Manchester City Mid-Term Squad Scores

Joe Hart – 8

I’ve always liked Joe Hart, but there’s always been that nagging feeling that he isn’t quite good enough to be in a world-class team. Anyway, when his stock is low, he always responds, and this season he has done just that. He hasn’t been perfect (what keeper is?), but there is no discussion of who the number one goalkeeper is at the club, which says it all. His distribution is still awful, but he has knuckled down and is a dependable guard behind the back four. Recent performances have been crucial in City’s good run, and the team were beginning to build up league clean sheets, crucial for any title push. However, a wobble over Xmas has seen him lose half a mark.

Willy Caballero – 4

Many would argue that Joe Hart is obviously the number one as the competition is as weak as ever. I say you’re all wrong. Having no life, I have watched plenty of La Liga games in recent years, and Caballero has been top class. The deal to bring him to City made perfect sense, seemed a bargain, and provided Joe Hart with real competition – in fact I am convinced that Pellegrini, knowing Caballero well, considered him as a possible future number 1 keeper. Anyway, that didn’t happen. Caballero has made a few appearances, hasn’t done very well (though not as disastrously as some seem to think, who have decided a keeper they have rarely seen before is rubbish). Caballero is a great keeper, but so far it has clearly not worked out. With goalkeepers rarely injured or suspended, he may be regretting his move.

Gael Clichy – 7

A month ago I probably would have given him a 5. There was no doubt in my mind that City needed to buy a top-class left-back, especially after dodgy performances against CSKA Moscow and at West Ham, and I think we still will next summer, but Clichy has really risen to the occasion in the last few weeks in the absence of Kolarov, and he even got a goal. With all the injuries City are carrying at the moment, his good form has been crucial, so I have scored him generously. I still don’t think he’s top class and doesn’t offer enough offensively, but right now he does alright by me.

Aleksander Kolarov – 6

The resurgence of Kolarov last season was one of the great surprises of recent years, but this season hasn’t really got going for him, not helped of course by an injury that has kept him out for many weeks. Back in the squad now, Clichy will need some rest over Xmas, so let’s hope we see the best of him again soon. Having said all that we saw a brilliant performance against Crystal Palace followed by an abomination against Burnley.

Vincent Kompany – 7

As I type, Kompany is on the verge of returning from the 74th injury of his career. The man known as the glass man at Hamburg is still prone to endless niggles, and so has never got a head of steam up this season. When he has played he has done many of the great things we expect of him, but there have also been aberrations. Not a perfect season so far.

Eliaquim Mangala – 7

A roller coaster ride for a player who has been ridiculed by many for not instantly living up to his large price tag. A brilliant debut was followed by a horror-show at Hull and nervy moments and aberrations persist, but with playing time he has slowly grown into his role, to the point that I am happy to see him in the team. There is still work to do, but sometimes players take time to settle into a new country, league and style of play. Then there was the “bull in a china shop” display against Burnley, but few came out of that game with praise.

Martin Demichelis – 8.5

For Managala, see Demichelis a year ago. Demichelis is the classic example of not making knee-jerk reactions about players and giving them a chance. Since his resurgence, Demichelis has become the consummate professional. An experienced, wise-head, he goes about his business effectively and calmly. A great purchase last season and an important part of the team.

Pablo Zabaleta – 7.5

I want to give him 10 because, well, he’s Pablo Zabaleta. However, it hasn’t been the best season for Zabaleta, with the odd off-colour performance, though he hasn’t been helped at times by not being supported down the right flank. Still, we saw in Rome what he brings to the team and what City means to him and what he means to us. He’s added goals to his game too in recent weeks, and there’s so much more to come from a club legend, including fatherhood it seems!

Bacary Sagna – 6.5

Sagna has not been bad as some have claimed, but has not really excelled either, though it is hard to as back-up. Good squad acquisition for free, but as an Arsenal player I remember him whipping in endless dangerous crosses, and we’ve seen little of that at City. Mostly solid, but nothing more so far.

Dedryck Boyata – 6.

Meh. Still here, because he’s homegrown. That’s all I’ve got.

Matija Nastastic

Missing, presumed dead.

Scott Sinclair – 10

Hasn’t put a foot wrong when on the pitch.

James Milner – 8.5

I pray that the rumoured new contract is signed soon, because Milner has been reborn this season having been given sufficient playing time. You all know what he brings to the team, qualities clearly invisible to numb-skulled England fans, and has been an important cog in the team this season, a reliable, hard-working, honest player with no little amount of skill – and of course extremely versatile. We need him to stay.

Samir Nasri – 8.5

My thoughts about Samir Nasri mirror quite closely those of Joe Hart – I’ve always had a nagging doubt as to whether he was quite good enough.  This season, I have thankfully had to eat my words. The day I write this, he set up the winner against Leicester, he has covered the huge whole left by David Silva’s injury, and of course was the key man in securing Champions League knockout stage qualification. Has quite simply been immense over recent months, and contributed more goals and assists than before too.

David Silva – 8

Again marked down a tad by simply being injured. Otherwise, you know the score – one of the most skilful players (if not the most skilful of all) I have had the honour to watch. If only he could shoot, he’d be untouchable, though he seems to manage it for Spain easily enough, and has thankfully made me eat some words in recent weeks, filling in the striker void with aplomb.

Yaya Toure – 7

It’s fair to say it’s been an eventful few months for last season’s main man. It needs repeating that he lost his younger brother in the summer, and you cannot calculate the devastating effect that can have on a person. In the early throes of the season, his performances were underwhelming, but he has certainly returned closer to the player we love in recent weeks. You still have to wonder if this is his last season at City, his desire to leave still there, but for now he is playing well, though not quite at his peak.

Frank Lampard – 8.5

Higher mark than those that have contributed more may seem illogical, but for his time on the pitch, his contribution is unmatched (with one exception). With no strikers on the pitch against Leicester, his contribution summed up what he has brought to City this season – far more than I could have imagined for a player in the twilight of his career. Six goals already For City and the intelligence, composure and sheer skill that he has possessed for well over a decade now is still there. Expect his loan period to be extended, as he wants to stay and we all want him to stay.

Fernandinho – 8.

Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup seemed to have had a lasting effect on Fernandinho.  Like his midfield partner in crime Yaya Toure, he started the season sluggishly, and hasn’t always featured. However, in recent weeks we have seen the player of last season and he has been imperious. With Fernando picked against Leicester, you could see how much the team missed his energy.

Fernando – 6.5.

One of the few disappointing features of the season so far for me. Fernando is there to screen the defence, he will not be up and down the pitch, but he hasn’t really got going yet, especially considering the glowing reviews that accompanied his move north. He hasn’t been bad, but hasn’t imposed himself either – hopefully there’s plenty more to come.

Jesus Navas – 7

Raised eyebrows aplenty at the score no doubt, but I have no time for the whingers who cannot see what this player brings to the team. If he really was playing so badly week-in week-out as some claim, do you really think Pellegrini would keep picking him? Yes, he can really frustrate, and with his pace you’d hope he skinned his man a bit more, but he has contributed plenty, works back and helps the defence with little praise, and stretches the opposition and keeps their full-backs often pinned back. An important squad player.

Stevan Jovetic – 6.5

It won’t have surprised you to hear that Jovetic had picked up an injury prior to the Leicester game. The biggest disappointment of the season for me, with fitness I expected to see a top performer, but you get the feeling he has almost too hard in matches. Little flicks and threaded passes haven’t come off, and he is yet to really get going, like others. Seemingly injury-prone too, his stop-start time at City continues, though he has shown enough class whilst on the pitch to suggest he can still be a huge success at City.

Sergio Aguero – 9

Almost 9.5. Almost. Sergio Aguero is not perfect – he has his off-days, he can be selfish (like any great striker) and of course he can be injured. Not marked down like other injury-prone players as his was more recent, his performances this season have been, at times, world-class. The greatest striker I’ve seen in the shirt, he is simply world-class, and it’s such a shame he picked up yet another injury with many a scoring record under threat. Under a new contract too and apparently not a fan of warm weather, he could be here a lot longer than I had anticipated, especially as he wants to win the Champions League with us (insert your own joke).

Edin Dzeko – 6.

A season that hasn’t really got going for Dzeko, and having come back from injury, he has immediately injured himself again, which will mean no more football in 2014. We all know that he tends to come into his own in the business-end of the season, so let’s hope for better times ahead as he is currently in his infuriating period, though things have just gone against him really.

Angel Pozo

Not really fair to score a player with such little playing time, Pozo has somewhat been thrown to the wolves in recent weeks due to key injuries. Time will tell on him as he hasn’t been allowed to display his strengths in his best position.

Manuel Pellegrini – 8.5

Despite winning 2 trophies in his debut season, it seems that for some Manuel cannot win. Like last season, City got off to a sluggish start, and the manager received much criticism, some of it justified, for his stubbornness in sticking to a 4-4-2 formation. Anyway, City will not be retaining the Capital One Cup after a lame display at home to Newcastle, but City qualified out of their Champions League group (somehow) and are now back on the heels of league leaders Chelsea.

2014 in Football: A Review – The Charming Man, Philosopher Rodgers and FIFA’s Crooks

So it’s goodbye to 2014, another action-packed year on and off the football field. It peaked as Manchester City overcame destiny, history, big flags, a ball-sucking Kop and Steven Gerrard to share the title with Liverpool. It also saw the Germans at their efficient best, leaving a whole country in mourning in the process.

January was cold and dark as it often tends to be, as Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City tied for the lead in the title race. Liverpool kept their counsel, for now. The teams jousted with each other through the coming two months, as Liverpool kept their counsel. Arsenal of course fell to pieces, as Liverpool kept their counsel.

AND THEN -they struck.

Yes, Liverpool swept all before them and went on a long winning run that confirmed the genius that is Brendan Rodgers, a run that put Liverpool right in the title race and even stirred up Gerry’s pacemaker. Destiny was calling, and it seemed it wanted its first Premier League trophy. In the end, all destiny got was the equivalent of a Blankety Blank chequebook and pen. Never mind, next year is definitely their year.

But first it briefly looked like it could even be Chelsea’s title to lose, but lose it they did with two capitulations at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. Liverpool just had to beat Manchester City to surely win that title, and they came through the sternest of tests. Their fans could start celebrating now – there was no way they could throw this away.

Then Chelsea came to town, still hungry for points.  Rodgers was calm before the match, and gave a stirring speech to his players:
“Players, gentlemen, Romans. I come before you not to mock, but to praise. This is your moment – THIS – is your perfect moment. Carpe diem. Think not what you can do for Liverpool fans, but think what they can do for you. It is a far, far better place that we are going to than we have been. Alas, poor Pellegrini, I knew him so well. “
Sadly, his stirring speech was in vain as Steven Gerrard slipped on his arse, and gave it to Demba Ba. Steve Gerrard, Gerrard. City did the business at Crystal Palace, and the title race swung back in their favour. The following week, Liverpool lost a 3-goal lead at Palace and football witnessed the most joyous image of the whole year, one that may never be beaten – Luis Suarez crying. It was beautiful beyond words.

gerrardslip

City won their two last games with ease and the title was theirs once more, and this time goal difference didn’t matter.  My season review book was out within the hour. Naturally, Brendan Rodgers won Manager of the Season- and they say you win nothing for finishing second. Liverpool fans (some of) committed the cardinal sin – they sang about winning the league before they had won the league. This is something that should not be practiced unless it is mathematically impossible to lose the league. I considered it acceptable to sing “championes” two minutes into injury time against West Ham.

But what a sad way for Alan Hansen to finish his job at Match of the Day. So, so sad.

The next day I somehow stowed aboard the 2nd parade bus, and thousands of people waved at me whilst wondering “who the **** is he?”. Sheikh Mansour even sorted the weather, and a great time was had by all.

Elsewhere, Alan Pardew applied the ‘Glasgow kiss’ to Hull’s David Meyler at the KC Stadium, having moved on from telling opposition managers to “shut your noise you old c***” or pushing over match officials. It was progress of sorts, I guess. Next on the “to do” list is not to lose against Sunderland, though it looks like he’ll be doing that at Crystal Palace. #babysteps

Away from the Premier League, Atletico Madrid secured a magnificent La Liga title with a draw against Barcelona, whilst FIFA continued their honourable stewardship of the global game, so nothing of interest to report on that front. Oh ok, maybe not, as we will see.

So onto the summer, which of course meant the World Cup, in the 2nd home of football, Brazil. England did what England do best, and exited with a whimper, though at least they could claim to have lasted longer than Spain.
With Harry “honest as a North Pole day is long” Redknapp spreading rumours that some players couldn’t even be bothered playing for their country, Ian Wright very sensibly suggested that each of those players should have to phone the parents of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to explain themselves. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that?!

“Hi, is that Mrs Smith?”
“Erm, yes..”
“Sorry to bother you, but this is Andros Townsend, I pulled out of an England friendly against Peru last year to be with my heavily-pregnant partner and I’d like to apologise profusely and explain my actions.”
“Right..erm..I’m not sure this is really relevant to me, and it’s not a good time to be honest….”
“Yes I appreciate that, but I think it a fitting punishment for my indiscretion that I explain to a complete stranger why I did what I did in full and I think it fitting I explain to someone currently grieving who has no interest in football whatsoever…”
“Yes, but now really isn’t a god time, we all need privacy right now..”
“I respect that, but let me take you back to my departure from the squad, at a time when…hello… Mrs Smith…hello…?”

The tournament started with a riot of goals and riots in the streets. Protests around social conditions were followed up with protests over Adrian Chiles’ presenting skills, which resulted in the studio being pelted with rocks. Welcome to our world, Brazil. Matters came to a head when Chiles presented a show in shorts and flip-flops, and the internet fell over.

Things weren’t much better elsewhere. Some executive had the bright idea of inviting Robbie Savage into the commentary box, where he had a tendency to shout a lot and sound exasperated at every missed pass. Then of course there was Phil Neville, who single-handedly sent a nation to sleep with his vocal cords. He did us all a favour as England succumbed to Italy and Uruguay, though they did secure a plucky draw against the behemoths Costa Rica.

The worst of the lot though, again, was Mark Lawrenson, who in the early days of the tournament seemed to be residing under a canal bridge judging by his on-screen appearance. Eventually he got his s**t together, but once more Mark seemed rather inconvenienced at being paid handsomely to commentate on a match in the Maracana. To make matters worse, Jonathan Pearce struggled with the concept of goal-line technology, for some reason calling a goal proven to have crossed the line “a controversy” and we all pined for the days when he did Robot Wars.

FIFA themselves were embroiled in scandal, as is their natural state of existence – and as usual they swanned about the host country like royalty. Sepp Blatter was carried around in a sedan chair as specially chosen children from the favelas fanned him with gold-plated coconut leaves, whilst all the FIFA delegates relaxed in 5-star hotels, ate only the finest food and drank the finest wines known to humanity whilst taking advantage of the many spurious laws that FIFA impose during a world cup competition. These included:
•             Sepp Blatter to be addressed at all times as “your excellency”.
•             A masseur to follow three steps behind FIFA delegates at all times.
•             Budweiser to be the only alcoholic drink to be consumed by Brazilians during the month of June.
•             The FIFA logo to be projected by laser onto the moon for the duration of the competition.
•             Bendy hot-dogs branded illegal as they went against “the ethos and ideals” of the FIFA family.
•             Set times for tides.
•             A 75ft statue of Sepp Blatter to be erected outside the Maracana made entirely from hardened zero-fat cottage cheese.
•             All team kits to be one matching colour (oh hang on, that one’s true)

There was uproar on Mumsnet.

Brazil staggered onwards before having their pants pulled down by Germany, who eased off once six goals to the good. Sadly Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis were reduced to tears as Germany triumphed in the final.

suarezbite

The 2014 World Cup was also the year Luis Suarez tripped up and accidentally ate part of another player. Again.
Such a clumsy player.
Suarez explained what happened: “I was running at full pelt, intending to get on the end of a deep cross, when I stumbled, and soon found my mouth coming into contact with Chiellini’s body. As a man with a powerful and troublesome gag reflex, I immediately panicked. I immediately closed and opened my mouth repeatedly in an attempt to get air down my throat, and it was at this point that I sensed a chicken taste on my palette. My front teeth really hurt.
“Anyway, in Uruguay, biting a man’s shoulder is considered a sign of respect. Some of my favourite boots are black.”

FIFA had soon moved on to new scandals. Its awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was understandably still raising eyebrows, and the predictable stories of corruption, bribes and Sepp Blatter swatting it all aside soon emerged. Naturally they decided to investigate themselves, found no wrong doings and the lawyer hired to make the report quit because it has been doctored so much. Crooks, liars and thieves continue to run the global game, and it’s not funny really. Our only hope now is the FBI, who have smelt a rat, or a few million of them to be precise. Go team FBI!

The organisation officially became a parody of itself with the release of United Passions, a vomit-inducing room-spinning portrayal of those that run FIFA, propaganda that Joseph Goebbels would have struggled to match. Russian newspaper PRAVDA called the film “rather far-fetched”. The film cost £17m to make, and took £120,000 globally. More money well-spent by the keepers of our game.

The final straw though was the vote for the 2026 World Cup. They were as follows:
England – 2
The ancient city of Atlantis – 5
Mamis, one of Saturn’s inner moons – 8
Tim Roth – 26

Soon after, Jack Warner was announced as official travel agent for “all the Tim Roth family, and his associates”.

quenelle

The “quenelle”, which I assumed was mashed potato spooned into a fancy shape, became a gesture of great controversy. Arguments raged over the racist intent of various players, but the pertinent point that emerged from all of this was the reminder that some footballers are just really, really stupid. It was the death (que)knell for Nicholas Anelka and his facial hair’s English career (apologies for the pun – it won’t happen again).

Managerial changes were once more numerous during the close season. The biggest appointment was the arrival of Louis Van Gaal on our shores. His arrival was greeted by some journalists like the second coming, Ian Herbert laughing so hard at a Van Gaal put-down that his bladder split in two. Allegedly.
Herbert’s funniest moment of the year? This quote from Van Gaal: “I Think David De Gea is one of the team, so he is a goalkeeper, so he has to stop (the ball).”
Reminds me of Rossiter, Hancock or Sid James in their prime.

And then there was Wigan, and their chairman Dave Whelan. Little known fact – whilst researching this article I found in some old Rothman annual listings that Whelan once broke his leg in an FA Cup Final.
No really!
Anyway, as we all know, the older generations are a “bit racist” and Whelan put his foot in his mouth and decided to keep it there by first appointing a manager in Malky Mackay who was under investigation for comments made in private messages and then decided to try and outdo his manager with some lazy racial stereotyping of his own. It’s just banter though.

2014 though was the year of the chosen one. David Moyes was the unlikely successor to Alex Ferguson, and whilst it was somehow acceptable for his ballsy successor Louis Van Gaal to comment that Manchester United needed to be more like their noisy neighbours City, for Moyes it was the final straw, and soon after he fell on his sword, before seeking the move he’d always wanted anyway – Real Sociedad, in a climate more suited to his complexion. Moyes seemed overawed by the job at United, like the first form schoolboy asked to run the common room, finding out he had the job when visiting Ferguson’s home. Moyes wondered if he had dressed appropriately for the occasion. Everyone else wondered what strength wine Ferguson was sipping at the time.  Ryan Giggs took over as caretaker manager, an appointment tremendously popular with the playing squad, as it meant they knew where he was.

Ferguson’s band of not-so-merry men began to fall by the wayside. Roy Keane moved closer to his “Falling Down” moment, yet inexplicably continued to be employed in various posts. The beard got bigger, and angrier, and his high standards were predictably rarely met. Like the littlest, and most furious hobo, he never stayed for long in any one place.
For Roy Keane, down the road is where he’ll always be. Every stop he makes, he’ll make no new friends. He can’t stay for long – just turn around and he’s gone again.
Maybe tomorrow, he’ll want to settle down – until tomorrow, he’ll just keep moving on.

Steve Bruce ended the year wondering if Hull would ever win another game. The less said about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the better.

And so onto the current season, and Chelsea had the league officially wrapped up in early October, whilst Charlie Austin was the in-form English striker, a remarkable transformation for a man who only 8 years ago was delivering papers or working in a beetroot factory or something. Liverpool swapping Luis Suarez for Mario Balotelli mysteriously didn’t work out very well.

Yes, Mario Balotelli returned to our shores, and I battened down the hatches. Everything since has been utterly, utterly predictable, but some people JUST WON’T BE TOLD. Predictably, the media reported every fart, parking ticket or slightly wacky bobble-hat (and there were many, many wacky bobble-hats) and it was boring beyond belief. Just as predictably, Balotelli was of little use on the pitch, got suspended for a social media post, and Brendan Rogers wondered where it all went wrong. As we reach the New Year, we still eagerly await his first league goal.

Rodgers was bullish though: “Mario for me is not just a player. He is a giant amongst men, a revolutionary, an angel and a devil. He thinks in sections, and we like that in our players, he is part of our family, and it’s a unique family, the Liverpool family, like on Bread, but more of a family than that. The lad’s showed great character, even after those four consecutive red cards, and for me he has found his home here at Anfield, as we all have. All of us are on a magic carpet ride of development – our quest is relentless, as I cannot live a second without hope.”
Rogers’ utterances would be worthy of the great philosophers of the ages – Socrates, Descartes, Brand, Barton.
“I play Glen Johnson not because it is easy, but because it is hard,” he added.

By the end of the year, City and Chelsea both topped the table for points earned in the calendar year, but Chelsea had a three-point gap in the league table and went into 2015 as title favourites. And in the end City won the league, I met Tim Booth and finally changed my toilet seat. #holytrinity

Here’s to absent friends and a fascinating 2015.

 

Social Media/Online Highlights

‏@DickinsonTimes

If Henderson goes to the World Cup, I don’t see a place for James Milner. Not sure Italy and Uruguay will be on tenterhooks

Daily Mirror article: After Man City’s loss to Wigan, Mark Lawrenson wonders whether Manuel Pellegrini is actually that good a manager .
Pellegrini really does seem to have a blind spot with Demechelis. Every single time he plays he makes a mistake.
Sometimes he gets caught out, sometimes he doesn’t. But it is inexplicable that for all the money that they have at their disposal, City could not go out and buy a better quality centre-half.
Joleon Lescott must look at him and think: ‘What is going on here?’ because you would go with Lescott over Demechelis every day of the week.

Daily Mirror Article by Mark Lawrenson, May 12th: Manchester City’s title win vindicates decision to replace Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini.
“Whereas the Etihad was a madhouse under Roberto Mancini, it is a more calm, more serene place under Pellegrini and City’s decision to go for him has been vindicated.
“He also has the Capital One Cup in his locker so, all told, it has been a fine first season for him…. It has been brilliant management to keep all of his three strikers motivated and focused…”

Alan Hansen on Match of the Day; “When Steven Gerrard picks up that trophy..”
(youtu.be/0XiT7TE8dX4 )

Daily Mirror article: Dave Kidd on Manuel Pellegrini: He’s Nothing Special.
We’ve heard the question all season long from the red half of Manchester: Why did United appoint David Moyes when Jose Mourinho was available?
Pretty soon, the Blue Moonies at the Etihad will be asking: Why Manuel Pellegrini when City could have had the Special One?

Any team, even one as flamboyant and richly-assembled as City’s, is only as strong as its weakest link. And from Barcelona to Wigan, they all recognise that City’s is Martin Demichelis.
The Argentine’s blunders look to have cost the Mancunian Blues two trophies already and if Pellegrini continues to select him, he will scupper their title bid too.

Daily Mirror article: Liverpool aim to win this title in the most sporting way possible says Brendan Rodgers….

Jim White @jimw1  ·  Apr 21
Ryan Giggs/Gary Neville would be a managerial double act to revive Old Trafford…

ROB @1RobBeasley  ·  Apr 26
Jose has told Everton and spurs to forget about trying to sign Lukaku. He wants him back at Chelsea for pre-season.

James Maw @JamesMawFFT  ·  May 18
James Milner Rooneying his way to a £200k a week deal at City, who need to keep their home-grown quota up. What a world. Played, Jimbo.

Piers Morgan @piersmorgan  ·  Aug 2
My Premier League prediction: 1) Arsenal 2) Mercenaries City 3) Chelski 4) DisUnited 5) Spurs (as always)  6) Liver ‘not good enough’ pool.

Manchester City FC @MCFC  ·  May 11
93. THAT’S IT! CITY ARE CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND! #TOGETHER #MCFC

 

Manchester City v West Brom & Burnley | Match Thoughts From Last 2 Games as City Finally Stumble

And so we start at West Brom – it’s getting boring saying it every match, as if I am making excuses for performances (if not results), but at certain times of the season (if not all, to be honest), the result is king. As soon as the West Brom match finished, the team were already straight into preparations for the Burnley match, so it’s hard, and pointless, to delve into team performances at this time of year when it’s a case of surviving. Throw in a snow storm at the highest-altitude ground in the country, and three points was certainly all that mattered.

Not that the performance was bad – City’s team of midfielders were often majestic once more, but the defence allowed far too many chances to the home team, though many were presented after building up a three goal lead. As expected at this time of the year, the team was rotated, so the full backs were swapped and Fernando came in for Fernandinho. James Milner was given the non-existent forward spot once more.

Things couldn’t have gone better in the first half. A Foster spill, on a day England’s finest keepers would like to forget, presented Fernando with his first City goal, a lovely finish as he hooked it back into the goal. With a lack of strikers, City really are providing goals from all areas – come on Joe, it’s your turn now.

Silva was next to feature, a through-ball blocked by Lescott, but he ran onto the rebound and was fouled by the ex-City man. A clear penalty, the amount that Lescott got on the ball utterly irrelevant if he fouls the player. Yaya Toure doesn’t miss penalties, and it was 2-0. Then Silva stroked the ball into the net after Navas cut back the ball having been supplied by Fernando after a burst forward rarely seen from the player. Three up, it was all too easy.

After that, City rather eased off, which is understandable if not acceptable. Berahino had already shot wide early on and did so with a better opportunity whilst Gardner forced a great block from Hart, though he should have scored.

In the second half, as the snow got heavier and heavier and the more nervous of us worried about the prospect of the game being abandoned, it was clear City were protecting their lot and not over-exerting themselves. Lescott should have scored from a header, another good chance went wide, and then of course late on Hart ruined the prospect of another clean sheet by completely messing up a punch clear from a corner and the ball pinballed into the net. I guess on this occasion we can forgive him due to adverse weather conditions, and thankfully it didn’t prove costly, but I do wish he’d catch the ball occasionally.

Best player? It’s hard to look past Silva again, who ran the game, though a hat-tip should be reserved for Fernando for his role in two goals. The defence, as alluded earlier, did not have a great day, failing to track Berahino runs and struggling with set pieces. Again, snowy, cold, etc etc. They need to tighten up.

Still, a club-equalling record nine wins on the row in all competitions is something we almost take for granted – another week, another record broken – it’s an amazing achievement considering how the season was limping along ten games ago. The win against Swansea has started a run that has put City’s season right back on track, but the bar is set high nowadays so it must continue for quite a while of City want to compete for trophies this season.

————————————————-

And so onto Burnley, on a crisp and sunny day. As expected the full-backs were rotated, but Toure was injured, Jovetic remained on the bench and the two Ferns paired up again. Surprisingly, no place in the team still for Lampard.

The first half went as we had hoped. Burnley dangerous in patches but two excellent goals and some excellent passing giving the home team a nice two-goal lead. There’s always something especially gratifyin about a shot thundering in off the crossbar. With Chelsea drawing at Southampton, it meant City were in pole position to narrow the gap at the top to a single point.

And the the second half happened. The goal was offside, as we all know, thus quelling yet again the notion that City get the breaks. How the linesman could not see the offside and Boyd’s touch is beyond me, and even without the touch he had to be interfering with play. Some may blame Hart for the second successive game but he had the ball until it was deflected by Boyd so there are extenuating circumstances.

Whatever, City should have had the mental capacity and skill to move on and re-seize the initiative in the game. What followed instead was 45 minutes of park football. Unable to keep possession, string together meaningful attacks or curb the aerial threat from Burnley’s long balls, the equalizer could hardly be considered a surprise. Over the whole half City couldn’t muster a decent chance, with Nasri having one shot tipped wide – and that was it. Even in injury time, a very generous five-minute period, we couldn’t get in their half.

Two months ago, the prospect of Yaya Toure leaving for the African Cup of Nations wouldn’t have provoked much anxiety, but we saw yesterday how much he can be missed.

Substitutions proved fruitless, Jovetic and Lampard having no effect on the game, and why Scott Sinclair was brought on with two minutes to go eludes me.

It was the first time in 55 games that City had surrendered a two-goal home lead in the league (Fulham 2009?), and to do it against a team second from bottom was staggeringly poor. The annoying thing is, Burnley fully deserved it. The City team looked dead on its feet in the second half, yet Burnley were playing the same side for the 5th game in a row, so there can be no excuses whatsoever. A golden opportunity to cut the gap on Chelsea during a period when they have more difficult games has been lost. If they still remain on top come mid-January then City have got a real uphill battle, but as we have seen in previous seasons, it’s a funny old game. Already, the game at Stamford Bridge at the end of January looks like a must-not-lose match.

Special non-praise goes to Kolarov who was atrocious, though no one sparkled for much of the game. Mangala resembled a bull in a china shop as Barnes and Ings caused all manner of problems, the team performance summed up by the final minutes when Burnley players were barged in the back near the touchline for no reason and Kolarov expertly set up a Burnley attack with another wayward pass.

It had to be this way though – City’s run was never going to end against a top side, but at home to a team fighting relegation. With a club record on the horizon, we just had to mess it up. Whilst this is hopefully a blip, what concerns me is the defence remains far too open. It’s hard to tell if this is a long-term problem as we are playing the weirdest of formations through necessity, and the numerous midfielders may not have learned when to retreat and protect the defence and when to advance. Either way, we won’t win much when the opposition are allowed such frequent sights of our goal. What makes things worse is the recent tendency of the team to ease off after gaining a lead, and the win at West Brom was more fraught than it should have been. It’s not inspiring football all of the time right now, but I was happy as long as the results were coming.

Still, it’s been a wonderful run, and it’s nine wins and a draw in the previous ten games. No ground has been lost on the leaders, and the top three all drew, so it could have been worse. If Chelsea and City had both won we’d be quite dapper today yet we’d still be three points behind them. City need a response now – the next two games must be won. The debate will continue about strengthening the squad when the transfer window opens, but I’m still not sure it’s worth it unless it’s a target we had already identified anyway. Any purchase eats into our summer spending spree budget, and any potential signing may only be filling a gap for a couple of games.

And to recap – 2014 has been a wonderful year. As Sarah Winterburn notes over at football365.com, City’s points total for the year matches Chelsea, but the trophy count reads 2-0.

And so, onto yet another game. This is what makes the English game special of course, and the fans DEMAND IT, but I must go against the tide and agree with the likes of Gus Poyet and agree that there are simply too many games over the Christmas period – it is utter madness, and even I’m bored of going to matches now. This is not about what players earn, or spending time with families (though highly-paid sportsmen and women have that right as much as you do), but the basic fact that it is damaging players. It is guaranteed that the run of games will bring with it a spate of additional injuries to players who were not performing at peak-levels. Scientific studies have shown that a minimum of three days rest is required for athletes between “performances” to maintain optimum levels and protect the body. Other countries have a mid-season break, horrible as it may sound, to give players time to regain fitness (along with weather concerns in some places), and this is why England limp into summer tournaments sweating over injuries to key players.  Gus Poyet and his ilk aren’t concerned about tradition, but what’s best for his players, and he will be seeing what the rush of games is doing to his squad. Still, it’s not going to change, so I just pray we don’t pick up any more injuries over the festive period.

Finally, I would never celebrate someone losing their job, it seems cruel to take pleasure in another person’s misfortune, whoever they may be, as you wouldn’t like someone to react that way if the shoe was on the other foot, so…<bites lip>……I am sad to hear that…..<breathe in, breathe out>…I’m sorry to hear that Neil…..<stifles laugh>….am sorry to hear that it didn’t work out for….oh sod it, NEIL WARNOCK HAS BEEN SACKED HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA .

Sorry about that.

View From The Opposition: Mark Thomas From The Albion Till We Die Website Ahead Of MCFC v WBA

Ahead of the Boxing Day clash at the Hawthorns, I got some views from Mark Thomas over at the Albion Till We Die website, from the despondency at the manager to the excellent Joleon Lescott and more. Thanks to Mark for his excellent replies.

How have you felt Albion’s season has gone so far?

Much like last season, it’s rapidly becoming one to forget. It didn’t bode well in the summer with the appointment of Alan Irvine, and with the club’s transfer dealings not the best yet again, the warning signs were clear for all to see. We didn’t get off to a great start but somehow managed to string three wins together back in September. We’ve only managed two wins since then, one thanks to an own goal and the other against a team of ten men. It’s not that we’ve been unlucky or anything like that, we have on the whole been pretty awful, far too much in the way of negative backwards and sidewards football. It’s certainly not been an enjoyable five months. Ironically our defeat at QPR last Saturday saw us play our best football of the season in the first 20 minutes but as soon as Rangers scored their first we slipped back to what we have become accustomed to.

Have the fans warmed to the appointment of Alan Irvine?

No, not in the slightest. He was probably the most unpopular managerial appointment in the history of the club and he’s currently neck and neck with Bobby Gould as our most hated manager ever. Whilst he’s currently a target of ridicule, a good number of fans do feel sympathy for him. He should never have been put into the position he was, club owner Jeremy Peace the man at fault there. Also, having backroom staff forced onto him as well as having little or no say in the club’s transfer dealings has made a difficult job for Irvine nigh on impossible.

Has Berahino been as good as reported in the early part of the season? What has gone wrong for him?

He did look lively during the first few games of the season but as the team lost form and confidence so did he. It would be interesting to see him playing in an attacking and confident team, I’m sure he would quickly regain his ‘zest’. Obviously his alleged arrest for drink driving must be affecting him, sadly his off the field antics look like ruining what could be a great career.

Views on Georgios Samaras?

I’ll let you know when we’ve seen a bit of him. He’s made just seven very short substitute appearances so far and has done nothing to justify the decision to sign him.

What’s your general play been like this season?

In one word poor. We were warned by Sheffield Wednesday and Preston fans when Irvine was appointed that we would have to get used to dour, negative, defensive football and on the whole that’s what we’ve seen. As mentioned previously, our best football this season came in a 20 minute spell at Loftus Road on Saturday but we still ended up losing that game.

Your best and most underwhelming players?

It’s pretty easy to pick our player of the season so far and I’d imagine all other Baggies’ fans would agree – former City man Joleon Lescott. He’s been fantastic for us this season and it’s easy to see why he’s played at the top level for so long. His reading of the game is second to none. I guess his age goes against him now but for me he’s easily good enough to still be in and around the England squad.

As for underwhelming where do I start… So many players have underperformed this season but the biggest let down has to be £10million striker Brown Ideye. He tries  but so far has looked nothing like a Premier League footballer. All Albion fans are hoping one goal will kick-start his Baggies’ career, it’s a long time in coming though.

Your views on City? Do many Albion fans resent the role of money in obtaining success?

I’ve always quite liked City as a club and would rather see them be successful than the likes of Chelsea, United, Liverpool and Arsenal. I think it’s a shame though that the only way City, or any other club for that matter, could seriously compete for trophies is through the injection of ridiculous amounts of money.

I don’t think it’s just Albion fans that resent the amount of money in the game to be honest, the vast majority of football fans in general can see the damage the amount of money in football is doing to the game. Long gone are the local family clubs, all too often replaced by money grabbing corporate entities.

When only two or three clubs ever have a realistic chance of winning the league, and just four or five clubs have a chance of finishing in the top four, something surely isn’t right? Us English fans used to ridicule the Scottish League for only having two clubs, is it much different down here now?

I think the time for change has long gone though. The clubs with money are far too powerful now and have little concern for the rest of the clubs around the country. The only way us other teams will ever get near Premier League success is when the ‘big’ four or five decide they can make more money from  joining a European Super League which will surely happen at some point in the future. Many fans of smaller clubs look forward to the day.

What’s the main weakness City can exploit on Boxing Day?

We desperately lack pace and have done for a long long time. Teams that are direct and attack at pace always cause us problems, our slow plodding players simply cannot cope with players running at them. We also seem to have developed a knack of conceding from set-pieces, something QPR exploited to good effect last weekend.

If you could have one City player, who would it be?

There’s so many good players at City but if I had to pick just one it would have to be Sergio Aguero, a fantastic talent.

Low and high points of season?

Although it actually happened in pre-season, the low point has to be the appointment of Alan Irvine as manager. An absolutely shocking decision.
There’s not been many high points but the 1-0 win against arch-rivals Aston Villa was pretty enjoyable.

Who do you think will be Champions?

I hate to say I think it will be Chelsea. They’ve got such a strong squad and one of the best managers in the world, a heck of a combination. I think City will push them pretty much all the way but I just feel Chelsea will grind out result after result, whereas perhaps City are more prone to upsets.

Who do you think will be relegated? (confident Albion will stay up?)

At this moment in time I’m not in the slightest bit confident we can stay up. There’s such a negative vibe around the club at the minute that all emanates from our manager. The majority of ‘winnable’ games have come and gone without us picking up three points and with a nightmare of a run-in to come things are not looking good. Plenty of Baggies’ fans are hoping that Irvinewill be given the boot sooner rather than later and a new man will lift the place and gain the results that we so badly need. I’m not holding my breath though.

As for the other teams to go down I think Leicester will go and possibly Burnley. I’ve a feeling QPR and Hull might just escape.

Finally, how do you see game going on Boxing Day?

It’s going to be extremely tough for us no question and if we could get a point from the game that would be seen as a great result. Even with City missing a number of strikers you have to imagine that they would still have too much firepower for the Albion defence. I’ll say 2-1 to City.

Manchester City 3 Crystal Palace 0 | Match Report from the Etihad | City Prosper Without Strikers

So there you go – it seems you don’t need strikers after all. Eventually, City coped admirably with a never-before-seen formation, and ran out comfortable winners to keep up the pressure on their only contenders for the title, Chelsea.

All the talk naturally revolved around what team would be selected by Manuel Pellegrini. After the previous match, I suggested sticking with Pozo, though it was a far from ideal situation. As it turned out, he succumbed to illness, which probably made up the manager’s mind, if it wasn’t already made up. Another youth player could have stepped in – more on that later.

The only surprise therefore was the omission of Frank Lampard – in a team without strikers, the ultimate scoring midfielder seemed a shoe-in.

So it was a side packed with midfielders, with James Milner expected to occupy the “false 9” position, whatever that is. It was hard to know what to expect, and in the early stages it was hard to tell if it was working. City were seeing plenty of the ball, but Palace were defending well, getting plenty of men behind the ball when not in possession, then breaking dangerously with pace, especially through the skilful Bolasie. It was a nervy watch as Jedinak was left free to almost head in, Bolasie hit the side-netting and Fraizer Campbell acrobatically kicked wide from just three yards out after a disastrous offside trap was set by City. As we were to see later, they’d get away with that more than once.

Slowly though, City probed more and more. Yaya Toure’s shooting boots were not in in the first half or early in the second, otherwise it could have been less stressful, and Zabaleta dinked the ball just wide after a beautiful through-ball from his wayward-shooting captain, whilst a Silva shot was deflected wide after great work from Nasri. It was of little surprise that City were taking time to grow into a formation that had no target-man at its head. The players needed to learn which of them was expected to burst into the area during attacks and which should hang back and protect against quick counter-attacks.

So no score at half-time, but this was to be a game of two halves. From the moment the game restarted, the attitude and intent from City seemed different. They hogged the ball, camped in Palace’s half and seemed more comfortable with the system. You felt a goal was coming, and there was great relief when it did, albeit with a stroke of luck contained within. Zabaleta made another burst in the inside channel, then had the coolness to cut back to Silva rather than shooting, and his shot was heavily deflected before looping over the line.

It was Silva’s 30th goal for City, in his 200th appearance, the player with the most international caps ever whilst a City player. If only he’d shoot more….which of course he did from a delicious Kolarov cross, and that was 2-0, and that afforded City some breathing space.

City were comfortable, but only because, for once, they benefited from the officials. James McArthur headed in a great cross, but the flag was up immediately. Unfortunately for the linesman and Palace, Fernandinho was running back from the corner flag area and was playing McArthur onside by a good few yards. The linesman was five yards away from where he should have been standing, and the distance between the two players involved made life difficult for him, but it was a poor decision, and the goal should have stood.

If it had stood, it could have been nervy, but the fact remains that it was Palace’s only effort of any merit in the second half.
Apart from maintaining a two-goal cushion, the disallowed goal had one major other advantage, as it allowed Neil Warnock the opportunity to bemoan the officials and get all angry whilst scrunching his beautiful face, all whilst the world’s smallest violins played in the background – and you can’t put a price on that. Managers like Warnock and Harry Redknapp turning up at teams I like such as Crystal Palace and QPR present me with some difficult dilemmas, as I cannot decide whether I want the team to crash and burn or not.
Warnock has a right to call the decision, as it was a bad one, but to claim it turned the game when they were two goals down and had 25% possession was ridiculous and exactly what you’d expect from his type. The decision, he bemoaned, denied his team putting City under the cosh for 20 minutes. Well, you could have tried to do that anyway, and I am guessing your team did keep trying after that, but didn’t get near our goal, so get over it.

In the end, Yaya found his range at last and wellied the ball in off the post, and the game was won. Some bloke called Scott Sinclair came on (nope, me neither), and whilst he didn’t actually get to touch the ball, he should have had a goal, Fernando dallying when he could have played Sinclair through on goal as he made a great run. That would have put City top, for the weekend at least. Still, three points was the most important thing to take from the game, plus no more injuries. Mission accomplished.

The stats tell a story. 72% possession for City, 15 goal attempts (only three on target, all goals) compared to Palace’s 6, whilst the top three passers in all Premier League games on Saturday were Fernandinho (107), Yaya Toure (106) and Samir Nasri (97).

Man of the Match should rightly go to Silva, but there were plenty of players who ran him close. It was Milner who was expected to fill the crucial role up front, but he was seen all over the pitch as usual, and put in his usual shift. Instead, it was Zabaleta who kept bursting through to run the Palace defence ragged, whilst also keeping Bolasie largely quiet after a lively start. On the other flank, the inclusion of Kolarov over Clichy proved to be a great decision as he put in a succession of great crosses and ended up with an assist. Nasri continued his run of good form, the ball glued to his feet, Yaya was imperious, and only Navas frustrated once more. Mangala continued to impress, forming a good partnership with the uber-cool Demichelis, though it is interesting to note that many in the press are now referring to him as a £40m defender – the price continues to rise, as it often does with City purchases.

And so onto City’s decision to pack the midfield and not pick any youngsters, though Ambrose made the bench. Quite simply, City won, so Pellegrini’s decision was justified in the end. He should pick the team that he thinks works best, irrelevant of the players’ nationality, age, skin colour, star sign or choice in pre-match music. That’s what he did , so that should be that. Of course, that wasn’t that, because many questioned the decision not to pick a youngster up front. Never mind that no one who commented knew if there was anyone worthy of the role, apparently City should have picked a youngster anyway. Pozo has been involved recently and because of illness we will not know if he would have been involved once more, but many other youngsters are on loan, and clearly not considered ready for the first team yet, and that’s a great grounding and developmental opportunity for young players, just like it was for the likes of David Beckham and his like all those years ago. Devante Cole scored again yesterday, but scoring for Barnsley is a bit different to scoring in the Premier League.
Gary Neville, a person I am not allowed to respect as a pundit (but sorry, I do, though only on Monday nights), questioned City’s decision not to blood a youngster, and Ric Turner from over at Bluemoon quite rightly pointed out that United are playing Michael Carrick in defence over playing a youngster like Blackett – double-standards as usual. Still, there were a few empty seats at the Emptyhad as there always are pre-Christmas, so United fans have still got that to cling to now that the world’s shortest ever title challenge has ended against a ten-man Aston Villa side.

City will play youngsters when they are good enough – that’s how the academy will help to bring top-class youngsters through, and that is some of United’s players send their own kids there.  Having said all that, it would have been nice, once three up, to bring on Ambrose – I’d rather see him than Scott Sinclair, as a three minute cameo by the latter is hardly putting him in the shop window.

So that’s eight wins on the trot and Joe Hart hasn’t conceded a goal for over 450 minutes, even if he has a linesman to thank for that. An impressive resurgence after the season appeared to be ebbing away just a month ago. As always, it needs to continue against West Brom, Burnley, Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, especially as Chelsea have some tricky games ahead, though I still expect them to win them all.

Meery Xmas/Chanukah/holidays/winter solstice. Have a good one everybody.

Leicester City 0 Manchester City 1 | Match Report | City Start A New Era Without Strikers

And yet again – phew.

If you want, you can file this under “title-winning performance”, though I’m not sure it really means anything.  Anyway, this was an ugly victory, but it was a victory, and that’s the important thing.

It was especially important considering that City don’t have any strikers left.  This may have been a game against the bottom side, but considering the injuries and the energy-sapping midweek heroics, this immediately became a “win at all costs” game where the level of performance wasn’t of great importance.

And that will be the theme for the next month considering the constant flow of games and the lack of strikers running into 2015. Manuel Pellegrini has a week to devise a revolutionary new formation. The Xmas rush of games has always been about survival, it is brutal on squads, and City could not have been handed a kinder fixture list, though that will backfire if points are dropped.

This seemed a tired performance, which is understandable. The energy levels will have bene sapped by recent exertions, and it’s almost a relief that City got knocked out of the Capital One Cup to Newcastle as it now means the squad has a week to recuperate.

Another changed line-up was understandable with games coming thick and fast. Fernando replaced Fernandinho, Navas dropped out as did Zabaleta and due to Edin Dzeko damaging his calf in the warm-up, City were forced to give Pozo his first start, what with Stevan Jovetic falling to pieces again during the week. It wasn’t the most inspiring of line-ups, but the manager had little choice, and the last minute enforced change rather ruined his plans. It was perhaps less surprising then that throughout most of the game, the team lacked shape. Still, Silva was back, partnering the evergreen Frank Lampard.

Leicester started well, and only a good Mangala block stopped a Vardy attempt on goal. A Cambiasso free-kick curled narrowly wide, and it soon became clear this was ont going to be a stroll in the park for City.

However, slowly the visitors gained a foothold in the game, dominating possession and probing at the Leicester back line. Toure forced a good save from Leicester’s stand-in keeper, and then Frank Lampard found acres of space in the centre of the penalty area to put City ahead, after excellent work from Nasri down the left.

It was Lampard’s 175th premier league goal, bringing him level with Thierry Henry – an amazing achievement.

And after that? Pretty much nothing. Much of the game became a midfield scrap featuring a bouncing ball going back and forwards, and there were no major chances for either side. City saw it out in what was quite simply a poor game.  It’s probably best I leave it there.

Thus it was hard to pick out a man-of-the-match in such a dull game, but it’s probably best to look at a defence that picked up its fourth clean sheet in five games, in a team that has now won seven on the trot in all competitions. Mangala was at the centre of a soft penalty claim for the home side, but again did well in general, especially when blocking a Vardy attempt early on.  There were no stand out performances in a gritty, hard-fought victory, but Mangala probably shaded it for the award.

In the end, few shone. Silva, back from injury, couldn’t impose himself, though along with Nasri the two were imperious on the ball at times as you would expect. Leicester harried our players well, and it proved difficult to string a sequence of passes together. The defence coped well with what it had to deal with, though Fernando once more did not offer the dynamism of his similarly-named compatriot. Pozo had another frustrating day, but he wasn’t getting much service – it was almost as if his team-mates didn’t trust passing to him.

There was one other incident of course, as the glass man did his hamstring yet again, and that will be the last we see of Vincent Kompany this year. Clubs can pick up large injury lists through misfortune, but it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that there are other factors at play. Arsenal’s annual crippling injury list is not down to bad luck, nor is United’s current one. Poor training regimes can contribute, and the question also has to be asked as to whether Kompany (and Dzeko) were rushed back into the team. Better to apply caution to such injuries and drop a few points than do serious damage and thus end up losing even more points anyway.

So talk has naturally turned to the prospect of bringing in a new striker.  There are numerous problems with this.  Firstly, it’s not January yet. Secondly, there’s no point spending significant amounts of money on a short-term fix.  Thirdly, who would improve us?
There had been ridiculous talk of recalling Guidetti or Negredo, which of course can’t and won’t happen.
It seems that Guidetti is once more considered a top class striker and we should get him back.  I doubt we can get him back and nor should we, as there is no evidence he would be any good for us, none whatsoever.  Negredo also can’t come back and nor should he – and why on earth would he want to come back? Absolutely ridiculous suggestions.

Fernando Torres has been suggested, a player I haven’t seen play well in years – the fact it’s possible to get him tells you how well things are going for him presently.

A loan deal is sensible as we have a short term problem here (hopefully), but I don’t know how you get a decent striker on loan in January.
Bony at Swansea is the best player to have come up in chatter, but whilst I like him, I am not totally convinced if it’s a good deal for City long-term, and we should only be making permanent transfers with the long-term in mind.

Talk also continues about the prospect of extending Frank Lampard’s loan deal at City. Leaving the football aside, it would be worth extending his stay at City just to send spittle out of the mouths of our fine red-top hacks. City clearly would want to extend his stay, especially with Yaya’s January departure, he seems to want to stay too, but of course there is the small matter of New York City. Of course they owe their existence to their parent club, but that does not mean we can mess them around. However, before those outside the club get even more exasperated at utilising a player who was a free agent in the summer, I am sure that if City did extend his deal, it would be made worthwhile for Lampard’s next club. A deal that suits all sides would be excellent.

So what to do next week? I’d stick with Pozo – it is far from ideal for numerous reasons – he is probably not ready for the first-team just yet, he is not an out-and-out striker, and his confidence may be dented by his appearances so far. However, we aren’t blessed with options, unless we bring in another youth player, though swathes of them are out on loan anyway. For his two appearances so far, Pozo has been rushed onto the pitch with no plan. At least now, the team can spend a week training and planning how to utilise him in the team. It might just work.

And so onto the Dog and Duck v The Red Lion. The biggest fixture for United still, as it’s one they’ve got a chance of winning.

How bitchy. I’ve become everything I used to hate.

Roma 0 Manchester City 2|Match Thoughts From Stadio Olimpico | City Come of Age In The Eternal City

Oh yes! Rome has fallen and against the odds, City’s patched up side have progressed to the knock-out stage of the Champions League for the second successive season, in the second season of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign. Pure coincidence to his doubters, I imagine. City’s first win on Italian soil was well-timed.

All the talk apart from whether City’s fans would be stabbed in the arse by Roma’s thuggish minority was what team would be picked – or what team would be fit to play. In the end, Kompany did not make it, Toure was suspended after all, Silva merely made it to the bench, as did Jovetic. It was not an inspiring team for such a big match, but still a very good team.

For me, the key was what Dzeko would turn up – in the end that wasn’t key at all, so there you go.

The other talk was about the fiendishly complicated permutations regarding qualification. It wasn’t that complicated at all really, though UEFA’s way of grading a table is not for me – goal difference should be king in my opinion. Anyway, Bayern Munich were never going to roll over against CSKA Moscow, though the away team fashioned plenty of chances. So I was confident that the situation was clear – City needed a score draw or better. And that’s how it panned out.

Roma started with great intent, as I expected. They pushed forward and fashioned a couple of chances (though one looked offside to me), and Hart had to be alert. With time though City settled and made some chances of their own – the half panned out as a tight affair, with no team especially dominant, but Hart saved excellently from the reborn Gervinho, a man unrecognisable from the lump that rarely graced the Arsenal shirt. Milner was thwarted at the other end as he put in his usual shift all over the pitch.

So goalless at half-time, which favoured Roma. Bayern were doing their job against CSKA, so it seemed a score draw was what City needed. They had to score.

Like so many big games in recent years, City were patient, and like many of those games, it took a moment of genius to change everything. Yaya Toure was absent on this occasion, so up stepped Samir Nasri, a giant in recent weeks, to despatch a stunning strike off the post to put City in control on the hour.

My live commentary: “Pass Nasri, pass, right, right, pass it, oh for fu……oh great goal!!!”

After that City wobbled briefly. For all of Hart’s brilliance, he missed a cross whilst Demichelis cleared off the line straight after. However, Manola’s header off the post was actually deflected off Hart’s outstretched hand, another vital intervention.

It was merely a couple of minutes of panic, but having survived it, City coasted through, and it was up to Nasri to supply Zabaleta for his block/shot to seat qualification. He kissed his badge and I wished I was having his baby. Yeah, there’s logistical problems with that, but let’s not split hairs.

This was a team performance above all, where every player did his bit. It was, at last, a textbook European away performance. Resilient in defence, picking off the opposition and leaving with three points. A turning point perhaps, though only time will tell. A coming of age perhaps, which sounds clichéd, but the team were professional and together in a vital European match and in a fiery atmosphere. From the moment Sergio Aguero turned the group on its head, the belief has been there at home and abroad. It needs to remain now, whoever we draw on Monday. Mission accomplished, now let’s see how far we can go.

A one-man team? Hardly. Even our full-backs are scoring now.

Dzeko did not impress Graeme Souness in the studio (remember when he was a great pundit? Now he just sniggers at “pulled off” jokes with Jamie Carragher). To be fair, he worked his socks off without reward (Dzeko, not Souness), and was probably operating at below full-fitness. He wasn’t key on the night, but thankfully he didn’t need to be. In the coming weeks, that might well change.

Nasri shone, as did Hart, Demichelis, Milner and Fernadinho. Everyone else was not far off – I could easily swap some of those names to be honest. No weak links, and a dedicated team performance. And what a time for Nasri’s first goal of the season. Clichy once more continued his resurgence. Demichelis was calm and collected, Mangala effective bar being beaten to the Manola header that struck the post. Navas was dangerous again at times and helped protect Zabaleta after he was overrun in the early stages. They both grew into the game and negated the threat of Roma down that flank.

And how good to see David Silva back on the pitch. Welcome back.

Good substitutions from Pellegrini too, who deserves extra credit for setting up the team well and firing them up at half-time. He is a manager who has shown he can adapt in the past, so let’s hope for less stubbornness with formations in the future.

Dare we suggest City are better in Europe without the “liability” Yaya Toure? Gary Neville has suggested so (and he’s never wrong of course), and certainly last night the two Ferns allowed a more rigid barrier against opposition attacks, but we all know what he brings to the table, and will no doubt be back in the team when not suspended.

I don’t think City have a realistic chance of winning this season’s competition (though stranger things have happened), but it was important to qualify for so many reasons: to shut up the snipers for now, to keep the big players happy, to take the pressure off the manager. And, dare I say it, extra revenue. Yuk.

Jamie Jackson: I like to feature a regular paranoia section on this blog, often tongue in cheek, but borne from some of the sub-standard, juvenile coverage that City (and every other team) gets in this country sometimes. Last night though, Jamie Jackson raised (or lowered, depending on your view) the bar for football journalism, with, and I do not say this lightly, THE WORST MATCH REPORT OF ALL TIME. Now the report may be a clear example of click-baiting, but despite that I still implore you to check it out, if you haven’t already. If you have already read it, read it again. It is a masterpiece in fuckwittery, a master class in misreading the mood, a tour de force in misreporting what actually happened in the match, a piece that puts every click-baiter in their place once and for all and requests that they bow down before their master. Lowlights? Where to start?! It’s like asking me to choose my favourite magical European night at Anfield – THERE’S JUST SO MANY. Anyway, I’ll try:
“..until Pablo Zabaleta scored their second goal, City’s had been a disjointed display against Serie A’s second-placed side, one who made City look like a band of naive millionaire footballers led by a manager, Manuel Pellegrini, whose tactical nous at this level is questionable.”

“The main charge is that the front and back can be disparate parts, as if attack and defence have been grafted together awkwardly via a midfield who impress going forward but are shaky when asked to protect.”

“This contest was studded with the sight of Rudi García’s team running at the visitors. Gervinho, Maicon and José Holebas all made hay while the Stadio Olimpico lights shone. They knifed through Pellegrini’s side with ease.”

You get the idea… amazingly Jackson is not a United fan, but his hatred for City is clear – there is no paranoia in me stating it now, it’s blindingly obvious. How he gets away with it I do not know – even fellow journalists had a go at him, one colleague stating “what was he thinking?” when reading it, according to my returning-from-Rome friend today. This was an article that Jackson seems to have written with defeat in mind, then hastily re-wrote under duress.

(Jamie, it’s probably time you unfollowed me on Twitter…it’s not worked out really..)

Anyway, onto the three-hour draw. Eight nations are represented in Monday’s draw, and UEFA representatives are already simmering those balls over a low heat as we speak. #fix #uefaisbent #cameronmustgo.

It was a banter-free zone for United fans on Facebook, their week resting on this. Ah well, you can look forward to the Dog & Duck v The Red Lion on Sunday.

The Campaign For Safe Standing: 1894 Group Meeting

Prior to the Everton game, I attended a Safe Standing meeting at the Waldorf pub in central Manchester that was organised by City’s 1894 Supporters Group.

The group, who you will probably already be familiar with, have been proactive in recent times in trying to get the atmosphere back in a ground, that like many others nowadays, needs more atmosphere. However, this was not about that, though indirectly it is, as I think it’s safe to presume that a standing crowd makes more noise than a sitting one.

Safe standing (and the word safe is utterly redundant in that phrase), has been a delicate subject for years now, for reasons that don’t need explaining. The ramifications of the Hillsborough tragedy, and the Taylor Report that followed, made much needed changes to grounds around the country. One of those was of course all-seater stadiums, a situation that remains to this day in top-flight football. However, there is a groundswell of opinion forming that change is needed. That safe-standing areas, which by definition pose no threat to safety, should be introduced into English grounds. The proposition is that this would be achieved by following the German example where numerous top-level teams have some form of standing for home and away fans for non-European games, in the form of rail seats.

One thing needs to be made clear. The days of turning up to a game, walking onto a terrace and choosing where to stand are gone, and gone forever in my opinion. The introduction of standing areas in modern grounds, should it happen, will bear little resemblance to the nostalgic images of masses swaying on huge terraces. Fans would still have a designated spot – the only difference would be the ability to stand. Rail seats (or “Variositze” as they are called in Germany), the system that would be implemented, are robust metal seats with a high back, which fitted together form a long, strong rail along a row of terracing. The seats fold up flush, leaving more space than in traditional seated areas seen around the country currently. These locked up seats can be released easily for European games, where standing is not permitted. Most advocates of the system see it filling only 10-15% of the stadium, with the remainder staying at it is.

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At the meeting on Saturday afternoon, as the pub crowd downstairs roared with delight as Newcastle sealed an unlikely three points, three guest speakers gave their views on safe standing.

First to speak was Jon Darch, head of the Safe Standing Roadshow campaign (and for the record, a Bristol City fan). He was extremely knowledgeable about the whole issue, having toured extensively around the country campaigning for change. Having studied German and spent much time there attending matches, he could give detailed information on what a new standing area could entail. In Germany, such areas are often geared towards away fans, but plenty of clubs have them in the home sections too, Hannover being a prime example and of course Borussia Dortmund. Darch commented on how it is time for fans to put pressure on clubs and in turn for the clubs to pressure politicians. He mentioned though that Labour seem to be keen to maintain the status quo and not rock the boat, especially with the Hillsbrorough enquiry still ongoing. Perhaps when that is finished, there may be a greater desire for change in Westminster.
In the Football League, 75% of the clubs had mandated their executive to go to government and seek permission for trials, but Premier League clubs had been more coy about speaking out on the matter, seemingly waiting for other clubs to make the first move, whilst privately being open to the idea – City are known to be monitoring the situation after Darch made a presentation to executives. The Premier League is not going to push for change in itself, but is essentially the will of 20 clubs, so if 14+ clubs push for such change, the League is obliged to go to government.

The second speaker was Dave Kelly of Everton’s Blue Union and member of the Football Supporters’ Federation. He mentioned how there has been a total lack of fan action on the matter, which helps explain why nothing has changed. He said that he himself was opposed so standing in the past, due to ignorance but he now thinks it is a fan’s right to be able to stand, in the same way that it is a fan’s right to sit down.
He added that meetings are fine but will not achieve change as it is preaching to the converted. Fans as a group could make a very powerful group, especially with an election on the horizon, so they need to make their presence felt. He also urged the need to contribute to phone ins, to go on the radio and get the message out there.

John Leech, a life-long City fan and Liberal Democrat MP for Withington was the last to speak, and spoke about why he thought it should be introduced. He thought the current policy “bonkers” and can see no reason why it should not be introduced, opining that standing in seated areas, which is commonplace, is far more dangerous.
He said there was no great political will at the moment for change, and that Premier League clubs were risk-averse on the matter, happy to do nothing. He did say though that safe standing will happen – it was a matter of when, not if. Politicians, he added, have to make a decision, and a club needs to test the water. He said to pursue your MP on the matter (unless you live in Withington of course), and pointed out that the Liberal Democrats had changed their policy on the issue in 2007 so were on board. No one can suggest it isn’t safe.

The meeting was wrapped up as ESPN Brazil carried out a few interviews, and I made my way to the match, proud owner of a signed Joe Hart photo won in the half-time raffle. The general consensus I felt is that fans must act together on this, across the club divides. If you feel strongly on the matter, if you support the right of a fan to stand, of a football fan to have more rights again, then take a few minutes out of your day to join the Football Supporters’ Federation, which has a membership of 500,000 fans (www.fsf.org.uk). Also, follow the 1894 Group on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. The 1894 group are talking to a number of organisations and indeed other fan groups (there will be joint action with Hull fans at February’s match for example) and will work with anyone to ensure they have a voice and can push for safe standing through official channels. As a starting point they are hoping that the 1894 Group becomes officially affiliated with the Football Supporters Federation.
The Safe Standing Roadshow already works alongside the Football Supporters Federation’s Safe Standing campaign, and receives the support of a large number of smaller supporters clubs.

The old match-day experience will never be re-claimed. But with fans acting together we can work towards a better match-day experience and the right to stand that poses no more threat than sitting down or standing in front of seats. There is no reason why new legislation cannot be introduced, but it needs a concerted effort from fans to make it happen, and the sooner the better.

https://www.facebook.com/1894groupmcfc

Manchester City 1 Everton 0 | Match Thoughts From The Etihad | City Prevail But Count Cost After Controversial Match

To use the same word as in many a previous report – phew.

Three points, and that’s all that matters, injuries aside. On a day when the “big guns” had a nightmare, City kind of got away with it. Against a team that had only lost on two of their previous seven visits to the Etihad, City toiled against a semi-bogey team once more, but dug in and did enough to secure three points.

Prior to the game, I attended an interesting meeting about safe standing,

On a chilly night, there was great optimism in the air. Earlier results had buoyed the crowd, along with a fair amount of alcohol, and City’s recent form had helped too. That buoyancy didn’t last long as Aguero was tackled/fouled, then stretched for a loose ball just minutes into the game and went down with what now appears to be knee ligament damage.  The medical staff and the player himself will not know yet the extent of the damage, but the fact that Kun had tears in his eyes does not bode well. Start praying now.

City are not a one-man team of course, but when you have a player of such ability up front, it matters. What’s more, when you already have numerous players out, it matters even more, and it cannot fail to have an effect on the team. City seemed to lose belief with Aguero off the pitch, and whilst Pozo did fine, made regular runs that weren’t fed and should have had a goal, he of course will not trouble an opposition defence like Aguero will.

Soon Tim Howard was attracting the ire of City fans after claiming Mangala should have been sent off, a little ditty aimed his way reminding me of Uncle Albert in Only Fools & Horses (whose head was also on upside down). The thing is, Howard had a point. There’s no doubt in my mind there was zero intention from Mangala as he attacked a corner with such intensity he karate kicked Eto’o in the back, but he could easily have been sent off for violent conduct or just dangerous play, and City would have been yet another man down for the coming weeks. As I said, an accident, but a dangerous one and there could have been few complaints if the red had been brandished – though it’s not quite as clear a red in my opinion as I’ve heard others say it was. In addition, Ruud Gullit was talking out of his backside saying it was deliberate. Either way, Mangala, who had a good game, must eradicate such recklessness from his game, and cannot go for headers in the penalty area with a leg outstretched – it is asking for trouble.

Likwise, Fernando’s yellow – he innocently went for a high ball not realising Barry was there, and ended up kicking him in the head. Once more, a referee could have given red for that, but I see no reason to for an accident, another incident filed under dangerous play and thus open to interpretation.  I wouldn’t want a City player to get a straight red for an attempt to control a bouncing ball, and nor would I want it for an Everton player in a similar situation. Anyway, both COULD have been sent off, so there’s no shame in saying City got some breaks. Hallelujah.

Likewise, Gareth Barry could have been sent off for elbowing James Milner, but I wouldn’t want him dismissed for that either. The only deliberate actions cautioned on the day were by Ross Barkley, as discussed later.

City got the breakthrough in controversial circumstances in a match full of controversial circumstances. James Milner ran onto a through ball wide in the penalty area and was “bundled” to the ground by a Jagielka challenge. As Marriner pointed to the penalty spot, all around us commented on what a soft decision it was, and if it happened the other way round, we’d be spitting feathers. Still, we’ll take it, a favourable penalty decision something of a novelty in recent times, and Yaya’s 100% record from the spot continued with a beautiful shot. Soft as it was, a replay from behind the incident looking from up the pitch where the referee will have seen it shows the barge to look far more substantial, so I can see how he gave it (#iveseenthemgiven).

After that, it was a tight game devoid of chances. City’s shape didn’t seem quite right, and not as dynamic as in recent games, Fernandinho’s absence key and Jovetic, for all the criticism he has received, would have given a much-needed spark to our attack. City’s lack of depth was clear to see, but any team without Kompany, Aguero, Fernandinho, Silva and even the attacking intent of Kolarov, is always going to suffer.

Likewise, for the second half. City got forward plenty of times, and got into good positions on numerous occasions, but couldn’t make it count, and couldn’t fashion decent chances, apart from Pozo, who did little wrong but was thwarted by Tim Howard who deflected the ball over the bar despite moving the wrong way. The industrious Milner had set up the chance after excellent play down the left.

After that City went into their shell again. Lampard came on and brought calm to the team, and a beautiful dinked ball that was headed down to Milner should probably have resulted in a goal. Barkley’s introduction though brought great energy to the Everton team and City were not seeing enough of the ball. In the end, the game came down to one incident, Hart brilliantly saving a Lukaku shot to his left. He should get a new contract for that.

Barkley’s yellow for a dive may have been slightly harsh, as most players throw themselves to the ground when feeling contact, but it wasn’t his first offence during his brief time on the pitch, so sod him. What’s more, he cannot complain considering Lampard merely brushed his hand against Barkley’s shoulder. The problem is, most of the time such incidents are not punished.

For City, Nasri was my man of the match, behind much of what City did well. To be honest, few City players played badly, but the team performance was less than the sum of its parts. Three points is three points though, especially at a time of the season when the games come every few days. It was unfortunate to see Pozo subbed as a sub, but I hope he doesn’t lose heart at that. Pellegrini has to do what he thinks best to see out a match and Dzeko was not capable of 90 minutes, hence this bizarre situation. Robinho was once subbed as a sub against Everton, but that was well deserved and a rather different situation.

City now stand 3 points behind the “vincibles”, and who could have imagined that just a week or two ago? To be honest, at one point I was worried about finishing in the top four!  Whilst Chelsea are a stronger side than the ones we hunted down last season, it still shows the folly of deciding the champions with six months left. It happens year after year.

A more pressing concern is the small matter of Roma away on Wednesday with a team decimated by injuries. God knows who we will put out, though at least Roma aren’t on great form either. We need to score, that’s a given, so that’s an obvious concern.

As I walked back into town, a random Everton fan walked up to a random City fan in front of me and started punching him, a man he had never met before. For that reason, I hope Everton get relegated this season, bad losers.

Cheap books for xmas etc – see here!
http://www.standingalone.co.uk/manchester-city-season-review-books-available-at-reduced-prices-for-christmas/

Sunderland 1 Manchester City 4 | Match Report | Whole Team Shines as Curse Put To Bed

Rejoice! It’s over! The curse ended in spectacular fashion, and not even the traditional comedy goal conceded could change the outcome of this match. By the end it was men against boys as City coasted over the line without even needing any strikers on the pitch.

The big decision on this cold, cold night was who would partner Martin Demichelis in the centre of defence. In the end, perhaps there was no decision to make for Manuel Pellegrini, as not choosing the one available central defender (Nastastic is injured by the way) would have been a blatant admission of Boyata’s uselessness, not that Pellegrini thinks that anyway. In many respects, he had to start.

Initially, it went the way of previous seasons, a depressing inevitability about it all. Having escaped one scare when Rodwell had two shots blocked by Zabaleta when he should have scored, the offside trap sprung easily past Demichelis, it wasn’t long before City were behind.

Was Zabaleta to blame? Hard to say no, using his wrong foot to try and clear the ball, creating a freak deflection off Wickham and into the net. Perhaps he was scared of using his right foot and clearing for a corner/throw-in because of the chance of fouling Wickham. Add in a slip as he went for the ball, and the scene was set for another Sunderland 1-0 lead.

With Sunderland’s men behind the ball, the fear was that this score-line would remain, but thankfully there was a different story to tell this time around. It took just one moment of supreme brilliance (well two, if truth be told) from Aguero and a shot that almost sent the net into the crowd. I don’t think you could blame the keeper for being beaten at his near post this time.

City dominated thereafter, bar one scare on the stroke of half-time from a corner, with a lame handball appeal thrown in for good measure. The second goal was preceded by 30 passes, before a sublime flick from Aguero after a precise, fizzed pass from Toure, found Jovetic who nut-megged Agent Pantilimon.

The second half followed a similar pattern. A well-needed assist for Nasri saw a delightful through ball for Zabaleta and a magnificent chip over Pantilimon. City eased off after that, allowing Sunderland too much of the ball. It didn’t matter in the end as a lovely Milner cross found the predatory Aguero who swept in the ball off the post and the rout was complete. City strolled after that, taking Aguero off to save him for the weekend and even brought on a YOUTH PLAYER! OMG!

(seriously, it was good to see him get on)

So City have their mojo back. What struck me was the work-rate of all the team. The Sunderland players had no time to settle and thus couldn’t create chances in open play after their initial surge. Not one player shirked their duties. Boyata, praised by Pellegrini post-match was fine, though the protection afforded to him by his teammates and their raised performances meant he wasn’t unduly tested. Early nerves soon dissipated and he did his job. Aguero was, well Aguero, the finest striker I’ve ever seen wearing the blue of Manchester City. Please don’t get injured anytime soon, please.

And all that without Kompany or Silva. There is better to come hopefully.

Jovetic too, a surprise inclusion (I expected the grit of Milner to be utilised against Sunderland) played well and it was pleasing to see him grab another goal. Demichelis did what I expected, and took control of the defence and marshalled it calmly. Zabaleta improved as the minutes rolled on, Clichy is a man re-born and Navas put in numerous excellent crosses that were sadly not seized upon by static teammates. There were no weak links with Nasri dominant, Yaya imperious once more (making his impending departure to Africa a big deal again) and Fernandinho has again secured his place in the first team. The only worry is the rumour that Jovetic went off injured, leaving us very short up front if so.

The big news of the day though was of course the release of City’s annual financial report. Naturally the release of the report, a blatant attempt to mask the anticipated impending annual defeat at Sunderland, led to a banter-fest on social media. One guy was reduced to speculating how City had fiddled the figures by selling a million shirts to Qataris. Poor soul.

So 347m revenue, breaking the £300m barrier. Commercial revenue up 16% to £165.8m, TV up 51% to £133.2m, match day revenue up 20% to £47.5m. A bottom line loss of £23m which includes the £16m fine from UEFA over FFP, so very small. Profit almost definite next time, nailed on in fact. Wage costs have stabilised and the wage-turnover ratio is now 56%, compared to 86% in 2013 (United’s is just under 50%, for the record).

Net assets are valued at more than £572m and City continue to operate with zero financial debt. City are the 1st club to have seven players picked for the England U16 team in a single season. The Academy has grown to 185 players across all years, 75% of which are from the Greater Manchester area. It’s fair to say the future is bright, and City don’t even have the biggest wage bill anymore, that honour falling to the club that have spunked a quarter of a billion pounds in a desperate attempt to finish in the top four this season. And there’s me thinking that any player would gladly play for United for free.

Obsessed, Sale.