Friday, 30 April 2010

Villa preview

Well this is it. After months now of harrying and jockying, leading and chasing, we're into the final stage of the campaign for fourth place. Roberto Mancini put it best: this is our semi-final. Win this, and we can face a final with Spurs on Wednesday. Draw and we're needing goal difference. Lose and we need an unlikely favour from Bolton or Burnley. So this is exactly the right way of looking at it. Good job we have so much semi-final experience to call on, and a great record of performing in those we get to. Seriously, though, it's not much of an exaggeration to say that this is our biggest league game since that 4-1 at Ewood Park ten years ago.

To say nothing of another sub-plot which would otherwise be at the forefront of our minds: the return of Richard Dunne at Eastlands. Dunne has done excellently this season at Aston Villa, much better than I, or many City fans expected him to. For all the easy criticism made of Mark Hughes for selling him, I don't think it was a bad call based on last season's performances. He had a very poor season, and Hughes was entitled to seek an upgrade. Of course, we can all be upset with the nature of Dunne's departure, and rightly so. But as a footballing decision I don't think it was particularly wrong. Anyway, Dunne was a heroic servant of Manchester City, the best of my lifetime, with the possible exception of a Niall Quinn or Ian Brightwell. City fans don't always give former players the reception they deserve, but I'm sure Dunne will be appropriately saluted tomorrow.

Back to the game. We go into it with a few key absences. The most noteworthy is Shay Given who, as we all know, is to be replaced by Márton Fülöp. Enough has been said about the morality of it (I think we've got very lucky), but it is worth remembering that we've lost someone who has been our third best player this season. And while Fülöp might be better than the unfortunate Gunnar Nielsen, he's no Shay Given. So this is a loss. As is Gareth Barry, who is apparently struggling with a strain. Given and Barry are two of the pillars of the side, with 794 Premier League appearances between them. Take them out of the side and we look fairly ropey.

With this being a home fixture I imagine we'll stick with 4-4-2, which means Nigel de Jong plus one in midfield. I imagine Patrick Vieira will play, which means James Milner will be free to play without shackles in front of us. I would put Pablo Zabaleta in there, but he is more used to being one of three central midfielders rather than two. Out wide I imagine Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson will continue. There's a growing case for Shuan Wright-Phillips but Mancini just doesn't like him.

You know what you're going to get from Villa. They're strong, quick, well-organised and not desperately subtle. I fear that without the twin pillars of Given and Barry we won't have the experience to live with them at times. Much rests on Kolo Touré, Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong. But they are pretty good at heading away crosses. At the other end I hope Carlos Tévez is focussed enough to turn Dunne like he did here and get us a goal or two. I struggle to call this one so I'm going to go with another score draw.

Players look forward to Villa

Kolo Touré:
"You know how the best way to cope with pressure like this? Just relax and enjoy the moment," Toure told

"Football is such a wonderful job that you need to enjoy every minute and if there is pressure on you, just go out with a smile and be happy because I believe that will allow you to play your normal game and deliver the goods.

"It is not every season that you have the opportunity to challenge for Champions League football.

"We are in a fantastic position and it's up to us how we deal with it. Ultimately, it comes down to how much we really want to finish fourth."
Pablo Zabaleta:

“It is great to get to this stage and our destiny still be in our own hands,” said Zabaleta. “Aston Villa are a very good side with great attacking players and like us, they believe they can qualify for the Champions League.

“It will be a really tough game because they don’t lose very often and like to hit you quickly on the break. Of course, we are aware of that, but we have to win this game and I believe we will if we play anywhere near our best...

“That point could be the one that makes the difference in the end – we won’t know until the final table is published. Now we have two huge home games coming up within the space of a few days and we need six points...

“I’m desperate to play in the last three games so I can help the club into fourth spot because we are ready for it and our supporters deserve the best.”

'If he's not happy, it would be better to change'

Today's papers are full of Roberto Mancini's surprising decision to speak publicly about Carlos Tévez's discontent:

Asked if he thought Tevez might be unhappy, Mancini replied: "I don't know. Tevez has four years left on his contract. But I don't know. If he's not happy, it would be better [for him] to change squads. If a top player is not happy to stay here, then it's better for him to go to another team...

"I've spoken to Tevez. What we said was private but I did remind him that there had been only one time when he had to train twice in a day.We have trained twice four times in the five months I have been here. On two of those times Carlos was in Argentina and one time he was here but didn't train. So I don't know why [he's unhappy]. When we don't have a midweek game I always train two times on Tuesday because it's the only way I know."

It's a surprise and a disappointment to see this bubbling up into the public sphere. I had hoped that Tévez's infamous Daily Mail interview was an aberration, a mistake, but it looks as if Tévez was being honest - he does seem to dislike Mancini's methods which, from the perspective of an outsider like me, do not sound too unreasonable. But then we cannot get too precious about the fact that Tévez is a prickly character. If he wasn't bolshie, stubborn and pointedly candid he would still be a very effective squad player at Manchester United. It's those qualities which drove him to City and so the fact that they still make up a big part of Tévez's character should not be a surprise.

But this reveals more about Mancini than it does about Tévez. The fact that Mancini has gone public with this, and put down our star man and Player of the Season-elect is important. I think it's the latest data point in a recent trend: Mancini's desire to cultivate and project managerial authority. With the exception of cash, managerial authority is the most important currency at any football club. It's a necessary part of any successful team. We certainly won't win anything without it. And Mancini arrived with none at all.

He was brought in to replace a popular manager, who had bought almost every member of the squad. He had no time to bring in his own players, and when he did only signed Patrick Vieira. He was likely to leave in the summer if we failed to come fourth, an open secret in football. It's hard to come up with a set of circumstances less conducive to an authoritative manager. And Mancini knew this. He also knew that if he was to have any success at City he would have to fight it, and show that he was boss. Hence the famous substitution of Robinho at Goodison, and shipping him back to Santos. Hence ordering Tévez home from Buenos Aires. Hence telling Wright-Phillips to keep quiet about his contract. Hence (temporarily) dropping Kolo Touré. Hence falling out with Craig Bellamy.

It might be ugly, and it might even cost us a good player or two, but Mancini has to show that he is in charge. Mark Hughes went through precisely the same process eighteen months ago, I called it 'Sparkyisation.' And I'm entirely supportive of it. We can't expect to do anything without a clear sense of managerial authority. Unfortunately, we're not a club that is well geared to that. With our demanding owners, our public and influential CEO and Football Administration Officer, our big stars on big contracts we have serious obstacles in the way. Cultivating managerial authority at City isn't easy. But someone's got to do it. Mancini's approach is absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Mariga books ticket to Madrid

More news from the one that got away: McDonald Mariga played the last few minutes of Inter's thrilling Champions League semi-final contest with Barcelona at Nou Camp.

With four minutes left of normal time Inter were 1-0 down on the night but 3-2 up on aggregate; one mistake away from going out on away goals. So Samuel Eto'o was withdrawn for Mariga - who was a Home Office decision away from becoming a Manchester City player in January. Mariga played on the right of a 5-4-0, and - as far as I can remember - won one header on the half-way line, and then bought a free-kick off Jeffrén Suárez in stoppage time. Inter hung on and progressed.

Thiago Motta is suspended for the final. Muntari and Stankovic are more likely to play, but another Mariga appearance is possible. How he must regret not joining City.

Rumoured clear-out

For all the attention on the chase for fourth, rumour clouds are beginning to form regarding this summer. The details are unclear but we all know there is going to be wrenching upheaval at MCFC this summer: players, managers, coaches, captains - no-one is safe.

Today's report from Neil Custis in The Sun gives four names of possible casualties should Roberto Mancini remain in charge; Emmanuel Adebayor, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland Wayne Bridge.

It smells of plausibility. It is easy to denigrate the reliability of tabloid reports but Neil Custis was ahead of the curve on these two MCFC transfer stories before.

I can certainly see Mancini seeking to shed all four of those players from the squad. Ireland, Wright-Phillips and Bridge have all had very patchy seasons, and there are questions over the ability of all three to compete in the Champions League. Adebayor might feel unfairly done by - 13 in 22 in the EPL is a decent return, given everything - but there are grounds for his replacement; namely that Carlos Tévez is our best player and we should find a more natural partner for him than the free-spirited and fairly casual Adebayor. This could be Fernando Torres, but it wouldn't have to be - there are others who could do that job well.

On an emotional level I would be devastated to see Stephen Ireland leave, because I love him and am desperate for him to succeed at City. But Mancini has clearly seen what Mark Hughes came to recognise - that Ireland needs a side built round him, and that a team chasing honours cannot always afford that. I am fond of Shaun Wright-Phillips, too, for obvious reasons. But I have little to no emotional attachment to Bridge and Adebayor, beyond gratitude and respect for continuing to play well despite difficult (but very different) personal circumstances that they have endured this season.

Of course, this whole report is premised on the idea that Roberto Mancini will be manager throughout the summer. This can't be guaranteed. So let's wait and see who's boss next year before going any further with this.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Fülöp signs

Exciting stuff: Sunderland's Hungarian goalkeeper Márton Fülöp has signed on a short-term emergency loan. There's been lots of argument over the legitimacy of the move. It's irrelevant now but my take is that we are fortunate to have gotten away with this, given that we have a 23 year old full international fit and available. If I was a Spurs or Villa fan I would not be too impressed with the Premier League, although if you're looking for consistent and just decision-making from football authorities you're looking in the wrong place.

According to reports in Wednesday's papers the Premier League forbade us from taking Joe Hart back for these last three games because it would give us too much of an advantage over our rivals. I'm too tired to explain just how mindlessly stupid this is, suffice to say that if the application of a law hinges on a Premier League bureaucrat making subjective value judgements regarding the relative merits of various goalkeepers then something has gone seriously wrong. King Solomon's court this is not.

Anyway, it's Fülöp we've got rather than Hart. We can only presume he will start on Saturday ahead of Gunnar Neilsen. It certainly adds an extra touch of risk, of novelty to what are already three games of oppressive significance and import. I'm sure he's up to the job - he has looked pretty competent at Sunderland, and he has top level experience that Nielsen does not. If we pull this off, and if Fülöp plays a role, then he could become a cult hero unlike anything since Shaun Goater. He could even match the only other Hungarian to play for City (is this correct?) Imre Varadi. No pressure Márton.

New deal for Nimely

A new four year contract for the youngster - much the same as Dedryck Boyata. In normal seasons we would have nothing to play for at this point and so could give him some game time. This Saturday's match matters rather a lot, though, so he'll have to wait.

MCFC approach Fülöp, Hart

It sounds increasingly likely that we will be allowed to sign an emergency loan goalkeeper. And that our targets are Joe Hart and Márton Fülöp.

I'd be surprised if we managed to bring Hart back, given that he does not have a recall clause. I suppose the club could make a loan to Birmingham in 2010/11 contingent on his coming back for the next three games but that depends on our willingness to let him go next season.

Fülöp is more likely - he's a better option than I was expecting, really, and has more experience - at Premier League and international level - than Gunnar Nielsen. He's got to be the favourite to be in goal on Saturday.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Spurs linked with Bellamy, Richards

More transfer rumours in today's Times: interest from Tottenham Hotspur in both Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards:

Bellamy has three years left on his £80,000-a-week contract at City but Redknapp hopes to capitalise on what could be a summer of upheaval at their Champions League rivals and is closely monitoring Richards as a potential solution to his problems at right back.

Like Bellamy, the England Under-21 defender, who can also play at centre back, has three years left on his contract and City would not let him leave cheaply, but Redknapp is thought to be hopeful an agreement could be reached.

The Bellamy story has been heard before. I think it's plausible. It's known that Harry Redknapp is a fan of his, and that Bellamy is no fan of Roberto Mancini. Throw in the fact that Spurs might offer Champions League football next season and it all adds up. (It ought to be said, though, that if Spurs do offer Champions League football next season then Mancini is unlikely to be in charge at City and so one of Bellamy's push factors is absent.)

The Micah Richards one is new. Spurs bid £5million for him a few summers ago (2006?), but I don't think he has been linked with them since. A move away for him is not impossible, given that he has still not secured a regular place in the side and we are likely to spend big on a new right back this summer. While Pablo Zabaleta is a reliable utility man who is likely to stay and play by virtue of his proficiency in at least three positions, Micah Richards is not trusted half as much by Mancini, and nor was he by Mark Hughes.

So both of these are fairly plausible. We're all so focussed on the race for fourth place that no-one has quite realised that this might just be yet another summer of drama, controversy and exorbitant transfer spending. Managerial changes, £60million bids and brutal overhauls are all possible if not likely. Whatever happens in our next three games, one can safely predict that when the final whistle goes at the Boleyn Ground on May 9, the forces of chaos, destruction and creation, all armed with sacks of gold are going to be unleashed again upon the natural order of things, by Manchester City for another summer.

City ask for new keeper

It's being widely reported that we have asked for Premier League permission to bring in an emergency loan goalkeeper, such is our faith in Gunnar Nielsen.

There is precedent here - some teams are allowed an emergency loan when they are desperately short on keepers. I'm not sure how strong a case we have: Gunnar Nielsen is a 23 year old full international, not some naive adolescent who's only just started playing in goal.

Briefly, part of me wanted our request to get turned down - not just because I have total faith that Gunnar Nielsen is the new Arni Arason, but also because I think the bending of the rules to suit the bigger sides is pernicious. Remember Liverpool being allowed to to play Champions League football in 2005/06, or Javier Mascherano playing for three teams in one season? It's important that rules are applied equally to all teams.

But then I realised that we could conceivably bring in Nicky Weaver as our emergency goalkeeper, and now I'm very keen that we be allowed to. We're only really going to get someone who is a second-choice keeper at a team with nothing to play for - and Weaver fits the bill perfectly (as does Carlo Nash). He's a genuine City legend, for obvious reasons, and could write another chapter for himself in our history books if he could guide us to Champions League football. Can anyone think of a better idea?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Nielsen speaks

The new Arni Arason has this to say:

"I've not played too many games at this level - I've started at the top, the rest will be easy," he told

He said the experience of playing against Arsenal was an "unbelievable feeling" and told the club's website: "The Faroe Islands is only a small country, 50,000 people, and I think they will be very proud. They know I've been trying for years."

Nielsen continued: "When I did come on it was just so intense - it was a high pressure game and I had to stay focused. I like to think I'm calm under pressure."

Fishing for omens

If you're nervous about Gunnar Nielsen, don't be.

The last time we rushed in a rugged, hairy goalkeeper from an island on the Norwegian Sea for a crunch game against Tottenham he dived and saved as if the defence of Asgard depended on it.

TLDORC April awards

For the second consecutive month we took seven points from a possible twelve. It's probably as good a return as we expected - maybe I would have wanted eight or nine. I would have expected, though, at the start of the month, that seven points would have been enough to strengthen our hold in fourth. But the reality is that we now look less likely to get it than we did one month ago. Not through any fault of our own, but because of Tottenham's remarkable home wins over first Arsenal then Chelsea. Even with Spurs losing at Sunderland and Manchester United they had a good month and now look very narrow favourites for fourth. It started with two big wins against Birmingham and Burnley, before clashes with United and Arsenal. We were seconds away from grinding out consecutive goalless draws, entirely in keeping with Mancini's gameplan, and while Paul Scholes denied us at Eastlands, Arsenal could find no way through at the Emirates. Going into May the position is as it was before: it's a shoot-out with Spurs at Eastlands, presuming we can win our other two games.

Burnley (a) 6-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Birmingham City (h) 5-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Manchester United (h) 0-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Arsenal (a) 0-0 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)

Player of the Month

The hardest award for months. This month has seen four fairly balanced, coherent team performances. It's impressive, and the sign of a good team, but it does make this harder. There have been months this season when we've been carried, whether by Craig Bellamy, Shay Given or Carlos Tévez. This wasn't one of them. There was no real stand out performer, and so almost half a dozen contributors. Most obvious are the strikers: Emmanuel Adebayor scored four goals, and Carlos Tévez three in those two thumping wins at the start of the month. Then there's the centre-backs - Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré have formed as good a pairing as we've had this season; conceding only three goals - one of which was a meaningless consolation - and both performing well individually. You could even make a case for Craig Bellamy who despite his tension with Mancini has continued to perform with grit and commitment. I could with real comfort bestow this award upon any of them. But instead I'm going to go for a personal favourite of mine: Gareth Barry.

After a mid-season blip he's rediscovered his autumn authority. In the first three games this month he played as the creative force in a midfield four, setting the tempo of games with his incisive forward passing. With no Stephen Ireland in the side there's a heavy burden on Barry to move the ball forward but he's crucial to our gameplan of releasing Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy high up the pitch. On top of this, Barry has been admirable in his performance of the defensive work Fabio Capello demands of him for England. He's not an ankle-biter like de Jong but he's willing to throw his weight around when he needs to. He is back to giving us the assurance and composure in the middle that we so need at this point of the season.

Goal of the Month

There's eleven goals to pick from but none of them were that good. But I'm going to go for Nedum Onuoha's goal against Birmingham. He surged past three or four defenders and finished well on his weaker foot. Plus he'd been denied a goal earlier by Carlitos and it was his first goal at Eastlands since that header against West Brom last April.

Performance of the Month

Carlos Tévez v Burnley

Yes, it was Brian Laws' Burnley. But Tévez was exceptional in this game, running the game from behind Adebayor in his preferred second striker role. He scored one, made two and could have contributed even more were it not for the pitch.

SM: Hart to return 10/11

Simon Mullock has a report in the Sunday Mirror that Joe Hart will be brought back next season to compete with Shay Given:

The England keeper, who lost his place to Given when Mark Hughes drafted the Irishman in from Newcastle for £8m in January 2009, has enjoyed a sueprb season on-loan at Birmingham.

He is reluctant to return to City as an understudy to Given and both Birmingham and Arsenal are ready to offer him a permanent move away from Manchester.

But City manager Roberto Mancini has decided that he needs two international-class goalkeepers in his squad and wants Hart back.

If Shay Given's recovery from injury takes him into August then there is certainly a case for bringing back Joe Hart anyway. But putting that to one side I'm not one of those behind the idea of bringing Hart back to MCFC next season, for reasons I outlined here.

Linked with Izmailov

A new transfer rumour today, in the News of the World - a move for Sporting Lisbon's Russian creator Marat Izmailov:

His agent Paulo Barbosa said: "City want to sign Marat and have done for a long time.

"He'd be interested but the problem is the price. Sporting want £20m, but City are refusing to pay that.

"City have said they will only pay £10m, but a compromise could be reached.

Izmailov was very highly rated when at Lokomotiv Moscow but I think he's struggled in Portugal with injuries and various disputes with Sporting. I imagine we'll be in the market for a creative midfielder but my sense on this is that this is an agent talking up his player.

UPDATE: Here is what respected football scout and analyst Tor-Kristian Karlsen had to say about it on Twitter:
ridiculous rumour of the day: man city chasing izmailov (sporting). not cut for the premier league, lovely skills but slow and inconsistent
frail, injury prone, wouldn't even rate him among the top performers in portugal and hasn't featured for russia for nearly 4 years...

MoS: Tévez could walk

Fairly worrying rumour-mongering in the Mail on Sunday - a report that Carlos Tévez could seek a move at the end of the season if we don't make it into the Champions League next season:

Tevez has become increasingly disillusioned at life at Eastlands under manager Roberto Mancini, and his adviser Kia Joorabchian is believed to have contacted some of Europe's leading clubs as a contingency if City miss out on the top four...

Significantly, Joorabchian, an important figure in Tevez's life, has fallen out with the hierarchy at City following the departure of Hughes and will not be averse to finding Tevez a new club if instructed to do so.

Real Madrid and Inter Milan will be among the contenders to sign him, but there could also be a surprise move from Liverpool, even though their own Champions League hopes are slim.

Arsenal reax

Amy Lawrence, The Observer

With City fielding three holding midfielders beefing up the orchestra, and Carlos Tevez leading the line as a soloist, neither team were able to be at their most creative. "It was a locked game, basically," concluded Arsène Wenger, who was not that disappointed in the end. "We are 90% there," he said of third place. "And after three defeats you could see the players felt it was absolutely forbidden to lose, so they didn't throw everything forward blindly."

Conrad Leach, Independent on Sunday

Yet, if nothing else, his appearance enlivened a desperately poor game, one where Manchester City were content, from the start, with a point in their quest for fourth place. It was also one where the hosts were not good enough, as Arsène Wenger admitted, to break down a defence that was marshalled by Kolo Touré, another well-received former Gunner.

Patrick Collins, Mail on Sunday

With Villa and Spurs at home and West Ham away, he plainly believes the job is almost done. But the ovation which rang out from the travelling fans will have found no echoes around the rest of the nation. A side so expensively assembled, with entertainment a stated goal, should have been capable of better than dreary pragmatism.

Duncan Castles, Sunday Times

Minus his usual centreforward, Mancini elected to change formations. The priority was to stop Arsenal playing as tackles flew in from all angles, and though City lost Wayne Bridge to a thigh injury midway through the first half, it made little difference to the flow of play. Arsenal tried to work their way through three lines of defence, winning the occasional unconverted set-piece. Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri each had angled shots but both hit side netting. Vieira busied himself in wrestling matches with Diaby and Alex Song, stubbornly refusing to be brought down to the turf by either successor in the Arsenal midfield. In a manoeuvre from training grounds of yore, the Frenchman was poised to shoot on goal only to be stopped by Sol Campbell.

Oliver Brown, Sunday Telegraph

In mitigation, Manchester City seemed to have even less inspiration in the art of finishing fourth. Only Tottenham fans could have drawn any pleasure from this blunt display by City, as the tireless toil of Carlos Tévez proved all in vain. Roberto Mancini looked pensive and pained; he also looked, with his thick scarf belying these balmy days of spring, just a little daft.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Arsenal 0 - 0 City

  • This morning I would have accepted our matching whatever result Spurs got at Old Trafford. So for there to be a one point swing in our favour is obviously good news. It was a dire, lifeless match - with none of the fire and storm of the 4-2 in September. But we didn't want it to be. Roberto Mancini had a very clear gameplan: to drain the tension, to kill the contest - and it worked. You might not like the tactics but there's no denying that a well-enacted gameplan is unambiguously good news. Much like the 0-0 with Liverpool the positives of the organisation and discipline outweigh any disappointment at the spectacle. We knew what we were in for when we appointed Mancini, and this was a triumph for his approach and methods.
  • I actually had vain hopes that this would be a decent game. But with us desperate for a point, and Arsenal not desperate for anything at all there was very little fizz in the game. Mancini's wise decision to bench Emmanuel Adebayor enabled this in two ways. Not only did it give us the extra man in midfield, allowing the building of a three man wall in front of the back four, it also deprived the home crowd of anything to make a noise about. Killing the atmosphere is a key part of killing the game, and this was particularly astute on Arsenal's part.
  • The first half was as dull a half of football as I have seen this season. Not only did Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Patrick Vieira set up camp on the fringes of our penalty area, but Craig Bellamy did a very admirable job tracking back: he spent most of the game within twenty yards of our own byline and closed down both Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna. Arsenal didn't really look like scoring. Neither did we, but that wasn't too much of a problem. Once or twice we tried to release Craig Bellamy or Adam Johnson behind their full-back but we couldn't pull it off.
  • Early in the second half Mancini removed Vieira for Adebayor, taking us back to the 4-4-1-1 shape we have seen in recent weeks. The game opened up a bit, Adebayor offered more of a focal point than Tévez had done, holding the ball and working some space for our other ideas. We never quite made a goal-scoring opportunity - the best positions came from Gareth Barry breaking down the left. But we could have played for weeks and not scored.
  • It's good, though, that we held on for the point even with the late loss of Shay Given to a dislocated shoulder. Gunnar Nielsen was never tested too hard, such was the consistency of our defensive performance. But the injury to Given damages our prospects of fourth as much as our well-earned point improves it. We couldn't have won fourth today, but it could have been taken out of our hands with a three point swing for Spurs. We'll still need to beat Tottenham, but it's still within reach.

Arsenal player ratings

Given Made a few comfortable saves before the sprawling stretch to his left from Abou Diaby which dislocated his shoulder. Our chances of fourth looks less good without him. 7

Zabaleta Returned at right-back ahead of Nedum Onuoha. A very solid performance, not missing a single tackle, before an injury saw him move to left back. The same thing happened in this fixture last season, and he was impeccable again, despite having nowhere near the pace of Theo Walcott. It's telling just how keen Mancini is to have him on the pitch at all times, regardless of position. He's a real lieutenant. 7

Touré Possibly his best game for City; after consitent improvent for the last month or so. He stuck with Robin van Persie's mercurial movement in the early passages, making a few heroic blocks when it mattered. Had a more comfortable second half but organised the back four well, particularly when Given went off. 7

Kompany Very composed today: no panics, and his reading of the game and touch in possession were both exceptional. Deserves not to be supplanted by a summer purchase. Not sure he can be sure of that though. 7

Bridge In this game last year he lasted seventeen minutes before going off with a groin injury. This time it was 27 minutes before his knee gave way. Played well enough while on the pitch. 6

Vieira A shadow of the man who bossed Arsenal midfields for so long. He was second to every 50/50 ball and lacked the combatism of his long term successor, Alex Song. Made one surge into the box but it had none of the brutal authority of his glory days. All this meant that Mancini could remove him for Adebayor without compromising the team too much. 4

de Jong The heart of our defensive wall, he had some important tackles to make and unlike Vieira was first to everything. Impressive stuff. 7

Barry Did well in the first half breaking up play in front of the back four. Could not quite find Bellamy and Johnson in advanced positions, as is so important to our 4-5-1 counter-attacking system. Got forward more in the second half and had our best opportunity when advanced down the left, but failed to find a final ball. 6

Johnson Another big game, another poor performance. It's a big step coming up from the Championship so it is understandable but he does look out of his depth against the top sides. He was anonymous as he was against Chelsea, Liverpool and United - never getting on the ball, never running at the full-back. Wright-Phillips must be frustrated. 4

Tévez Isolated when leading the line in the first half, he could never get in the game. Better in the second half when Adebayor came on and he could drop back into his second striker role. He saw much more of the ball but nothing quite came off for him. 5

Bellamy Fantastic defensive work. He spent so much time stationed just in front of the left back, which was crucial against Bacary Sagna. Not afraid to come into the middle to help out when necessary, as proven by his battle with Alex Song. Not too influential in the final third but a good performance. 7


Richards Came back into the side at right back ahead of Onuoha. Competent defensively - with the exception of brainless free-kick conceded for shirt pulling late on, and was well involved in the game going foward. 6

Adebayor The man at the centre of the storm was wisely benched but came on to good effect early in the second half. He held the ball up well, giving us some attacking impetus, even if he didn't create or score anything. Managed to avoid inciting near-riots or trying to blind an opponent which I suppose is to be applauded. 7

Nielsen A fairly daunting City debut for the Faroese keeper. Dealt competently with everything thrown at him. Could make himself a City legend in the next three games. 6

Mancini on transfer policy

Amongst his discussion of Fernando Torres, Mancini has shed more light on our transfer policy for the summer:
"I think we must buy a top player," he said. "We must make sure we don't spend too much on normal [average] players but if there is the possibility to spend the money on top players, young players who can help us build a future, I think it is OK.

"If we want to win the Premier League ahead of Chelsea and Manchester United we must sign some important players. All the top players want to play in the Champions League. But next season I want to win the Premier League; this is my desire even ahead of the Champions League, and I want players to understand that Manchester City are an important project for the future and that they can come here – [and] not only if we get fourth position."

I like the idea of buying three or four top quality players. I don't think our squad needs an overhaul, and I don't want to go through the disconcerting process of getting to know and love a whole new set of players. Champions League or not I think we need a goal-scoring midfielder, at least one full-back, maybe a better partner for Carlitos and maybe another centre-half. I'd rather go with four or five players than the seven or eight we bought in the summers of 2007 and 2009.

But it's also interesting to note 'young players who can help us build a future.' This is something I completely agree with. The last thing I want is for us to think we need Champions League experience and so to bring in Ronaldinho, Luca Toni and Ludo Giuly. I think we should follow the pattern of Chelsea from 2004 - when they signed Petr Cech, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Didier Drogba and so forth - all young hungry players, from UEFA Cup-level clubs and all with something to prove. And one of the reasons Jérôme Boateng feels like a smart buy is that he entirely fits this bill.

The thing is, I'm not sure that these two parts of the Mancini plan fit together. We could buy a handful of world class players. Or we could buy young and hungry players. But we'll struggle to do both. I mean, is Jérôme Boateng a world class defender? Is he going to add rare quality? Probably not, but he's ambitious and wants to win things at City. Fernando Torres is brilliant, but at 26 he' s not young. So the manager seems to be proposing two strategies which might have some overlap (Ángel Di María? Marek Hamšík?) but are fundamentally different. My favourite? The Boateng strategy, rather than the Torres strategy. It's more realistic and more sustainable.

More on Torres

Roberto Mancini's Thursday press briefing clearly shed more light on our planned summer move for Fernando Torres than first thought:
"We are a top team and I think all the top teams are interested in Torres but sometimes it depends on the player because they want to play in the Champions League," he said. "If we don't get into the fourth position I think it will be difficult."

Explaining his reasons for identifying Torres, Mancini said: "For me, he is with Carlos [Tevez], [Wayne] Rooney, [Lionel] Messi, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, [Cristiano] Ronaldo as the best in Europe. Fernando is a fantastic striker; all the teams in Europe would like him"...

Asked if City had an advantage over Torres's other suitors, Mancini replied. "Probably."

Well it's absolutely clear that, if we get into the Champions League, this is Target Number 1. It's worth repeating that if we don't finish fourth then all bets are off, and we can talk about our moves for whichever strikers have managed seventeen or eighteen goals in Serie A or Ligue 1. But while we're still in the hunt this remains live. And an interesting feature of the reports in Friday's newspapers is that they all carry what looks like briefed information from the club on Torres' interest:

When City looked into his potential availability last summer the message from Torres's representatives was that the Spain international was not interested. That, however, changed to a "maybe" when the same calls were made in January and senior officials from Eastlands have been back in touch over the past fortnight.

Of course the move really hinges on Torres' enthusiasm. There's no doubt that if Torres wanted to move that we could agree a fee with Liverpool. So if the club hears from Torres' camp of a flicker of interest then that's good news. But our failed moves for Kaká, Samuel Eto'o and John Terry presumably all started with those players' agents telling Garry Cook that they might be interested, and in fact were sustained by further promises of interest.

If I had to make a prediction now I'd say that we won't get fourth so this will all go away. But if we do, I still can't see Torres joining us. I think his loyalty to Liverpool is too strong. I'd love to be proved wrong. But we'll see.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Arsenal preview

Things look less good than they did ten days ago. Last Wednesday we were four points ahead of a Spurs side who had just lost a draining, demoralising FA Cup semi to Portsmouth and who faced consecutive home games against Arsenal and Chelsea. From somewhere they conjured up their two best performances of the season and won both games 2-1, while we lost yet another stoppage time defeat to Manchester United. Now we're two points behind, with inferior goal difference and our chances of doing it look less than 50%. Not the best time, then, for Arsenal away - a fixture in which we have an abject record. We've been to Emirates three times and lost all three, conceding six and scoring one - and that was DaMarcus Beasley.

Nevertheless, I'm more confident than I ought to be about this game. Our away form is pretty good: three wins and two draws from our last five, for reasons I've pointed to here. In short, we can park the bus relatively well and have real pace and incision on the break. With that in mind, I favour the replication of the gameplan from Chelsea away. This means dropping Emmanuel Adebayor, which could actually do us a favour in terms of taking away one of the few motivations of the Arsenal fans and players at this stage in the season. I'd line up a front three of Craig Bellamy, Carlos Tévez and Shaun Wright-Phillips, on the basis that Adam Johnson has played three games against 'Big Four' sides this so far for us and has contributed nothing of note in any of them. There are three candidates for the extra spot in midfield - Stephen Ireland, Pablo Zabaleta and Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira. I'd go for Vieira and put Zabaleta at right-back ahead of Nedum Onuoha.

Why 4-3-3? Because I don't think we can afford to go 4-4-2, as thrilling as it would be to see Adebayor charging at Sol Campbell and Mickaël Silvestre. Arsenal always dominate possession but without a three man shield in front of our back four I think Samir Nasri would pick us off. Obviously we're compromising on goal threat to an extent, but Arsenal's vulnerability on the break at home has been well-proven by Everton and Manchester United this season already. I'd still feel confident if we can get Tévez and Bellamy at full pelt with only Campbell, Silvestre and the laughable Lukasz Fabianski between them and the net.

It's for that reason that I back us grab more goals and points than people are expecting. It might only be a 1-1 but it's not impossible against an Arsenal side that are deprived of both motivation and key players. Last Saturday was a huge blow, but under Mancini we have a remarkable record of winning after major disappointments. After our dismal loss at Goodison Park we beat United in the League Cup semi first leg. After losing the second leg in stoppage time we beat Pompey at home. After losing disastrously at the KC Stadium we beat Bolton. After going out of the FA Cup at Stoke we won at Stamford Bridge. And after that soul-sapping home defeat to Everton we beat Wigan. People like to say that this is a side entirely lacking in spirit, and I've been guilty of this too. But we're stronger in adversity than people think, and I think the memory of last Saturday could just work for us. So I'm forecasting 1-1, and ground made up on Spurs.

Home form

Danny has an important post on how our home form isn't quite as good as people think. It's an idea I'd been playing around with for a while. Because for the last few months I've grown into the opinion that we're much better suited to play away than at home. I thought that this suggestion wouldn't really match up with the data, but Danny's post showed me that our home form isn't quite all that. And a brief look over our fixtures from the last two months works for my thesis.

Our last ten league games have neatly divided between five home and five away. And while we've taken seven points from those home games - beating Birmingham and Wigan, drawing with Liverpool, we've taken eleven on the road - winning at Turf Moor, Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge, while drawing at Stoke. Now, I appreciate that this is a small data set, and is fairly skewed by the fact that we played host to better teams than we visited. But my whole point here is about recent form and our recent shape. You can only go to war with the data set you've got.

And why this disparity? I think it's a natural consequence of how we're set up. It's all very well saying that we play an attacking 4-4-2 but the fact is that most of those forwards are best equipped at running into space in behind, rather than somehow breaking through the Fort Knox style defences we increasingly see at Eastlands. This means that we're effective on the break - remember our two wins in SW6 - but sometimes we struggle at home. Remember our Wigan and Birmingham home wins: we scored eight goals in those two games but both times we looked rather flat before our breakthrough, which was aided by combinations of defensive error and referreeing generosity. Once we're ahead we're good but I don't think it's too hard for teams to come to Eastlands and shut us down.

I'd put this down to two factors. One is the absence of an in-form Stephen Ireland, who has a final ball that isn't too far away from being of Ali Benarbia/Eyal Berkovic quality. He can unpick the parked bus, to wilfully mix metaphors. The other might just be the famous outside-in wingers we now play with. It's easier to constrict the space inside the full-back than outside, which means that teams defend narrowly in the knowledge that Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy will be cutting inside towards more bodies. If we played our 'goold old fashioned wingers' Martin Petrov and Shaun Wright-Phillips, and if we had full-backs who were any good going forward (Garrido and Zabaleta are too slow, Richards and Bridge can't cross) then we wouldn't have this problem.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Mancini on Torres

The manager has responded to speculation about a move for Liverpool's Fernando Torres:
“Fernando Torres is a fantastic striker,” said Mancini.

“But all the teams in Europe are interested in him.

“We must get the rest of the matches out of the way first, then we will decide about other players...

“All the top players want to play in the Champions League,” added Mancini.

“Next year we want to be a team who wins the Premier League. To do that we need top players.”
This is a pretty clear admission of the truth in the 'two lists' report: that we have a set of players we will target if we are playing Champions League football next year, and a set if we are playing Europa League. It makes perfect sense. We've looked fairly silly in the past by throwing ourselves at Champions League level players armed with only sacks of cash and vague promises of success. John Terry, Samuel Eto'o, and Kaká all thought very carefully about joining before deciding against it. (None have played that well since making that decision but that's another story.)

If we're in the Champions League this changes. The combination of a place in Europe's elite competition, plus the six figures a week minimum that we pay would bring a different calibre of footballer to Eastlands next season. Whether or not Torres would be such a player depends on his own loyalty to Liverpool more than anything else, but players of roughly his level could certainly be convinced.

But as it stands I think we're just going to miss out on Champions League football. Which means that plans for Torres and Milner can be junked. We will still be able to attract good players - like Jérôme Boateng - to supplement our squad. But the idea of being able to turn our squad into 2010/11 Premier League title contenders armed with Europa League level recruits sounds a bit far-fetched.

Balotelli linked

At the end of Inter's compelling 3-1 defeat of Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, Mario Balotelli stormed off the pitch and threw his shirt to the ground. The last year has seen a cycle of controversies, scandals and fall-outs surrounding Balotelli and the reports today suggest that Tuesday's hysterics will break the camel's back of Mourinho and Moratti's patience, and he will leave Inter in the summer.

Today's Gazzetta reports that he has requested a transfer and will be sold to either Arsenal or City this summer. It certainly makes sense. I'd be surprised if he stayed in Italy, given the abuse he receives around the country, and the unwillingness of Inter to sell him to one of their Serie A rivals. He needs a change of scene. And who better to buy Balotelli than the club managed by the man who gave him his Inter debut? Particularly when that club could afford whatever Massimo Moratti demanded, while being no direct threat to Inter in any 2010/11 competitions? It's clearly plausible.

He's clearly a very talented young player. I'm not sure I'd be too keen on having him though. Our dressing room is difficult as it is, with Craig Bellamy, Carlos Tévez, Emmanuel Adebayor in there and a possible return for Robinho. Throw Balotelli in as well and things will get worse before they get better. It's a story that is worth keeping an eye on this summer.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Mail: Bellamy might leave

Worrying story in the Daily Mail today - a report from Ian Ladyman that Craig Bellamy could well leave City in the summer if Roberto Mancini stays:

City were never able to prove that Bellamy made the comments and let the matter rest. But it is understood that Mancini and the Welsh striker have spoken briefly about the issue and have subsequently declared what has been described as an 'uneasy truce'.

Bellamy has continued to feature regularly in City's first team and few could ever question his dedication and commitment to his club's cause. But it is no coincidence that the quality of Bellamy's football has dropped in recent weeks and some people at City now believe that the striker's relationship with Mancini cannot realistically be expected to survive beyond the summer.

If City were to qualify for the Champions League next season, Bellamy would clearly face a huge decision about his future. As it stands now, however, he would seriously consider any offers he considers attractive, and would even consider a move abroad.

That Bellamy has tense relationship with Mancini is an open secret. We shouldn't be surprised. When we signed him I was relaxed on the grounds that he has only caused problems at teams not managed by Mark Hughes. But as soon as Hughes was replaced with Mancini last December then problems were on the horizon. There was the argument over training, the argument in the tunnel and the argument over wages. Like all City fans I love Bellamy and find him compelling when he's on song but there is mounting evidence of discord behind the scenes.

If we don't make the Champions League, but Harry Redknapp's Spurs or even Mark Hughes' Celtic do and make Bellamy an offer then I would not be too surprised to see him leave.

Linked with Milner

A surprising rumour in today's Guardian: a £24million move for James Milner, who apparently could be lured by a possible offer of Champions League football and higher wages:

City's Abu Dhabi owners will sanction another lavish spending spree before the start of next season as part of their plans to become a major force in world football and that process will be largely overseen by Brian Marwood, the club's football administrator. Marwood has long admired Milner's qualities as a footballer and also knows the player well from his previous employment as head of UK operations for Nike, which sponsors the 24-year-old.

Villa would be likely to demand double the £12m they paid Newcastle United for Milner two years ago and the player could also expect to double his £45,000-a-week wages at Eastlands. Financing a deal will present no problem for the world's richest club but much may depend on whether City seize the final Champions League qualification spot and how events unfold at Villa Park during the summer.

This is a surprise. And I can't see it happening. For a start, the whole story is predicated on our playing Champions League football, which is probably a 40% shot at best at the moment. But even if we did make it into fourth spot Milner doesn't strike me as the sort of player to jump ship to City. His maturity, intelligence and level-headed nature all mark him out, and in fact have led to his being a very plausible target for Manchester United. If United could find the £24million fee I don't think there would be too much of a choice for him to make between the two Manchester clubs.

That said, he's an excellent player and I'd love to see him at City. Our midfield has been painfully lacking in dynamism this season, due to the form and fitness problems of Stephen Ireland and Michael Johnson. He's be a natural fit into a four man midfield with one of de Jong and Barry and into a five man midfield with both of them.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Petrov turns down 1 year deal

That's the story in the papers over the weekend:

Petrov has been offered a one-year extension to a deal that expires in the summer.

But the 31-year-old has indicated he will not sign unless he is offered a contract until 2012.

Petrov’s fitness problems have not helped his cause. He was sidelined for much of last season by injury and has not played for City since February.

He won't play again this season, so it looks like we won't see him again in blue. Given the state of his knees it's no surprise the club won't offer him a two year deal. So I imagine he will go on a free transfer in the summer. Which is a shame but looks fairly inevitable.

Late goals

After the game on Saturday I was talking to friends about how terrible we are in the last few minutes of games. We seem to piss away good or decent situations at the death so regularly and very rarely win things late ourselves. Conversations taken in the despairing hours after a loss don't tend to be too data-based but I've had a look on Soccerbase and it does hold up. Here is our record this season and last season in terms of goals scored in the last five minutes of normal time and in stoppage time, which have changed the result of the game (so Danny Sturridge making it 4-2 against West Brom last April doesn't count.)

We'll run with the good news first: this season there is only Adam Johnson's equaliser at Sunderland. Last year we drew 2-2 at Ewood Park having been 2-0 down with two minutes left, thanks to Daniel Sturridge and Robinho. We also drew 2-2 at St. James' Park, with Stephen Ireland equalising with four minutes left. A Danny Califf own goal in the last minute took our UEFA Cup tie with Midtjylland to extra time, and we won the shoot-out.

It adds up to five goals across four games - because of the two at Ewood Park. All four were equalisers rather than winners (Danny Califf equalised the tie, but won us the leg.)

If you look on the negative side of things the numbers are much bigger:

This season there have been Paul Scholes' 93rd minute header in the 0-1, Rooney's 92nd minute header in the League Cup semi final, Kevin McDonald in the 89th minute in the 3-3, and of course Michael Owen in the thousandth minute of the 4-3.

Last season there was Robbie Keane's 86th minute penalty at White Hart Lane, that last minute equaliser for FC København, and Roman Bednar's injury time winner at the Hawthorns. We lost to both Merseyside clubs in stoppage at Eastlands, courtesy of Tim Cahill and Dirk Kuyt. We were progressing to the next round of the League Cup at the Withdean before Glenn Murray made it 1-1 with one minute left.

(UPDATE: A kind commenter reminds me of something I had tried to expel from my memory: Aalborg away - the tie was 2-0 to us after 175 minutes but we conceded twice in the last five minutes to go to extra time and penalties.)

So that's ten eleven games that we've thrown away. In the league games that's six goals which won the other side the game, plus one equaliser. In the cups we were denied extra time by Rooney, taken to extra time by Murray (and Aalborg) and we drew the first leg in Copenhagen.

It's an appalling record. If you want to find us winning a match in stoppage time you have go all the way back to November 2007 - Stephen Ireland against Reading. This was almost thirty months ago.

I think that 'typical City' can be used lazily, and given more explanatory weight than it should bear, but it's certainly worth considering. The three stoppage time defeats to United this season have perfectly underlined the difference in mentality between the clubs. Unfortunately there is a chasm of difference between saying that we need a 'winning mentality' and actually cultivating one: if it was easy then every club would have one. I can't see us buying Sir Alex Ferguson off United any time soon, but it does mean that we have to get our managerial decisions perfectly right if we want to nurture the same ethos.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

More United reax

Ian Herbert, The Independent

But while there is a heroism of sorts in the capricious manner of a defeat which has done Mancini's future employment chances no harm, a suspicion persists that they have not travelled as far in four months as he would have us believe. For a side so fond of wing play, they have curiously poor delivery into the box. For one managed by an Italian, they are obstinately prone to defensive lapses like Saturday's. When the moment arrived to write their names across the history of this fixture against a bruised Manchester United, they played for 45 minutes like the relative strangers they are and lacked attacking resolve.

Ian Ladyman, Daily Mail

For Roberto Mancini's City team, it was a low day. None of their stellar names - Bellamy, Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor - stepped up to the plate.

Although their Champions League ambitions remain alive, this was a day to learn lessons.

Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

For all the frustration felt by City’s staff and supporters, Saturday must serve as a reminder of how close they are. The difference between a useful point and the eventual barren feeling was about an inch, the distance between Shay Given’s outstretched fingers and Scholes’s downward header. In every sense, City are not far away from getting it right.

Kevin McCarra, The Guardian

There is a different and more lasting tumult in prospect. City ought to be able to absorb the pain of one more stoppage-time goal from United. They should even be phlegmatic about the imbalance that saw the visitors fashion the real openings while Roberto Mancini's team dealt in melees and a debatable penalty appeal. The club is equipped to improve further, thanks to Sheikh Mansour's largesse, but the unavoidable redevelopment of United's squad may have to be undertaken with a smaller budget.

James Ducker, The Times

City, for whom Carlos Tévez was ineffectual against his former club, had half a shout for a penalty when Gareth Barry tumbled under marginal contact from Neville, but it was all industry and no invention until Scholes ghosted in between Stephen Ireland and Vincent Kompany to head home and reaffirm why Ferguson was so delighted that the midfield player had agreed to sign another one-year contract a day earlier.

Rigg admits di María, Cardozo interest

Our Technical Director has admitted our interest in two of Benfica's many exciting South American forwards:
"Di Maria and Cardozo are two excellent players, very strong in their respective positions, and hence highly-rated in the international market," he told Record.

"It is logical, there is no need to hide, that a club like Manchester City to be attentive to players with such potential, who catch the interest of several clubs worldwide.

"I observe many players and I am well documented on these and also other athletes who play in Portugal, but I acknowledge that Di Maria and Cardozo are two fantastic players."

It looks like this has been translated back into English from an interview translated into Portugese in Record but it's still interesting. The problem, though, is that Benfica will be playing Champions League football next season. So I can't see them trading down to the Europa League.

United player ratings

Given It reflects well on our back four that he did not have too many saves to make. I can't face re-watching the goal so I don't know if he should have come for the cross. 6

Onuoha A pretty solid performance for the most part - reliable but not particularly adventurous - but he lost Evra for Scholes' goal. I imagine Zabaleta will come back at the Emirates. 5

Kompany Very nervy and error-prone for the first fifteen mintes - he is a touch prone to the panics - but once he settled down he was excellent. Went through the back of Rooney twice, which might have been the cause for his quiet performance. 6

He played fairly well for the most part but yet another soft late goal raises serious questions about his captaincy. When it really matters there's a lack of organisation and leadership. 6

Bridge Coming straight back into the side after his injury, he did better than Garrido or Sylvinho would have done with Valencia. Barely let a cross in for the first hour, though Valencia improved as the game went on. Had probably our best chance of the game. 6

Johnson Willing to run at Evra early on but it became increasingly clear that his cutting inside was surprising no-one and he seemed to lose confidence as the game went on. As quiet as he was against Liverpool and Chelsea. It was telling how much more effective Shaun Wright-Phillips was, who was taking Evra down the outside. 5

Barry Had one of his better games - he's coming back to form at the right time. Couldn't dominate the game but fired some lovely balls over the top to the wingers, and broke up play well. Dived to try to win us a penalty, but it was less subtle than his usual tumbles and he was lucky not to get booked. 7

De Jong Did a good job winning tackles in midfield, stifling the forays of the Darren and Darron pairing. Probably would have tracked Scholes for their goal had he been on the pitch but I don't think his substitution was a bad move. 7

Bellamy Had some joy running at Gary Neville and got into good positions but only put one threatening ball in all afternoon. Had our best chance but should have squared to Tévez. 6

Tévez Like the match itself, less fiesty than I was expecting. Very well marshalled by United's defence, he tried to conjure things up running from deep but nothing quite came off for him. 6

Adebayor Quite good hold-up play at times but drifted a bit with little effect. 6


SWP: Attacked Evra down the outside and caused more problems than AJ. 6

Vieira: Gave us a bit more presence in midfield and almost got into a goal scoring position. 6

Ireland Not enough time to make a real difference. n/a

United reax

David Walsh, Sunday Times

City can still finish fourth but it will be tougher now and they needed something from this game. They began tentatively. De Jong’s desire and razor-sharp tackling allowed them to compete and then settle into their game but City depended too much on Emmanuel Adebayor, who was comfortably dealt with by Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic.

For much of the game, the stars were defenders. Vincent Kompany recovered from a nervous start to outplay Wayne Rooney, who started for United but didn’t seem fully fit.

Ian Herbert, Independent on Sunday

But City did contribute to their own demise. They were hesitant when the chance to counterattack arose, frequently advancing in twos and threes when six or seven were needed, and the quality of their final cross and pass was excruciating at times.

Paul Wilson, The Observer
City can and doubtless will buy big if they have a Champions League place to look forward to over the summer, though to secure that they must get more from this season's big acquisitions. There was almost nothing from Emmanuel Adebayor or Tevez, with the latter not only failing to tweak Ferguson's nose but giving a vivid demonstration of why he was not automatically considered worth snapping up for £25m at Old Trafford. He did not miss any easy chances or anything – City did not manage to create any easy chances – he simply ran about a lot without managing to impose himself on the game.
Duncan White, Sunday Telegraph

Worse, though, was the decision to take off Nigel de Jong. If Scholes had been the best player on the pitch with the ball, De Jong had been the best without it. Is there a better proponent of the slide-tackle in the Premier League? Time after time he thumped into hard, clean tackles, breaking up United’s play. It’s perhaps too easy to say it with hindsight but would he have let Scholes stroll into the penalty area unmarshalled? It was a baffling change.

Rob Draper, Mail on Sunday

Perhaps it was because the unusual sunshine had inflated the optimism, or maybe it was because they were at home and the collective sense of anguish among 46,000 souls is almost palpable. More likely, though, it is because, for the first time in decades, such a defeat could be potentially decisive in something more important than mere local bragging rights.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

City 0 - 1 United

  • Well thank fuck for the 4-3 and the League Cup semi-final. After those two I'm so desensitised to losing to United in stoppage time that for it to happen a third time can't really hurt me in the same way; devastation is subject to diminishing returns. In fact, I don't think that - short of our being relegated by them - that any future Manchester derby can be as traumatic as what we have gone through this year. I mean, three times.
  • That said, even in isolation this was less upsetting than the 4-3. It was not a classic match, played at a slow tempo and with few chances. We played well enough, and looked good for a point as the game petered out. There was none of the sense of achievement at our repeated comebacks at Old Trafford in September, nor of the promise of entering extra time as in January. We had defended well for ninety-two minutes, but that was the extent of our success. But as with the last two defeats, when it really mattered we switched off and United switched on.
  • Which is precisely the difference between us and United. People always talk of the importance of a 'winning mentality', and while the concept is sometimes used vaguely, these three derbies have demonstrated in the clearest boldest terms what exactly that means. We shouldn't be ashamed of this - United probably have a better mentality than any club in British football history, which has been cultivated for a quarter of a century. You can't blame Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini or even Garry Cook for this. It just shows how far we've got to come.
  • For ninety-two minutes the match was disappointingly flat. The weather, the lunchtime kick off and Mancini's caution combined to a surprising lack of tension or drama. United, thanks to their five man midfield, had the most of the ball but we defended well and limited their chances. Going forward we came up against an immaculately organised back four and despite getting into some decent positions on the break we failed to create too much. But the game looked like it was petering out to a goalless draw that we were quite content with.
  • Scholes' goal was at the far end from me, I haven't seen it since and I don't particularly want to. From what I gather blame ought to be shared between Onuoha for letting Patrice Evra put a cross in and whichever midfielder should have been tracking Paul Scholes. Some might blame Mancini for taking de Jong off - I'm sure we would not have conceded had de Jong been on the pitch - but I don't think bringing Ireland on was necessarily a bad move. It just didn't work out.
  • Fourth place now looks less likely. We need to win at the Emirates, which we've never done before, as well as beating Villa and Spurs at Eastlands. Given Spurs' recent results they should back themselves to build on their good record at CoMS. I haven't seen the odds this morning but I'm giving us a 40% chance of doing it. Football's never over until it's over, as United taught us yesterday.

Friday, 16 April 2010

PFA Award nominations announced

I was excited this time last year when one of our own - Stephen Ireland - was nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year. But this year we've gone one further, with Carlos Tévez getting a much-deserved nomination for the real thing. I don't imagine he'll win it - Wayne Rooney has to be penned-in for it, and rightly so. Having a nominee, though, is something to proud of and a sign of how far we've come so quickly.

We are not without representation in the Young Player award, either. Joe Hart, who is one of ours even if he has been playing for Birmingham City all season, is on the short-list.

'Suddenly everything is starting to click'

Daniel Taylor has a great article up on about recent progress under Mancini. He covers a lot of ground: Swales, 'Cityitis', Mark Hughes, Carlos Tévez and Mancini himself. I could have quoted any or all of it but this is all good stuff:

But wait. Isn't this the club where Joe Royle once spoke of an illness called Cityitis? City never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, right? And yes, they still have to play United followed by Arsenal away, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur at home and West Ham United away, so there is the potential for a late twist. Except April is no longer a time when City's supporters would get together, bristle with indignity, and complain bitterly about the way their team has performed over the past nine months.

This is why Carlos Tevez's assertion this week that the players were "not happy" with Roberto Mancini's training schedule felt so incongruous. Tevez was irked by Mancini's habit of organising double sessions, but this happens no more than once or twice a week. And, besides, whatever Mancini is doing seems to be working. The team look more organised, particularly in defence, where they have become notably less vulnerable to set pieces since the introduction of zonal marking. Of the 51 goals conceded this season, 29 came under Hughes in 21 games, with 22 in Mancini's 22 games.

Statistics like that mean the chief executive, Garry Cook, and the money men in Abu Dhabi can be forgiven for thinking that the Italian has justified his appointment so far. The players, by and large, sympathised with Hughes but, gradually, Mancini has broken down any friction that existed. He dealt swiftly and efficiently with the problem that was Robinho and what we are seeing now is an authentic football man taking a team and moulding them into his own personality.

It's a Friday afternoon so this is another link you should definitely follow up on; it's a really brilliant article.

Vote for MCFC in the Webby's

The official MCFC website has been quite brilliant - do take two minutes to vote for them to win the Webby People's Voice Award.

Do it now, do it here.


This is a quick plug for Picklive Football, which is an innovative new online football game. It's basically a fantasy game but one that takes place within ten minute segments of matches rather than entire seasons. I was at the press event last night and despite never having played before I came third. I must be a natural.

It's dead good though: do check it out.

RoM interview

You can find an interview with me on Republik of Mancunia previewing tomorrow's game.

Derby preview

There was a time when a Manchester derby looked so comically unconquerable that any goal, point or scrap of pride we could chisel from it felt like some divine blessing. These were no pressure games and when we did beat them it made our season. Not so this time. Derbies still matter as derbies - now more than ever, with the Carlos Tévez situation - but we can no longer go in with no pressure of expectation. This is the first derby I can remember when a draw is seen as a minimum. We're 7/4 with SkyBet (United are 6/4) and that sounds about right.

This might not have been the case a month or two ago. But in our last three games we've taken nine points and scored 14 goals. In United's last three games they've lost to Chelsea, crashed out of the European Cup and drawn with Blackburn Rovers. I'm not going to say that the tide is turning or that we're about to overtake them and and knock them off their fucking perch or anything like that. All I will say is that we're in better form than them. And so this is the best time to play them. Had Arsenal beaten Spurs on Wednesday night this wouldn't have meant quite as much. But after that result we need a positive points swing over Spurs. I'd take a point if we could be sure that Spurs weren't going to beat Chelsea (as they did last season.)

So what to expect? A lot is going to hinge on Mancini's selection. He could either stick with the goal-friendly 4-4-2, or revert to the 4-5-1 which worked so well at Stamford Bridge but isn't really the done thing at home. If he does change Adebayor will presumably make way for either Patrick Vieira or Pablo Zabaleta. I'd pick Zabaleta but I'm starting to think he'll stick with 4-4-2. With Rio Ferdinand a doubt I think Adebayor could bully Johnny Evans a bit. Wayne Bridge should return at left back, and I suppose it's possible Zabaleta will replace Onuoha at right-back if he doesn't play in midfield.

I could write about all the various sub-plots: Tévez, the poster, the 4-3, the semi-final, etc etc. But you all know the stories by now. We all know it is going to be massive. I hate predicting games like that but I'm going for a satisfying score draw.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Capello talks up AJ

We might well have another representative in the England squad, based on Fabio Capello's recent comments:

"Johnson has caught my eye," said the Italian. "Now it's important he gets some international experience.

"He has come up from the Championship at Middlesbrough, where he played in a different position, and he has done well with Manchester City."

We can take it from this that he will make the 30 man squad named on 16 May for the Mexico friendly at Wembley (24 May), the Austrian training camp and the Japan friendly in Sturm Graz (30 May). Whether or not he makes the 23 which goes to South Africa probably depends more on those two weeks than anything else but he's got to have a decent shot. We don't have a left-footed wide option aside from Stewart Downing, and given that Johnson and Downing would only go as impact players it probably makes sense to take the less predictable, more audacious option of the two.

It's not great news for Shaun Wright-Phillips, though, who Capello has spoken of using on the left in the past.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Our payroll

This is to point you towards SportingIntelligence's handy sports salary database. It's a very useful resource - compiling salary data from teams from all of the world's major sports, and showing their relative values. It finds that City's spending is not quite yet up there with the very biggest in world sports:

The figures for 2008-09 exist for most Premier League clubs and those are available in our database. The difference between the figures used in the ARGSS and the data for 2008-09 is moderate in most cases and wouldn’t alter most of the clubs’ rankings significantly if’d we had the full 2008-09 data set available now, and included it.

One exception is Manchester City’s wages, fueled by Abu Dhabi cash, which we calculate jumped from £1.4m per player per year in 2008 to £1.9m a year in 2008-09. However even this latest figure wouldn’t lift City any higher than sixth-highest payers in the Premier League for 2008-09 (from 10th in 2008), and wouldn’t put them inside the world’s top 50 teams (from No86), let alone inside the top 30.

As for the future; that’s a different matter. We can speculate that City’s wage bill will go through the roof in 2009-10 but as Manchester City themselves don’t even know that yet, nobody else can. Their bill could still alter significantly this season, for example, depending on performance bonuses (or not). As is explained in our methodology, guessing isn’t our game.

Do check it out.

Javi reaches fifty starts

Our greatest ever Basque player has now started fifty games for City and is pleased:

“I always try to do my best and like everyone else at the club, I’d love to play every week, but the fact is we have some great players here and any number who can play at left-back,” he said.

“I train hard and when the manager needs me, I’m always ready. It was really nice to make my 50th start in a game where we played so well as a team.

“We are in a great position and there is a fantastic spirit within the squad. We have a tough run-in, but we have plenty of confidence and are in great shape to end the season on a real high.”

I would do a 'Garrido's five greatest MCFC moments' but I wouldn't get any further than the free-kick against Liverpool and the free-kick against Wolves. He does have nice things to say about our forwards, too:

“We have so much quality up front that I really enjoy playing behind our front four,” said the Spaniard.

“As a defender, the best thing for me is that they don’t only attack – they defend, too, which is very important for us as a team. Ade and Tevez defend from the front and never give the opposition a moment’s peace and that sets the tone for us...

“Bellamy is more direct in his style while Johnson likes to cut inside more, but they are both very skilful, quick and have a lot of quality on the ball... Shaun Wright-Phillips is another very skilful, hard-working player I enjoy working with."

M.E.N.: Boateng deal 'in place'

More movement on the deal for Jerome Boateng - the M.E.N.'s Stuart Brennan understands the deal is as good as done:
But a source close to Hamburg confirmed to M.E.N. Sport the deal is already in place, and Boateng will join City on July 1 on a three-year contract worth £85,000 a week, with the Blues beating Bayern Munich to the player.

And although Boateng himself was staying quiet, team-mate Joris Mathijsen yesterday said of the move: "When a club like Manchester City tries to get a player, a club like Hamburg doesn't have a chance."
So there you go. The piece also carries quotes I haven't seen before from the HSV coach Bruno Labbadia:
"Jerome told me his reasons for his move and I have to accept that. He told me today, but his agent already told me some days before. Everything was correct, so I can just wish all the best for him in the future."
Good news. I look forward to seeing him in blue. The article concludes by saying that our next target will be Football Manager 2010's Marek Hamšík.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Boateng close to MCFC

The strongest rumour of our pre-summer plans looks to have taken a good few strides forward today, with Hamburg's 21 year old defender Jérôme Boateng looking increasingly likely to be a Manchester City player next season. This had been whispered in the British press for some time - Oliver Kay writing in The Times on Monday that of all our summer targets 'the most progress has been made' with Boateng and HSV.

There was a first further step today, with the German press reporting that a deal had been agreed for €12.5million (£10.6m) for him to join MCFC in the summer. Later in the day a spokesman for HSV confirmed to the German press that Boateng was to leave in the summer:

"Jorg Neubauer, the agent of Jereme (Boateng), has given us information that Jerome is planning to make a transfer (to another club) this summer," spokesman Jorn Wolf told Sportinformationsdienst.

"There is no deal agreed yet, however. This is all I can say on that."

Of course, this isn't confirmation. Just as The Times story isn't and the Bild story isn't. But it's fair to say that there looks to have been serious progress on this in recent days. I'm pleased. As I wrote the other day, I'd much rather we spent the summer going after younger, hungrier players from abroad than washed-up trophy-laden millionaires. Aside from the fact that galactico strategies don't always work, it's just more exciting to see players with an affinity for the club than those - like a John Terry or a Samuel Eto'o - who had already built careers and reputations elsewhere. Plus of course he'd be the third man in two years on the Nordbank to Eastlands conveyer belt after the very successful signings of Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong.

So I like this type of signing. Regarding this player in particular, I don't know too much you couldn't get off Wikipedia. He can play centre back or right back - both positions where we could do with strengthening. He started at Hertha Berlin, but has been at HSV for the last three years. He was sent off on his debut for Germany. He's roughly three months younger than Micah Richards. I've seen him play in the flesh but not on television - the 2-1 at Eastlands one year ago this Friday but I'd be lying if I had any real impression of him. I asked on Twitter and was directed by Tom Sanderson to this report on which is worth having a quick look at.

Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves yet.