Sunday, 30 January 2011

Notts County 1 - 1 City

  • Well we are probably more likely to reach the fifth round than we were on Sunday morning. And that's not meaningless. But this was not one of the great Manchester City FA Cup performances. A City team hollowed of its core, on a Passchendaele pitch, up against spirited but limited football league side, to whom we conceded a soft goal. That said, the fact that we equalised betrays a strength of spirit not always associated with City sides. And that the equaliser was Edin Džeko's first as a blue doubled the relief.
  • I appreciate that the need for rotation, of course I do. But I sometimes think that Roberto Mancini does it with insufficient discrimination. Our team has an obvious core: the spine is Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong, the brain is David Silva and Carlos Tévez. To remove all four is not only to remove our best four players, but also to leave us invertebrate and thought-free. We had this when we went out of the League Cup at the Hawthorns in September, and here it was again. In the first half, we lacked Silva and Tévez: the midfield of Patrick Vieira, Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré had enough of the ball but they could do little with it. One could forgive James Milner and Jô for creating nothing from the wings at the Emirates. But this was Meadow Lane and they were just as poor. Both players Milner has his uses but I'm not sure he is a top class winger.
  • As the game went on, Notts County improved. Patrick Vieira no longer has the legs to run a midfield as he used to; with Nigel de Jong in the team there would not have been the same concession of momentum. The hosts then took the lead, as a pathetically marked corner was headed in at the near post. That's our fifth consecutive game without a clean sheet, which must infuriate Mancini.
  • Just when I thought this was going to be latest embarrassing cup exit, we equalised. Micah Richards, probably our best attacking player, thundered down the right flank again. (He plays as if the by-line is the finishing line in a race, which while obviously rather lacking in subtlety, means he plays with more drive than the strolling Jérôme Boateng). Džeko ran between two defenders and shot high into the net.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Villa player ratings

Hart A blip? Yes, probably. Which isn't to say that he is not a very exciting and talented young goalkeeper but Darren Bent's goal came from Hart's failing to deal with Ashley Young's shot as powerfully as he should. His was not the only error that allowed the goal, certainly, but it played a part. Unfortunately, the game being as it was, he had little chance to redeem himself later on. 5

Boateng When we need him most he was quiet, again. There was one good cross to Gareth Barry in the first half, reminsicent of his delivery in the World Cup. But after that he was insufficiently present in the final third, when we needed his width and crossing the very most. He defended well enough but in this 4-3-2-1 his role is primarily to provide attacking width and he didn't do it. 5

Kolo Touré One of the many responsible for the Bent goal. After that he defended well, making 9 from 11 tackles, which allowed us to maintain the pressure on Villa's defence. 6

Kompany Defensively good, although our defending was largely irrelevant after the first 20 minutes. From that point on, he saw an awful lot of the ball, completing 66 from 77 passes, which says a lot about the game. Tried to force the pace, going direct, which he's adept enough to do without it being wholly wasteful. 6

Kolarov Continued in his confident 2011 performances. The only natural wide player in the side, he was our best attacking outlet in the first half at least, bursting forward, stretching the pitch and providing different angles of attack than the usual Yaya/Silva/Tévez options. Put in some of the best corners I've seen in years - one too good even for Tévez. Faded in the second half, unfortunately. 7

de Jong As often in these games, he was a luxury. Against a counter-attacking side, there was very little play for him to break down. As it was, our domination of the ball saw him play more passes than I think he has ever done for City: completing a Xaviesque 81 from 84. Which is all well and good when we're ahead but is not exactly what we want when we're 1-0 down for 72 minutes of the match. It's not his fault, of course, but it was frustrating. 6

Yaya Touré Like de Jong, saw more of the ball than ever before as we passed it around in front of Villa. 80 passes made from 86. But unlike de Jong these tended to come from within the Villa half, which just made their sideways direction and inherent caution all the more disappointing. He is a brutal counter-attacker, and this sort of lock-picking football just isn't his game, but there was barely a pass inside a defender or even into the final third. 6

Barry I am a fan. Let there be no doubt of that. I sleep in a t-shirt with his face on (this is literally true, unfortunately). But he was very poor out there. I don't know if it's to do with facing his former club but he looked overawed out there. He was second to everything, when he did get the ball he was inevitably pushed off it, he had no ability to impose tempo or imagination on proceedings. It was one of his worst ever showings for City, on a par with the 1-1 against Stoke at Eastlands in the Cup last year. Hauled off after 57 minutes but it should have been at half-time, if not sooner. 4

Silva Quiet, which I suppose was a function of Tévez of having stepping on his toes in the space behind Džeko. Saw as much of the bal as anyone but could not unpick the Villa defence. I would not have minded his moving onto the left wing, just to deliver some crosses in. 6

Tévez One of his worst games this season. Nothing that he tried came off, which was a disappointment given that his withdrawn role meant that creativity was his main responsibility. As the game went on, his increasing desperation for impact let to worse decisions and more selfishness, as he tried to turn the game by himself. 4

Džeko Showed off some good things: his strength, his footwork, his aerial ability. Takes a second or two longer on the ball than he might, and bizarrely stationed on the left for part of the second half. Missed one decent goalscoring chance. 5


A. Johnson Came on to introduce some width, but playing on the right he was only a marginal improvement on what we had. Ran at Ciaran Clark a few times, but found himself in positions where he could only roll the ball across with his weaker right foot. There are times when I would like to see him playing on the left. 6

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Villa 1 - 0 City

  • It's not that losing is inherently upsetting, I don't think. The 3-0 defeat to Arsenal this year was one of our more proudly cohesive and cooperative performances for a while. The aggregate defeat to Hamburg towers over everything else we achieved under Mark Hughes. Et cetera. But to lose in precisely the same way to Aston Villa as we did five weeks ago to Everton, identical in pattern and narrative, that was a weekend-toxifier. And to do it all with Edin Džeko on the pitch just makes the pain of frustration worse.
  • It started, like the Everton defeat, with a soft goal conceded. Kolo Touré mis-hit a pass, David Silva lost it, Ashley Young was allowed to shoot, Joe Hart could only palm it away and Darren Bent finished. He has inflicted 1-0 defeats on City with Charlton and Sunderland before: it should not be a surprise any more. Nor should we be by the fact that while City are excellent when in lead we are fairly helpless in games in which we go behind.
  • The remainder of the game was loyal to the script. We dominated possession, while Villa were happy to defend deep and narrow. They prevented us from passing through them, which, with David Silva, Yaya Touré and Carlos Tévez in the side, would always be the inclination. We tried and tried to find a gap in the fence but we just could not. To be fair, Villa defended well as a team, and James Collins and Richard Dunne were both excellent individually. So our failure to pick through them should not itself be surprising, or, for that matter, frustrating.
  • What is frustrating, though, is our failure to anything differently. We were set up to provide an alternative aerial threat. Džeko was signed with the explicit purpose of giving us a Plan B in attack for precisely this sort of situation. He relies, of course, on service from wide areas, but even with both new eight-figure sum full-backs on the pitch not enough crosses reached him. Aleksandar Kolarov was our best attacking player in the first half, but faded, while Boateng looked too casual throughout. Adam Johnson came on and brought some extra width, but not enough, and James Milner stayed on the bench. For all our possession the best chances we had were shots from distance and one header wide from the new boy.
  • Of course, if we had not conceded the early goal it would have been a different game: Villa would not have parked the bus and we might have opened them up a bit more. Defensive errors, worryingly frequent in 2011, certainly need to be eliminated. But the failure to create chances and score goals against teams that defend in numbers is the limiting factor this year. It will improve, as new players acclimatise. But for now it's still infuriating.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Leicester player ratings

Hart Another two goals conceded, taking it to seven in the last three games. (The previous seven goals we conceded took 14 games to go in). Can't find too much fault though; could do nothing with the penalty, or really with the second either. Box command improved from the Wolves game, too. 6

Zabaleta Probably surprised by the early Leicester expansion, and was doubled up against a few times. But his positioning was fairly good, and he made most of his tackles. Useful going forward, including the run to the byline and pull-back for Vieira's goal. 7

Kompany Must wonder what is happening around him. Had one hairy moment, from which he admirably rescued himself. Otherwise a decent game. On a better day might have done better for Dyer's goal. 6

Lescott Not as secure as one would hope, had some difficult moments, including for at least one of the Leicester goals if not both. 5

Kolarov With David Silva nominally playing on the left, Kolarov obviously has an important role to provide width. He did that well, and more and more of our attacks have him involved. His debut City goal, which had been on its way for months, came at the end, firing in precisely from distance. Clearly in the Jensen/Tarnat/Garrido tradition of left-backs with a good shot on them. 7

Vieira I just don't think he's got the fitness for this anymore. Or, maybe, not for starting games against energetic enthusiastic teams. He was overrun in midfield, and while Yaya and Milner have to bear some responsibility for this, the gap in competence between Vieira and Nigel de Jong is astonishing. Scored a tap-in, but that's not really the point. 5

Milner Useful at filling in gaps when other midfielders went forward. His passing was fine, and he got forward at useful moments. Looked fit towards the end of the game, which might be a function of his being on the bench a lot as much as anything else. 6

Yaya Touré Did not get to change the world going forward, rather spending most of his time in midfield, keeping attacks going and all that. Got a shot away with his left foot, straight at the keeper. 6

Silva On his way back from injury, so only got an hour of play, but had a part in our second and third goals. Got the shot away which led to Vieira's, and played that perfect pass through to Johnson for the third. Not always involved in the game, but not much less sharp than before. 7

Tévez Has clearly reacted to the signing of Edin Dzeko in the best possible way, with a series of performances reminding everyone just how important he is to us. He was huge in this game, just as he was against Arsenal, Leicester and Wolves. He carved the first goal out of nowhere, as he does, and then created the second with a through ball as good as anything David Silva has done this year. He won (and missed) a second half penalty but caused problems all evening. 8

Johnson Played wide and high on the right, to stretch the play. Got in behind once early on, and shot at the keeper. Later in the first half, in a similar position, he took his time and finished well. Otherwise had a decent game, including the crucial decision not to pass to Jô in the build-up to Kolarov's goal. 7


Barry Did some things well enough in midfield. 6

Jo Not obviously terrible, but only because of limited time on the pitch. n/a

City 4 - 2 Leicester

  • What's the point of buying world class players if not to win games by themselves? This was, overall, a mediocre performance. The defence continued its surprising recent descent into lazy permeability. The midfield, without Nigel de Jong, was absent for much of the game, and just like last Sunday Leicester were allowed to play some very attractive football. But, with David Silva and Carlos Tévez, the cousin imps, in the side, goal scoring chances come like the rain; we scored four but five, six or seven was possible.
  • It was good just to see those two playing. I hope that from this stage of the season we will see serious teams in the cup competitions (by which I mean Jô-less teams), and we lined up with a Silva-Tévez-Johnson front three, with Vieira-Yaya-Milner in midfield. Despite not starting the game well, we went 1-0 up when Tévez barrelled through two challenges and thundered the ball into the top corner, his fourth goal in the last three games. Leicester equalised, and at 1-1 things were looking nervy.
  • But, quality footballers play quality football as a matter of course, and Silva and Tévez soon made it 3-1. First, Carlitos picked out his compañero Zabaleta with a javelin pass as good as anything we have seen this season. Zabaleta pulled it back to Silva, who shuffled into space and shot - Vieira tapped in the rebound. One minute later Silva outdid his captain: turning in the centre-circle and sliding the ball between most of the Leicester midfield and defence, to Adam Johnson, running off the shoulder of the back four. The angle of the pass and the run were identical to those for Johnson's goal at the Boleyn Ground; but the distances were doubled. Johnson finished without going round the 'keeper.
  • Early in the second half it could have been 4-1; Tévez was felled in the box (if 'clear goalscoring opportunity' means anything then Jack Hobbs should have gone, but he didn't), and took the penalty. As against Blackpool, though, he missed: firing straight at the 'keeper's legs. His record is 6 from 8; not disgraceful, but fortunate in that two of them rolled in off Brad Friedel / Jussi Jaaskelainen. He is a wonderful striker but not a natural penalty-taker, I think. This ceded some momentum to Leicester, and with Patrick Vieira tiring in midfield it was too easy for them to run at us. Nigel de Jong is missed just as much as Tévez and Silva when he is absent.
  • Unsurprisingly, given our recent Mark Hughes tribute acts, Leicester pulled one back: Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott were caught just out of place and Lloyd Dyer finished past Joe Hart. It would be unfair to blame Lescott entirely for defensive lapses in recent weeks, and I'm not going to, but only because Kolo Touré has not been playing well either. At 3-2 it was worrying, but finally we had some deliverance in the form of Aleksandar Kolarov: after months of clean shooting just wide, he scored from distance. 4-2, safe, and through.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Wolves player ratings

Hart There was a very good save just before the Milijaš goal, and he was left stranded by his defenders for the second and third. Lots of punching from balls into the box, and most of the time it was just good enough to be safe. 6

Zabaleta Difficult game defensively, he looked uncomfortable against Wolves' high early tempo; facing not just Stephen Hunt but also the inclinations of Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle to pull left. Missed too many early tackles, but improved with the team. Clipped in a very astute cross to Tévez for the fourth goal. 5

Kolo Touré The opening goal came about after he cleared the ball into Vincent Kompany, and he looked ponderous and not fully fit all afternoon. Bundled in a goal, which was nice, but came off early in the second half for Joleon Lescott. 5

Kompany Acceptable, rather than excellent: Doyle and Fletcher were difficult and he looked mildly unsettled at times. Improved, as everyone did. Got the near post flick for Kolo's goal. 6

Kolarov One of his better games. He is so important within our narrow system, and here he was excellent at maintaining the width and stretching defenders. Had one of those famous shots turned round for a corner. A goal is coming. 7

de Jong Slow to get into the game, and could only watch as we attempted to lose the match in the first half hour. More influential later, made a few important interventions, including that famous overhead-kick clearance of his. 5

Barry Like everyone, started slowly but found his way. Has an important role aiding and abetting Kolarov's surges, whether playing the ball through to him or just dropping into the left-back position. But he saw a fair bit of the ball, no major mishaps. 6

Yaya Touré Scored our third goal, starting and finishing a move that took the ball the length of the pitch. Could have scored a second later on when he barged through but shot at the keeper. 6

A. Johnson Didn't find Stephen Ward as accommodating as he might have hoped; got off a shot to the near post in the first half but generally his impact was limited, which is a shame as the return of Silva means he might not get a game in the league for a bit. 5

Tévez A reminder that Džeko will have to do very well indeed to be City's primary striker. Playing nominally on the left, but effectively slightly deeper, he was allowed to play facing goal all game. This freedom allowed him to score his first, as he danced past three defenders past scoring, an individual goal nearly as good as Silva's at Bloomfield Road. His second was a header from close range. 8

Džeko A good debut; he led the line intelligently, showing off his strength, footwork and team-play. Looked a bit short of sharpness in goalscoring situations but this was his first match in over a month. 7


Lescott Gave away the softest of penalties, pushing Kevin Doyle in the back when he presented no immediate threat. Lost his man (I think) for Wolves' third. 4

Milner Worked hard to close out the win 6

Silva Too late to mark n/a

Saturday, 15 January 2011

City 4 - 3 Wolves

  • A victory entirely at odds with the Roberto Mancini approach but all the more interesting for it. Home form has been a problem this year, but this was a match of a different category from the recent stumbles against Blackburn, Birmingham and Everton; too many goals, rather than too few. It had a taunting echo of the famous 3-3 draw with Burnley in November 2009: the team with the worst away record in the league coming to Eastlands, going ahead early, before City take the lead with goals either side of half time. There was a late City implosion, a soft penalty conceded by Joleon Lescott and a goal from Steven Fletcher to fill the similarities out. Incongruous given the standards that Mancini has set at City, though enjoyable in its own way.
  • We certainly started the game the right way: with half an hour of the most pathetic, arrogant football we've played this season. The start against Everton was bad, but this was worse; Wolves only scored one but could have got two or three. They pressed us vigorously, with Fletcher and Kevin Doyle up front, and we could barely get our feet on the ball. Wolves' goal came with Kolo Touré hammering the ball into Vincent Kompany, and Nenad Milijaš tapping it in. It was nearly 0-2, and just as it looked like it could dip into disaster we recovered. Maybe Wolves tired out, but we started to press and keep the ball, with Carlos Tévez (in the David Silva role) and Aleksandar Kolarov the most important players. There was a sense that an equaliser before the break would change the game, and it came, Kolo bundling in a corner at the far post. Ugly, arguably lucky but certainly crucial.
  • So the atmosphere for the second half was very different from how it might have been. Tévez encapsulated and further catalysed this when he scored one of the best solo goals at Eastlands this season, jinking past defenders before slotting the ball in for a 2-1 lead. Once ahead, we could finally play with real confidence and verve, and the third came soon after: Tévez to Džeko to Yaya and the conversion of an enjoyably crisp and swift counter-attack. City were playing very well and the third came soon after; a corner broke to Pablo Zabaleta who clipped a cross to the near post, where Tévez headed in his second off the underside of the bar. 4-1, and safe enough.
  • But then it all went surprisingly Mark Hughes. Joleon Lescott conceded the softest of penalties (kicking Doyle in the ankle when he had his back to goal), before we conceded from a corner with five minutes left. It was nervous, as these things always are, but with a few substitutes on we had enough to hold on for the victory. Top, by a point, having played three more games more than United, admittedly. If we play like this every week we won't win anything, but the way we jumped out of uselessness into forty minutes of excellent football does suggest that there is a solidity and adaptability to this side that not all have noticed.

Džeko joins

Yes, it was last Friday, so I'm over eight days late with this. But I've had stuff on.

Edin Džeko is now a Manchester City player, as you all know, for £27m - a fee Arsene Wenger described as a 'January sales price'.

It's obviously good news for reasons I've gone into a fair bit before. When we disappoint this season, it is at home against teams to defend deep and narrowly. Our best football is counter attacking through the middle - we are a strikingly widthless team - and so teams that line up their defence across the 18 yard box can stop us from scoring. They can do this safe in the knowledge that any crosses to Carlos Tévez will be easily repelled by centre-backs six inches taller than the stocky Argentine. (One headed goal this season, remember).

Having Džeko in the side changes this. We have some competent crossers at the club (Aleksandar Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta, Jérôme Boateng) and so with a big centre forward at the club we now have a different threat. Of course, we do have Emmanuel Adebayor but he is obviously finished as a City player, and while Mario Balotelli certainly is a physical centre-forward neither his attitude nor his knees are worth putting the mortgage on. (This is why Barcelona signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic in summer 2009, to give a physical Plan B up front.)

How's it going to work out? I don't know. Today, for example, it's a front three with Edin in the middle and Tévez from the left. (He has played on the left once this season, in the 1-1 with Juventus at home, and it was terrible). I think there will be a fair bit of rotation between the two (4-5-1 still our best formation, I think). I would not be shocked if the next six months were a bedding in period for Džeko, who will become first choice when Tévez heads off to Real Madrid in the summer. But for now, simple childish excitement.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Leicester player ratings

Hart For the most part he was excellent, dealing with Leicester's set pieces better than either centre-back managed to, saving from close range three or four times. But, when we were looking comfortable at 2-1, he literally dropped the ball and Leicester equalised. Came over to wave apologetically at the fans at the end, which was a nice surprise. 6

Boateng He certainly needs games, and so it was good that he played. He was more or less ok defensively, and his attacking contribution was limited to end of either half. It was his getting forward which enabled our good spell between our two goals, and he's a useful presence in the final third, but there are times when - apologies for over-simplifying - you just want him to try more. 6

Kolo Touré Both of our centre-backs looked lost in the absence of Vincent Kompany. Kolo was noticeably cautious and pausing under pressure, and clearly did not enjoy the channel-running of Darius Vassell. 5

Lescott Like Kolo, he's half the player without Kompany aside him. Made a few important interventions in the second half, but seemed to have caught Kolo's indifference to, well, heading the ball away at crucial junctures. 6

Kolarov Again, a slightly mixed performance. He's sharp and incisive and precise in the final third, which I like, but for whatever reason he still doesn't look particularly secure: he gets dragged out of position, has no pace on the turn and doesn't desperately enjoy having people running at him. The man needs games, I guess. 6

Vieira Asked to do a fair bit of work in central midfield, he looked accomplished as ever until opponents got too close to him. Can pick a pass with sufficient time, but that's it. Moved further forward at the end but didn't really have the legs to break late into the box. 6

Milner Possibly his best performance for City, driving forward from midfield. He led our first half improvement, scoring his first City goal with an confident left footed shot. Moved wide later on, and led the break down the left that nearly led to de Jong's goal. 7

SWP Dreadfully disappointing in what might be his last game for City. Only lasted 45 minutes but barely got on the ball, and when he did his decisions were so bad they made his woeful execution look acceptable. Hooked at the break but it could have been sooner. 4

I didn't mind Wednesday. It was Arsenal, it was away, he was on the wing, etc. But this was just something else. He started off leading the line, then dropped off Tévez, then went wide, then back into the hole but everywhere he played he made me want to scream. If at Arsenal he reduced us to ten men with his anonymity, on Sunday he was so destructive we were effectively playing with nine. In fact, with his ability to shut down City attacks and pass to blue shirts, he was one of Leicester's more accomplished defenders. And I had such high hopes given that he's a cup specialist. 2

Tévez Another very good game, he took a while to get into it but he scored an excellent goal (think Joe Cole at Old Trafford last season), and was the best player on the pitch in the second half, holding up the ball well and dropping deep and picking passes when no-one else would. His run, hold and lay-off to de Jong on 80 or so minutes was very good forward play. 7

A. Johnson Not really on his game, which was a shame as this is the sort of game in which he should flourish. Had a few good moments but struggled to get in behind or to win set-pieces like he usually does. 6


De Jong Came on at half time and reminded us what an accomplished footballer he is, sitting in front of the back four and allowing us to keep the ball comfortably under some decent pressure from Leicester. Ought to have scored his first City goal and won the game, but didn't. 7

Zabaleta Fifteen minutes in midfield, where he hasn't played much this year. Tidy and energetic. 6

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Leicester 2 - 2 City

  • Not the win that we wanted, not the defeat that we arguably deserved, but one of the best cup ties we've been involved in for years. Roberto Mancini treated his return to Leicester City as he does Europa League games, resting the mainstays of the team (Carlos Tévez excepted), and attempting a more expansive 4-2-4. It performed terribly, but we still went in ahead at half-time. It was that sort of game; a game of phases, phases demarcated by moments. A score draw feels fair enough, and with the squad we have we cannot complain about the replay.
  • It did not start well. Leicester went ahead after less than one minute, as Sol Bamba turned in a corner. I understand the need for rotation but today Mancini rested his two lieutenants, Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong, and we missed them both terribly. Without the aerial presence and leadership of Kompany we were vulnerable to crosses and set-pieces all afternoon, and were taught the hard way with that early goal. Unfortunately, there was no noticeable improvement all afternoon. Our two-man midfield was Patrick Vieira and James Milner, but they were out-numbered and out-moved. Without the bite and intelligence of Nigel de Jong we were fighting a losing midfield battle.
  • But, we managed to keep the score at 1-0 and gradually grow into the game. James Milner's thrusting dynamism was influential (with Jô and Wright-Phillips in the team someone had to do something), and he equalised with an impressive run and shot from deep. As happens in the best cup games, momentum instantly switched sides, with no real interest in desert or what had gone before. We started to build attacks - nothing fancy, just balls into the channels and help from the full-backs. There was a goal on its way, if only it could be delivered before the break. Fortunately, Tévez flicked in Milner's cross just before the break and we went in, somehow, at 2-1.
  • Anyone who has watched City this year knows we're a different team when ahead, so Mancini naturally tried to replicate our recent away wins: Nigel de Jong was brought on for SWP and we went to a more conventional 4-2-3-1. Possession football, with de Jong at the hub, is how we turn leads into wins and so it made perfect sense. For 19 minutes it worked perfectly, we looked as serene as a team can do on a poor pitch in a cold January cup-tie. But, City fans angered the football gods by 'Olé-ing' on 63 minutes and Leicester soon equalised; King bundling in after Joe Hart dropped a cross.
  • As a team set up to hold a lead, rather than to fashion one, we were limited from this point on, and Leicester were once again the better team. They had most of the play and the chances. De Jong went through once - it would have beesuspectin a perfect time to score his first for City - but could only shoot at the goalkeeper. I imagine Mancini was happier at the final whistle, because of how well Leicester finished, and that he now knows that without de Jong and Kompany, and with Jô, serious FA Cup progress might be beyond us.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Arsenal player ratings

Hart Some important early saves - the best being when he went low, down, back across himself to stop Jack Wilshere's shot. There was another important save from Robin van Persie in the second half, which looiked even better than it was (and it was fairly good itself). Not as much of the lone hero as he was at White Hart Lane, but good nonetheless. 7

Zabaleta Competent, resilient, determined, assertive and with a touch of confrontation: this was echt Zabaleta. Had a difficult start (who didn't?), but he grew into the game played perfectly as Arsenal tried to put Theo Walcott in behind him. He made six tackles (from six attempted), and six interceptions too; it was as good a defensive display as we've seen from a City full-back for some time. Was later sent off after a confrontation with Sagna. Might well get off on appeal. 8

Kolo Touré Back in the team after three out. Had to settle but after that he was excellent, winning seven of eight tackles. Some of it had to be fairly desperate, but that's the way of these things. Just as good as he was at Spurs. 7

Kompany Didn't give away a penalty, as he did at Eastlands, and was very calm and precise throughout. Won all five tackles that he went for, and was the towering centre-piece of the thwarting of Arsenal that only really began in earnest 25 minutes in. 8

Richards Did his own share of defending, after being taunted by Samir Nasri for the first session. Did as much attacking as he was allowed to, without ever quite battering himself the space that he needed. 7

de Jong One early booking inhibited him, so he had to play within himself; making just one successful tackle. That said, his positioning was good as he tried to stay goal side of the ball wherever possible. Passing limited (22/27) - we barely got the ball, in fairness. 6

Barry Like de Jong, an early yellow limited what he could do, but he continued to work hard. Showed well for the ball from the defenders, but could not really execute his role as chief distributor - completing 37 from 53 passes, and usually giving it away whenever he looked forward. 6

Milner Covered as much ground as anyone, tracking up and down the right flank (with a brief spell on the left). Never had the spark in the final third, and couldn't always maintain attacks' momentum, but he played with some intelligence and a lot of grit. 6

Yaya Touré If only he were a defensive midfielder! There was some exciting moments yesterday - he is an unparalleled ball-carrier from central midfield in the Premier League, and did so well, a few times yesterday. But we needed bodies in the middle to stem Arsenal and too often he was absent, stranded in the final third. Even when he did get goal side he didn't put pressure on the ball. Yes, he did look tired. But then he should learn to distribute his energy levels more intelligently. For £220,000 per week, I don't think that tracking back is too much to ask. 5

Preferred on the left wing - for his height, I imagine - with predictable consequences. The tactic was to have Joe Hart fire kicks to his namesake, but it fell down on Jô's inability to head the ball or hold it up. He gave Tévez no support - except for one decent ball through to him down the channel, and didn't carry the ball on the break. His highlight was going down clutching his face for over one minute after a very light collision. (Like against Juventus, but worse). 3

Tévez Had one chance - a volley from an angle on the break. It would have been an achievement merely to get it on target. His hold-up and link-up play was excellent, though, particularly in the second half when the other players were tiring. We might not have been able to do it without him. 7


A. Johnson Should have started, really. Played fairly well when he came on, doing some defensive work and carrying the ball on the break. No penetration but, well, he wasn't the only 0ne. 6

Boateng Only came on for the final minute. Made a tackle I think. n/a

Arsenal 0 - 0 City

  • Did anybody expect anything different? Roberto Mancini has parked the big blue bus enough times in his tenure at City, most obviously in this fixture last season, most famously at home against United in the autumn. For him to do it once more , away at the best passing team in the country, at the end of a run of four league games in twelve days, and with us deprived of our best and most imaginative player; well, the real surprise would have been his doing anything else.
  • Some people will argue that it might make sense but that it's still not right. Mancini's responsibilities are to the club first, then the fans, then the players as individuals. Match of the Day just doesn't come into it. (As it happens, Mancini has not entirely abjured football on the road this season. The 4-1 win at Fulham was as well as a Premier League team has played in an away game this season, the 3-1 win at West Ham was fairly good too.) I'm pragmatic about these questions: the smart move is the right one, and I don't think anyone would suggest that Mancini did not make the intelligent play last night.
  • Because Arsenal were excellent last night. They swarmed around us for the first 20 minutes, and should, by rights, have won the game then. They hit the post at least twice, and forced Joe Hart into making some serious saves. Not since our last (successful) ploy for a 0-0 in north London last August have we been outplayed like that at the start of a game. Even with a deep back four, two defensive midfielders and James Milner all tracking back they moved the ball too quickly amongst us, finding space for shots. They were much better than us: not because they always had the ball, that was part of Mancini's plan, but because they managed to knit together real chances - which certainly wasn't. Samir Nasri moved in between Micah Richards and James Milner (it took them half an hour to get to terms with his movement), while Robin van Persie dropped between Richards and Kolo Touré, while Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fàbregas were just too quick-witted. This happens.
  • But we rode our luck and got to half-time at 0-0. Like at White Hart Lane, we had a better second half. Arsenal increasingly went diagonal to Theo Walcott, trying to get him in behind Pablo Zabaleta - a tactic the Argentine resisted with a cussed determination that was impressive even by the standards that he has set. Of course, we never looked like scoring. With only three attacking players, one of them being Jô, and another being James Milner, it was always going to be tough. We went on a few breaks, but so much has to go right to create a chance in these circumstances and it wasn't happening. Tévez did some excellent work holding onto the ball but mainly fifty yards away from Łukasz Fabiański.
  • But we held on, and got away with a point. Of course, on the balance of play of Arsenal deserved to win. But they couldn't convert the chances that they created, and as we settled we managed to stifle their creativity. This is only a success. We have the best defence in the Premier League, and this was one of their finest outings yet this season. Yes, in different circumstances, we might have gone for it. But we had different plans, which we fulfilled, and we came away from one of our rivals with a point.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Blackpool player ratings

Hart A harder examination than he has had in recent weeks, which he might have enjoyed. Two important second half saves: blocking a close shot from Matty Phillips, and tipping a long-range drive from Ian Evatt over. 7

Boateng Competent in defence, but still has that habit of sapping the momentum out of attacks down the right; taking too long over both decisions and executions in the final third. He will get there, and he is improving, but I'm not sure he's currently first choice. 6

Kompany Looked fairly surprised by Blackpool's attacking verve, and there were more spaces than usual in our back line. But he kept his head, and intervened in the right ways at the right times. Distribution didn't look as serene as usual, but then I check his stats and he made 47/53 passes. This is still Vincent Kompany. 7

Lescott Started his third consecutive game - I'm not sure if Kolo Touré is injured, or has been dropped, but Kompany-Lescott might well now be the first choice pairing. Like Kompany, he defended better as the game went on and his distribution was very good: completing 56 from 57 passes. 7

Kolarov Did have an acceptable first half, after getting beaten by Gary Taylor-Fletcher after four minutes, but then had an embarrassing time against Matt Phillips, getting beaten for pace too many times and looking sluggish on the turn. Replaced by Pablo Zabaleta before the hour-mark. 4

de Jong As at Bloomfield Road, he could not impose himself on Charlie Adam quite as much as one might hope. There was one big hit; revenge, I imagine, for Adam's earlier hatcheting of Silva. His passing was not only as prudent as ever (43/45) but noticeably more progressive: his ability to push tempo and start attacks from deep has been a feature of his development this season. He's not Xabi Alonso, or even Gareth Barry, but it is something that's coming into his game. 7

Barry Did his auxiliary midfielder job well. He had to clean up defensively a few times but he succeeded in doing that. Tried to force the ball forward a few times, which is unlike him, and so his passing success dropped to 42/57. 6

Yaya Touré When he bounds down the middle of the pitch, he drums up anticipation from the pitch with every hoof-beat. Nearly made a goal with one of them. That said, he looked tired and his contribution off the ball was negligible. No one expects him to be Darren Fletcher but he could at the least be Gareth Barry and close down his zones rather than letting Blackpool pass through them. 6

A. Johnson Saw enough of the ball, and ran uninhibited at the left back. Might have been struggling for end-product but scored the only goal when his long-range shot was deflected in off Stephen Crainey. It was his second consecutive league start - I don't think we'll see him at the Emirates but I'm sure he'll be back at Leicester City. 7

Tévez Difficult to evaluate. His running, movement and ball retention were all exceptional. He played very well. But he missed a penalty, an open goal, and a few other good chances. His goal record is brilliant, certainly, but this was just an off-day. 6

Silva We've been lucky with injuries this season but this is a real worry. Silva went down with a twisted knee in the second half, and there's no news yet on the length of his absence. When he was on he was very good, drifting off the left hand side. The highlight was a clipped pass to Tévez in the left channel, before running forward, meeting the return pass and hitting it wide. When he went off, though, we were a different team. 7


Zabaleta Had to fill in for Kolarov when Phillips proved too much for him. This was the sort of fighting situation that Zabaleta dreams about and he did fine: winning three important tackles in the left-back area. 7

Milner Came on for Silva, playing wide left, and did his job perfectly: keeping the width even on his unnatural side, winning tackles up and down the flank, putting in one good cross to Tévez that should have been converted. Should start on Wednesday. 7

Vieira Just five minutes at the end. n/a

Saturday, 1 January 2011

City 1 - 0 Blackpool

  • Not as fun as the Boxing Day win against Aston Villa, and certainly not as easy. But we're out of the Christmas session with nine points from three games, which is probably two more than I would have settled for. Given our record this season we can only be happy with a home win. We made this harder for ourselves by not scoring a second goal; the final fifteen minutes were much less pleasant than they ought to have been. Our play was good at times, the issue was with the finishing.
  • Roberto Mancini went for a stronger team than I expected. With Arsenal in mid-week I expected Yaya Touré to be rested, with starts for Jô and maybe another fringe player or two. Instead, we got the strongest possible side. David Silva played from the left, allowing Adam Johnson on the right. Blackpool came out as we expected them to: with their charmingly cavalier 4-3-3. You'd call them naive if they weren't in the top half. Their open expansive enthusiastic football was refreshing after months of parked buses at Eastlands.
  • Naturally it was an open game. Tévez slid the ball wide after 21 seconds. There were chances at both ends for the first twenty minutes, we threatened to overwhelm Blackpool at times, but ourselves looked flustered by a team that attacked with more gusto than we are used to seeing at Eastlands. Our superior quality started to reveal itself in the play; Tévez and Silva missed the best chances. Just when a sense developed of an opportunity being squandered, we went ahead: a corner came out to Adam Johnson, under no pressure, and his 20 yard shot deflected past Richard Kingson and in. In itself fortunate, within the context of the game probably deserved. Pushing for a second, Yaya Touré was pulled down in the box by Luke Varney. Carlos Tévez hit his penalty kick wide - the first time he's failed to score, from seven or eight attempts.
  • But the longer we went without scoring a second goal, the sharper the sense of nervous frustration. There are teams against whom you can be comfortable with a one-goal lead, but Blackpool are certainly not of that category. As the second half progressed, momentum transferred to the visitors, a process catalysed by two substitutions. At half-time, Blackpool brought on Matt Phillips on the right wing. He was quick and fearless, and provided a new attacking threat. He went past Aleksandar Kolarov that the Serb had to be withdrawn. The second change was the enforced replacement of the injured David Silva by James Milner. This was a football lobotomy. As well as losing an extra man in midfield, we lost any understanding of how to keep the ball, or an ability to pass through Blackpool, who started to dominate the ball. In the 64 minutes before Silva's injury, we outpassed Blackpool 336-240. In the final 26 minutes they outpassed us 125-87.
  • So it was a nervous finale. Joe Hart had to make some saves, but Blackpool could not convert their territory into chances as well as they might. Our defence was uncharacteristically panicky - both Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott resorted to launching the ball up the pitch to no-one in particular. Most of our players looked exhausted. But they held on for another satisfying three points. That late regression, though, was a worrying portent of what a Silva-free City side looks like. We have a definitive match at Arsenal in mid-week; without him we have very little chance.