Sunday, 28 February 2010
Hull City (a) 1-2 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Bolton Wanderers (h) 2-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Stoke City (h) 1-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Stoke City (a) 1-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Liverpool (h) 0-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Stoke City (a) 1-3 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Chelsea (a) 4-2 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Player of the Month
There's a few decent candidates here - thanks to the exciting start of Adam Johnson, the versatility of Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany, and the resilience of Wayne Bridge in what have clearly been very difficult circumstances. Honourable mentions for all of them. But I'm going for Joleon Lescott. He came back into the side in February after two months out with a knee injury, having missed the drama of both the Hughes/Mancini handover and the League Cup semi-final.
And since he's come back he's been excellent. He really looks like the complete set: very strong, dominant in the air, and quick across the pitch. He can bring the ball out from the back comfortably and has cut out the positional and concentration errors that blighted his first few months at City. Solid and consistent in the build-up to yesterday, at Stamford Bridge he was exceptional, dealing with Drogba as well as anyone this season.
(It's worth at least wondering how far Lescott's upturn of form has been due to the coaching of Mancini? Does the shadow training mean that the centre-backs are less exposed than they were under Hughes, and that this therefore makes Lescott's job easier? One other possible factor is his playing with Vincent Kompany now rather than Kolo Touré, who is a better, bolder defender and a better communicator than the club captain.)
Lescott will always find it difficult because of his £24m price tag. People will always remind him that he's not 2.4 times as good as Thomas Vermaelen, or 4.8 times as good as Roger Johnson or Richard Dunne. But all Lescott can do is be the best he can be, fulfill his talents as far as he can. This month he's done that. If he continues to do so he might make the World Cup squad, and go on to be a real success as a City player.
Performance of the month
It should really be Carlitos' masterclass at Stamford Bridge yesterday. But it's not. It's Adam Johnson's debut against Bolton. It was exhilarating stuff - good old fashioned wingplay from the best young English winger on the market. He gave the Bolton back four nightmares and won the penalty that sent us ahead. Added to Bellamy, SWP and Martin Petrov and we've got some excellent options in wide positions.
Goal of the month
Adebayor's control and volley in one fluid movement against Bolton to win us that game. Although Tevez embarrassing Terry to get our crucial equaliser at Chelsea was also good.
Steve Wilson, The Observer
Under pressure following recent anaemic displays and reports of dressing-room objections towards his training methods, Mancini came up trumps here. When the heat was on, City's team spirit and tactics underpinned one of the results of the season, a win that gives them real hope of claiming the fourth Champions League position.
In shielding the back-four, Mancini again deployed three pedigree dogs of war, Nigel de Jong, Pablo Zabaleta and Barry.
Mancini's tactics are defensively-minded but City can counter-attack venomously, a quality displayed in an extraordinary second period.
While that made City's job easier towards the end, the visitors had put themselves in a winning position against 11 men, not nine. Only the final City goal, when Tevez led a breakout from his own half and Craig Bellamy picked up his second of the afternoon from a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross, was attributable to Chelsea's lack of numbers. Everything else was their own fault, and even after one of the most boring and uneventful opening half hours of the season it was impossible to see it coming.Duncan Castles, Sunday Times
In the past week, Internazionale and City have demonstrated different ways to unbutton Chelsea in open play. Jose Mourinho won the Champions League tie by playing two quick forwards and leaving Wesley Sneijder free to manufacture chances behind. Here City triumphed with classic counterattacking, Roberto Mancini lining up five in midfield and asking Tevez to sniff opportunities around the centre-backs.Steve Tongue, Independent on Sunday
Astonishingly, an unmarked Lescott should have added a second goal almost immediately, heading Craig Bellamy's free-kick beyond the far post as Terry lay on the ground. Five minutes into the second half, City were ahead anyway after the first of three superb counters, all involving Bellamy. For this one he raced away from a static Mikel on to Gareth Barry's pass and shot across Hilario, who was again badly positioned.Jeremy Wilson, Sunday Telegraph
Manchester City had created nothing and looked in danger of falling further behind before equalising on the stroke of half-time in the most unexpected of circumstances. Bridge had thumped a hopeful ball forward which John Obi-Mikel attempted to head back to Terry, only for Carlos Tevez to intercept.
He then turned inside Ricardo Carvalho and scuffed a shot which carried just enough power to dribble beyond Henrique Hilario and into the Chelsea goal.
Richards Had a very hard job, given Nicolas Anelka's penchant for cutting in from the left, which is difficult to defend against. Gave away a few free-kicks and perhaps lucky not to get booked. Didn't get forward much. 6
Kompany Moved back into defence, and played with the same authority as he did in midfield at the Brittania on Wednesday night. Stood up to Drogba when he needed to - one of the few defenders in the Premier League with the physicality to do so. I don't see how Kolo gets back in the side. 8
Lescott Another excellent performance. Lescott has been very good since he's come back from his knee injury, dealing with Drogba just as well as Lúcio did in Milan last Wednesday. He was faultless and must now have a decent chance of making the World Cup squad. 8
Bridge Did well in what was obviously a high-pressure environment for him. Very solid defensively and he looked, like Micah Richards, to be under instructions not to attack too much. Bizarrely given a free-kick to take in a good position, which he hit into the wall. 7
Zabaleta Our best player in the first half, tigerish in midfield, not allowing Lampard and Joe Cole to settle. A bit quieter after having Didier Drogba go through the back of him, but a very good battling performance. 8
de Jong Didn't quite replicate his heroics of the game at Eastlands but did play well, strong in the tackle as ever. 7
Barry A quiet first half but excellent after that. He threaded Bellamy through for our second and won the penalty for our second, using that slow collapse with outstretched arms he copied off City legend Didi Hamann. Moved to left back later on. 7
A. Johnson Possibly slightly out of his depth - he couldn't really get involved in the game and looked rather lightweight in the execution of his defensive duties. 6
Tévez Truly talismanic: everyone plays better when he's on the pitch. In the first half he was excellent, taking the pressure off us with his always-impressive hold-up play. He scored the goal that changed the game, a goal that not many other strikers in the Premier League would have scored just before the break. And he took his penalty ruthlessly. 21 goals for the season now. 9
Bellamy I didn't think he'd make it - after 120 minutes at Stoke on Wednesday night, but he was crucial to our counter-attacking game. Struggled to get in the game in the first half but it was his solo effort that put us 2-1 up, and he got on the end of a Wright-Phillips cross to make it 4-1. Has now scored at Anfield, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge since coming to City. 8
SWP More big game experience than Johnson and it showed - putting Bellamy in for our fourth, and keeping Chelsea under pressure when the game was stretched. 7
RSC Became the focal point when we changed to 4-4-2 to pin Chelsea back. Didn't do too much. 6
Sylvinho Came on at the end to ensure the win as he did here. n/a
Saturday, 27 February 2010
- Before the game I was hoping that a brave performance in defeat could just give us the momentum to finish fourth. But to win, and win like that, might just be transformative. And not just for the last eleven games of the season either. This could well be the match that makes the Mancini era - because this is a staggering result. This was our first goal at Stamford Bridge since 2000, our first league win there since 1983. Equally it was Chelsea's first league defeat of the season, and - I haven't checked this, by the way - their third in six years.
- We've been here before though: we beat Chelsea at home in December, thought that it was our Mark Robins moment, and yet Mark Hughes was out within the month. But this was a masterclass in management from Mancini; I have never seen a team deploy a gameplan as effectively as we did today. It's easy enough to know and to say that the way to beat Chelsea is to defend deep and sensibly, and then to hit them on the break, but to do it is something else.
- The first part of the game plan was to keep Chelsea out, defending deep, with ten men behind the ball. Chelsea are a good side but they're not as good as breaking down well-organised defences as Arsenal or Manchester United. For the most part it worked; the shadow training looked to have paid off as we were exceptionally well arranged throughout. But when Lampard was put through by Joe Cole and scored past Given it looked as if the plan was in tatters.
- Thank god, then, for Carlos Tévez. It was his goal just before half time that transformed the game. Had we gone into the break 1-0 down I'm sure we would have lost. But he spun away from Terry, jinked past Carvalho and scored our equaliser. It was echt Tévez: relying on all his reserves of strength, footwork, audacity and tenacity. But it revealed the truth of our plan: that Chelsea's back four was slow, that Hilário was poor, and that space in behind to counter-attack into. The second goal was a perfect display of this - Barry released Bellamy down the left, who surged past Mikel and finished well. The third goal came from an uncharacteristic burst of pace from Barry down the same channel, and the fourth was from a quick break against nine tired men.
- Defending a three goal lead against nine men is something that even Manchester City can do. Putting on Roque Santa Cruz for Wayne Bridge allowed a change to 4-4-2, and even with a Frank Lampard penalty we closed the game out. No one should underestimate what a momentum-generating result this might be. Before yesterday fourth was in our hands, but I never thought that we would actually take it. Now I think we might.
- Finally, a personal perspective. I was there yesterday and can safely say that it was my best experience as a City fan, eclipsing this, this, and the 5-2 win over Spurs in 1994. To see three thrilling goals from counter attacks - at a ground where we hadn't scored since 2000 - right down in front of us in the Andrés Iniesta end was an experience I don't think I'll ever match again. Although Champions League football at Eastlands might change that.
Friday, 26 February 2010
Our record at Stamford Bridge is beyond terrible. We haven't scored there in our last seven visits. Our last goal there was a Paul Dickov consolation in a 2-1 loss in December 2000. And our last win there? 1-0 in December 1983, in the old second Division, before most of our players were born. This, combined with Chelsea's home record this season - 12 wins and one draw - make for some fairly bad omens. And rightly so - we're almost certainly going to lose.
But we could still have some fun: and I don't just mean in watching Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong clatter the former England captain at every opportunity. I mean that Chelsea had an exhausting game on Wednesday, and while we obviously had a similar experience, we do have Carlos Tévez and Adam Johnson completely fresh, as well as de Jong - who had such a good game against Chelsea at Eastlands. Throw in that John Terry is in his worst form for years, that Florent Malouda might play left back, and with Hilário in goal and I am backing us to end our goal drought.
I imagine Tévez will lead the line - as he did in his best spell for City - in a 4-5-1 with Adam Johnson on one wing and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the other. The midfield will be Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and whichever of Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta will be least missed in defence. Kompany was excellent on Wednesday but I'd rather he was up against Drogba and Anelka than Nedum Onuoha so I'd move him back and keep Zab in the middle.
In terms of a game plan I think we'll put men behind the ball and defend deep. We risk inviting Chelsea onto us so we will have to hope Joleon Lescott was watching Lúcio's Drogba-taming masterclass on Wednesday. But it is possible that Johnson, Tévez and SWP will be able to get in behind Chelsea's ponderous back four and cause some problems. In fact, Craig Bellamy's pace might be useful even if he did play 120 energy-sapping minutes in mid-week. I don't think it will work - at home, Chelsea always find a way, and I don't think we will be able to contain Drogba, Anelka and Lampard for ninety minutes. But I'm not convinced we'll get smashed either. So I'm predicting a decent performance and a 2-1 or 3-1 defeat.
Thursday, 25 February 2010
The first of a trio of brave, consistent Dutch servants City have had over the last twelve years, Gerard Wiekens - like Shaun Goater - was a pillar of consistency and composure throughout a difficult time. He joined while Frank Clark was in charge, but slotted quickly into the side and was central to the side that went down to the third tier before - alongside Andy Morrison - dragging the side out of the division the next year. He was a key feature of that Joe Royle side that won consecutive promotions. Like Shaun Goater, he could never quite do it in the top flight but he was a faithful servant as Kevin Keegan took us back up in 2001/02. He hung around for a bit longer before returning to Veendam in 2004.
Gerard Wiekens MCFC 1997-2004 195 starts, 9 goals.
Do read the whole thing, it illuminates a great episode in MCFC history. I must admit to knowing almost nothing about Deyna before I read this - although I had seen him in Escape to Victory. All of these events took place ten years before I was born. But the central theme of the story: City shelling out big money for a talented foreign star who couldn't quite make it at City is certainly one I'm familiar with.
Deyna, a lieutenant in the Polish army, played for the army club Legia Warsaw, for whom he had scored almost 200 goals in nearly 500 games, so City had to enter into a series of complex negotiations with the Polish FA, the Polish government and the Polish army. There was no problem with the translations, however, because City already had one Pole at the club: George Bergier was the head of match-day catering.
The Polish army had to agree to demobilise Deyna, and the Polish FA delayed transferring his registration forms until a train arrived bearing photocopying machines and medical instruments, which were part of the “transfer fee”. The deal cost City around £100,000, comprising machinery, tools and some cash in US dollars, which the Poles used to send their athletes abroad to prepare for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Happy 40th birthday Shaun Goater!
Who better to kick off 'Once a blue...' than the Goat? Probably the most popular centre forward of the modern era, he joined when we were in the process of relegating ourselves to the third tier in March 1998. He couldn't save us that year, but over the next two seasons he hit 40 in 83 league games as we came flying back up to the Premiership, including the crucial goal in the play-off at Maine Road against Wigan Athletic. He could never quite do it in the Premiership - although his robbing Gary Neville and scoring at Maine Road is one of the great 21st century MCFC moments - but he still banged them in during the Keegan promition season of 2001/02. He went on to play for Reading, Coventry City and Southend United before returning to Bermuda.
Shaun Goater. MCFC 1998-2003. 189 starts, 103 goals.
On the plus side, Adebayor, whom Mancini seems resigned to being without for at least three games, foraged well for possession in the first half and saw a sublime 35-yard strike clawed away; substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips showed energy; and City's defence repelled Stoke's aerial threat fairly well for 80 minutes or so. But Stoke are not as invincible as their unbeaten run this year and their fourth-round defeat of Arsenal would suggest.James Ducker, The Times
City started much the brighter and should have been in front inside 20 minutes, but with Bellamy spurning the opportunity, Stoke heeded the wake-up call and gradually began to gain a foothold.
Unbeaten in their previous ten matches since the turn of the year, Stoke are awkward opponents to face, particularly at the Britannia Stadium, and as the first half wore on, it was clear they would take some shifting.
Joe Lovejoy, The Guardian
For Mancini, on the other hand, the honeymoon may not be over but it is certainly drawing to a close. After replacing Hughes in December he got off to a flying start, with six wins in his first seven games, but the next eight have produced only two victories and already there are murmurs of discontent with his training methods emanating from the dressing room. The fans were less than chuffed when English football's nouveau riche managed one point from two league fixtures against the paupers of Hull and were well beaten by two of their rivals for a top-four finish, Tottenham [actually under Hughes - J] and Everton. They will be even more disgruntled now.
Graham Chase, Daily Telegraph
City enjoyed the best of the opening quarter of the match and should have taken the lead when Adebayor fooled Dean Whitehead on half way and broke through on his own only to square to Bellamy and the Welshman to waste the opportunity with a heavy first touch.
Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail
The country's richest club have now won just two games in eight. But they showed plenty of fight last night. They have become rather dull to watch under the rather pragmatic Mancini but they certainly defend better. It was against this background that they battled and scrapped.
Stoke, though, are feisty opposition. To concede an equaliser so soon after taking the lead could have crushed teams with lesser spirit but Tony Pulis sides tend to be of the sleeves-rolled-up variety and this saw the home team through last night.
Richards Restored at right back, and continued his steady improvement. It's hard to think of a defensive mistake, and when on possession he looks slightly more composed than he used to be. 7
Onuoha One outstanding tackle on Ricardo Fuller was the standout moment in an otherwise quiet game. 6
Lescott Had a difficult job tracking Fuller across the pitch. Generally he coped well with Stoke's barrage. 6
Bridge Influential down the flank in the first half, but more cautious as Stoke improved later on. Withdrawn just before ninety minutes. 6
Zabaleta Played most of the game wide on the right. If he was just a little bit quicker he'd be very effective - he tackles hard, passes the ball well enough and makes intelligent runs. When SWP came on he moved inside, and continued to work hard. 7
Ireland For the first thirty minutes it was his best performance in months, drifting between Adebayor and the midfield, finding space and linking play. But then when he had a decent goalscoring opportunity stolen by a Shawcross tackle the confidence seemed to leak out of him, and he stopped any productive involvement in the game. Taken off after an hour. 5
Kompany Moved into his preferred defensive midfield role, he was excellent. Preferred over Nigel de Jong for the extra 19cm of height he brings, he was dominant in the air, and against the 'robust' Salif Diao in midfield. Passing ability underrated, too. 7
Barry Like Ireland he started very brightly, controlling the tempo of the game, but was not able to maintain this throughout. Missed a good headed chance and was moved to left-back. 6
Bellamy Our main outlet down the left, he repeatedly beat the Stoke defence for pace. If he'd been as sharp as he was a few months ago he would have put us ahead before half time. But he continued to work hard and took his goal well. 6
Adebayor Another improved performance, dropping deep, running with the ball, and all the rest of it, before his red card. The card was probably harsh but I don't think he can have too many complaints when he swings his arm like that so close to the referee. 6
SWP Lively down the right when he came on. Very useful against tired legs in games like this. 7
RSC Not fit. Missed a good chance but the game was probably gone by then. 5
Sylvinho Too late to mark. n/a
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
- It wasn't our worst away performance of the season. But it wasn't enough for this most difficult of away games. And this is a game that we should never have been played: if we hadn't been so insipid at Eastlands eleven days ago we would have been relaxing this evening, planning for consecutive trips to Stamford Bridge. Tonight, though, like last Saturday, we failed to turn early chances into a comfortable lead, we stood off, allowed Stoke back into the game and then failed to mark from a long throw. I know Stoke are a good side, and Tony Pulis has done very well with his resources, but what exactly is the point of spending £200m on players if after 210 minutes of FA Cup football against Stoke you've scored two goals and conceded four?
- And it all started so well. We picked an interesting team, with Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta moved into midfield, and Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha back in defence. Craig Bellamy came in on the left. We played with a bit more poise and control than we did in the Premier League game there last week. Kompany and Gareth Barry controlled the game, with a clear plan to have Bellamy hit the space in behind. Had Bellamy's touch been better we would have gone ahead, and there were other half chances too.
- But we didn't take our chances and let Stoke back into the game. They pressed and pushed and kicked and threw, and we just let them. Ireland faded, as did Barry, our defence were unsettled by Ricardo Fuller and eventually substitute Dave Kitson put Stoke ahead, quite inevitably. Strangely enough, we managed to equalise soon later. But when Adebayor was sent off for a raised arm on Ryan Shawcross Stoke recovered all momentum.
- Down to ten men, at the Brittania, and with our away form, there was only going to be one result. But it was still disappointing that it came from a long throw - Shay Given charged out, missed the ball, and Shawcross headed in. Then Tuncay Şanlı danced past our defence to make it 3-1. With bodies thrown forward this one was likely, but it killed the game. Defensively it wasn't a particularly bad performance overall but individual errors at key moments cost us yet again.
- We're out, though, and all we have left to focus on is fourth. This starts on Saturday. I'm not expecting much, but a decent performance - a score draw, even - could just give us the momentum we need. This season isn't over, but it is getting steadily worse each week.
Craig Bellamy's training, Carlos Tévez's absence, Shaun Wright-Phillips' contract, and Stephen Ireland's form have combined to create the appearance of a club which is undergoing a difficult spell. This should not be too much of a surprise: managerial changes are always difficult, and ones as controversial, unpredicted and transformative as the Hughes/Mancini changeover will inevitably lead to real discord. Remember how Hughes spent the best part of 2008/09 trying to impose himself on the squad? These things take time.
Interestingly enough, Mancini has said that he might abandon some of his new methods and go for a direct approach tonight, matching Stoke at their own game:
"We must work on the high ball, on corners and free kicks, long balls and long passes. If we want to win this game, we must play like them."
This could well mean that we're going to play 4-4-2, as we did in our game in Stoke last week. This relies on Roque Santa Cruz's fitness, but we can't do it without him. Despite his size, Emmanuel Adebayor isn't that much of a target man, whereas Santa Cruz can do that job quite admirably:
The other option is to stick with the 4-5-1 from the Liverpool game. Craig Bellamy can come in for the cup-tied Adam Johnson, while Stephen Ireland could also drop out. We can move either Vincent Kompany or Pablo Zabaleta from defence into midfield, but here I prefer Zabaleta, with Micah Richards restored at right back:
Whatever we do it's going to be tough. This is a huge game, not even for the chance of progression into an even harder away game at Stamford Bridge, but for the opportunity to dispel the clouds of doubt that have gathered around Mancini and the club over the last few weeks. A brave performance, taking it to extra time, and I'd be content. Prediction? 2-2 and a Shay Given penalty masterclass.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
“I spoke with him yesterday and I think that he will come back on Thursday or Friday morning,” Mancini said, before adding: “I am sure.”Good news, both for Tévez personally and for MCFC. We've looked toothless without him. He might not have enough to get us a win at Stamford Bridge, but we'd be an even longer shot without him.
He continued: “It is important Carlos comes back Thursday or Friday so he can play against Chelsea. He said to me that every day he has been training in Argentina, every morning.
“He had a serious problem but now I think he resolved his problem.”
Monday, 22 February 2010
It shows how highly the young left back is rated. I don't know much about him, but he looked solid enough in his 45 minutes at Scunthorpe in the FA Cup fourth round. And he only turned 19 three weeks ago so he's certainly very young. It will be interesting to see if he replaces Ryan McGivern as our best young left back from the other side of the Irish Sea. (McGivern is from Newry, and represents Northern Ireland.)
City legends Robinho and Elano are in the Brazil squad for the game.
I'm afraid to say that we're a better team without our club captain Kolo Touré in the side. Not only does Vincent Kompany improve on Touré's defensive capabilities, but Shay Given improves on his captaincy.
I'd like to see this arrangement survive for the rest of the season. (I am sure that in the summer we will spend big on a new centre back, regardless of who the manager is.) But I imagine that at least one of Lescott or Kompany will suffer an injury recurrence. And then there is Kompany's versatility - he could well lose his place in defence by getting moved into midfield.
But they've got Ricardo Fuller and Mamady Sidibé to contend with in mid-week, which isn't the worst preparation in the world for Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka on Saturday. I may have to revise my opinion after those games.
Kevin McCarra, The Guardian
The sorriest aspect was the indifference to entertaining the woebegone spectators, with the home support summoning up the energy for a little light booing at the close. There was insufficient volume for it to be considered a protest against Mancini or anyone else. It may have been a yelp of annoyance over a perfectly good afternoon totally wasted.
Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph
Some culpability must lie with Roberto Mancini and Rafael Benítez, whose mindsets seemed focused on the draw. Both teams lined up 4-5-1: Emmanuel Adebayor and Dirk Kuyt led the lines while Gerrard and Stephen Ireland played between the lines. Liverpool’s lack of width, with Maxi Rodriguez peripheral, was particularly alarming. At least Mancini tried to stretch Liverpool through Johnson, Shaun Wright-Phillips and eventually Craig Bellamy.
Ian Herbert, The Independent
A match between two contestants each so badly wanting to avoid defeat was never likely to summon up much cavalier spirit. But when opportunities to break out arrived, City advanced with such diffidence it was scarcely believable that this was the core of Mark Hughes' ambitious, high-rolling side. It took them precisely an hour and 15 seconds to conjure any shot on target – Pepe Reina was still conscious enough to palm Emmanuel Adebayor's strike smartly around his right- hand post – though Mancini denied that his club's first thought is now always to defend. "For me, as a team, this is important we didn't concede any chances," Mancini said. "We played a top squad."
Matt Hughes, The Times
For such an expensively assembled side, City are not creating enough chances in the first place, and it was not until the final ten minutes that the visiting team were placed under concerted pressure. Adebayor demonstrated impressive pace to get away from Martin Skrtel as he chased a long ball over the top in the 80th minute, but was denied by a well-timed sliding tackle from the Slovakia defender. Adebayor was presented with another opportunity from the resulting corner, heading Vincent Kompany’s cross over the bar.
Sunday, 21 February 2010
Given Had one save to make all day - from a tame left footed shot from Gerrard. Sound underneath crosses. Captain for the day in Kolo's absence. 6
Zabaleta After a nervy first ten minutes he had his best game this season: he was flawless. He won every tackle he went in for and was lively going forward too. He makes such intelligent runs it's a shame he doesn't have another yard or so of pace so that he could really threaten. 8
Kompany Back in at centre-back, he had a decent game. Other than losing his boot in the second half it was not particularly eventful, although he could easily have conceded a penalty late on for almost tripping Yossi Benayoun. 6
Lescott Another good performance, Lescott was untroubled with the ball in the air or on the ground. At least as good as Kompany at bringing the ball out from the back. 7
Bridge He was more cautious than he usually is at home, but was comfortable in defence up against the limited Maxi Rodriguez and the sparky Ryan Babel (no, seriously.) 6
de Jong Like his rival Javier Mascherano he relished the physical battle in midfield and did a good job of shackling Steven Gerrard. His awareness and tackling were as good as ever, and his distribution was good too. 8
Barry Another quiet game. He failed to find much space for himself in the midfield, except for when he drifted out to the left in the second half. Could have been sent off for a handball after being booked, or for going down easily. 6
SWP At times he looked to have the beating of Emiliano Insua, but he could never quite get into good enough positions to deliver threatening crosses. Linked well with Zabaleta but might overestimate the Argentine's pace at times. Worked hard defensively. 6
Ireland His lack of form is a worry and a shame. For the second consecutive home game he was in his favoured role but he failed to escape the attentions of Mascherano. The one time he found himself in a good position, on the edge of the box, he spun into a defender rather than into the space. 5
Johnson Patchy but exciting. His running with the ball at defenders is better even than Martin Petrov or Wright-Phillips. His delivery, though, still needs work: his crossing was poor and his free-kicks and corners weren't any better. 7
Adebayor When he puts the effort in he's excellent. Had our only shot on target, and our best opening - running through before being tackled by Martin Škrtel. His support play - coming deep to link play, or drifting wide and running at defenders, was also very good. When he does it for 90 minutes he'll be brilliant. 7
Bellamy Ran at Carragher, with some success. Should play at Stoke in mid-week. 6
Ibrahim Looked out of his depth. 5
- It might have been a contest for fourth place in the Premier League, but it felt like they were playing for fourth in Serie A. The match was cautious and ponderous, with both teams adopting similar approaches, keen to avoid defeat. If Roberto Mancini was brought in to eliminate the fragilities which brought about the 3-3 draw with Burnley then he's certainly succeeded. But I'm not sure that on current form we could recreate those high-scoring Hughes home games either. Without Carlos Tévez we look utterly goalless.
- A 0-0 draw was always a likely result today. Both teams approached the game in the same way: with a caution bred by a lack of confidence, and a manager keen on a more tactical, controlling approach to the the game. Both sides were set up in 4-2-3-1 formations, and were more than willing to keep men behind the ball, challenging the opposition to break them down. Both sides missed their star centre forward, and as such lacked any cutting edge. Two of the best players on the pitch were Javier Mascherano and Nigel de Jong, each destroying the other side's attacks. Two shots on target in the whole match says it all.
- So I suppose the question is whether we should be happy with matching Liverpool at home, and whether we should have been more ambitious? There were some boos at the final whistle - although fewer than against Stoke last Saturday - demonstrating the frustration of some fans with Mancini. I'm not sure what I think of this. It is mildly disappointing to see us play such insipid stuff at home. But we did keep our shape well and limit Liverpool's threats to corners. Until Tévez comes back we can't expect to threaten good defences. Because I don't think we're going to get an expansive style of play any time soon.
- One complaint: diving. I hate diving, and it upsets me to see Manchester City players doing it. Steven Gerrard was bad today, as he always is, but so were Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson. The idea that English players don't dive has been largely exploded in recent years by Gerrard, Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney but it does still sting a bit to see English players doing it. Particularly when they're English players that play for City. And this isn't just a moral point either. Peter Walton was very liberal today, largely, I think, because of the play-acting of some of the players. Had he been more willing to blow his whistle we might well have got that penalty for Daniel Agger's push on Adebayor.
- But I'm happy with today: more pluses than minuses. We're defending better than we have all season - perhaps thanks to Kolo Touré's relegation to the bench - and we did well to limit Liverpool to no chances. We've got a bit of work to match the attacking fluidity of Spurs and Aston Villa, but when Tévez comes back and Craig Bellamy gets fit we'll be closer. And we've still got that precious game in hand.
Friday, 19 February 2010
But he does love his big chat before big games. He talks about pride, about passion, about the fans, about how much it all means to him. And his latest battle cry reads like a parody of 'things Nigel de Jong says before big games.' It's all there. First he tells us how up he is for the next match:
Then how much he loves the fans, and how much better our fans are than United fans:
"They [Liverpool] are a huge club, one of the Premier League's 'big four', and as a player, these are the games you want to be involved in.
"We also have the added incentive of knowing a win will dent one of our main rivals for a Champions League spot. We have to prepare as we always do for our home games and aim to take all three points."
"I love the City fans and the fighting spirit they have – it's something I can really relate to.
"I noticed from the moment I arrived in Manchester how many Blues there were compared to Reds. This is a working-class city. The people are used to hard work and want to see players play in a way I think they would if they had the opportunity."
And then there's how hard working a midfielder he is:
Of course all this is preferable to Robinho's attitude. And de Jong is an exceptionally hard-working and dedicated player (as well as being technically better than he gets credit for.) But it's just a bit bewildering to read these exact words a few days before every big match. It reads like a satire of the sort of thing that John Terry would say. But we're not far away from it being a satire of stuff Nige de Jong would say. Before the Chelsea game next Saturday he'll tell us how when he was growing up in Amsterdam as a boy him and his brother used to argue about which one was Ian Brightwell and which one was David.
"I'm the type of player who wants to work and fight hard on the pitch too.
"I'm not the sort of player who will make a nice move during a game – in fact, I'd rather win a fair, crunching tackle than score a goal!"
Before the Stoke game we looked like we were heading into a definitive period both for our season and even for Mancini's management of Manchester City. A scored draw - coming from behind - is almost an entirely neutral result and as such there is a sense of a judgement postponed from it. The crunch period then, that will dictate the rest of 2010 for City, starts on Sunday against Liverpool.
If we win we have a four point leader over Liverpool to accompany our game in hand. We can generate some momentum with which to attack at Stoke on Wednesday night, before hoping to emerge from Stamford Bridge with dignity before another huge game the following weekend. A bad result, though, and a performance as insipid as the last few, and the whole Mancini experiment (by which I don't just mean Mancini's work as manager but also the decision to bring him in for Mark Hughes in the first place) look rather flawed. There's a lot riding on this.
The good news is that should not be a particularly difficult game. Liverpool have barely played well all season, and without Fernando Torres there is no cutting edge to their play. They're well organised at the back but still susceptible against pace and with Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips in the side we should be able to trouble them. I wish we could play 4-4-2 but without Tévez there isn't much point. (Roque Santa Cruz is as far from full fitness as he has been all season.) But a 4-2-3-1 with three of Johnson, SWP, Bellamy and Ireland behind Adebayor should be good enough for a win. I predict 1-0.
A stunned insider said: "The manager was yelling 'Why are you always questioning me? Why won't you do as you are told? Why are you always questioning everything at training and in games?'.
"Bellamy argued back that he only wanted what was best for the club.
"But Mancini snapped 'I want you to leave now. And do not come back for three months'."
Unsurprisingly this was brought up in today's press conference. Mancini said of it:
“These things (an argument) can happen in a job. I don’t have problems with Craig.
“I spoke with him in the office and read that I shouted at him. But I didn’t. We just spoke face-to-face.
“He is having treatment at the training ground and if the knee is okay, he will be available for Sunday.”
Which seems to put a lid on it. It should not be much of a shock that a disagreement would take place between Mancini and Bellamy over training. Bellamy was reportedly given real flexibility by Mark Hughes and Mark Bowen to train as best accorded with his fitness, but it is entirely understandable that a new manager would want to keep individual's training schedules under his own watch, if not his control.
And it is no surprise that any argument between the two should become heated, either. I love Craig Bellamy, and I think he has matured since coming to City, but it is still true to say that he is no stranger to frank exchanges of differing opinions. The good news is that the 'three month exile' claim seems to have nothing to it, and we could well see him running at Jamie Carragher on Sunday. Which could be fairly entertaining.
First our top scorer, and probable 2009/10 Player of the Season Carlos Tévez, who will stay in Argentina for the time being due to the recent premature birth of his daughter. Daniel Taylor reported this in today's Guardian, and Roberto Mancini confirmed it in today's press conference.
Next up there's Martin Petrov, who is out for a month with a knee injury.
And then there's Patrick Vieira who has 'reluctantly accepted' his charge of violent conduct and so is banned for the Liverpool, Stoke City and Chelsea games this week. As I said when he was charged, good news from a football justice standpoint, but not a disaster from a Manchester City fan position either.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Staffordshire referee Alan Wiley, who took charge of the Stoke fixture on Tuesday, has reviewed video evidence of Vieira's reckless challenge on Whelan and informed that FA that he would have dismissed the City midfielder had he seen the incident.
Obviously from a 'football justice' standpoint this is good news. But from a partisan MCFC standpoint it's not the worst news we've had all season either. How we plan to deal with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, next week, I've no idea.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
"What has happened is that we have actually approached Manchester City with a view to buying him..
"They very politely rejected our approach to them to purchase him. They have said they will let him stay here for another season on loan, but he is not for sale."
Pannu continued: "They appreciate the way Alex has built him up, he has got a very strong reputation in England. They appreciate that and will give us priority on the loan deal.
"He will be with us for another season, unless anything changes. That is the position."
Hart's doing exceptionally well at Birmingham and so this is clearly the best option for all parties. I still think that he will never play for City again, but this is the safest option while he's still contracted to us.
“In the first half the ball was in the air most of the time and it was difficult for us to play. We had to fight, it was the only way to play. We were better after the break, but when it was 11 v 10 we should have created more chances. We should have got it down the channels for Shaun or Adam, but too often we played it down the middle.
“I made a change by bringing Shaun on and pushing Gareth to left back, but we should have been more aggressive to try to win the game. We were too quiet at times and we had some good chances to win this game."
Given the quality we have in wide areas it is becoming a frustration how slowly we move the ball out wide. This is meant to be Gareth Barry's greatest asset, and when he's on top of his game (first half against Bolton, first half against Stoke at home) we've looked lively in this area. But when he is under pressure, when he is weighed down by a certain World Cup winning passenger in our midfield he struggles and the team fail to create opportunities.
Of course, moving the ball quickly into space is one of Stephen Ireland's fortés but we all know how he struggles to play in 4-4-2, and how out of form he is. One of the key battles on Sunday will be the attempts of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva to prevent Gareth Barry from setting Adam Johnson up against Emiliano Insua. It's clear now that Mancini has no interest in resting Gareth Barry, and so getting the best out of him becomes a priority. And I don't see what role Patrick Vieira has in any solution to this problem.
Even with Abdoulaye Faye, dismissed with more than half an hour left, Stoke were deservedly winning until five minutes from the end when Barry showed determination to hook in a second effort after his first shot had been touched on to a post. Liverpool themselves will be putting City back in their place at Eastlands on Sunday unless Mancini can effect a dramatic improvement.
Sandy Macaskill, Daily Telegraph
Aggression, intensity, authority — call it what you want — City lack it. After losing to Everton, Hull, and now drawing at the Britannia, we are left with one immutable fact, one which brings to mind Lance-Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army: Manchester City don’t like it up 'em.
True, Roberto Mancini’s side have moved into fourth place, ahead of Liverpool, but this was not a performance that suggested they will stay there long. Mancini had ordered full attack mode, but he was rewarded with a sluggish start and a lapse in concentration just when things finally started going their way, Glenn Whelan’s shot from outside the area burying itself in the bottom corner after 71 minutes.
Tom Dart, The Times
The point pushed the visiting team above Liverpool into fourth place, and they still have a game in hand on Rafael Benítez’s side, whom they host on Sunday, but it was impossible to feel optimistic about City’s Champions League prospects after this display. It was a night to reinforce prejudices: Stoke the bustling bullies, City the flaky travellers.
Phil Shaw, The Independent
A surfeit of draws cost Mark Hughes his job as manager of Manchester City, but Roberto Mancini should have been grateful for the one he scraped against Stoke last night because his team would have been deservedly beaten by 10 men but for a contentious refereeing decision deep in stoppage time.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Richards Back into the side after injury, and he had another good game. Defensively competent, and demonstrated the pace and audacity that makes him a much more exciting right back than Zabaleta. 6
Touré Yet again he seemed to hide in a big game, providing half-hearted leadership at the box, failing to organise the back four sufficiently well. He's our third best centre-back, and not near our third best captain. 5
Lescott A good performance, he did himself proud under Stoke's aerial bombardment. Should form a good partnership with Vincent Kompany when the Belgian is fit. 6
Garrido It's not very clear to me why he started ahead of Wayne Bridge. Clearly this is not his sort of game, and he was given a rough time by the pace and strength of Stoke but there was nothing too disastrous. 5
Johnson Started wide on the right, but free to drift forward and across as desired. His pace and quick feet were effective, and while he never quite had the impact as he did against Bolton it was still a bright performance before he came off. 6
de Jong As he predicted the ball often went over his head but he cleaned up possession well when it was on the ground. His passing was good but again he didn't look 100% fit. 5
Vieira Again, far off the pace. I don't just mean his speed running across the ground. But when he gets the ball he cannot move it quickly enough before he is caught in possession. Improved, naturally, when Stoke went down to ten. Should have been sent off for an early stamp on Whelan. Nowhere near good enough. 4
Barry Passed the ball around nicely some of the time, but still not as much influence as we hoped for when we bought him. Took his goal well from a prone position, but did miss a good chance at the end of the first half. 5
Adebayor Aside from winning the red card his contribution was limited. We got ten minutes of effort and running, but in terms of all-round contribution it still wasn't there. 5
RSC I hope that he can become a good player for us, and I do like his style, but he's never anywher near full fitness. He was barely in the game today, never quick or alert enough. A real shame. 4
SWP Sparked things up when he came on, running at defenders and getting into good positions. 6
Petrov Poor delivery from decent positions. n/a
Zabaleta Too late to mark. n/a
- A decent performance, but a seriously good point. We're up to fourth, and we still have one game in hand. It was a strange game - we were under pressure for most of the first hour, before Abdoulaye Faye was sent off. After a spell of a pressure we conceded from a rare Shay Given error, and it looked like we would lose to ten men for the second consecutive season at the Britannia. But a late Gareth Barry goal belatedly brought us level and we hung on for a point.
- It ought to be said, though, that we were lucky with Ryan Shawcross' stoppage time header. He jumped against Shay Given from a Rory Delap long throw and headed home. It was disallowed; Shawcross having allegedly held Given down. It was a very marginal call from the referee. We won't always get this lucky. And it raises serious issues: we conceded two good goals against Stoke from long throws in two games. Only one of them was given - but we shouldn't be in this position.
- Until the sending off we were poor. Stoke were as bold and aggressive as expected. They dominated possession and threw balls into our box. For the most part we defended bravely, Joleon Lescott again proving that he is better than Kolo Touré. But we did concede chances. And we again proved that we can't dominate possession. The Vieira/de Jong/Barry triangle was as slow and damp as it has been in the past. It was not until Faye was sent off that we got in the game.
- From that point we got the space and possession we had been waiting all game for. Johnson on the left, and Shaun Wright-Phillips attacked down both flanks and we finally looked like the better side. But we couldn't make it count and the rarest of Shay Given mistakes led to our going 1-0 behind. Imagine losing to ten men of Stoke in consecutive seasons. Given's one of my favourite players so I'm delighted I'm not now cursing him for causing our defeat. But it shouldn't have happened and it was almost fatal.
- We managed an equaliser, and a found a few half-chances for a winner. It shouldn't have come to this, and we should have lost it in stoppage time. I wanted a brave performance more than anything else. Did we get it? Probably not. We were cautious and timid, again, for too long and required lucky breaks to get level. But it's a point on the road, and one from behind as well. Enough to keep us in a decent positon for now. But enough to generate momentum for good results against Liverpool, Stoke and Chelsea? Probably not, I fear.
The result lifts Málaga to fifteenth, four points from the relegation zone.
"I like the ball played along the ground a lot, but I think we can expect a lot of long balls against Stoke, so you have to be prepared for the second ball and knock-downs.
“It’s going to be a battle and it’s probably not the best pitch in the league to play football on at the moment, but we know Stoke away is going to be hard whenever you take them on...
The former Hamburg star added: “In Germany and Holland all the teams try and play football - here you still find teams who play kick and rush. But they are doing what they feel they have to in order to survive in this league."
That said, if we're going to beat Stoke we're going to have to beat them at their own game. Few teams go to Stoke and win, and those that do only triumph on Stoke's terms. And so de Jong is going to be more engaged and more involved than he was on Saturday evening.
Monday, 15 February 2010
After a bit of a stutter this is where it starts to get real. We've got four matches in the next eleven days: two trips to Stoke, Liverpool at home and then Stamford Bridge away. If they all go to plan we return to Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup quater-final before resuming our push for fourth from a position of real strength. But if they go wrong we'll only have fourth left to play for, and will be chasing it without any momentum.
So it's crucial to get this four game stretch off to a good start. And I don't necessarily mean a win, either. This is one of our games in hand, and it is not a surrender to acknowledge that a point won at the Britannia is a good one. It's more than we managed last season. The most important thing tomorrow is to arrest our slide into a rather ponderous, damp brand of football we've been playing recently. I don't want to see a return to 3-3s and 4-3s but we're not looking more like a side going through the motions than one fighting for big prizes on two fronts.
Unfortunately our team selection isn't going to much help here. Our two attacking talismen, Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy, are both absent, and there are doubts over our two experienced wingers (Martin Petrov and Shaun Wright-Phillips) and our best playmaker in Stephen Ireland. Much responsibility, then, should fall on the shoulders of Adam Johnson in only his second start. My guess is that he will start in a free role behind a pairing of Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, which could threaten to make Georgios Samaras and Bernardo Corradi look like a partnership of exceptional mobility and effort. Johnson, as against Bolton, will drift onto whichever wing he smells weakness. Based on Shaun's successes on Saturday he could well succeed.
Behind Johnson I imagine Mancini will go for three defensive midfielders again. While Patrick Vieira could partner Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry, he doesn't look anywhere near full fitness to me. My guess then is Pablo Zabaleta in midfield with Micah Richards returning to right back.
It's a solid team and a physical one which might be the best way to succeed at Stoke. I'm not very confident of a win - I worry where the goals are coming from - but it's not impossible and I've just got a feeling this evening that a brave, battling performance could well give us the momentum to come through this difficult run we've got coming up. I predict a fiery score draw.
Sunday, 14 February 2010
Which is fine. Lots of teams rely on one attacking player to make things happen. Take Wayne Rooney out of this year's Manchster United side and they would be a good side but not one with that much chance of winning the Premier League or the Champions League. It's not inherently a bad thing.
But we have now reached that point: Tévez has returned to Argentina, due to a family issue. We looked blunt without him yesterday, and this is only worsened by the absence of Craig Bellamy. On Tuesday night Adam Johnson will return (playing behind an Adebayor/Santa Cruz pairing?), but Bellamy will not. I'd love a point on Tuesday but I'm not too hopeful. It's Liverpool on Sunday, and the Cup game at Stoke, which matter most. And we really need Tévez, Bellamy and Johnson (for Liverpool) for those three.
Bridge alone could be exempt from criticism. In front of England coach Fabio Capello, he showed why he was regarded as the natural stand-in for Ashley Cole before the John Terry affair. He was capable in his defending, adventurous going forward and made a terrific block to deny Liam Lawrence.Paul Wilson, The Observer
Tim Rich, Independent on Sunday
City were so poor without their two leading lights that it was hard to take Mancini's claim of wanting to be in the last eight seriously. It might be an idea at least to have them on the bench for the replay. While Bellamy could be back for the league game at the Britannia on Tuesday, Tevez is in Argentina for the birth of his child.
Stoke were City's opponents in Mancini's first game in charge and here, despite making three changes within an hour and giving away an embarrassing early goal, the visitors gave a better account of themselves. They came back at City and claimed a deserved equaliser, something they never managed in December.
Although Wright-Phillips' unchallenged runs and a comfortable, controlled display by Gareth Barry, would have interested the England manager, it is Manchester City's left-back who would have been at the centre of his vision. Bridge may not have justified Mancini's description of him as "the best left-back in England" but he was impressively solid in the first half, rather looser after the break.
Given A few decent saves, although there may be questions about Fuller's goal. Mancini has exonerated him, and I think he's right - it was probably just too far out for it to be his. But there were times when communication between Given and his defenders didn't look perfect. 6
Zabaleta I thought he was very poor today. Stoke had Tuncay Şanlı playing on left midfield and too often he was too quick and too clever for Zabaleta. Liam Lawrence's volley into Wayne Bridge came from one such moment. I'm used to seeing Zabaleta flustered and clumsy in away games but it doesn't usually happen at home. Richards needs to shake off his injury. 4
Touré I know I'm a broken record on this but there was a vacuum of leadership and organisation where a decent captain was meant to be. Stoke's goal is a case in point: the ball sailed over Kolo's head and straight onto Fuller's - a failure of both defending and captaincy in one perfect moment. I'd put Vincent Kompany in as soon as we can. 5
Lescott Did well in front of Fabio Capello. With people's attention elsewhere he seems to have reproduced the calm efficiency of his late autumn performances immediately after returning from his two month knee injury. 6
Bridge He was the main attraction today and he dealt admirably with it: playing excellently. Not only was he our best defender, brave and smart throughout, he was probably our second best attacking player too - getting down the flank quickly and putting some good crosses in. 7
de Jong Not one of his best games. With Stoke hitting long balls to Fuller and Mamady Sidibe there was never really much play for him to break up. There were one or two big tackles, and more bicycle kick clearances than usual, but the game passed him by for the most part. 5
Barry Another inconsistent performance. There are things he always does well - winning headers, moving the ball out wide quickly and accurately, and 'buying' free-kicks in the style of Didi Hamann. But he is still failing to dominate games as he can, not using his experience to swing things our way when necessary. Still needs a rest. 6
SWP His running at Andy Wilkinson and Danny Higginbotham provided the only sparks in our performance. He was our only consistent attacking threat, all the way up until the final whistle. He also scored a goal, which was easy enough but his lob over Sorensen was almost brilliant. 7
Ireland He said before the game that he wanted to be played in his position - and he certainly was. Two holding midfielders, wingers either side and a big centre forward made this the 4-2-3-1 - with Ireland as keystone - that we played last season. At times he was excellent - the pass for SWP's goal was like his very best - and he got into some good positions in the first half. But the quality wasn't always there and he struggled with a knock in the second half. Frustrating for all. 6
Petrov He could have been destructive today but it wasn't happening. Couldn't get into the game, and didn't produce when on the ball. His firing that free-kick from a narrow position wide of the goal was the most predictable event since Robinho declared his wish to stay at Santos beyond the length of his current loan deal. 5
Adebayor Not much of a contribution until the last twenty minutes when he livened up, started drifting wide to run with the ball. It looks like he prefers playing in a 4-4-2, or maybe he just doesn't prefer playing in performances as flat as today's. 6
Vieira A few nice passes over the top late on but I think he looks sluggish in possession - too often he was quickly closed down and lost the ball. The same thing happened against Bolton. Maybe he needs to get fitter. We'll see. 5
RSC Missed a good chance but did ok in his first outing for a while. More of a traditional target man than Adebayor, he won a fair share of headers. Could play on Tuesday. 6
- Wembley looks a bit further away this evening. Having let a lead slip at home against a side we should beat - a feeling which has become depressingly familiar this season - our progress to the quarter-finals, which felt so likely on Saturday morning, is now unlikely.
- But this result had been coming for the last few games. I wish our performance was an aberration from the Portsmouth and Bolton home league wins, but it wasn't. In fact, our first half performance was probably better than in either of those games. We kept the ball moderately well, we created a chance or two without ever tearing the opposition apart, and we certainly never pressed and pushed our advantage home as we might. We were defending better today than we did for the first hour against Portsmouth, in terms of chances created.
- The one difference between today and the Portsmouth and Bolton games was the goal we conceded. Grinding out narrow wins is great but it doesn't give you the luxury of a margin for defensive errors. It certainly doesn't allow you to switch off at a Rory Delap long throw, and fail to pick up the excellent Ricardo Fuller. Like much of the game - the blown lead, the 4-2-3-1 built around Stephen Ireland, the revealed fragility of Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré it was very reminiscent of the Mark Hughes era. I like to think it would have been different with Vincent Kompany playing, but I am rather prejudiced on this point.
- Players that we certainly missed were Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tévez. They have shared the role of attacking talisman this season, leading by example, dragging the team with them, creating and scoring chances. So often this season a flat performance has been lifted by a sudden contribution of one of these two. With neither we struggled. There should have been goals in our team - Martin Petrov, Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips lined up behind Emmanuel Adebayor. Wright-Phillips did well (in front of Fabio Capello), but Ireland and Petrov are both out of form and Adebayor's recent goal scoring run does not seem to have coincided with a major improvement in performances. We started well but then failed to create much until a late switch to 4-4-2, as we mimicked Stoke and hurled long balls up to Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz. There were a few half-chances but not enough to put us through.
- With the money we've spent we should be able to lose a few players and still win home games against teams with away records like Stoke's. Our home record is pretty important, remember. It's the one thing stopping us from being a very average football team. If results today become habitual - and I don't think that they will - then we have little to no chance of reaching our targets for this or any other season. Because our away form certainly isn't going to get us anywhere. Which is why I think we won't be going to Wembley this year.
Friday, 12 February 2010
On one level this is to do with fear. We only need to win four more games to win the Cup. And yet we've got another fourteen Premier League games left. Now, obviously our Cup games, on average, should be harder than our league games. And we're probably more likely to finish fourth than win the Cup. But having to play out a fourteen game sequence to maintain a league position is so at odds with the traditions of MCFC that I'm not sure I can stomach it.
But there is also the fact that, unlike the majority of City fans, I actually think winning the Cup would be better than finishing fourth. I can see that the prestige boost of Champions League football, allied to the fees and wages we can pay, could see us bring in some seriously world class footballers to Eastlands for 2010/11. And I know that the case of Portsmouth shows that an FA Cup win is no guarantor of long term success. But I still want it: the trip to Wembley (I wasn't at Gillingham), the players holding the trophy, the glory, the memories, the end of that banner. Trips to the Nou Camp would be great, of course, but I don't see how coming fourth in something is in anyway better than winning something else.
Which is a very long way of saying that Saturday's game against Stoke is much more important to me than next Tuesday's. If we win we're one game away from a semi-final at Wembley. (Of course, it's ludicrous that the semis should be at Wembley rather than Villa Park, Old Trafford etc but that's an argument for another day.) And we really should win. Stoke have come to Eastlands twice, and lost 3-0 and 2-0 - the latter occassion on Roberto Mancini's first game as City boss.
It is a shame that the man of the moment - Adam Johnson - won't be playing. But it does mean Mancini has some freedom in his team selection. We have broadly three options. The first, and least likely, is the 4-4-2 diamond that started against Bolton. Without Johnson, Stephen Ireland can return in what is almost his best position. More exciting, though, would be a Mark Hughes-style attacking 4-4-2 with Martin Petrov down the left wing and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. It would open the game out, as it did for the last twenty minutes on Tuesday, although it would require the sacrificing of one of Patrick Vieira, Nigel de Jong or Gareth Barry. Most likely, though, is the retention of all three of them in a 4-3-3. Without Johnson it is a straight choice between Petrov and Wright-Phillips to join Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tévez up front. I think this will be the favoured system, and I think Petrov will be the man to come in.
In defence Kolo Touré's knee injury should see Joleon Lescott return in his place (forming my preferred centre-back partnership), and there's also a possible return for Micah Richards at either right back or centre back.
We should have enough to get past Stoke, so I'm going to predict comfortable progression.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
One of the criticisms you can level at City this season is that we're becoming a bit of a 'one man team', so dependant is our goal return on one man. Danny is on the money with his post yesterday:
Tevez and Adebayor therefore have accounted for 47% (22 of 47) of our Premier League goals so far this season, and whilst we will undoubtedly have a more solid, stoical feel to the side it is a real worry that the lack of goals from elsewhere in the side could hinder aspirations of a top four finish.
Of course a 'one man team' doesn't actually mean that they only have one good player. It's fair to say that United's attacking prowess rests on Wayne Ronney without impugning the abilities of Patrice Evra and Darren Fletcher, just as Javier Mascherano and Pepe Reina prove that Liverpool's stable of world class players is not limited to Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. 'One man team', when taken to mean 'one man attack', is still a relatively useful term.
And the point is that if it's true for United or Liverpool (or Arsenal, in the case of Cesc Fàbregas) then it's certainly true for City and Tévez. Just imagine if he ruined his knee ligaments in training tomorrow. It would be the end of our season. No fourth place, no FA Cup run. His ability to create goalscoring chances ex nihilo has been crucial to our success, such as it has been, in the last few months. His third at Bolton, his flick at Old Trafford, his karate kick in Mancini's first game, the curled finishes against Blackburn. Take him out of our team, and with Stephen Ireland's poor form there is so little spark in our side. Maybe this will change with Adam Johnson, but after one start I'm going to reserve judgement for a while.
So let's hope Tévez's knees hold up for the next few months.