Manchester City 0 Newcastle United 2: The Rot Sets In As City Falter Again

Venison sausages, fog, Sunday roast, sunny delight, Jurassic park, the Korean War 1950-53, Les Battersby, fog on the tyne (it’s all mine, all mine).

Well, I might as well write random words, I can’t imagine anyone rushing to read this particular match report.

It’s hard to know where to start with another poor, lifeless performance, but the team sheet is as good a place as ever. And by that I of course refer to the inclusion of David Silva, and to a lesser extent, Yaya Toure.

Pellegrini was caught between a rock and a hard place with the derby on the horizon. With the stinging criticism of the home cup defeat to Wigan last season probably still fresh in his mind, he couldn’t play too weak a team and risk getting slated if City went out, especially as holders of the competition. He could have trusted more in youth, but he’ll know best whether to bed them yet. He probably wishes he had done now. He probably didn’t want to risk Nasri after a spell out with injury. He had to leave Kompany and Aguero out, and chose to do the same with Zabaleta. So with Silva our sole remaining playmaker, Pellegrini probably hoped City could build a lead and then he could take off the Spaniard and Toure. After all, the chances of him getting injured were small, and he could get injured training or getting out of the shower.

Having said that, he’s probably got a really fancy shower, the type you walk in and out of quite easily. Anyway, as soon as we all saw his name on the team sheet, there was a collective wince, as sod’s law came into play. And so it proved, and suddenly a derby game we all thought would be a walkover a fortnight ago is turning into a nightmare scenario and the negativity amongst City fans is almost unparalleled. As I write I don’t know the extent of the injury, but it doesn’t look good for Sunday. The plan backfired spectacularly, he didn’t even get to contribute during the match and Toure has a knock too, and despite his underwhelming season, Sunday could be made for him.

As for the performance, it was quite simply terrible. Barely a single player on the pitch came out with any credit at all, which is extremely worrying. Were they all so preoccupied with the next league match? Whilst the inclusion of Jovetic did not make it a traditional 4-4-2, whatever the shape was it didn’t work once again. The team was sloppy, slow, lethargic, made mistakes when pressed and was prone to the counterattack. It seems teams are working us out.

And this against a team with six changes from the victory at White Hart Lane. There was no thrilling second-half comeback from City, and whilst we might bemoan the late misses from Dzeko and Nasri, which were poor, Caballero prevented us from being two down at half-time and Newcastle clearly should have had a penalty and Kolarov a red card in the second half – the penalty couldn’t have been much clearer to be honest.

I could go through all the team shaking my head as I type, but you know it all anyway. Milner tried his hardest, but couldn’t impose himself on the match, Demichelis was probably the best of a bad bunch whilst Jovetic was lively but everything he tried failed. His shooting was wild, his final pass even wilder. His attempt at a moustache needs to go too.

As for the goals, a hesitant Fernandinho takes the blame for that one, caught in possession far too easily, though the route to goal was far too easy after that, Mangala once more passed by and Caballero nut-megged. The second goal saw pretty poor defending from the same two players as Sissoko breezed through the defence and scored with the keeper failing to make himself big – he was probably scared of being nut-megged once more so made his body compact, which didn’t help.

The worrying thing about the side right now is the clear lack of drive. I hate the word tempo, as it brings images of ex-players sitting in a studio using it as their only basis of analysis, but City certainly don’t have much of it right now. No pace, no cutting edge, no drive, no pressing – a bit melodramatic perhaps, but there’s little fire in the players’ bellies as far as I can see.

As for Pellegrini – I don’t lump all the blame for the performance on his shoulders this time as he put out a strong side and the team, in whatever formation, should have won that game at will. I can’t blame him when whichever Brazilian he plays in front of the defence messes up .Or for his left-backs going through terrible spells. Or Dzeko going through another lean spell. Or the terrible crosses that repeatedly left Kolarov’s boot, or Milners’ boot, or Nasri’s boot, or….

But in a way I do blame him. He’s running this team after all. He must be responsible for the malaise that hangs over this team. The fact is they haven’t played well since last season. For the second time, a City team is defending its title with a shrug of the shoulders. A seemingly good win against Liverpool turned out to be against a fading side. The win against Spurs was due to the brilliance of two players (three including Milner) and not a team effort. The win at Hull was shaky, the loss to Stoke appalling, and the less said about the Champions League the better. Still, at least the team broke some records in the second half against Sheffield Wednesday. Two of the better performances were against Arsenal and Chelsea, but neither were won and City had to salvage a point on both occasions. To complete the ignominy, Pellegrini has been “out-tacticed” this week by Sam Allardyce and the charmer that is Alan Pardew. If he completes the hat-trick against Van Gaal on Sunday, I suggest he goes into hibernation. Manchester City have now won only four of their last twelve matches – their worst run of form since 2009. The thing was that the team masked things for a while by just about picking up good enough results to keep in touch in all competitions and keep the mood satisfactory in a period of quite tricky fixtures, but the mask has fallen now.

The additional worry apart from a run of poor form is the position of Pellegrini. Yes the man who won two trophies last season – that guy. Many City fans are already talking like his position is in danger. None of us know, but I’d be surprised if our owners were really considering that. If a top four finish was under threat it might be different, but the poor form of other teams should not make that an issue, unless the malaise lingers into the depths of the winter.

Still, it’s like this every season at some point – it was the same last season, the season before, and the season before that, and we won the league on two of those occasions. Only later in the season will we be able to judge properly how the season is going (to state the obvious).

What annoys me more though is the utter demonization of two of the summer signings after a handful of games by (many of) our supporters. Willy Caballero has already been written off, he’s gone, by a good section of our support, despite the fact he was one of the best keepers in La Liga for many years, and despite the rather important fact that he’s hardly played for us yet. I’m not trying to say he’s playing well, from what little we’ve seen, he isn’t, it’s just that everything I knew about him before he arrived pointed to a top-class keeper. Don’t give up just yet. Mangala was poor again, though not the only one and is a clear scapegoat now. He is erratic, a terrible trait for a central defender, and is struggling to cope with the English game, and the price-tag hands over him, but again it is early days. I would presume he was extensively scouted, especially for that price, so let’s see how he develops – he has time on his side. My only worry is that a minority of fans will be on his back to the extent he never gets that chance – you only have to look to history, and to how the likes of Boateng and Savic have developed since leaving us to see how that tends to end up.

However, one of Pellegrini’s great strengths was how he improved players, so it is all the more baffling to see how many players have gone backwards this season. As I will mention later, Fernandinho is a ghost of the player he was last season, the performances of Yaya speak for themselves, and he probably takes the blame for that, but Dzeko is back to his worst, Zabaleta has even looked shaky as has Kompany and our left-backs are bang out of form.

And yet despite all this, Nastasic has been sent into exile for the heinous crime of not leaving the club in the summer. I simply don’t understand how a manager can decide he is a worse prospect than Boytata and dismiss him so ruthlessly. Two years ago this young man was the future of our defence. Football shows that a lot can change in a short space of time.

Back to Fernandinho briefly. Football365.com run a regular feature using whoscored.com statistics for player performances. On an article this week about players who have dipped in quality compared to last season, they said this: Fernandinho (Manchester City) – 7.41 to 6.65

While it’s Toure that has come in for criticism for letting his standards slip for Pellegrini’s side this season, the form of Fernandinho has been somewhat overlooked. One of a number of players likely to be haunted by his part in Brazil’s collapse at the hands of Germany, the midfielder has looked a shadow of his best and fallen out of favour to compatriot Fernando. At this stage in the previous campaign Fernandinho had a rating of 7.41, also his rating come the end of the season too.

And so onto the next game, whatever that is. Derby day is horrible, but it can bring one huge plus – win against United and the season will be back up and running immediately. Apparently the team were locked in the dressing room after the West Ham match as an inquest was held and stories soon emerged that the players were hurting and want to put it right against United. It’s just a shame that they forgot there was another game before then.

We can laugh at United not having midweek games, but at least none of their players will get injured in derby week (tries to tempt fate). At this rate we’ll be joining them soon anyway.

West Ham United 2 Manchester City 1: The Wrong Formation & A Shaky Defence Costs City Dear

Oh dear.  A lifeless, lethargic performance saw City fall to a rare away defeat, as Chelsea’s advantage in the title race widened.

With a fairly tough opening fixture list, this was one of the first opportunities for City to lessen the gap at the top of the table, as City start a period of “easier” fixtures after the Derby next week.

Of course, this visit to West Ham was always going to be tougher than usual.  Sam Allardyce has finally thrown off the shackles and put together an exciting and resilient side.  This was 4th v 2nd.

But yet again the team was announced and my heart sank.  I felt the game was made for James Milner and not made for Jesus Navas, yet Navas got the nod,
More worryingly, Pellegrini once more opted for two upfront.

City actually started quite well, knocking the ball around nicely and getting into some good positions without delivering the killer ball.  However, once Mangala was easily beaten for pace and the ball steeped in the net despite an element of offside, the defence fell to pieces.

The defending once more verged on the shambolic for the following fifteen minutes as City panicked and could not keep hold of the ball. Eventually, it became a case of surviving until half-time when hopefully the manager changed things around. City did survive, though there were spurned chances for West Ham, none more so when Downing headed over after a poor defensive header from Zabaleta. Whilst that period of domination could never be maintained by the Hammers, they continued to threaten throughout the game.

And so to the second half and eventually changes were made. City pressed, created more chances and the shape seemed better with Dzeko off the pitch and Jovetic on, but chances were not taken, Aguero especially guilty of spurning two chances in front of goal, whilst Toure smacked the bar.

Those misses were costly. The second goal was all too easy, as a free header was presented to Sakho with little resistance from Clichy at the far post, and he made no mistake despite Hart’s excellent attempt to keep the ball out.

It was soon back to a single goal deficit after Silva’s beautiful goal, making you wonder yet again why he doesn’t shoot more often. It was a magnificent series of skills from the moment he picked up the ball.
After that Jovetic forced an excellent save, but it wasn’t to be, and City could have few complaints.

Aguero is a case study in the downside of hyping up a player, as the world celebrated his genius after a four-goal haul last week.  Since then,  he has had a nightmare,  and his miss from 6 yards out at 1-0 down was not only terrible,  but a game – changer. He still magnificent of course, the greatest striker I have seen, his goal haul ridiculous, but boy did we miss his lethal finishing yesterday.

Worse news could follow though.  A media campaign could slowly be rumbling into motion over whether Aguero should note face a three match ban for a stamp on Noble.  Aguero should not receive a ban for one simple reason – namely that the referee was clearly looking straight at the incident, so cannot claim not to have seen it.  Thus, that should be the end of the matter.  Ignoring the rules though, and he is a lucky boy, just as he was when he did something similar to David Luiz.  Slo-mo makes it look worse than it is, but if he had been sent off I couldn’t really complain. No doubt the incident will receive extensive coverage throughout the week with a Derby on the horizon. #paranoid

I always shy away from criticising a manager’s tactical set-up or formation as how could I know a tenth of what he does? However, it is time to break ranks, because when virtually every City fan is singing from the same hymn sheet, you begin to think you may have a point.

Pellegrini cannot be blamed for Zabaleta having a bad day or Clichy for having an even worse one, and whilst Yaya will once more attract more criticism I think he did alright (though not brilliantly, which is what we all pine for), but he can be criticised for playing Silva out wide again where he is less effective, or for playing two upfront when it keeps costing us points (which is linked to Silva having to play out wide as a result), or not reacting quickly enough when things aren’t going well. Dzeko offered little, and there was once more far too much room in midfield for the opposition to exploit and Fernando was not up to protecting the defence sufficiently.

4-4-2 is not a flawed formation in itself, I just don’t think we have the personnel to utilise it, especially away from home and in Europe, especially when Yaya is in the team, as he always is. Fernando is not up to scratch after his injury (I am confident he will be fine in the long term), and yet the likes of Fernandinho have been side-lined after such a wonderful debut season.

What’s more, it was blindingly obvious that changes were needed at half-time.  So why do so many managers wait ten minutes before making substitutions? It makes no sense – there was no reason why a stern talking to at half time would suddenly make a disjointed formation suddenly sparkle after the break.
Pellegrini knows the score, he can see what is happening, so this all perplexes me. He is either stubborn or believes the system will win through and be a winning whoever the opposition is. I see no evidence of this ever being the case.

Still, credit where credit is due – West Ham were excellent, and sometimes it’s not all about finding blame but accepting that the opposition played well.

The poor showing of Clichy has confirmed what I have felt for some time – City should be on the market for a quality left-back in the next year. The resurrection of Kolarov has made it less of an issue, but neither he nor Clichy are top-class, as it is a weak area of the team for me. Clichy has not let City down much during his time at the club, but has never really excelled either.

As for Mangala. Another nervy first-half showing, as characterised by the first goal, he will have the knives out for him again.  Mangala is well aware of the difficulties of adjusting to English football (and has spoken on the matter), but we need to decide on a centre-half pairing and stick with it to try and stop the leaks in the defence. Having spent £32m on Mangala, and with a favourable run of games approaching, it makes sense to me to stick with him and let him work his way into the team. Obviously a run of poor form cannot be ignored, but he hasn’t had a regular run in the team yet, as any defender needs in a new league – just see how across the road the likes of Vidic and Evra struggled before improving massively.

You don’t feel this Chelsea team has a collapse in them, but the season has six months to run and City have that very agreeable set of fixtures coming up. All they can do now is regroup and start a good run.

I won’t give any credence to #pellegriniout mentions on Twitter, as a quick search shows most people seem to be using it to moan about other people using it, but either way it deserves little coverage. For as long as I have known there have been fans calling for the manager’s head. The sense of entitlement has never been greater.

And so to a difficult afternoon wanting United to win (a draw would do) and Pellegrini’s tough choice of picking a team for the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night in a competition that matters, as last season showed, but with a big game looming.

Maybe City are destined to have one good season then one bad one. I’d probably settle for that, to be honest….

CSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Some Thoughts

ARRRRGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

The strangest of games at the strangest of times, it ended up being another frustrating afternoon/evening as City stumbled in the world’s most important club competition ™ once more.

A quick visit to the toilet at work from which I never returned saw me positioned nicely in the pub for kick-off. The line-up was strong enough, with Pellegrini sticking to his guns with two upfront.

It’s hard to gauge how a player fires himself up for a game in an empty stadium, though as I’ll discuss later, the players didn’t have to in the end. A bumpy pitch, sub-zero temperatures that brought the gloves out (not for Milner, obviously) and a muted atmosphere (don’t say it) made for a unique experience.

CSKA had lost their six previous Champions League games, though behind closed doors Bayern also struggled at the venue, but they did win in the end, and the result is king.

CSKA looked lively early on, finding space that this formation allows the opposition, but with time City took control and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The second goal should have been disallowed for a Zabaleta offside in the build-up, but for once City got a break. After that of course the clear penalty was not given, the player not sent off, and the rest is history. Before the break, City players repeatedly got into good positions and should have put the game to bed, but consistently made wrong choices or miscontrolled the ball. Dzeko had one of those games where the ball often bounced off him, and he wasn’t alone.

And so to the second half, when it all went to pot. Few chances for either side if truth be told, but the team eased off, ambled around the pitch and paid the price.

A lot of criticism has been directed Pellegrini’s way for the 2nd half showing. Personally I think the players should take the brunt of the criticism for not coming out with the right attitude and commitment to finish the job. They shouldn’t need a Braveheart type speech at half-time to keep them going and short of Pellegrini spiking their half-time cuppa I don’t see how he has caused the rot to sink in. However, he can be criticised for not reacting once City eased off and lost control of the match. Eventually he did react, though his substitutions didn’t really work, and perhaps it was too late. City needed to gain hold of the midfield and with a lead restrict the opposition – perhaps blame for Pellegrini also lies in sending out a team that didn’t have clear instructions on how to protect its lead. Go for more goals or sit back and kill the game? City did neither.
Whatever, the manager and players must take collective responsibility for our continued failure to prosper in the competition. As I have alluded previously in blogs, it is a concern to me that such continued failure results in managerial changes. I want to see a manager build a dynasty at the Etihad, and I’d like him to be a Chilean with bloodshot eyes. Many of us might not care too much about the Champions League, but our owners do.

The penalty needs little discussion, one of the worst decisions I have seen, since Micah Richard’s penalty concession in the League Cup semi-final at Anfield. But having mentioned that we got a break for the second goal, perhaps we cannot complain too much. What’s more, without the ridiculous fannying about by Yaya Toure in the lead-up, we wouldn’t have a controversy to discuss.

Oh, and if you think UEFA/Michel Platini is telling referees to give decisions against City, I suggest you seek professional help.

As ever, fine lines. If that penalty had not been given and the game had fizzled out, we’d be celebrating a win, irrelevant of the level of performance. If we had got that penalty at Bayern (and scored it), then we’d be sitting pretty in the league. City deserve plenty of criticism in recent years in the competition, for too often they have failed to perform, but for all that, apart from the second goal last night, we really haven’t had many breaks either, from the moment the staged draw commenced. But, as already mentioned, we could just play better and then it wouldn’t be an issue.

The big question for me regarding Champions League games is where does the intensity of many a league game go? It was gone from Aguero, predictably absent from Yaya, and even the likes of Milner and Silva.

crowdcska

And so to CSKA’s punishment. For racial abuse, their punishment is to get 500 fans into the ground using UEFA partner tickets, whilst for City fans permission is not even granted to go near the stadium. Well done UEFA once more for dealing decisively with the big issues. An utter joke and whilst it had no bearing on the result, I understand why City have complained and why Vincent Kompany was so incensed after the match. He of course needs to take responsibility for the performance itself, which he mentioned more than once in his interview, though other City fans think he should stick to talking about football as captain rather than being a figurehead for the club. He’s not your average captain though.

When it boils down to it, the feeling persists that even if City had comfortably won last night, the team isn’t set up yet to challenge for the Champions League trophy, and last night makes little difference in the scheme of things. It will come, one day, but it could be some way off. City could have blazed a trail through the competition in recent years, reaching the semi-final each year and the end result would still be the same, our wallets perhaps a little lighter. Perhaps that’s part of the reason the league and domestic cups still mean more to me – they actually seem highly winnable, as the team have demonstrated in recent years.

So City will comfortably win the return the return leg, in front of what will hopefully be a large crowd. Bayern’s thrashing of Roma has done us a favour. The table goes off head-to-head then goal difference, so after the next round of games we may sit in a qualification position, but that hardly tells the story with two tough games left. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but I get the feeling City will travel to Rome needing to win to qualify – that’s entirely “doable”, bit it will require a distinct change of mentality.

Then we’ll draw Real Madrid in the knockout stage.

 

Manchester City 4 Tottenham 1: Some Thoughts

So, where do you start with THAT?!

Facing City’s whipping boys in recent years, it was imperative that City didn’t let an ill-timed international break (aren’t they all?) disrupt their run as it was fairly obvious Chelsea would triumph later in the day so there is little room for error right now. With City victorious in six of the seven previous meetings between the two sides and Spurs in average form, there was much to be optimistic about.

With players flying around the world in the previous week and Mangala already ruled out (with Nasri) it was always going to be a slightly weaker team than normal, especially as Toure was named on the bench as many suspected. Zabaleta was left out altogether (too many chippy teas?) as Pellegrini took a few risks with thoughts of the Champions League clearly on his mind. The biggest surprise was the omission of Edin Dzeko, who scores for fun against Spurs, though the prospect of Silva behind Aguero was ample compensation.

The only thing for sure was that there would be plenty of goals – as predictable as the opposition fans singing “where were you when you were shit?”

In the end, it’s hard to dissect the game as there just isn’t enough time. Both defences had a day forget (with the odd exception of course) and at times the match resembled a training match – there was shambolic passing, sloppiness throughout the two teams but always a real attacking intent from both sides. Even David Silva shinned the ball behind for a goal-kick at one point, and it wasn’t his greatest 90 minutes. It could have been 8-4 in the end, especially as Spurs were there for the taking in the last 20 minutes as City cruised over the finish line.

Credit to Tottenham, who with their high line and no shortage of skilful players in their team, posed City all manner of problems – we cannot attribute their threat simply down to poor play on City’s part. However, the international break, though it is not an excuse as it effects all the teams, certainly seemed to have taken its toll on quite a few players. Demichelis and Kompany were shaky, Fernando the worst player on the pitch. He may well have not been match-fit, but with the absence of Nasri and the travels of Yaya, perhaps Pellegrini’s hands had been tied.

There were three stand-out performances in the end. Joe Hart was of course the first. Some of the saves were hit at him but he can only save what comes his way and the point is that with crucial saves at 0-0 and at 2-1, some of his saves may well have been game-changers. If Soldado had scored his penalty, then City’s chances of retaining their premiership crown may have slipped further away.  I still wish he’d stop kicking the ball long though.

Then there was James Milner, a man re-born. Let’s hope he signs that new contract, because he has shown everyone his worth this season. Full of industry, guile and no little skill, he was crucial to the win as others around him floundered- it’s just a shame he didn’t quite get the goal his game merited, striking the post late on.  Roma have been linked with the player, but as that particular exclusive came from the pen of Jeremy Cross at The Star, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep, a man who displayed to the nation the standard of journalism from a select few in England with a cretinous Sunday Supplement performance.

And then of course there was Sergio Aguero, who now becomes City’s top scorer in the Premier League. A pointless stat, as football actually existed before 1992, but his worth cannot be doubted. He has been carefully eased into the season and taken on extra gym work to avoid the injuries that have marred previous seasons, and the merit of a fully-fit Kun is clear for the world to see. To be honest, he could have had eight goals. With better finishing, better passes from teammates and a bit of luck who knows what he could have achieved? The opposition defence played into his hand with the space they afforded him and their high line and they did not know how to handle him – every time he got the ball you felt something wonderful may happen.  As it turned out, the fourth goal took a helpful small deflection off Vertonghen’s toe, and the first could have been disallowed because of an offside Lampard jumping out of the way, but nevertheless at times it seemed all too easy for Aguero – let’s pray he can keep his fitness this season, as he has only featured 60% of the time so far.

Elsewhere, the full-backs did fine without excelling, though Spurs seemed to threaten far more down Clichy’s side. Others weren’t at their best and Navas was both exhilarating and frustrating in equal measures, as is often the case. I love the guy, and he excites more than most, but you do still feel he is capable of more – I’d love to see him take on his man more, but he offered plenty anyway. Lampard too was playing well before his unfortunate injury – let’s hope it is not too serious for the surprise package of the season (in that I didn’t think he would feature much).

As for the penalties – City’s first was soft, and probably a penalty in the modern game as there was contact on Lampard. I wouldn’t have moaned much if it hadn’t been given though, and whilst modern rules probably point to a penalty, I really wish they didn’t.
The second penalty was nailed-on.
The Tottenham penalty was a terrible call by the referee. It was a soft contact again on Soldado by Demichelis, perhaps slightly tapping him, but if you give Lampard’s you give that. What is beyond doubt though is that it was outside the area and should have been a free-kick.
The final penalty was also nailed-on. The only debate is whether a red card was merited as it is hard to judge when the fouled player is not in possession of the ball – however replays suggest Aguero was definitely going to get on the end of the Navas cross, so it seems to have been the correct decision.
There was also a penalty claim against a Sagna handball, but as it was hit at him from two yards, it clearly wasn’t a spot-kick offence.

Another master-class from Balotelli this weekend – and to think some fans wanted him back at City.

A few words away from the match, about the only remotely controversial occurrence during a dour international break.  Raheem Sterling dared tell his international manager that he was tired, as any player should do rather than hide such things, then all hell broke loose. Sterling is a teenager who has played nine games in a month and needs to be nurtured like any player through a busy schedule otherwise he risks injury, burn-out and as anyone should know, a player’s performance diminishes when he is not in peak performance, so a manager needs to know the condition of his squad. Athletes, amazingly, are allowed to get tired. Even more amazingly, and this may shock you, the size of a pay packet does not affect how tired players get. Amazing, I know. Sterling did not ask to be dropped, but merely informed his manager of his condition. There is no story, but of course there has to be a story all the time for some of our press and especially during the tedium of an international break when pages need to be filled, and hits need to be obtained. What was most telling though was the reminder of what a bleak, soul-sapping place Twitter can be sometimes, as some pea-brained individuals somehow thought it appropriate to compare Sterling’s situation to that of soldiers, who of course never get a day off because they are tired. If I need to explain to you why the two situations are completely different then I feel sorry for you. I even feel pity. Sterling learnt the hard way that it never pays to be honest and Roy Hodgson is learning the same by being open about what goes on in his squad – clearly his best option next time would be to lie. Or pick an unfit Sterling then get slated when he gets injured. Hiding to nothing hashtag……

And talking of the need to moan about anything, having recently discussed the extortionate cost of modern football, City have announced a buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for the CSKA Moscow game. Bravo! What’s not to love about that, half price tickets! Oh no, hang on, this is actually a bad thing, because those who have bought tickets aren’t happy because they hadn’t actually bothered to check out the terms of the deal. It would have been easier to have announced this from the start and this may be a reaction to poor ticket sales for the game (in fact I am sure it is), but existing ticket holders can get extra free tickets, so a champions league game is essentially £12.50 to watch. And yet, and yet – somewhere on the internet, right now, a United fan is typing a tweet saying “Ha ha Citeh bitter’s support so poor they have to give tickets away!! #jokeclub # councilhouse # smallclub #nohistory”

The misplaced apostrophe was deliberate.

And so onto the bizarre experience of a match in an empty stadium – who knows what effect this will have on the players, though in theory it should be more of an advantage to City. My own theory is it will lead to many goals.

Please god don’t let the “Mozart” nickname take off for Aguero. Alvaro Negredo left the country to escape his nickname, let’s not drive another striker back to Spain.

Manchester City 1 Roma 1: Some Thoughts – Apathy, Atmosphere, Attendances and Rio

Ah, here we go again. Another scraped draw at home to a resurgent “lower pot” European side that helped explain the vitriol that followed from many afterwards – not because of the performance in itself, but because we’ve been here before and don’t seem to be learning.

The team-sheet is impossible to predict nowadays. Navas started wide and Demichelis returned ahead of Mangala. City went with two upfront and that’s when the anxiety kicked in.

City started well, with a clear penalty won by Aguero, as he was tugged as a cross came in. Should it have been a red for City reject Maicon? Well even with a replay on a loop I am not sure, so am not going to criticise the referee for this one. Aguero would probably have got to the ball, but I am not convinced that he would have got a clean shot away, which would thus make it a goal-scoring opportunity and a clear red. To be honest, that early in the game, the referee probably would rather look the other way, however strong the argument. I’m not sure he even gave the penalty anyway, so there was little chance of a red if he had to be alerted to a tug. It does beg the question why he gave a yellow then – a cop-out punishment in many respects.

Unfortunately, the early goal was not a spur to push on, as Roma increasingly threatened and Maicon almost made amends for the penalty by rattling a shot against the bar when he should have scored. City’s formation was all wrong and a pacey counter-attacking Roma side were passing the ball superbly, their movement creating gaps across the pitch. Some brilliant movement that dragged City players out of position saw a deserved equaliser for the visitors, though if Hart hadn’t slipped he may have got to the ball first. Either way, it was poor defending from City’s centre halves, especially Kompany in my opinion. A man almost as old as me (almost) had half the pitch to find space in.

As for the penalty appeal for handball, it was accidental for me, but with a hand in an unnatural position, it could easily have been given. Such a grey area, but it wasn’t given in the 1999 play-off final so we’ll have to let this go too.

Once more arguments rage about formations. I’m no expert to say the least on this topic so I enter the fray warily, and yet to me it seems quite clear that City surely suffered once more with two players upfront. Dzeko toiled and was unlucky to be withdrawn, but City appeared to be (partially) overrun in midfield once more at home in the Champions League. Formations can be fluid of course and Bayern Munich showed that a 4-4-2 can be highly effective when disposing of Barcelona a couple of years back, and the formation helps when a striker falls back into midfield to help cover, but for me City’s formation was all wrong last night. If Fernando was fit then no doubt he would have started and we may have seen a different formation but surely other players can cover that role and we can’t be relying on one summer acquisition to make our European tactics work.

But it is the stubbornness of Pellegrini to persist with 4-4-2 that grates. This is not the first time that Fernandinho and Yaya Toure have been outnumbered by three opposition midfielders and the team have suffered as a result. I’ll talk about Yaya later (yippee), but he wasn’t helped by the formation – no one was. In addition, with Silva on the left, a player who does not defend, it not only meant another player not in his best position (though he created more chances than any other player on either team on the night), but left the area behind him exposed.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Should Demichelis have started against Hull and Mangala’s pace be used against Roma, should Navas have come on a sub rather than starting and Milner started as an extra body in midfield rather than coming on as a substitute to shore up a porous midfield?

Yes.

In the 2nd half there was much greater parity as City had more men in the midfield. Pellegrini tried to correct his mistakes and City had the numbers to press forward more whilst restricting Roma to the odd hairy moment but little else. City lacked ideas or imagination though, even when Roma ran out of steam and were clearly looking for a draw as the game entered its closing stages. Time and time again we tried to pass our way into the goal when perhaps a more direct approach, and some variety, a Plan B, was desperately needed.

So what of Pellegrini’s comments that the formation was not at fault? Anything a manager says should be taken with a pinch of salt of course, he is hardly going to admit that he got it all wrong, and he was right that the passing was very sloppy at times, but surely that was at least partly due to the formation? If he truly thinks the formation was fine, that’s worrying. City need a different approach to European games. One clean sheet in 16 Champions League games tells its own story.

City have had difficult groups and the one time we didn’t we qualified with ease, but it’s difficult for everyone else too and Roma don’t seem to have suffered too much and nor did Borussia Dortmund or Napoli. We have to get on with it and believe we belong otherwise we will never progress. Other teams have taken years to grow into this competition, especially English ones, but others seem to take to it easily enough (without winning the thing) and PSG seem to have settled in nicely with their expensive acquisitions. Could it really be the case that this team of repeated champions is not that good really when against the real cream of the crop? Just how good are they, or is it all tactics? I don’t have the answers. Roma are a great side who dropped points for the first time last night, but they are not European giants and had a goalkeeper, 2 centre backs, Strootman and De Rossi out – we should be looking to dominate games like this and be winning.

Still, a ridiculous level of pessimism after the game. The campaign is far from over, and there is plenty to play for. Maddening that I have to point this out really – we didn’t lose last night by the way.

And with the heaviest of hearts we turn to the same old topics of conversation. Let’s get Yaya Toure out of the way first. He wasn’t the worst player on the pitch, he was neither brilliant nor a liability. He was sloppy at times, but he was not the only one. The thing is, whilst some want him dropped because they think he is literally strolling around the pitch, he hasn’t been terrible in recent weeks, he just hasn’t reached the great heights of last season, and is nowhere near those heights. Other players get rotated, so I see little reason why he should get special treatment. Drop him for a game, not because he is terrible, but because he is no different to anyone else.

My heart gets even heavier – we move on to the atmosphere. It was poor, even with the help of an early goal to raise the spirits. There’s just no other way to say it really – a large swathe of Manchester City fans just don’t care about the Champions League right now, never have if truth be told. Apologies for not falling for all the hype, apologies for the guy on twitter that ranted at us for praying for moments like this for decades and then not embracing such magical nights, but I simply cannot help how I feel, and how others clearly feel. Roma at home should be a magical night, but for many there’s just a shrug of the shoulders. The atmosphere is linked to the next topic I will discuss, but that’s just part of the problem. English grounds are gentrified on the whole nowadays anyway (at least at the top level) and there’s little you can do to change that except by greatly reducing prices and introducing terracing. Don’t hold your breath. A group stage in the competition is also a big hindrance – if tonight had been the first leg of the knockout stage, the atmosphere would have been a tad livelier. As it is, there’s four more games to try and turn this round.

I’ve said it before, but my theory is thus: we’ve had success thrust upon us that we thought would never be experienced and the success has been domestic and this still captivates us. A ridiculous bent organisation overseeing the game, rules fixed to suit the status quo epitomised by biased draws and ridiculous financial restrictions have resulted in some fans just giving up with it all. Which leads us to….

It’s a vicious circle though. A full crowd makes for an atmosphere that fires up the players perhaps. A good team performance fires up the crowd. Empty seats and silence fires up the away side, who are hardly intimidated by the occasion.

Whilst our apathy to the competition is one thing, the more worrying aspect for me is the effect it has elsewhere. However much joy we get from domestic success, it has to be admitted, the natural growth of the club now should be to experience European success, and the owners will certainly see it this way. Failure in Europe puts Pellegrini’s job in jeopardy at some point. I really want to see a manager stay here for a long time, especially this charming man.

And now my heart is heavier than an elephant’s. Time to discuss attendances. Nowadays, the endless tools that frequent social media sites make venturing on there after anything less than an emphatic victory a soul-sapping, demoralising experience that makes you wonder why you even got up that day and why people have reduced themselves, as adults, to using the number of people at a football match as a form of criticism, along with “history” or income streams. Just think, you’re an adult, you run a twitter account with 12,000 followers and you think you’re being funny by joking that City fans must be torn right now because Chelsea are doing well. Just think what sad specimen of a human being is sitting at home in his under crackers typing that with a chuckle, thinking how he has got one over City fans or excited about the bile he will manage to elicit, before commenting that the Etihad is only full for One Direction gigs. Almost as sad as spending half the week writing blogs that no one reads.

Which brings us to Rio Ferdinand. Apart from the fact that Ferdinand is little more than a gurning amoeba, his comment questioning why city are expanding the stadium when they can’t fill the existing allocation revolves around the obsession that fans have that STADIUMS MUST BE FULL AT ALL TIMES.  AT ALL TIMES. What’s more, a fan’s team filling a stadium is somehow seen as a thing of pride, something a fan can somehow take credit for.

As Ferdinand’s two brain cells bump around his empty head like two angry wasps trapped under a pint glass, he won’t comprehend the fact that maybe, JUST MAYBE, City’s owners are planning for the long-term future of the club, as shown perhaps by the soon-to-open £200m campus, by delivering a world-class stadium that will stand the test of time, and maybe, JUST MAYBE, they won’t call a halt to the construction work because of a few empty seats at a Champions League game. Just maybe. This is because they understand the concept of business and the need for a top-class infrastructure and facilities throughout the club that can deal with whatever the club faces in the future, as opposed to, say, leeching the club for half a billion pounds to prop up failing shopping mall businesses in their home country, to name a hypothetical example that probably does not exist anywhere, no siree.. That’s my theory anyway.

Of course part of the reason for the expansion is to provide a raft of cheaper season ticket prices starting from £299 but I wouldn’t expect gurning amoebas to grasp the minutiae of that either. There is a long waiting list who have placed deposits down to try and get these seats, so selling out the new seats is not an issue – it’s pricing the rest of the stadium appropriately that is the issue. Champions League ticket prices were quite competitively priced all things considered, but for many it is still too much.

The fact is, City don’t have as many fans as other big clubs. Whatever the reasons, it’s irrelevant – I wouldn’t lord it over a Rochdale fan because my club has more fans. I’d actually respect him more for following Rochdale, to be honest. It’s staggering that I have to point this out, but the number of fans that your club has, in front of TVs or in the ground, is not something for any fan to brag about. Any serious fan would see the empty seats and rather than mock realise that another nail in the coffin of modern football is slowly being hammered in. City fans, in increasing numbers, are making difficult choices. It’s a club supported by a large swathe of working-class fans who have come through a recession whilst prices continue to rise, and sacrifices are being made. For me it was the Capital One Cup – I will not go to that, as I simply can no longer afford to go to every City home game (the away games have long gone, which is even sadder in a way, Champions League away games are but a misty-eyed dream for me). For others, the Champions League will be the one to go, perhaps along with other stuff. Premier League attendances remain constant (whatever schoolboys may say on the internet, we sell out league games) because having a season ticket it still the important thing for many of us that have been watching this wonderful team through thin and thin and finally a bit of thick for many decades. It’s the one thing we hold onto. We hang onto that, for now, but some are already giving that up. It seems madness to give up on your team as they reach their greatest heights, but this is not a protest at Manchester City, it’s a protest at all the clubs and all of its owners, it’s a protest against modern football. The thrill is going, and in Manchester City’s time in the Champions League, it was never there in the first place. Supporters are customers now, an income source, and that’s the way it is, and has been for a while. One day the bubble will burst, but not in the foreseeable future.

The crux of the problem lies in Cup competitions then and the club need to realise the importance of pricing cup games correctly, otherwise we get the situation of full houses to watch Watford in the FA Cup but swathes of empty seats to watch Roma in the Champions League. Or maybe the apathy shows that we think the FA Cup trumps the Champions League. Those trips to Wembley are some of the greatest moments of our recent resurgence, days that will be treasured forever. The magic of the FA Cup remains. The ridiculous thing is we could drop into the Europa League, sell tickets for £15 for a game against someone like Schalke and the place would be rocking.

And who benefits most from these ever-rising ticket prices? Players like Rio Ferdinand, who even when his performances resemble that of a man staggering home from the pub with his pants down by his ankles still gets a plump new contract from his mate Harry “honest-as-the-day-is-long” Redknapp. Hell in a handcart. Ferdinand is a buffoon who craves a cheap shot at City, but what his comments show more than anything, from a multi-millionaire who never has to worry about where his next meal may come from or if his electricity will be cut off tomorrow is the staggering disconnect between many modern footballers and the average fan. I’m not sure it’s possible for people like Ferdinand to be more out of touch with reality.

So the ridiculous format now sees a double-header, for reasons that escape me, against CSKA Moscow. Qualification is still well within our grasp, so six points off the Russians will do for a start, thanks.

Still, we should be thankful – for all of Ferdinand’s faults, he can do no harm by spouting his thoughts on a Twitter account. It’s not as if he has any influence in shaping this game we love. Oh, hang on….

rio