Category Archives: Match Reports

Stoke City 1 Manchester City 4: A Good 1st Week For Pep As City Soar

And relax. The end of Pep Guardiola’s debut week, and it went rather swimmingly in the end. Just think back to the moment when Defoe slipped the ball under Caballero’s body last week and now be thankful the week took a different path in the end.

Guardiola once more nailed the sartorial battle, dressed appropriately for changing weather conditions whilst retaining an aura of class and sophistication.
Shumper and suit jacket. Classic but understated. Good to see.

Predicting his side is harder to nail down however. There weren’t too many shocks, but Otamendi returned so Kolarov shifted left, as did Sterling to allow Navas into the side, relegating Nolito to the bench. Presumably Guardiola saw use for pace and also the excellent work ethic of the blue-eyed Spaniard.

This would be a true test of Pep’s philosophy and playing style, at a ground it’s never easy to win at. Thankfully, it was a test that was eventually passed with flying colours, but a few nerves were frayed along the way.Last season’s horror show can be put to bed now.

Stoke have never prospered through great possession of the ball, so it was no surprise to see City dominate the ball. On a windy day though it was not always easy to pass it around, and Caballero will understandably be criticised for his errant use of the ball, especially when he is assumed to be in the side for such skills. Well it is clear to all he is not an upgrade on Hart, and presumably is in the side solely because he has responded to Pep’s regime better, but the blustery conditions should be taken into account on this occasion. He has been fine with the bread-and-butter of goalkeeping too, namely stopping shots, but then Hart is pretty good at that anyway,
Still Caballero did his job, most notably saving from Bardsley before Joe Allen crashed to the ground.

City looked bright and full of intent, but a good Stoke side were dangerous on the break. In the end the game revolved around a celebrity referee and penalty decisions.
First, Shawcross was rightly penalised for tugging at Otamendi’s shirt, though if Dean had been stood on the other side of the players, he might have seen a lesser tug from Kolarov too. Clearly new directives have come in and the players have been informed of this, but old habits will die hard for many a defender. As with Sterling later however, I do not see why such incidents are worthy of an automatic yellow card.

Pressure on Aguero, but he took on the responsibility and slammed the ball home. And soon it was two as he brilliantly headed in a cross from De Bruyne.

Breathing space for City, but Stoke clearly should have had a penalty of their own as Kolarov bundled into Joe Allen – a break for City, but Mike Dean no doubt saw it at half-time and was intent on evening things up after the interval.

Which he duly did when penalising Sterling for tagging Shawcross, but without any shirt pulling. Never a penalty for me, and if it is then there would literally be one awarded at every corner. Even Shawcross and Mark Hughes weren’t convinced, which speaks volumes.

That put City on the back foot once more, and the game became rather scrappy. No one team dominated as the clock ticked on. Thankfully there was no nervy last few minutes as super sub Iheanacho came on and stayed calm to pass across goal to super sub (number 2) Nolito. Then he dummied superbly and a moment of class from Sterling laid a second goal on a plate for Nolito. Game over. Eleven goals in a week, two conceded, job done. What’s more, City’s 45 touches in the Stoke penalty area were the most by any PL team so far this season.

Mike Dean however must be mentioned, a really poor performance for me encapsulated perfectly by the penalty decisions. Add to that a yellow card for De Bruyne for accidentally stepping on a Stoke player’s foot, and Diouf escaping censure for raking his foot down Silva’s leg in front of Dean. His best moment though was penalising Zabaleta for being barged off the ball. Not his best day, whatever one of those is, and a point of order for Phil Neville too – he’s called David Silva – not Da Silva. Not difficult really.

Best player? Well another two goals for Aguero puts him near the top of the pile, but special mention must be made to two young Englishmen – Sterling was excellent again, full of confidence and always willing to attack the Stoke defence, even in a new position. It’s good to have him back. The highest compliment I can pay to John Stones is that you forget he signed for us under a fortnight ago – he has slipped seamlessly into the side. Pure class from him so far.

Silva too does what he does best, and for me only De Bruyne is slightly struggling to acclimatise to new player positions and instructions. Still, another assist for him. The substitutes didn’t do too badly either!

I think we all agree that shirt pulling and the like should be eradicated from the game, or punished at least, so it’s good to see it being clamped down on. However, it is difficult for a referee to monitor every player in a crowded penalty area, so future decisions will be somewhat down to chance, down to where he is looking at as the ball comes in. As for the rest of the premier league programme that day, I don’t think any more penalties were awarded. Let’s hope for some consistency, but don’t hold your breath.

And time for the true pedant in me to emerge. Many have said the score-line was flattering but no score-line is flattering unless the officials have shaped the game, and as mentioned Mike Dean’s centre stage performance didn’t really affect who won, as his decisions favoured neither team, so the score was perfectly fair – we scored four times, they scored once. That’s how the game works.

And with a new season, the optimist in me (4%) had hoped for a fresh start for the boo boy brigade, but alas no – never underestimate the ability of a bone-headed football fan to have you shaking your head in disbelief. Just imagine a grown adult leaving their house, going to a football match and booing an opposition player because he cost quite a lot of money and upset some ex-Liverpool players. And don’t give me the Euros as an excuse, unless you think the incessant booing last season was performed by psychics. Astonishing. Thankfully it appears to be water off a duck’s back for young Raheem, but after Sunderland fans questioned our loyalty last week with THAT chant, my faith in the human race is nearing an end.

A new season also brings with it the return of Match of the Day and a return of razor-sharp analysis (hashtag sarcasm). I don’t need to say much more about Mr Neville as we’ve all had a good laugh already, suffice to say that criticising a player for not having enough assists when he has had five assists in a week (it should have been six, through no fault of his own) is a bit rum. We know about last season’s struggles, but surely analysis should focus on his good form, not the past. Anyway, as we all discovered, Phil seemed to expect Sterling to assist AND score every goal, and his criticism of his assist at the end was phenomenally stupid. It just baffles me that Phil & Gary couldn’t make it work in Valencia, it really does.

Anyway, a good week ends, and Pep can change the team for Wednesday’s dead rubber. Get past West Ham next week and City can approach the derby after the international break in fine fettle. Here’s hoping.

To Manuel Pellegrini & Willy Caballero – A Gamble That Really Paid Off

I’m not one for believing in fate, or for things being written in the stars. It’s as mythical as a club’s soul or United’s DNA. But as the whistle blew after 120 minutes of nerve-jangling action, I couldn’t say it to anyone around me but I was thinking it: wouldn’t it be typical if Willy Caballero ended up being City’s Wembley hero?

And so he was. A lot of apologies have flowed forth on social media and message boards since, following a week-long torrent of criticism and outright abuse at the prospect of Manchester City not fielding their strongest available side in a cup final. Now we all feel a bit stupid, kind of.

Well yes and no. Pellegrini’s comment that he would rather lose a trophy than his word should be taken in context of the words of a manager who had just won the match. I am not convinced he’d have said such a thing if City had lost, and if he had, I can just imagine the criticism that would fly his way. It would show he was a man of honour, but modern football sometimes demands honour is put to one side, the need for results and success all-consuming. Managers speak differently after matches according to their mood – a winning manager is much more likely to overlook the three penalties his team didn’t get that day than a losing manager who sees no fault in his own selections or players, but seeks to blame the referee instead.

But his word was gospel on this occasion, and he had promised Caballero the role. Pellegrini of course can see through guff and realise that the goalkeeper resembling a rabbit in headlights that we all witnessed against Chelsea is not an accurate portrayal of City’s back-up keeper, however many people go on Twitter saying he’s rubbish. He’s no worse than Mignolet for starters,  and Pellegrini was hardly throwing the match like the previous week by selecting him.  One of La Liga’s best keepers and all that, but it clearly hasn’t worked out over in England, though City fans are rarely happy with the reserve goalkeeper, somehow expecting a Peter Cech type figure to spend every week on the bench. It’s not easy playing an occasional game, and for Caballero, the future surely lies elsewhere – but he didn’t turn up at the Etihad off being rubbish at his trade.

And there’s part of the problem. Occasionally a club manages to get a really good keeper as a back up, as Chelsea have done quite successfully in recent years, but it’s not easy and it’s thus quite rare. Naturally a top class keeper will expect regular football, and even a very good one will. In fact, virtually all professional footballers will expect to play regularly, whatever their ability – it’s a short career and one you’d think they’d want to look back on as a memorable and exciting one.
So it’s no surprise that some managers use their number 2 keeper for cup matches, and Pellegrini is not alone in this regard. Joe Hart doesn’t really need a rest, but there is logic in letting Caballero take over for our Capital One Cup games and any FA Cup games against “lesser” teams. The problem is the dilemma it creates when a big game comes along. Do you keep to your word, or do you do what’s best for the fans and the team, by picking your strongest team?

I thought Pellegrini would wilt and pick Hart. After all, he’s on his way soon, as Caballero probably is, so a fall out or a back track would not have disastrous consequences for the squad. Even Caballero might have understood his reasoning, citing that form is a prerequisite for selection. But as we saw, this was not Pellegrini being stubborn as he is known to be, but being honourable, even if it ended up leavin him with egg on his face. Having brought Caballero from Malaga, I can well imagine he has a close bond with Caballero, and his word is therefore an absolute bond.
And have no doubt, this was a ballsy decision. Most of us would have washed our hands of the decision and picked our strongest eleven, leaving us immune from criticism after the match. But Pellegrini stuck to his guns, and now with hindsight we’re all glad he did. Caballero was superb, as any sane person with an iota of football knowledge knows he is capable of being, and having saved a penalty last weekend he continued the trend seven days later, doing something Hart doesn’t often do by not committing to the dive, thus turning the pressure onto the penalty taker.

And the biggest gamble of all, that waving of the white flag at Stamford Bridge, a decision that could have wrecked his legacy, paid off. Brave, stubborn, but in the end it turned out OK. A Capital One Cup trophy does not make this season a success, but it prevents it from being a disaster, providing a top four league spot is secured, and it is a trophy after all, another great day for the fans, and clearly meant a lot to the players too, who we hope will be galvanised now to push on further – for who knows what can still be achieved in this confusing season? As Aguero saluted his “grand willy”, I hope they are already looking to securing a repeat performance on Wednesday – with slightly sharper shooting hopefully thrown in for good measure.

And whilst this was perhaps the trophy that Pellegrini should not have taken seriously and blooded kid after kid, it has still given the fans two wonderful occasions to saviour. The best moments don’t have to be graded by the importance of the trophy. That winning penalty, the celebrations, the feeling as the cup was lifted, the euphoria too of the semi-final 2nd leg – those feelings will never dim, it’s part of being a football fan, and it was a long wait to experience them. Six out of seven victories at Wembley too for me is a fine record, long may it continue. And yesterday gave us a new story too, and there’s little better than seeing a player so often maligned get his moment in the sun and at least temporarily prove his doubters wrong. Yesterday was much-needed, the Liverpool history clique can crawl back into the woodwork for at least a few more days, and the team delivered when it was really needed again. So I raise a glass to you Willy Caballero – you used to be shite, but now you’re alright.

Sevilla 1 Manchester City 3: It Should Have Been 10 – City Qualify For Knock-Out Stage

A coming of age (part whatever), City’s most complete Champions League performance, a triumph in Seville, call it what you want, I didn’t see THAT coming, and City were simply magnificent.

All the talk was of rain, fans being attacked, and whether Pellegrini would be pragmatic like he was at Old Trafford.

A nice comic touch from City fans to hold up pieces of paper with BOO on them. I just hope for the club’s sake they were written in a UEFA-accredited font.

Meanwhile, United’s OFFICIAL supporters’ group were counting the number of City fans in the ground an hour before kick-off. No, really.

And the team sheet suggested Pellegrini was indeed pragmatic. He gave us what we wanted, namely Fernando in defensive midfield (how times change), with Fernandinho and Yaya as the other two “central” midfielders.

But with that news came the surprising omission of Kevin De Bruyne, relegated to the bench. Surprising, but perhaps with reflection, not really.

So why was he on the bench? Saturday’s game showed he was clearly showing the strain of two games a week, as I alluded to in the match report, so it made sense for that reason, though my first thought was to wonder why then he wasn’t rested for the Norwich game and played in Sevilla? But then…

Pellegrini probably wanted to keep it tight, and it made perfect sense to look to hit Sevilla on the break, and there’s no better way to do that than with pace. Sterling’s threat could have been nullified at home to Norwich against a team with men behind the ball.

Anyway, it worked, though far more dramatically than I or even Pellegrini could have dreamed about.

Yep, City started on fire. They tore at the home team, with Fernandinho shooting on goal within 30 seconds, and Bony looking lively, though it was Sterling along with the aforementioned Brazilian whot was truly sparkling, tearing into Sevilla’s defence time after time.

Thankfully the narrative of another non-award for a blatant penalty was not to become the story of the night, as City took a well-deserved lead soon after. There was no surprise in Fernandinho being the supplier, freeing Sterling in the inside left channel, and he slid it past the keeper on his weaker foot. I think that’s the 6th goal of the season for the player who can’t shoot and will spend his City career warming the bench. He is also City’s youngest ever scorer in the Champions League.
Which when you come to think about it, isn’t THAT impressive a stat. Still, well done him.

City did not ease off however. Sterling cut back for Bony, whose shot was parried by Rico, and Fernandinho leapt like the world’s fittest salmon to head home into the now unguarded net. The home support were stunned, as was I.

It could have been three. A Navas shot was superbly tipped onto the post by the keeper, and the home side were being swamped across the pitch.

The central midfield trio worked superbly. Fernando was the pivot, allowing Yaya to get forward without worrying about defending, not that he does lose much sleep over such matters, whilst Fernandinho could be the box-to-box player we all love.

It was now that Sevilla had their only sustained pressure of the game, for about 15 minutes, and it brought a goal back, though not before Llorente had spooned the ball over the bar from just a few yards from what looked an offside position to me (no replay seen though). Otamendi, keen not to concede a penalty, let Coke past him too easily, who chipped to the far post for left-back Benoit Tremoulinas to head home easily.

Damn. Now City were on the back front after such an explosive start. A key moment was to follow, Hart saving superbly from a header, but City continued to threaten themselves, and the home side’s threat waned. Bony was leading the line well, and he got his reward when he swept in a Navas cross to restore the two-goal lead. By half-time, City had had 16 attempts on goal, and their lead was fully merited.

A response was expected from Sevilla in the second half, but the truth is that City repelled their threat well, limited chances whilst creating chance after chance at the other end, without reward. There were so many I can’t recall them all – Sterling jinked into the area but saw his effort blocked, Yaya curled one wide, Bony missed a great chance by shooting wide, the keeper superbly saved another of his chances, and there was more. Fernandinho also had a shot saved from a Sterling cut-back – both continued to prosper.

Sevilla never had time to settle. The City players were well up for it, and closed down the home players at every opportunity. They were reduced to endless deep crosses that City’s defensive pairing repelled well, and City’s offside trap worked a treat on numerous occasions. The clock ticked down, and in the end it was comfortable.

For me, there were two truly impressive things to come out of last night’s match. Firstly, the team shape was spot on, and it made Sevilla look like a terrible team, which they are not – so City must have made them look that way. Secondly, it really could have been seven or eight, and City sliced open the home side at will during certain parts of the game.

Let’s make it clear, Sevilla are a phenomenal force at home. Apart from their multiple Europa League titles and clear European credentials, they have built a fortress at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Ok, maybe less this season, but it was enough of one to defeat Barcelona recently, and European home defeats were a distant memory – Sevilla had won their previous 10 home European ties.

Man of the Match? Too many to choose from. Sterling was electric, tearing apart the Sevilla defence time after time. Fernando was a rock sweeping up in front of the defence and Navas excelled once more against his old team – he has been excellent for many weeks now. Bony held the line well and peppered the Sevilla goal throughout, the defence were excellent in dealing with multiple threats, Yaya was allowed to be destructive up the field, Hart made a crucial save and distributed the ball well, but for me it has to be Fernandinho, who was everywhere, and ran the show. He continues to make strong claims for being our player of the season.

I was surprised to see Delph come on however. Loved the warm-down, however. With a possibly poisonous atmosphere awaiting him on Sunday, it would have been easy for Delph to have been kept under wraps until after the international break. Maybe he wants to play there, or at least be in the squad.

And so with a draw in Germany, City are through after four games, despite losing their first fixture, at home. A great achievement in a tough group (though not quite a “group of death”), the aim now is to win the group. Win in Juventus and that will do it, though winning our last home game could be enough on its own as well. Either way, with qualification in the bag, we can enjoy a couple of Champions League games for once. I never thought that day would come.

I’ve no idea what the best team is for Sunday though, especially if Silva is back.

Oh, and just to make it clear – I’ve always loved the Champions League. What a great, noble competition – shame on anyone who doesn’t. #cheer

 

Manchester City 2 Norwich 1: What Just Happened Then?

WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED THERE???!!!!

And so after the dour draw at United that kept City top, it was widely expected that City would stroll to a routine victory at home to a struggling Norwich side.

Before the team had even been announced, Pellegrini was getting stick for something he may or may not do, after hinting the previous day that Caballero might retain his place in the team after the midweek Capital One Cup romp. Thankfully Pellegrini saw sense, and we could all relax knowing the defence would be protected by the safe hands of Joe Hart.

And to everyone’s joy, a league debut for Iheanacho. The rest of the team picked itself due to injuries, though I thought Yaya may be rested with Sevilla coming up and considering he started in midweek.

But as is often the case this season against “lesser” opposition, there is no charging from the blocks, and no blowing away of the visitors. Norwich put men behind the ball en masse, and we struggled to find the gaps. They then looked to counter attack with pace, knowing this was where our main weakness lay. And for a long while, it worked.

Bony turned well and forced a good save from Ruddy, then of course sliced wide twice, the first one criminal not to get on target. Iheanacho did ok, but was not finding himself in the right positions to capitalise. Norwich looked dangerous when they broke forward, and it was Hart forced to make the best save of the half from a fierce shot after City had been passed through far too easily yet again.

So goalless at half-time – would City blow away the opposition like they did with Newcastle?

No. City probed, but without little success. Sterling came on for Iheancho, though many wanted his strike partner off instead.
Thankfully one moment of immense skill looked to have got City out of trouble. Well, two moments really. De Bruyne, who wasn’t at his most effective, put a lovely corner in (what’s one of them?), and Otamendi rose magnificently and with one swipe of his head bulleted the ball into the back of the net. 1-0, and the relief was palpable around the ground.

Relief, but still nerves aplenty. City pushed forward in subsequent minutes, but didn’t create too much, though Bony swooped and headed wide and had another shot blocked, but Norwich held firm. The game seemed to be petering out. And then Brady put in a cross…

There’s no analysis needed here. It was a horrendous error, a rarity, a freak, and that is that. And it looked like it would lose us not only two much-needed points, but first place in the league. In the end, it did not matter, as the other keeper was intent in matching the incompetence, and gave us a gift back. And that’s the important thing here – every keeper has a moment like this, the stuff of nightmares, but in the end it didn’t matter, so you hope Joe can wipe it out of his mind, not let it affect how he reacts to crosses in the future, and move on.

So just seven minutes and injury time to put this right. And with time almost up, Ruddy flapped at a corss, raced out to collect the ball, realised it was leaving the area, left it for a defender who had left it for him, swiped at Fernadinho, and when it fell for Sterling the ball was on its way in until Russell Martin elbowed the ball away. Clear penalty, clear red card.

And cometh the hour and a half, cometh Yaya Toure. The keeper went the right way, but stood no chance. City retook the lead.

And for Hart, redemption. Kneeling in his own net, praying with us all, the relief was clear for all of us. And a celebratory hug with Kolarov, as the emotion overflowed. Thank **** for that.

And credit to Raheem Sterling for his role in the goal. For a player we are repeatedly told (mostly by Liverpool fans) can’t finish to save his life, his shot was sweet and heading for the back of the net until Martin’s intervention. And for a sub to win two penalties is no mean feat.

So City had saved themselves by fighting to the end once more. An unconvincing, gritty win that used to be the hallmark of United’s title-winning teams, but will probably be seen as a weakness in our team.

The problem is, the game wasn’t over yet. Psychology now came into play. City were ahead to a ten-man promoted team without a victory in many weeks, so it should have been easy. But it doesn’t work like that. City had just scored, so wanted full-time, Norwich had to pour forward, they had nothing to lose, and City thus panicked.

And then Joe Hart got his redemption – a superb save from a fierce deflected shot was world-class, and won us three points. Ten minutes is a long time in football.

And that was that. Oh, no it wasn’t. Still time for Sterling to be felled in the area and after players had squabbled over who should take it, Kolarov shot woefully wide, then the whistle went.

And as Sterling was lining up a shot 10 yards out, why was there not a second red card? The fact it was the 95 minute is irrelevant.

Still, that’s the least of our worries. Still top, and United four points behind, but Arsenal march on.

Credit to Norwich for a good performance. They defended well, and broke well and threatened. Less credit to the away fans, AS PER USUAL, with one obvious chant making its usual appearance and another calling us a “s**t Man United”. Have chants always lacked such imagination and humour as they do right now?

As for City’s players, Otamendi had a shaky opening fortnight at the club, in a sport where no players are allowed time to settle, but is really showing his worth now. Crucial interventions, cover for a wayward left-back and a crucial goal – my man of the match, and some defender right now, and the first signs of a settled and accomplished central defence pairing, though both are proactive defenders which will always lead to the odd error and opening for opposition strikers.

All of which is harsh on Mangala, who has done little wrong this season. He wants to prove the doubters wrong, but may not get a chance – but then there’s always another injury around the corner and a lot of games to play, so am sure his time will come.

Elsewhere, there is the issue of Mr Bony. He seems not to be relaxed in his shooting, and confidence is everything for a striker. Many City fans have already written him off as not good enough, which is tiresome and utterly predictable – he is no Sergio Aguero, but we cannot have three strikers of that quality in our squad, as we cannot play them all. I’m not saying he has played well enough, because he hasn’t but I don’t know what effect having malaria has on a person, and he is easily capable of turning this around, though he may never get the chance, like others, and may never turn it around, like others. I wouldn’t want to trash him just yet though, and he will have to play on Tuesday.
For me it’s not the finishing that worries me, that will come, but his awareness to release others. He holds up play well, is physical and can work the line, but on many occasions he has failed to see the good pass available to him by an overlapping team-mate. He needs to look up more and gain an understanding with those besides him. He wasn’t particularly terrible though, whatever others may say – just, at our level, we need more.

Of course when players are being written off and slagged off, it’s easy to be selective. Bony isn’t fit to lace Dzeko’s boots according to some, kindly ignoring Dzeko’s contribution of precisely zero last season, and likewise, Pellegrini is not close to the level of Mancini, conveniently overlooking the Italian’s final appalling season.

Anyway, we’ve got lots of good players, so don’t worry about it all too much.

The only other issue is whether Pellegrini is utilising our players well. His hands are tied somewhat by injuries, which give him few options, especially in midfield, and he is sometimes caught between a rock and a hard place, because if he had put out a weakened team against Palace and we had gone out, he’d have been slaughtered – but then he will be if he picks a good team and a key player gets injured, as Silva did last season. I only mention this as it would not surprise me if De Bruyne is below 100% fitness right now, as he has not stopped playing, and it cannot help performances, and it also leads to an increased risk of injury. Still, there’s no chance of a break for him until after next weekend, as he is needed right now. He still managed to pick up an assist, a fantasy football player’s wet dream.

And you shouldn’t worry about it because of the 35th minute, because of what has happened over the past week or so. Was it Shankly who said football is not a matter of life or death – it is more important than that? Either way, that’s rubbish, it isn’t that important really, we all scream, get depressed, shout abuse, jump with joy, cry with emotion and more over some men kicking a ball around, but there are more important things in the world.

And so, how reaffirming to see the ground rise as one to salute Chris Shaw, cruelly taken away from his friends and family at such a tender age, and what touching tributes from many at the club, including our wonderful captain, and Sergio’s act of kindness during the Palace match. Football will never matter as much as life or death, but it can create one big family and be a wonderful comfort and support to those that need it. R.I.P. Chris.

And the key thing is that football clubs, all football clubs, do wonderful things in their communities every day. They are not just there to win matches, but it sometimes gets forgotten by joyless buffoons counting empty seats and net spends. Such people should stop following the sport, as they clearly aren’t getting anything beneficial out of it.

And to prove a point – a couple of years ago I wrote an article highlighting the wonderful work football clubs do in the community. I made it clear that to prove the point I would use totally random examples, picked from a hat. So what was the first comment on the blog? Some joyless pea-brained moron complaining that I hadn’t highlighted the award-winning efforts of his club Spurs. And that says it all really.

I digress. Onto Sevilla, and a draw would be lovely. They lost yesterday, but are some force at home, and we saw what they could do in the last match. It’s going to be tough, so let’s hope our magician is back, and we can do the business.

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 Manchester City 2: Savage Defending & A Savage Co-Commentary As City Snatch Victory

There was talk of European coefficients, the collective failure of English football, of Pellegrini losing the plot and City’s failure not only to compete in Europe, but their failure to show bite and mental toughness by dealing with adversity. Well eventually, somehow, City answered a few questions against the team whose name I will be copying and pasting throughout this report.
Thank god for that, it was a much needed victory when I was almost ready to give up on European football again. Give us a B! Give us an O! Give us an R….

By the end, the usual doubts and frailties had remained for all to see, but this time the result was achieved, so all is forgiven, for now.

For the hosts, their season had lurched from disaster to triumph, their manager departing last week, and the team revitalised immediately. With the goals flowing again for <Borussia Mönchengladbach>  this was never going to be easy, especially considering City’s capitulation at White Hart Lane at the weekend.

So the main talking point from the team sheet was the return of Silva, and finally seeing how he could link up with De Bruyne, Due to injuries, the rest of the team picked itself almost, though it was reassuring to see Hart back in net – only later would we realise just how reassuring.

Did City have to win? No, but as Robbie Savage mentioned 47 times, it was certainly crucial not to lose.

And from the early stages, this was clearly going to be a wonderful match for the neutral, and a stressful one for City fans. Borussia were intent on attacking, leaving space for City’s “fab four”, whilst City’s midfield pairing of Fernandinho and Toure just cannot keep a defence fully protected, so there was danger every time either side attacked.

And here’s the crux of the problem for Manuel Pellegrini, that could undermine what is surely (this time) his final season. Yaya Toure was once called a liability by Didi Hamann after getting the run-around from the Southampton midfield, and he does not fit in certain games, and this is especially true of Champions League games – or more to the point, he does not fit as a central midfield pairing against lively opposition, as he is next to useless facing his own goal. He is one of the greatest midfielders I will ever see in a City kit, but he is not an all-rounder, not now, even if his career suggests otherwise. If he was further forward then he could do what he does best, but there’s no room there with Silva, De Bruyne, Stelring and Aguero. Play all these and Yaya and we get overrun  – someone has to be dropped, and it’s probably Toure, but would the manager have the nerve to do it if he was fit and available? (which he might not be in the near future anyway). This is not to attack him or the other players individually, as his midfield partner in crime Fernandinho has been a complete success this season, but the best team is not necessarily the best 11 players available, but the 11 that form the best shape – that allows the defence to be protected so they aren’t spending half the game back-peddling, whilst linking midfield to attack and midfield to defence. Generally this means playing a defensive midfielder, especially against skilful, high energy European teams. Fernando may still prove to be utter pants, he may not, but he did play with an injury last season, and he’s our best option at the moment even if he ousts a far superior player occasionally. And at least history suggests our defensive midfielders seem to gradually improve with time.

And then we sell them.

And in Toure’s defence, on this occasion he probably wasn’t fit from the beginning. Which makes you wonder further why he was picked.

So I am about to lambast the team’s performance for the opening hour, but first the caveat – <Borussia Mönchengladbach> as I mentioned earlier, do not seem to be the sort of team that play for a 1-0 win. Their attacking style and excellent movement meant that they were always going to create the odd chance or three, and so would the opposition.

But. For the second game in a row, the Argentinean central defence pairing was at sixes and sevens. And perhaps eights and nines too. A bit of protection would have been nice, but still they were rather shambolic at times. Otamendi is new, and I am not worried about how he will do at City as I am confident he will do just fine. He may be a bit rash at time with his aggressive proactive defending, but there are pluses to such an approach too.
For Demichelis however, you get the feeling that time has finally caught up. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to make such conclusions from a week’s football, but the signs aren’t good. He is what he is though, our 4th choice central defender, and he should be good enough to “do a job” and perhaps lead us to Capital One Cup glory. Kompany’s calves unfortunately may result in needing him a lot more, and that’s the worry. Still, he’s perfectly capable of resurrecting himself – again.

Step forward, yet again, Joe Hart. It seems the Champion League is where Joe comes into his own (probably because he is a lot busier), and he delivered once more. A penalty save, great blocks, and later a good save from Raffael in the 2nd half, when City’s defence was sliced open, he was there to repair the damage. I’ll announce the Man of the Match now. It was Joe Hart.

And so to the penalty appeals in the first half. For the one that was given, the replays can leave us in no doubt it was not a penalty, though it’s not that easy at full speed. Let’s not ignore the fact that it was preceded by some poor defending, and City defenders needlessly diving in was a feature of the match, whilst Otamendi seems to run in front of the player with the ball, but Raffael, City’s chief tormentor, starts falling to the ground before there is any possible contact.
Justice is thus done with a great save by Hart.

As for the second one, I am trying not to be accused of bias here, so I will say from the outset I would fully have understood if it had been given, and a yellow card for a dive was ridiculous. Again, there was a completely unnecessary lunge by Fernandinho that was asking for trouble, but he does not tackle Stindl, and the player cleverly manages to ensure his foot crashes into Fernandinho’s back. Still, that’s how many penalties are won in modern football, and it could easily have been given without any cries of injustice as there is clear contact (not that contact means a foul blah blah) so I would concede that City were fortunate on this occasion. Reverse the teams and I’d want a penalty.

And whilst we’re at it, Fernandinho then blocks a shot with a hand in the second half, back turned – accidental so not a penalty, and even Robbie Savage agrees with that, but again it could have been given as it was stopping a goal-bound shot. We’ve had worse given us against us after all.

But City were creating too. Aguero was an enigma once more. How he missed the chance supplied to him by Sterling is almost as baffling as how he missed the chance at Sunderland, though he was stretching slightly, and the keeper did superbly, as he was to at the death also. He then burst through and sliced the ball wide, before shooting wide from a much more difficult position. It still wasn’t happening for him, but form is temporary.

City would have felt relieved to reach the break, but with Fernando on for the presumably injured Toure for the 2nd half, the team should have had a better shape. Though not immediately, as City continued to live dangerously, with the aforementioned Raffael shot saved by Hart and the penalty appeal. It was no surprise then when Stindl stroked the ball home after 54 minutes with no City player anywhere near him. You expect City’s central defenders to protect the six yard line, but still to gift him so much room when the ball was cut back was criminal. For once, Hart had no chance. Principal blame goes to Kolarov however who inexplicably wandered infield to hassle a <Borussia Mönchengladbach> player who already had a City player on him, leaving acres of space down the wing for Korb. It was Sunday League defending.

At this point I wanted the team to raise white flags and walk off. I wanted Pellegrini to call it a day and Vieira to take over for a bit. I wanted Demichelis to retire and for the ground to open up so I could ignore football for a few months. It’s easy to make knee-jerk reactions during a game, though also easy not to make a pathetic fool of yourself on Twitter by slagging off every player, unless you’re a jerk who uses football to release tension because your life is so crap, but I digress, because by full time we had all been made to look like fools.

Still, better was to come. Was it the better shape with Toure off, or did the home team simply tire? Either way, City responded and were dominant thereafter – a shame it took this long, but better late than never because for once over recent weeks, we got the response to adversity that we so craved from the team.

And in bizarre circumstances, City were soon level. Demichelis’ knee sent the ball towards goal, where it was duly hooked back from two yards over the line. Pretty much everyone stopped due to the fact that it was clearly a goal, but thankfully not Otamendi, who wellied the ball back towards goal, and one deflection later it was in the back of the net. How that whole sequence can be given as an own goal is beyond me, as Otamendi’s shot was on target.

I find the constant criticism of goal-line assistants rather tedious, as the constant bafflement at what they do rather overlooks the fact that they have a mic and communicate with the referee that way, so simply not having a flag to wave about doesn’t mean they are a waste of space.

Anyway, I was wrong. They are useless. How a man officiating in a high-level Champions League game can stand on a goal line looking into a net four yards away and not see a ball travel a good couple of feet over the line is inexplicable. And if it wasn’t for a deflected thunderbolt immediately after we could be bottom of the group because of it. Add the penalty claims to the mix, and it was not a great night for the man with the best view in the stadium.

Meanwhile, over in Porto, a ball is batted away by a home defender, and the man stood yards away thinks it is accidental or doesn’t see it. It really isn’t difficult to make decisions like this.

Still, City were back in it, and a draw would not have been a disaster. There was still intent from City though, who continued to threaten, Fernandinho fizzing one just over the bar. On came another sub.

Considering he gets slagged off more than any City player since Richard Edghill, it is only fair that we credit the role Navas played in dragging City to victory. He managed to waste one opportunity by wonderfully shooting sideways, but he pushed forward regularly, kept the home defence on the back foot, and even played some nice crosses and passes. Surely this is what he is made for – a super sub., who can punish a tiring opposition. But if only he could cross, just imagine what a player we would have…

And then at the death, an unexpected victory. It was a clear penalty, Aguero whacked on the calf, and credit to him for stroking home the winner under such pressure despite all his troubles. If he can do that, then more goals should surely follow soon. In fact he should have had a second, the keeper somehow deflecting a shot over the bar and busting his nose in the process.

So a welcome victory that puts the group back in the balance, and the double header against Sevilla is looking like deciding who follows Juventus into the knock out stages before being knocked out by Barcelona.

Raheem Sterling seems to be the newest target for the boo boys. I’m not claiming that he is an overwhelming success, and perhaps we could have expected a bit more, but he is 20 years old, and we paid a huge amount as we wanted him and that’s what it took to get him – we paid partly for potential, and it is crucial more than how well he is playing right now that he works on his weaknesses and improves year on year. If he does, he’ll be worth every penny. And despite mixed fortunes in the match (along with every other outfield player it should be noted), he should have had two assists, only the failures of others preventing this. At one point he crossed into empty space from a wonderful position that looked appalling but would have found De Bruyne if only the Belgian hadn’t mysteriously stopped his run a second previously. Let’s not forget too that half of this front line is new, and young – just imagine what they could be in two years.

For me, I think Sterling is a bit tentative – he is happy to play a simple ball back to Kolarov or Silva or De Bruyne rather than take the risk. He is no longer a young lad setting the world alight, but there is great responsibility on his shoulders in a team expected to compete for all honours. Perhaps, and it’s just a suggestion, we could try supporting him.

And in defence of Pellegrini, this was a great side, but still a side missing plenty of players. Clichy could still be considered a better bet than Kolarov in many games, Zabaleta is obviously a loss, Silva is not fit for 90 minutes, all back up strikers are injured, our best central defenders and captain are too, and no team can just absorb such loses and carry on as normal.

Another big decision looms for the manager though, as Zabaleta was introduced late in the match. Does he go back into the team, or stick with Sagna, who has been one of our best players so far this season? It would be harsh to drop him.

But I would anyway (after the international break).

So Hart was king, but credit too for Fernandinho, who continues to dazzle, and Sagna for showing us finally what he can bring to the team.

Sigh. There’s no avoiding it. Time to talk about Robbie Savage.
It’s tough watching your team playing unconvincingly, living dangerously, and going behind. When Robbie Savage is commentating on such a match, it’s akin to having your eyelids forced permanently open with matchsticks whilst having to watch Richard Hammond attempt to smash the world land speed record in your shiny new car. It’s never going to end well.
It’s hard to put into words just how Robbie Savage manages to irritate every single listener so comprehensively with a few select words. He is the human form of ten nails being scratched down a blackboard. One of the main problems is he seems exasperated at every move that breaks down, as if failing to score from any attacking move is a criminal offence. He repeats the SAME SODDING POINT forty times in quick succession, and it is always something as banal as “they need to be attacking crosses more” or “he needs to take a chance with that!” until you wish for the apocalypse over having to hear another Savage U-turn as a video replay shows his original assertion was incorrect or a good five minute spell means he completely reverses his opinions. Please please give me Michael Owen instead of this bore. At least I can blank his voice out. But not Savage. His voice, his hair, his snappy suits – they were all I could think of last night between the click of the light and the start of my dreams.

Special thanks to Arcade Fire for that line.

I probably should have taken those <> brackets out.

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester City 1: City’s Newest Star Grabs The Three Points

And on it goes. City maintain their 100% start to the season (just), keep another clean sheet, win their 11th match in a row,  win their 5th straight away game,  for the first time in over a century or something (I’m very big on research),  and now even David James we might scrape into the top four. City have not conceded a goal in their last six games, another new club record, and are the fourth top-flight team to open a season with five clean sheets.

I was very pensive about this game, as I knew it would be very tough indeed, especially without our resident magician. Sterling’s omission didn’t help the mood, nor the formation. It was a top of the table clash after all, so plenty was at stake.

The fact is that barring a 4 goal thrashing, City could lose and still top the table, but I was desperate for the run to continue. Never satisfied, eh?

Chelsea’s woes had continued earlier in the day, and it’d getting to the point that that may not even be title challengers for long – though surely they will go on a run at some point.

And so to the surprising team news. Sterling was out with a supposedly minor problem, De Bruyne and Otamendi only made the bench so it was a reprieve for Navas and a recall for Nasri and Bony. Two up front, which isn’t my favourite formation.

It was the home side that started the brighter. The international break hadn’t appeared to do City many favours, and play seemed sluggish. As expected, Zaha and Bolasie were causing problems down the flanks with their pace, and Bolasie forced Hart into an early save after City gave the ball away cheaply. Thankfully City grew into the game gradually, but were fortunate to avoid a penalty after Fernandinho clipped Cabaye in the area. Seconds later and their luck turned, Scott Dann lucky to stay on the pitch after a nasty kick at Aguero’s knee. Aguero was forced to go off before long, and we can only hope it isn’t a serious injury, though he stayed on the bench and didn’t leave the ground on crutches.

And so this meant a debut for De Bruyne, affording him a good hour on the pitch.

Yaya Toure was the next to escape serious censure, his wild challenge earning him a yellow when it could have been worse. Toure wasn’t at his best, perhaps aware of what the Sunday papers had in store.

Meanwhile in the dugouts, Alan Pardew, incensed by Toure’s challenge, trespassed into f***ing old ****’s technical area, and handbags ensued. Sadly they later shook hands and made up, f***ing old **** probably realising that Pardew wasn’t worth the aggro. The ****.

It was a feisty, enjoyable game, and half-chances were plentiful. Sako blazed over Palace’s best opening, and Bony had a shot saved and should have done better when the ball reached him a second time.

As for the second half, City played better in my opinion. De Bruyne was moved to the left, and should have had an assist, as Navas rounded the keeper, doing brilliantly into that position, before slicing the ball wide – it should have been a goal. On a day when there were no obvious candidates for man of the match, with all players doing well but not brilliantly, De Bruyne has a good a case as any, creating five chances for teammates, more than anyone else on the pitch despite the fact he only played an hour. The silky passing and energy across the pitch was clear to see – he will be a real asset. Chelsea could certainly do with him right now.

City themselves had a penalty shout, with Nasri seemingly fouled in the box, but the replay showed that Cabaye does get a touch on the ball. That doesn’t it mean it can’t still be a foul, but I think it is debatable.

The BBC gave man of the match to Kelechi Iheanacho, a man on the pitch for about six minutes.

Puncheon went close with a header, forcing a smart save from Hart, then Gayle shot wide late on. And then…

It was Nasri who made the goal. He is sublime as ever in possession and did brilliantly to find space on the edge of the area before shooting low. The shot was parried, and Iheanacho became City’s 3rd youngest league scorer because he was the only one who was alert to the possibility of a parried shot. The rest is history, and City march on.

And look what it meant to him, the players and of course the fans. Great SCENES. It felt like a definitive moment in the season, but it’s way too early to think that way.

And perhaps the Nigerian showed why Dzeko was allowed to leave without being replaced. It’s early days, but it is clear that those behind the scenes have very high hopes for the youngster.

After that there was a pitiful handball claim for Palace against Mangala, and that was that, well apart from a scramble in the Palace area and Toure somehow missing sealing the match with a header, though it was wellied at him. Another clean sheet, another three points, in the hardest game of the season. No clear outstanding performances, but a job done professionally by all.

58% possession, 21 shots, with 7 on target. I don’t remember that much action to be honest.

Bizarrely, it seems an age since City have won a game that they didn’t clearly deserve to. That’s bad news for the competition, as we’ve hardly been winging it since hitting form. Palace will feel aggrieved not to get a point, and I would have been satisfied with a draw, but that’s football, and Pardew took off two of his most dangerous players prior to the goal, and paid the price, as City could get further forward without the threat of a quick counter-attack from the home side. With three of our brightest attacking players out, it was never going to be easy anyway – any team would miss Sterling, Silva and Aguero.

And so onto the second big game of the week. We sweat for three days over the fitness of Silva, Sterling and Aguero, and I doubt all three will make it. However, Juventus have injury concerns of their own, limped to a home draw last night, their first point of the season, and none of our Champions League opponents have won a league game this season. There can be no excuses this time around.

Finally, bad news reaches me regarding Martin Tyler. Johnsons the cleaners have had their best people on the job, but sadly cannot remove the stains that adorned Tyler’s pants after United’s match yesterday. Apparently this time they were just too numerous and ingrained into the cotton to safely remove from the pants. Onto the ever-growing pile they go.

Everton 0 Manchester City 2: City Dig Deep To Maintain Winning Run

Well that felt good, one of the few bogey teams left in the Premier League defeated in the end after the usual nervy 90 minutes at Goodison – I’d expect nothing less. A club record winning run, well since 1912 anyway, which is quite a long time ago by my reckoning, especially for a team with no history.

This was another stern test in a tricky start to the season – before the West Brom match, I’d have been happy with being within a point or so off the leaders after three matches, because of the tricky fixtures and the concerns about the defence and the incomplete pre-season. It has gone better than I could have imagined.

So no changes from the Chelsea game, exactly as it should have been, and as expected. Otamendi didn’t get his work permit in time for the match, but I doubt he would have started anyway, and may not next week either.

This is a game that always has me really nervous, almost as much as a derby (almost), as Everton always seem to know how to unnerve the City team, and once more they competed ferociously. For some reason the bad weather added to my nerves – always a big leveller and all that.

City though started superbly. Aguero had two shots saved well by Howard, very well in fact, and the movement was razor-sharp, and the visitors were causing havoc down the right side, exposing Everton’s young and inexperienced full-back Galloway, who wouldn’t last the half due to injury.

The problem was that City weren’t making the most of their domination. Sterling just couldn’t get on a cross from Silva after another great move, and the pessimist in me felt Everton would make City pay. Thankfully they didn’t, but they did grow into the half, and were helped by City conceding two free-kicks just outside the area. Fernandinho may well have got a touch on the ball before Lukaku skimmed the bar, but you can’t blame the referee for giving the foul. Barkley was proving to be very lively in midfield, bursting forward regularly, and City were on the back foot slightly for a while. Coleman shot wide and Hart’s gloves were stung by a Barkley shot. I was glad for the break.

Then there was the disallowed goal of course. It doesn’t merit concerted discussion, but no doubt Sky Sports News will have it on a loop for a week, and Sky even tried to freeze the deflected pass to show Lukaku onside during the match itself. Anyway, a tough call for the linesman, but he got it right, and over the season there will be a thousand wrong calls and many thousand tight calls for teams, so it doesn’t need forensic examination, the pass was a fluke anyway, the decision the correct one.

So goalless at the break, and a chance for City to regroup. Thankfully City came out strong again in the second half, and continued to pass and to press. Silva hit the bar, then Sterling beautifully laid the ball to Kolarov, who appeared offside but was played on by Jagielka, and deceived Howard to score from the narrowest of angles. A quick check with the linesman, and the knee-slide celebrations could begin.

It’s easy to blame Howard for the goal, but I’m not sure he is totally to blame. Yes there is the old adage (and a worthless one in my opinion) that you shouldn’t be beaten at your near post, and there was no angle for Kolarov to shoot if Howard had defended his line, but you can understand why he was expecting a cross, and thus adjusted his body accordingly.

With a goal in the bag, City then weathered their toughest period, Hart flapped at a cross that almost led to an equalizer, then Barry headed goal-wards and Kompany cleared off the line, though I don’t think it was going in, but instead heading for the post.

A second goal was needed to calm the nerves, and what a goal it was to seal the victory. Yaya Toure was looking up field when he nonchalantly flicked the ball over the Everton defence, and Nasri waited for the right moment to beautifully loft the ball over Howard into the net.

Before then victory should have been sealed anyway, which brings us on to Jesus Navas, the source of many a heated debate, week after week. I still love him however much he may infuriate me. And infuriate he certainly did when a defensive mix up saw him clear on the right – Aguero was free on the middle, though to be fair from the replays, he never took up the perfect position for a simple pass, but Navas dithered and dithered some more, before shooting at Howard’s face. Just imagine how good Navas would be if he had that clinical side to him, and the footballing brain to deliver the right pass in dangerous positions more often. Ifs and maybes. He was the set free down the right again, and Howard saved once more. Thankfully it didn’t matter in the end.
Navas 1st half-stats: 100% tackles won, 95% pass accuracy, 3 take-ons, 3 crosses, 2 chances created (thank you Squawka as ever).

And so much for my bemoaning of the substitutions. I worried that bringing off Aguero and Sterling and replacing them with Bony and Nasri would stop the Everton defence from being pinned back due to City’s pace, and Nasri seemed to be carrying a few pounds too, or maybe the camera angle was unflattering. Anyway, Coleman did get forward once with dangerous effect, but Nasri was to make the difference in the end.

Man of the Match? It’s always when you’re struggling to choose an individual because of the many contenders. Kompany was immense, and shows more signs of being back to his old self. Kolarov too was once more very lively down the flank and of course chipped in with a crucial goal. Mangala was great, apart from giving away a dangerous free kick after a needless foul and a stupid back heel that almost let Everton in at 1-0, but showed again he has what it takes to succeed. Together, Kompany and Mangal won all their aerial duels, keeping Lukaku in check, made 11 clearances and 8 interceptions.
As for Toure, he chipped in with the greatest assist of the season so far, but once more there can only be one winner – step forward David Silva. He was again sublime, and showed also his tougher side, getting stuck in and regularly winning back possession and fighting off physical challenges.

Sterling is still growing into his role at City, as was to be expected as he is after all 20 years old, but the difference he has had on the team without even kicking a ball is all too clear. Part of the improvement so far this season may well be attributed to City’s players being hungrier this time around, tending as we do to alternate our good seasons, but Sterling clearly brings a new dimension to our attack, and it seems clear to me that we will at some points whallop a few teams during the course of the season. His pace stretches teams immensely, especially with Navas on the opposite side, and the stats show that play is going down our left side significantly more than it did last season. He wasn’t perfect against Everton, but chipped in with an assist and also set up Silva to hit the woodwork. He was a constant threat. What’s more, he is freeing up Silva and Toure too to be more destructive, and opposition teams are faced with multiple attacking threats that often leave them powerless. He also has built up a great understanding with Kolarov already, and offers greater protection for the full back than the likes of Silva or Nasri ever would.

So job done, and top of the league. There are winnable games to come, but we should never take them for granted, history tells us that. The team look hungry though, full of desire, adding a year to the manager’s contract seems to have helped, and everyone seems keen to put last season behind them, and we can’t ask for more than that. Should De Bruyne be added to the roster, it’s a very strong line up indeed. Onwards and upwards…

And one final thought – for wearing a baseball cap on backwards in the post-match interview, I think it’s time Nasri moved on…

Manchester City 3 Chelsea 0: City Christen New Stand & Record Crowd With Emphatic Victory

Did you enjoy that? Did you?!

Yes, of course you did! What a great afternoon, for so many reasons.

And so, a fresh start for me and the team. A new season, a new stand, and thus for me a new seat, up in the 3rd tier, with excellent views of the CIS Tower and more.  As a mover and shaker at City, naturally I had already had an exclusive “all-areas” tour of the new developments at the Etihad, because that’s how I roll, but seeing it full to the rafters (no, seriously!) was a wonderful sight, and the view is superb, though my ageing eyes may struggle with some of the game’s finer points.
And what a weird feeling it was sitting in a new seat, the first time for a good few years – it felt like an away match at times,  with an excellent atmosphere and everyone crammed into the bar area at half-time, which is sadly a bit too small for such an impressive new development. Still, there has to be SOMETHING to moan about, and the bar facilities are always an obvious place to go to, as useless as ever. It was nice to experience the biggest home attendance in my lifetime though.

Don’t take all of that last paragraph seriously.

And a fresh start too for Jose Mourinho, and his testosterone-fuelled bench, where thankfully banter and lad bible humour can now roam freely without being disrupted by the pre-Raphaelite curls of Eva Carneiro – surely now results will pick up without such constraints. Still, with this week’s newspaper revelations that Eva enjoys both sex AND wine, it seems Jose made the right decision. You really can’t have such a harlot working at a football club, a place of high morals and clean living.

I’ve never liked Jose Mourinho. He may be, like Alex Ferguson, excellent company and a kind spirit away from the football arena, but that’s by the by, as when he is working he is an insufferable arse who has had (some) hacks slavering at his every word for far too long, though I think even Rob Beasley may be getting tired of licking his anal sphincter every day. Ok, maybe not.
He is a bore, and I have never truly believed that his mind games are as successful as many would have you believe, though he has clearly fostered a good team spirit and “us-against-them” attitude in the past. However, I wonder if for even his squad his tactics are getting tiresome and ineffectual now. He is brilliant at getting results even when performances dip, and I didn’t think Chelsea played that well last season much of the time, but they got the points, and that’s what counts. However, the next few months will show if he can still perform his magic, with a team that has a brilliant spine but is not world class. Mourinho has embarrassed himself this week, his tactics have achieved nothing except alienate many close to him, and he must now respond with results before he drags the already tarnished image of the club further into the gutter. Sorry if that sounds harsh on Chelsea, a club similar to ours much of the time through recent decades, but they have not helped themselves recently, and fans may not care how well their club is perceived if the team is winning trophies, but once the trophies dry up, it becomes a bigger problem.

And don’t get me started on that official match report on the Chelsea website – a piece that would have been better suited appearing in Pravda.

Anyway, apparently there was a match yesterday – I’d best talk about that.

City lined up as expected, Aguero back in the team, my only surprise (as usual) was the inclusion of Navas, but as I have said many a time in the past, he does defend too, so would protect the flank. Sagna stayed in the team, which was logical as he is more than capable of filling the role, whatever people may have said last season.

What I didn’t expect was the intensity of the home side from the off. City should have been ahead within 30 seconds, Aguero played through by an exquisite Silva pass, but the rusty Argentinean could only hit a tame shot that was saved by Begovic, who went on to dispel the notion that a Courtois suspension was good news for City.

What was clear from the start was that this City team are up for it this season, again alternating their season performances – good – bad – good – bad – good?.

Before City did score, they could already have had three goals, Aguero spurned further chances, or to be fair, Begovic was on top form, though Aguero’s prod wide should have been a goal, and later on in the half Mangala should probably have scored from a header. Never mind, it wasn’t a decisive factor in the end, as the goal did come as City probed for a while before exploding into life, Silva of course providing the final pass before Aguero wriggled free and prodded the ball into the goal off the post despite the desperate lunges of Matic and Terry.

That helped relieve some of the stress, and Silva continued to find space with Fabregas ineffectual alongside Matic and incapable of tracking runners. The main talking point for the remainder of the half though was Fernandinho’s yellow card when jumping for a high ball with Costa who had clattered him from behind just minutes before.
Opinion is clearly split on the incident, but without any blinkers on, I just don’t see a red card offence there. Fernandinho needs to spread his arms for leverage – he cannot jump like a penguin. He knew Costa was there of course, even if he was not looking at him, so you can argue he knew what would happen, but you can’t be sure of it. Anyway, you can all make your own minds up, and it was on Costa so I for one salute him (not really). Costa is quickly becoming more odious than his manager, if that is indeed possible, and perhaps we should also ask where the punishment was for him ramming into the back of the Brazilian before the City physios had to bandage his head.

So one up at half-time, and it was inevitable that Chelsea would have to show more intent in the 2nd half, and that is precisely what happened as Terry was surprisingly substituted so that Chelsea could play a higher line, and the visitors pressed, but City defended resolutely, and did not allow many chances for Chelsea. Ramires has only just finished his lap of honour for his goal, but he was rightly given offside, even if it was only by a few inches. Chelsea didn’t fashion a shot on target until the 70th minute, Hazard going close, denied by a sprawling Hart.

Then our captain lowered everyone’s blood pressure as City amazingly scored from a corner once more, Kompany out-muscling a declining Ivanovic to give City breathing space, seconds after Chelsea has brought Falcao on and City had introduced Demichelis to the fray. Multiple harrying by Silva across the pitch saw the ball land at Fernandinho’s feet and the game was over after a sumptuous drive into the far corner. Job done, and the scene set for a Mourinho masterclass in abject bitterness post-match. A fake result, as City could have won by more.

Man of the Match? So many choices, so I’m not going to single anyone out – though if I did, it would be Kolarov, who was at his imperious best, and linked up with a busy Sterling superbly, who along with Navas helped stretch the Chelsea defence constantly. Our captain is BACK and up for the fight, as is Fernandinho, Silva was of course Silva, and Aguero was both rusty and brilliant as ever. Mangala dispelled rumours that he is on his way out, helping City to another clean sheet, Hart did his job when called upon, Sagna was excellent, hell they all were!

What a great atmosphere, the best in a long time. It would be foolish to expect that to be sustained throughout the season, but when a team and fans are up for it, the difference is immense. Look too at how Fernandinho was protected by Mangala as he left the pitch at half-time. It spoke volumes.

Bravo the club DJ – TOP BANTER with the Dr Who & One Step Beyond pop picks…

It’s too early to be drawing conclusions for the season of course, but this is a promising start, and a tricky start to the season had me fearing that we would be playing catch up again for much of the season – thankfully we now have a small amount of breathing space, though a win at Goodison would be a real statement of intent.

God the ground looked good – rest in peace Gene Kelly stand….

West Brom 0 Manchester City 3: Little Fluffy Clouds, Sweet Potato Fries & A Comfortable Win For City

Ah, it’s good to be back. Over the traditional sounds of an English summer, the drone of lawnmowers, the smack of leather on willow, a pint of urine flying through the air towards a yellow jersey, chasing daddy long legs around the house and the click of the mouse as you enter Page 3567 of Bluemoon’s Pogba thread, it was time to get back to the real business.

With Arsenal completing the treble before the season had started, City were up against it from the start, and I watched the opening game with a sense of trepidation.

The trepidation was due to the pre-season, another rather pointless affair that from a distance seemed to leave the squad ill-prepared for the challenges ahead. What do I know, eh? The South American contingent had to have a rest of course, it’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is, the season is long and tiring. With injuries elsewhere during the summer, and the usual globe-trotting, it was a lucrative but not particularly beneficial pre-season and it wasn’t our strongest 11 that opened the season at the Hawthorns, the defending at Stuttgart still fresh in plenty of minds, friendly or not.

So, all things considered, there was little surprise in the line-up. The back five was predictable, the only surprises the inclusion of Fernandinho alongside Yaya, and perhaps the inclusion of Navas over Nasri, but he remains a Pellegrini favourite, the manager well aware that he would protect his full back. Bony, with little football himself over the summer due to a mystery illness, started up front.

And from the start, a pattern was established. City passed, passed some more, then some more again. The stats tell a story. By half-time City had made more passes than 16 other Premier League clubs had done over the weekend, and by full-time they had made over 200 more than any other club. The visitors dominated the ball, but seemed, as is often the case, to want to pass the ball into the net. Thankfully it didn’t take long for City to get a break, taking the lead after nine minutes, as Navas cut back for Toure, whose shot lacked power but somehow flicked off Silva then off Craig Dawson’s leaden feet before trickling into the net.
City continued to dominate, the home side breaking forward sporadically, with little threat, and the second goal was expected, and what a beauty it was, Toure announcing his intentions for the season ahead with a trademark curled shot past a sprawling keeper having burst forward before having the ball returned to him by Bony.

So 2-0 it was at half-time, though Sterling could have wrapped up the game by then. Through on goal, the keeper spread himself well, but it was admittedly not the best shot, lacking power or direction to get round Myhill. West Brom did have the ball in the net, but it was comfortably offside.

It felt inevitable that West Brom would come at us stronger at the start of the 2nd half, which is what happened, though they created little, bar the odd header wide, and Berahino mis-controlling in front of goal, when he should have been given offside anyway.

Then for the most enjoyable moment as City not only scored from a corner, Kompany evading Lescott to loop the ball in off his shoulder, but his celebration told you a million stories. Relief and joy from the captain and a clear determination that this season will be different, this season will be better.

After that, City eased off, and the game petered out, though additional chances did come (including in the 2nd half another save from a Sterling shot from a narrow angle), and there were strong claims for a penalty after Silva was clipped, but at 0-3 it was never going to be given, especially as it’s City we’re talking about. Aguero, Nasri and DeMichelis came on to gain some fitness, and that was that.

So job done, a professional 90 minutes, with few criticisms. The Man Of The Match was obvious, David Silva utterly imperious, untouchable, a class above everyone else. Despite being hacked at for 90 minutes, he never stopped weaving his magic on the Hawthorns pitch. The defence all performed admirably, Yaya was back to his best, accompanied by a 96.5% pass completion rate, Sterling was lively, but perhaps tried a bit too hard, Bony held the ball up well and toiled, but couldn’t see enough of the ball, though he still came away with an assist and one shot pushed wide by Myhill. Navas was Navas, and only Fernandinho struggled for me, repeatedly fouling and looking off the pace – this is hardly surprising for him and others in the first game of the season – it’s too early to be drawing conclusions from individual performances, Silva apart.

I wonder if David James still thinks we’ll finish 5th? Everyone’s entitled to their opinion of course, and I do think it will be a very competitive season, with a few teams with a claim to the title, but it is rather naive to write off a team that hasn’t finished out of the top two in the previous four seasons, despite an appalling run from January to March of this year. It’s predictable that in the world of football, where knee-jerk reactions are the norm, that City are now title favourites for some.

Any other business? Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, challenge everything you believe to be true, and come to some very difficult conclusions, admit some tough things. I’ve been through a similar thing recently. It hurt – it really hurt. For 40 years, I had held this view, I knew it to be fact, I knew that there was no alternative view – but then, slowly but surely, the unthinkable crept up on me. At first a lingering thought at the back of my mind, which lingered and lingered until it became time to confront my fears and face an uncomfortable truth.

Sweet potato fries are nicer than normal fries.

There, I’ve said it.

Likewise, the endless Liverpool sycophants in the media need to accept what happened over the summer, namely that one of their players chose to move on, to a team he feels has a better chance of winning silverware, Liverpool received a handsome transfer fee, and we should all move on.
Fat chance.

As do opposition fans. I would put West Brom fans high up in my list of favourite fans, but booing Sterling because a player with no connection to them left once club for another club was both pathetic and embarrassing. This will of course continue all season as a sizeable minority of football fans are cretins, but thankfully I don’t think Sterling will care, and will not let it affect his game. After all, there is only one way to answer people like that.

And so onto the big one, far too early in the season. City have a bit of breathing space at this early stage due to the inadequacies of others on the opening weekend, but victory on Sunday would be a huge statement of intent, and leave City, often slow starters, with a five point gap over the champions.
I’d take a draw.

 

Crystal Palace 2 Manchester City 1: City’s Sorry Season Staggers Towards The Finishing Line

So that is that – the title challenge officially laid to rest, the last rites read, the faithful masses shuffling away in tears. As soon as the social media whingefest began as the team was announced, I think we all knew how this would end.

So no Bony in the squad, clearly injured, and 4-4-2 again, which is more palatable against a “non-top” team but still got the heart fluttering and the stomach sinking slightly. City started the game in 4th position, and sadly that is where they ended it.

For all the avalanche of abuse thrown at manager, players, club, mascots and more, this was not one of the worst performances of recent months, though that is like saying Danny Dyer acts quite well in EastEnders – it’s all relative.

City dominated, and had chances, though there were lulls and poor performances as always. If this match was replayed 100 times, we’d win the vast majority on the balance of play, but that pretty much sums up the season. Soft goals conceded, decisions going against us (though I appreciate we’ll have benefited elsewhere, but it certainly hasn’t “evened out” this season), a lack of a killer instinct and a bad bounce of the ball – the Palace match was the season in microcosm.

And another poor line up did not help. Dzeko was predictably poor, and his time HAS to be up now at the club, and unlike the 17 previous times I have said it, I know this time I won’t have to backtrack again. What is really frustrating was that his performance was entirely predictable, which not only begs the question as to why we went 4-4-2 and played an out-of-form, lazy striker (there, I’ve said it), but then helped point to another weakness of the Chilean, namely his inability to change things when they are not working. In the first half, Yaya Toure was equally anonymous, but we all know that his removal from the pitch is never going to happen. His goal was the only thing of note on the night, and he then decided to try and replicate it with wild shot after wild shot. A bit harsh perhaps, as he came on strong in the closing stages, but for me it was too little too late.

And it was the same old story, though not all bad. City dominated the ball, having 73% possession, a huge amount in any game, but the long-standing problems did for us in the end. Plenty of sideways passing, plenty of slow build up that allowed Palace to get 10 men behind the ball, plenty of appalling corners, plenty of threaded balls cut out, close calls, the woodwork hit, deflections wide, but always falling just short. Navas frustrated as you knew he would, and Aguero’s poor form continues, worryingly. 22 shots and only 4 on target.

Their goal was offside, at least once. The initial head-down was the clearest one, and I don’t think the scorer Murray was, as he wasn’t in front of the ball. Carragher and Neville desperately tried to portray a technically offside goal as not being offside (nope, no idea either), as it seemed too much to admit that it was simply a bad decision. They even decided to freeze the action two frames too early to try and prove the officials right. Bizarre.

Whatever, it was the only chance the home side had from open play, bar an early ball fizzing across the area before being hit over, though I thought two players were offside then too. The second goal was a killer, a stupid (but soft) foul from Fernandinho, who was generally good, punished by an excellent free kick from Puncheon. Hart was for me too far over the other side, but at the end of the day it was inch perfect from the Palace player, so no need to apportion too much blame, much as Carragher tried .

After that, City offered little, with more sterile domination. Slowly the chances came, and yet another in a seemingly endless list of wrongly denied penalty claims came and went, the ball batted away by a Crystal Palace defender, the referee and linesman once more incapable of seeing what was in front of them.

Then Yaya finally lashed one in, and we hoped for a grandstand finish, but it never came. Speroni superbly clawed a Toure shot away, Milner put an excellent cross in that no one got on the end of, and that was that. The manager’s death knell, especially considering the next game, and I actually thought he might survive for another season with a strong finish to this one.

On the one hand Pellegrini can’t take all the blame for this result, as he sent out a team that dominated, but line ups are littered with the same mistakes, game after game. Two up front. Central defenders swapped AGAIN, then ridiculous substitutions, such as bringing Milner on with three minutes to go. WHY?!

Thanks to a bad fortnight for Liverpool, the top four berth is still relatively secure, for now. After United, City have a fairly good run-in (could be better, but could be a lot worse), so the players must do what they can to haul their sorry asses over the line. Fourth means a Champions League qualifier, which we could well do without, so we have to target third. The depressing fact is that since January 10th, City have won 4 games. For all the bad refereeing decisions and marginal calls, that is simply unacceptable.

So a big, big summer ahead. Out for me should go Dzeko, Toure, Kolarov, Jovetic and perhaps even Nasri, if only to raise funds. I know he’s had his best season, but he’ll never hit the heights for me. The only problem is that if Silva gets injured, we need him. Sagna and Navas will probably stay, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if they went. Milner is probably going, Lampard definitely is (was it really worth creating a diplomatic incident to keep him?) and a few youngsters will fall by the wayside, as always.
We need to buy players that fit the system we have decided to play in the future.

And out will almost certainly go Pellegrini, and I have no defence left for him. City’s problems go far deeper than the Chilean this season, and I get annoyed at how the players often get off scot-free at his expense. However, it seems his tenure has run its course – it’s a results game, and he has come up short, very short. There is little sentiment in the game, and he knows the score. He will get a nice pay off and work somewhere else. And the sad thing is, with all the vitriol he has received this season, the man who oversaw, in his debut season, the club’s most successful ever season, for a club starved of success in recent years, will be little more than a footnote in this club’s history. I find that rather depressing.

And I hate to say it, but what depresses most, as I can take a bit of bad form, and history has made me impervious to managerial changes, are the fans.
No, not you. You’re great.
Criticism, as I’ve said many a time, is fine. Wanting the manager to go – hard to argue. No, it’s the vitriol that hurts, and it’s everywhere nowadays. Someone even complained on Twitter last night because the players didn’t wave at him on the victory parade. Let it go mate.

But there have been too many mistakes. He just can’t get the team motivated anymore, he has no Plan B, is stubborn, does not react during games quickly enough, tinkers far too much (with the central defence especially), and for me has left the defence isolated and open to too much criticism. Sometimes you have to shore up a game, sometimes you have to play direct, and sometimes a big player has to be left-out to maintain the right team shape. Pellegrini doesn’t seem to want to do any of those things, and seems to think that if he puts out a good team, business will take care of itself. Most of the time it will, but not often enough, and once a rut sets in, there’s little chance of getting out of it if you are not flexible and open to change.

Anyway, forget about the impending derby. It’s all about the Masters golf. Concentrate on the Masters golf.

I don’t even like golf.