Sunday, 27 February 2011

City 1 - 1 Fulham

  • Oh, the annual second-half surrender at home to Fulham in the league. How I've missed you. You are the truest reminder that while some things change other things do not; as much of a reassurance that City are still City as the colour of the shirts or the songs in the stands. This is four years on the run, now, that we have gone ahead in this fixture and failed to win.
  • As it goes, it was the least painful iteration yet. As with stoppage time derby defeats, or losing to Spurs, or losing to Everton, the repetition lessens the pain by robbing its surprise. The 3-2 under Eriksson stole my soul for a good week, even outweighing my thrills at the Sun/Ball/Corluka/Elano back four. The 3-1 in April 2009 was just pathetic, the 2-2 last year was better. As I said, predictability is a strong antidote.
  • Of course, dropping two points is a problem. Finishing fourth is important, even if it's not as important as finishing first in one of the cups. That said, given we've still got Spurs at home and Chelsea away things are still in our own hands. More worrying than the result is the performance. Our reliance on David Silva was made clear by a display that was barren of any wit, pace or imagination. I could write for a while about how Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré don't set a good enough tempo, or how our two new full-backs aren't as quick as they ought to be, but you've seen it for yourselves before this season.
  • Still, some big performances in the big games and we'll still get fourth. A nice distraction from the league this week, with an FA Cup fifth round game with Aston Villa.

City 3 - 0 Aris

  • Didn't watch much of this game, so this is a fairly vague placeholder. As this season progresses, my emotional energy is increasingly poured into the two cups, at the expense of the Premier League. I've always been more excited by the prospect of winning something rather than finishing fourth in something else. Last year, I was more upset by the League Cup exit than by the failure to finish fourth. Now, with us still in the last sixteen of the Europa League and of the FA Cup, I'm enjoying an array of excitements that are entirely novel as a City fan.
  • The game was notable for Roberto Mancini's continued European expansionism. For all his domestic austerity, Mancini has been cavalier so far in the Europa League. I think it's probably to do with wanting to try new options, to give games to our forwards, but he has played variants of 4-2-4 much of the time, even in Turin when we needed a draw to win the group. On Thursday it looked like a 4-2-1-3, with David Silva behind the Carlos Tévez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Džeko supergroup. It worked, as Džeko scored twice (he's a cup specialist, you see), and could have had a third. Of course, the best player was David Silva but that barely needs to be said.
  • And so: Dinamo Kiev. I don't know much about them. I wanted Beşiktaş because I wanted to see Guti and Quaresma at Eastlands. But Kiev have got Andriy Shevchenko and he used to be fairly good. Whether the team are up to much I've got no idea. I've never seen them play, but they are 12 points off the lead in the Ukrainian Premier League. Shakhtar Donetsk are top, though, and they're a very good side so I guess it's understandable. Anyway: we're getting closer.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

NoCo player ratings

Hart One or two poor decisions from crosses but played well once he had settled. Made more saves than he might have wanted to. 6

Richards Another powerful performance, including one of his best ever crosses as a City player - which Edin Džeko headed straight at the keeper. Scored with an athletic volley when the game was won, but he has deserved it with recent performances. 7

Kolo Touré Not as commanding as he might have been. Our defence without Vincent Kompany just isn't the same. 6

Lescott Like Kolo, he's (just) good enough with Kompany but not good enough without him. This was not nearly as smooth as it ought to have been, and while this is largely the midfield's fault it is not entirely so. 5

Zabaleta I think that he is limited when Aleksandar Kolarov plays in front of him. They're both fairly predictable and not very quick and so Zabaleta has the space in front of him closed off. He did ok here, defended well enough but with little forward incision. 6

Yaya Touré Should have been much brisker, given the occasion. He was playing alongside Patrick Vieira in a midfield two, and he left his colleague in the field more than he should have done. 6

Vieira Don't be fooled by the two goals (good as they were). He was woefully off the pace for the first thirty minutes. So slow he was practically third to every loose ball, and, unable even to keep the ball properly. 5

Silva As usual, the best footballer on the pitch. There were fewer special moments than usual but it was still just one long exercise in movement and touch. His corner led to one of Vieira's goals, too, as it happens. 7

Balotelli Lively and bright, playing off Džeko. Some good movement and technique but was frustrated when he picked up a silly booking, and was even more disappointed when he came off with a head injury. Needs a goal. 6

Kolarov Some good things - good feet, covered well, strong - one of his corner kicks was headed in my Vieira. But any hopes that he's our Gareth Bale fall down on the fact that he just doesn't have the pace. 6

Dzeko Looked a bit clumsy at first, but he improved when Tevez came on and set him up with perhaps the best bit of play in his time in blue so far. Was rewarded at the end when Tevez gave him a cross in return, which he headed in. Two in two (against Notts County). 6


Tevez Improved our energy and our penetration when he came on, scoring one and setting up another. 7

Barry Two important passes in the build up to goals. 7

Jo Too late to mark n/a

Monday, 21 February 2011

City 5 - 0 Notts County

  • Our delirious mad-cap FA Cup adventure continues. Two rounds now conquered, but in four games, and having scored, somehow, 12 whole goals. And all this without a single good team performance yet. This was, in parts, one of our worst displays this season. For the first 30 minutes of the first half and the first 20 minutes of the second we were outplayed by Notts County. They were, quite predictably, brisker and firmer and braver in their football than whichever combination of the bored and the inadequate Roberto Mancini sent out to play.
  • Had County scored early then we might have had a very difficult and unpleasant afternoon upon us. It would have made this look like a daring, blissful away win. But they could not push their way through and, with technique and training on our side, we took the lead. David Silva curled a corner in, Patrick Vieira - the worst player on the pitch - darted to the near post and headed in via a hand ball. Magical.
  • We then had a good spell before the break but could not make it 2-0. The second half started much like the first but, just as it seemed as if County might equalise another corner - this from Aleksandar Kolarov - was headed in by Vieira. He might not be able to play the ball any more but he is good at picking his run through a crowded box and heading in. The crowded box claimed a victim, though, as Mario Balotelli clashed heads with a defender and had to be removed.
  • He was replaced by Carlos Tévez, giving him some necessary pitch-time with Edin Džeko. They combined enjoyably for two late goals which made the scoreline rather better than it might have been. First, Džeko received the ball, facing our goal and just 50 yards from it. He trapped the ball with his right foot, spun, and played Tévez through with his left. Carlitos ran through, beat the keeper and scored. The fourth came as Tévez was released wide by Gareth Barry - he looked up, paused, and chipped a cross to Džeko who headed in.
  • An extra layer of flattery was applied to the scoreline by Micah Richards, who scored his most acrobatic volley for the club since his equaliser at Goodison Park in September 2006. It was good for him, because he's now playing well and consistently for the first time in years, and is surely now our first-choice right-back. Anyway, it was more than enough to send us through and on to a fifth round tie with Aston Villa at home next week. Win that, and it's Everton or Reading.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Aris 0 - 0 City

  • I've actually already written about the game here, so please take a look if you're interested. So just a few more thoughts here:
  • This was worryingly similar to too many recent games. Facing a team that, for the first half at least, defended deep and in numbers we looked short of ideas and pace to get round them. It is possible to pick the lock, of course, and we've succeeded in doing so this year. But it requires fluency and trust in attack and again we didn't have it.
  • For now, playing all three of Edin Džeko, Carlos Tévez and David Silva does not work. Two of them, fine. But all three squeezes out Tévez - he was barely present yesterday. We had most of the ball yesterday, and managed to put Džeko into goalscoring positions a few times. But in his quite understandable enthusiasm to score, he turned down passing options and snatched at shots. Integrating a new centre-forward into a previously coherent system was always going to be difficult, and so it is proving.
  • That all said, Aris were bright and lively on the break. Darcy Dolce Neto (best name left in Europa League) was a very handy right winger while Raúl Bobadilla could handle himself up front. It was a new centre-back pairing, again, for City, with Kolo Touré and Jérôme Boateng together. Playing Boateng there is a new thing for Mancini but it's his natural position and he did well, again. I wouldn't mind his accompanying Vincent Kompany more often in future.
  • While 0-0 in the first leg is a good result, Aris could cause problems at CoMS. They're a good unit with some exciting individuals and if they steal a goal on the break then progress might be difficult. We'll have to start well next Thursday, with as strong a team as possible. Even if that means playing Jô against Notts County.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Send Blue Roo Home

Just to say, if you haven't already, that you should go vote to bring Matt and Gav to Eastlands as part of the Coming Home with Etihad campaign.

They're do the Lesson in Pride blog which is a great effort given the times our games are on.

Have a look here.

United player ratings

Hart Could not have done much more with either goal - certainly not the second one. Punching and distribution better than for England in midweek. 7

Richards Continued in the trend of recent improvements with a fearless performance down the right flank. Given the occasion, this was his best game this season. In the opening spell, his direct running was an important contrast to our midfield ball-players. He needs to learn to cross but even without that he's a threat. Completed 8 from 8 tackles, although Ryan Giggs had some fun with him once or twice. 7

Kompany One of his best games yet in a towering season. For 78 minutes he dealt masterfully with Wayne Rooney, making every tackle and interception perfectly. To see important players do so well in the biggest games is rewarding, especially given that our top performers haven't always shown up to recent derbies. Might just have reached the cross for Rooney's goal, but one wouldn't want to be too critical. 8

Lescott Surprisingly preferred to Kolo Touré but he was strong and competent. Even distribution, not always his strongest point, was fine. 7

Zabaleta Stayed at left-back as Aleksandar Kolarov was kept on the wing. He was fine, really, except for when he wasn't: shamefully sloppy in pursuit of Nani for United's opening goal. There are moments when you wonder whether he's quite good enough, and this was one of them. Attacking play limited by Kolarov's presence. 5

Milner Nominally replacing Nigel de Jong, he shuttled manfully out to the right, never really creating much but keeping the ball well. Went off injured after an hour. 6

Barry Got through some important midfield work, and his passing was fairly competent, completing 48 from 56 passes. I think his big game performances have improved this season after a few evasions last year. 7

Silva Hard to describe. Started by inspiring a beautiful piercing move in the second minute, which climaxed with him skewing the ball wide from three yards out. Then went on to play glorious football for an hour, drifting and turning and passing better than anyone else on the pitch, before finally scoring a goal - with his back. As with Kompany, it was impressive to see our best players bringing their best game to the biggest stage. 8

Yaya Touré Completed more passes than anyone else on the pitch (61 from 79), and he was dynamic and subtle in our enjoyably strong start. Only had space to run into once or twice but he moved the ball well and worked harder defensively than usual. 7

Kolarov Looked very unfit and blunt. I don't know whether it's because he played for Serbia in mid-week but he was slow off the ball and his first touch would have embarrassed Kelvin Etuhu. Hooked early in the second half but it could have been sooner. 4

Tévez Very quiet at the start, which owes something to the excellence of the United defenders. Had he been in the game more we might have turned that early possession into chances or goals but he was very well-smothered. Improved when Džeko came on, as he could play deeper and with one of the defenders distracted: he completed more passes in the 30 minutes he was behind Dzeko (23) than he did in the hour when he was on his own (19). 5


SWP Livened City up with some width and vigour. His cross led to Silva's goal and he was a surprisingly effective option. City career might just be salvaged. 7

Džeko Expert assist for Silva's goal. Otherwise quiet. n/a

Saturday, 12 February 2011

United 2 - 1 City

  • If we have to lose a derby then we might as well do so to a goal that brilliant. After the horror horror horror of last year's derbies, I feel inoculated against almost anything that could happen on the pitch. I wouldn't have necessarily chosen today's outcome but the pain inflicted is of a different category from that of last year. In fact, I feel rather pleased with elements of today, particularly the start which was surprisingly engaging and lively.
  • The system was maintained from the West Brom game, but the news was that we started the game with some ambition, passing the ball, finding more space than expected behind United's midfield. David Silva, who was excellent throughout, skewed a perfect chance within minutes. In retrospect, it would have been better had he scored. That said, the prospect of being 1-0 up at Old Trafford with 85 minutes left is terrifying in its own way.
  • But with Carlos Tévez strangely quiet, there were not too many more chances and if you don't exploit your spells of superiority with a goal then you get what you deserve. United improved and went ahead just before the break: good play from Ryan Giggs and excellent from Nani, but ultimately preventable given Pablo Zabaleta's defensive negligence. The second half started slowly but two substitutions improved our shape: Edin Džeko and Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced James Milner and Aleksandar Kolarov and City switched to 4-4-2. I'm not SWP's loudest fan but he was useful on Saturday, stretching the play and crossing to Džeko, who expertly turned and shot into David Silva's back. Silva's positioning and body angle was perfect and the ball sailed in.
  • At 1-1 there was a spell when I thought we might just nick it. But then, out of nowhere, came the goal. You've all seen it and there's not much to say about it. It was one of the best goals I've ever seen against City. No complaints, really, losing to a goal that good. In the final 13 minutes we looked stunned and unlikely to find a second equaliser. Which might say something about the difference of mentalities between the teams.
  • So, another Manchester derby defeat. But no feeling of having been shot in the stomach from close range. It was a decent performance, and very good patches. We lost to an unpreventable moment of magic. Fourth place is now the target, and we will have just as tough a battle with Spurs as we did last season. And the cups, of course; I have a particularly good feeling about the Europa League - United aren't in it.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

West Brom player ratings

Hart No mistakes, and some very good saves too. Too early to say if he's come out of his mid-season dip but this was an important step. 7

Boateng Back at right-back, where he was defensively comfortable, and he got forward well but he's just not brisk enough to have the impact in the final third that Kolarov does. 6

Kolo Touré An easy enough match for him, in defensive terms. Used the ball well, which he does do when things are easy - completing 47 from 52 attempted passes. 7

Kompany Showed how helpful he can be to the attack when he is comfortable in doing so. Comfortable stepping up beyond the half way line, and it was his forward run that led to Tévez's second goal. Defensively safe, too. 7

Zabaleta Back at left back, where he was predictably sturdy. Not much going forward, perhaps because of Kolarov's position just in front of him. 6

Milner Employed in a slightly different role: alongside Gareth Barry in a 4-2-3-1 set-up. He didn't have much of the de Jong work to do, but he was tidy on the ball and lively off it, which is as much as we could have asked for, really. 6

Barry Like Milner, little defensive work to do but he saw a lot of the ball. 42 from 50 passes made, nothing too incisive. Decent afternoon out. 6

Silva So good to have him back - this was his best game since the 4-0 Christmas win over Aston Villa. His movement into spaces, his control and use of the ball were excellent. It was a perfectly imagined and executed pass to Carlitos for the second goal: one of 49 successful passes from 51 attempted. 8

Yaya Touré Not really his game: he's a counter-attacker, and West Brom were generally too deep for him to have space to charge into. Passed the ball well enough, but only won one of six aerial challenges (using him as a target for Joe Hart's kicking is the plan, I think). Came off after an hour - not sure he's recovered from his sore throat. 6

Kolarov Deployed on the left of midfield, a smart move to provide some much-needed width and pace into our attacking play. It was his run forward that won our first penalty, and he was useful and dangerous throughout - having a 35-yard shot tipped onto the bar later on. Barely even ventured into our half, which was heartening in its own way. 7

Tévez Scored goals number eight, nine and ten since his December strop, which is strikingly focussed given what an ugly little incident it was. He even scored two excellent penalties, which was nice after his misses against Blackpool and Leicester City. His record from the spot is now 8/10, which looks much better than 6/8. When he doesn't just hit it down the middle he takes them well. (I don't want to turn my nose too far up at his penalties, if only because we were so spoilt by the perfection of 10/10 Elano). His other goal was excellent too, moving fiercely between the lines and finishing well. 8


DžekoMancini gave him half an hour, where he looked understandably keen to score. As Michael Cox pointed out, he took as many shots as he made passes. 6

SWP He's back! One thrilling run across the whole pitch nearly ended in one of those school-yard goals he used to specialise in. n/a

Razzak I hadn't heard of him. Did some stepovers. n/a

City 3 - 0 WBA

  • A very welcome return from the better aspects of our play. For probably the first time in 2011 we played the way Mancini wanted: controlling the play, incisive when necessary, thanks to the Silva / Tévez hotline, and defensively austere. The second half was disappointing, I suppose, but after conceding 13 goals in our previous six games it is difficult to blame the management for so fetishising a clean sheet.
  • With de Jong still out, James Milner partnered Gareth Barry at the base of midfield while David Silva and Yaya Touré were partnered in the band of three by Aleksandar Kolarov, moved upfield à la Gareth Bale. As well as cover for Pablo Zabaleta this equipped us with his piercing runs from the left, a much more useful and direct option than anything Jô provides. One of these runs got beyond Steven Reid, who tripped Kolarov, and Tévez converted the penalty.
  • It was soon 2-0: Tévez took the ball from deep, and gave it to David Silva, who has such a gift for spotting angles, Tévez received the return pass, cut back past a tackle and scored his second. As a swift, intelligent team goal it's the best we've scored for a while. It's fortunate just how strong the mutual understanding is between our two best attacking players, and how quickly it was formed. Tévez makes the runs Silva wants him to, and Silva is always capable of finding him. Before the break it was 3-0: a needless Jerome Thomas handball gifted our second penalty, and Tévez had his hat-trick.
  • The second half was very different: the players sat back, let West Brom have the ball, and held onto the advantage. It wasn't much by way of performance art but it succeeded in doing what we wanted. Given recent problems, it was fairly welcome.

Birmingham 2 - 2 City

  • This was six days ago, and I didn't really watch it, and it was shit. But for the purpose of completeness I've got to write something. My mood has certainly improved since then, thanks to Saturday. But this was an infuriatingly lazy disposal of two points. To be 2-1 up at Birmingham, having given away the lead once, with just ten minutes left: it is so far removed from the standards that the management expect that one wonders just what Roberto Mancini said and did on Thursday and Friday.
  • Scoring two goals in an away game ought to be enough. Particularly at such a goal-desert as St. Andrew's. So to concede twice to an opposition as flat as Birmingham is a deeply unserious approach to a title challenge. Both goals pointed to serious problems. The first was free-kick whipped into the area; Joe Hart and the defence dithered, Nikola Zigic kneed the ball and Hart was too slow to stop it. Hart was averaging nearly one error per game in January and this was very much in that tradition.
  • The second goal, though, was even worse: Patrick Vieira arrived a week late to a tackle in the box and Craig Gardner converted the penalty. Vieira came on at half time for Nigel de Jong and again displayed why he is no longer fit for purpose in the Premier League. The more you watch of City the more you realise that there is a larger gulf between the side with and without de Jong than there is for even David Silva or Carlos Tévez. Not just for play-breaking but for leadership, ball retention, a cool head under pressure: he's an indispensable figure. Why Mancini thinks that Vieira is a more legitimate alternative to de Jong than Pablo Zabaleta is beyond me.
  • That said, Aleksandar Kolarov's first Premier League goal for City was enjoyable. He strikes the ball with a clarity and force we haven't seen at City in years. He's got two goals for City now, from a combined distance of over 40 yards, and I'm sure there will be more to come. He nearly won it for us with the final kick of the game. I'm sure there will be more this season and in future.

Friday, 4 February 2011

TLDORC January awards

Sorry this is late. In fact it's so late it's invalid; I have to pretend it was written before Wednesday's triumph at St. Andrew's and yesterday's defeat of WBA. Because February's football has started. This, however, is all about January.

A strange month: the results were good enough. We took seven points from four league games, which is probably only one or two points short of par. We managed to stumble through in the FA Cup, despite three deeply flawed performances. We even brought in one of world's most exciting centre-forwards for £27m. But I don't think we really played as well as we might have done. Most worryingly, our defensive impermeability collapsed. After a run of conceding seven goals in 13 games, we then shipped nine in our next five. Given that defensive solidity is the thing Roberto Mancini values the most, it's a serious failing.

Player of the Month

The fashion over Christmas was to downplay the importance of Carlos Tévez to the side. The main motivation for this was, of course, his transfer request. No one wants to look desperate after rejection. News of that broke on the evening of the West Ham game, when we won with style and ease with Tévez off in Tenerife. Then the purchase of Edin Džeko pointed to a post-Tévez future and a new approach. Advent was infused with a sense that the Carlos Tévez chapter of City's recent history was nearing its end, and that we would be, if not better, then certainly healthier, for its conclusion. Since expressing his 'absolute commitment to the club', then, Tévez has proved us all wholly totally wrong. It has become a truism to accuse him of childishness, but Tévez has responded to the arrival of Džeko like a spoilt child reacting to the birth of a younger sibling: with feats and noise designed to win back the attention and affection currently diverted elsewhere.

Because in January Tévez produced some of his best football in a City shirt. At the Emirates he was heroic, desperately isolated up front but crucial in holding onto the ball as we held on for a point. To be as effective an out-ball as he is given his height is a striking achievement: but his strength, balance and tenacity allow him to back and spin in and out of difficult situations. He was as important to our draw as anyone. At Leicester City he scored his first of 2011, smartly flicking in a cross and working hard in difficult circumstances (ie being on the same side as Jô). Then two more against Wolves; dancing past three defenders for his masterpiece first, before a near-post header for his second. When Leicester came back he was nearly unplayable: thundering home the first, playing a dream pass to Zabaleta for Vieira's goal and then winning a penalty, which he missed. In six January games he scored four goals but missed two penalties as well, which isn't too surprising given his approach. We need him as much as ever.

Performance of the Month

How about Zabaleta against Arsenal? Handled Theo Walcott perfectly.

Goal of the Month

Tevez's first against Wolves. Reminiscent of another stocky shuffling Argentine playing in Spain.