wrote his first programme notes at a newly-promoted Newcastle in 1993, saying he was after Manchester United's title.
Jason Burt, Daily Telegraph

With an impressive performance, City easily arrested their run of three straight defeats which had ratcheted up the pressure on manager Roberto Mancini, who was on the pitch at the end to acknowledge the relentless backing of the visiting supporters.
Daniel Taylor, The Guardian

This will be remembered as the day Mario Balotelli announced his arrival in the Premier League and his new audience stared back with a glazed expression of shock and awe. Balotelli's first two goals in English football had therapeutic qualities for Manchester City, who will like to believe they have answered a few questions about their spirit of togetherness, but then we saw the other side of this gifted but temperamental striker.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

West Brom player ratings

Hart After a minor dip in form I think he's getting back to his autumn best - he was impressive under a sustained aerial barrage, although I suppose it ought to be remembered that he was twice beaten when West Brom hit the woodwork. 7

Boateng A funny performance: he's clearly very talented and does some things very well. A few tackles, particularly one in the second half were excellent and some runs of his were as good as those he made during the World Cup. But there were a few moments where his positioning or decision making was unreliable. Still adjusting, but there's clearly an excellent player in here. 6

Kolo Touré A good performance again; no mental freezes, just repeatedly being in the right place at the right time, intercepting and clearing with no obvious problems. 7

Kompany Very good, as usual. Had a difficult physical battle with Marc-Antoine Fortuné but he made almost everything, coming out of some potentially difficult situations always with the ball under control. 7

Zabaleta Reminded us what we all knew - until Aleksandar Kolarov gets fit he's still the best left-back at the club. This was one of his best performances for City, playing flawlessly until his late substitution. He was fierce enough into tackles without getting sent off, his positioning was very good and he tried to help out going forward. Does prompt the question why on earth Mancini tried Wayne Bridge and Joleon Lescott there for so much of the season so far. 8

de Jong Booked for handball within the first five minutes, and this could have inhibited his natural game but he played well: not diving into tackles but always in the right place, crucial to our keeping the ball when we needed to, making 49 of 54 attempted passes. A good demonstration of how good he is without the occasional Lee Cattermole impressions. 7

Yaya Touré His best game for City. Finally showed off the awesome physicality of his runs more than once in a game, taking on West Brom defenders four or five times, and causing panic and problems every time he got going. Defenders don't know how to deal with it, and he ended up taking some fairly brutal treatment as they attempted to stop him. Clearly isn't far from becoming a very useful goal-scoring midfielder, once he further adjusts. 8

Barry Completed 70 passes (from 76), which sounds like the most from a City player for some time. He was very influential, dictating our tempo, breaking up play and buying a few of those free-kicks of his. As with Yaya, there was a notable improvement in effort from Molineux, which was pleasing to see. 7

Silva Were it not for Mario Balotelli all the focus would be on him today. He was just wonderful, again, playing football in a way not many in the Premier League can. There were three passes that were straight out of the Xavi bracket: a reverse pass into the channel for our first goal, a chip down the middle for our second, and one to Jérome Boateng ('Feed the Boat and he will score') that nobody else on the pitch could have conceived of, never mind executed. 8

Tévez As ever, the whole team looked different with him in. Yes, he didn't score, but I'm not sure we could have done it without him. It was his energy and movement that drove the front three on - his run and cross that set up our first goal. When we were down to ten men his hold-up play and leadership was invaluable - he just wouldn't let West Brom have the ball. 8

Balotelli I don't know what to say. This was a performance unlike anything I have ever seen. To start with the obvious: he's clearly a very good footballer: he's strong, quick, technically excellent and has a sharp eye for goal. But - and I wish I had a better way of putting this - he's just mad. Even before the sending off, he was more petulant, more contemptuous than any player I've seen. Not just the diving, the bickering, the running battles but also the skills - the whole array of tricks even at 1-0 up. There is certainly the suspicion that he plays the opponents rather than the game, but it's really something to behold. I need to write more about him soon. 7


A Johnson Did a decent job when he came on, stretching the defence and working hard at the back. 7

Kolarov Too late n/a

West Brom 0 - 2 City

  • What a response. After a week of whispers and innuendo, and the annual bestowing of the 'crisis club' label upon us, the players produced possibly their best performance of the season. Maybe beating Chelsea was better. But this felt braver, I think, marginally controlled, more dramatic, less a product of Roberto Mancini's plans (althought it certainly was a tactical triumph); it was a battle, a show of strength, a message sent and a proof of force and clarity that the players and the fans remain loyal to Mancini and his approach.

  • The plan was fairly simple: keep the ball, slow it down, impose our will on the game in a way that we could not at Molineux last week. Remeber the second half at White Hart Lane in August? Well this was, for the first hour, just like that. With Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré all at the top of their games, we hoarded possession in a way that no many away sides manage to do in the Premier League. With David Silva and Carlos Tévez dropping into midfield alternately we passed the ball with real precision and imagination.

  • And it was those two, our two impish conjurers, that created the goals for Mario Balotelli, who shares some of the qualities of Silva and Tévez - ability, competitiveness, imagination - if not impishness itself. (I feel like I ought to write at length about Balotelli's performance yesterday, because it was unlike anything I've ever seen in my life. Honestly. And as one of the 23,013 people there (and as someone who writes about football as a matter of course), I do have a duty to describe it as best I can. But I don't think I can do it tonight.) The first goal came with Silva playing a genius pass into the channel to Tévez, who fired across goal to Balotelli. The second goal started with Silva, who chipped in Balotelli, who shrugged off and spun a defender and fired into the bottom corner.

  • The second half was never going to be as easy as the first. West Brom came out stronger: tougher in the tackle and more direct on the ball. The fact that we reduced such a good footballing side to such tactics is an achievement in itself. They did look close to scoring, hitting the woodwork once from distance. But for the most part Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany were as commanding as ever - I hope that our defensive blip is now over - and we resisted. These pressures were exacerbated when Mario Balotelli was sent off; for just over 20 minutes we had to play short-handed. As against Arsenal we fought hard in difficult circumstances, and while we were given the occasional scare it became increasingly apparent that we would come through.

  • Three of the best points we'll take this season. This takes some of the edge off Wednesday night (it's inconceivable that there will be serious rumours of Mancini's dismissal even if we lose), as well as making us more confident of a positive outcome. There were some excellent individual performances, but looked most like a team showing, in difficult circumstances, that they have a bit more unity and cohesion than they sometimes like to show us.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Lech 3 - 1 City

  • Sorry for the lateness of this post, and the lack of posts recently. There's not really too much to say. It was not a particularly meaningful game, as they go. I think we've still got a good shot at qualification.

  • It was a fairly even game for the most part. We didn't play particularly well, but all three goals were difficult to prevent: two excellent hits and one freak bounce. But that said our defence was as patchy as one would expect given Wayne Bridge's inclusion. And we looked short of ideas in the final third: trying to get Adam Johnson involved in one-on-ones but not much else.

  • In part it felt like the FA Cup defeat against Nottingham Forest in January 2009. That was when Mark Hughes put out a team of players he inherited: Michael Ball, Gelson Fernandes, Darius Vassell etc, as if to show people the poverty of his resources, to display just what a mess he inherited. Here Mancini played Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Emmanuel Adebayor, Joleon Lescott, Shay Given. It's not the same but I did feel some resonance.