So, where do you start with THAT?!
Facing City’s whipping boys in recent years, it was imperative that City didn’t let an ill-timed international break (aren’t they all?) disrupt their run as it was fairly obvious Chelsea would triumph later in the day so there is little room for error right now. With City victorious in six of the seven previous meetings between the two sides and Spurs in average form, there was much to be optimistic about.
With players flying around the world in the previous week and Mangala already ruled out (with Nasri) it was always going to be a slightly weaker team than normal, especially as Toure was named on the bench as many suspected. Zabaleta was left out altogether (too many chippy teas?) as Pellegrini took a few risks with thoughts of the Champions League clearly on his mind. The biggest surprise was the omission of Edin Dzeko, who scores for fun against Spurs, though the prospect of Silva behind Aguero was ample compensation.
The only thing for sure was that there would be plenty of goals – as predictable as the opposition fans singing “where were you when you were shit?”
In the end, it’s hard to dissect the game as there just isn’t enough time. Both defences had a day forget (with the odd exception of course) and at times the match resembled a training match – there was shambolic passing, sloppiness throughout the two teams but always a real attacking intent from both sides. Even David Silva shinned the ball behind for a goal-kick at one point, and it wasn’t his greatest 90 minutes. It could have been 8-4 in the end, especially as Spurs were there for the taking in the last 20 minutes as City cruised over the finish line.
Credit to Tottenham, who with their high line and no shortage of skilful players in their team, posed City all manner of problems – we cannot attribute their threat simply down to poor play on City’s part. However, the international break, though it is not an excuse as it effects all the teams, certainly seemed to have taken its toll on quite a few players. Demichelis and Kompany were shaky, Fernando the worst player on the pitch. He may well have not been match-fit, but with the absence of Nasri and the travels of Yaya, perhaps Pellegrini’s hands had been tied.
There were three stand-out performances in the end. Joe Hart was of course the first. Some of the saves were hit at him but he can only save what comes his way and the point is that with crucial saves at 0-0 and at 2-1, some of his saves may well have been game-changers. If Soldado had scored his penalty, then City’s chances of retaining their premiership crown may have slipped further away. I still wish he’d stop kicking the ball long though.
Then there was James Milner, a man re-born. Let’s hope he signs that new contract, because he has shown everyone his worth this season. Full of industry, guile and no little skill, he was crucial to the win as others around him floundered- it’s just a shame he didn’t quite get the goal his game merited, striking the post late on. Roma have been linked with the player, but as that particular exclusive came from the pen of Jeremy Cross at The Star, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep, a man who displayed to the nation the standard of journalism from a select few in England with a cretinous Sunday Supplement performance.
And then of course there was Sergio Aguero, who now becomes City’s top scorer in the Premier League. A pointless stat, as football actually existed before 1992, but his worth cannot be doubted. He has been carefully eased into the season and taken on extra gym work to avoid the injuries that have marred previous seasons, and the merit of a fully-fit Kun is clear for the world to see. To be honest, he could have had eight goals. With better finishing, better passes from teammates and a bit of luck who knows what he could have achieved? The opposition defence played into his hand with the space they afforded him and their high line and they did not know how to handle him – every time he got the ball you felt something wonderful may happen. As it turned out, the fourth goal took a helpful small deflection off Vertonghen’s toe, and the first could have been disallowed because of an offside Lampard jumping out of the way, but nevertheless at times it seemed all too easy for Aguero – let’s pray he can keep his fitness this season, as he has only featured 60% of the time so far.
Elsewhere, the full-backs did fine without excelling, though Spurs seemed to threaten far more down Clichy’s side. Others weren’t at their best and Navas was both exhilarating and frustrating in equal measures, as is often the case. I love the guy, and he excites more than most, but you do still feel he is capable of more – I’d love to see him take on his man more, but he offered plenty anyway. Lampard too was playing well before his unfortunate injury – let’s hope it is not too serious for the surprise package of the season (in that I didn’t think he would feature much).
As for the penalties – City’s first was soft, and probably a penalty in the modern game as there was contact on Lampard. I wouldn’t have moaned much if it hadn’t been given though, and whilst modern rules probably point to a penalty, I really wish they didn’t.
The second penalty was nailed-on.
The Tottenham penalty was a terrible call by the referee. It was a soft contact again on Soldado by Demichelis, perhaps slightly tapping him, but if you give Lampard’s you give that. What is beyond doubt though is that it was outside the area and should have been a free-kick.
The final penalty was also nailed-on. The only debate is whether a red card was merited as it is hard to judge when the fouled player is not in possession of the ball – however replays suggest Aguero was definitely going to get on the end of the Navas cross, so it seems to have been the correct decision.
There was also a penalty claim against a Sagna handball, but as it was hit at him from two yards, it clearly wasn’t a spot-kick offence.
Another master-class from Balotelli this weekend – and to think some fans wanted him back at City.
A few words away from the match, about the only remotely controversial occurrence during a dour international break. Raheem Sterling dared tell his international manager that he was tired, as any player should do rather than hide such things, then all hell broke loose. Sterling is a teenager who has played nine games in a month and needs to be nurtured like any player through a busy schedule otherwise he risks injury, burn-out and as anyone should know, a player’s performance diminishes when he is not in peak performance, so a manager needs to know the condition of his squad. Athletes, amazingly, are allowed to get tired. Even more amazingly, and this may shock you, the size of a pay packet does not affect how tired players get. Amazing, I know. Sterling did not ask to be dropped, but merely informed his manager of his condition. There is no story, but of course there has to be a story all the time for some of our press and especially during the tedium of an international break when pages need to be filled, and hits need to be obtained. What was most telling though was the reminder of what a bleak, soul-sapping place Twitter can be sometimes, as some pea-brained individuals somehow thought it appropriate to compare Sterling’s situation to that of soldiers, who of course never get a day off because they are tired. If I need to explain to you why the two situations are completely different then I feel sorry for you. I even feel pity. Sterling learnt the hard way that it never pays to be honest and Roy Hodgson is learning the same by being open about what goes on in his squad – clearly his best option next time would be to lie. Or pick an unfit Sterling then get slated when he gets injured. Hiding to nothing hashtag……
And talking of the need to moan about anything, having recently discussed the extortionate cost of modern football, City have announced a buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for the CSKA Moscow game. Bravo! What’s not to love about that, half price tickets! Oh no, hang on, this is actually a bad thing, because those who have bought tickets aren’t happy because they hadn’t actually bothered to check out the terms of the deal. It would have been easier to have announced this from the start and this may be a reaction to poor ticket sales for the game (in fact I am sure it is), but existing ticket holders can get extra free tickets, so a champions league game is essentially £12.50 to watch. And yet, and yet – somewhere on the internet, right now, a United fan is typing a tweet saying “Ha ha Citeh bitter’s support so poor they have to give tickets away!! #jokeclub # councilhouse # smallclub #nohistory”
The misplaced apostrophe was deliberate.
And so onto the bizarre experience of a match in an empty stadium – who knows what effect this will have on the players, though in theory it should be more of an advantage to City. My own theory is it will lead to many goals.
Please god don’t let the “Mozart” nickname take off for Aguero. Alvaro Negredo left the country to escape his nickname, let’s not drive another striker back to Spain.