Saturday, 20 September 2014

Will it be 3 in a row? I hope so…

I think I was correct, recently, when I suggested that fielding just one striker from the start two games in-a-row was unprecedented for our manager. Ahead of the Chelsea game, could we be looking at a definite 3 games in-a-row with just one striker from Manuel Pellegrini?


Forced issue?


This was always going to be my opening gambit [about the one / two striker scenario] but following the pre-match press conference, I find that ‘The Engineer’s’ hand may well now be forced somewhat. This is due to soreness in Edin Dzeko’s back following a nasty-looking ‘jar’ during the unlucky Bayern defeat on Wednesday night.

So…with no Jovetic I think it’ll be up to the rested Sergio to lead the line, not necessarily “alone” as such, but certainly as the one recognised striker. And I, personally, am happy with that…even at home.

Jose’s men come to the Etihad jam-packed with attacking midfield talent and, as is becoming almost ‘the norm’ these days in the Premier Leagueand for us with our ‘oppos’ in particular – I think we need to adapt and almost ‘fight fire with fire’ if you will.

I do almost long for teams to play fluid 4-4-2s more often than not with two strikers but I fully understand and appreciate the 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1 (or similar formation); with flare, pacy, creative players behind one ‘hit man’. I think, quite often, the ‘fear factor’ of not wanting to risk coming out of games with no points whatsoever kind-of influences managers into choosing these formations.

But forced or otherwise, this is what I think our manager will go for in another early-crucial, Premier League game on Sunday (4:00pm KO BST).

v Chelsea

4-1-4-1:

_______________Aguero_______________

 

 

Nasri___________________________Navas

__________Toure_______Silva___________


_____________Fernandinho_____________

 



 

_________________Hart_________________
 


From the back…

Hart to continue between the sticks.

Kolarov to provide more attacking thrust at home; Zaba gets a start after his forced absence [through suspension] in midweek.

I was, at one stage, going for Eliaquim to start this one…and in NOT predicting him to start now I may well be wrong. But Martin is doing really quite well at the moment and providing his older legs aren’t feeling it after tough trips to Arsenal and the German champions, I think he’ll ‘get the nod’ again. Kompany of course to partner him.

Ahead of them must be Fernandinho who showed signs of season-improvement on Wednesday night. Some would say he HAD to due to an abject performance from Yaya. I’ll come on to that…

So, the Brazilian to (mostly) ‘hold’ and then an attacking quartet of Nasri, the afore mentioned Ivorian, Silva and Navas. Now that has some midfield attacking bite and pace, with the raring-to-go Argentine destroyer ahead of it!

Particularly with Fernando and Jovetic still out with injuries the bench sort of picks itself really. There’s a dilemma for me, however; will Frank be picked against Chelsea or not?

There were – and still are – rumours that there’d been a request from the ex-Chelsea midfielder that he-not be selected to face his old club. However, although never revealing his hand of course; Manuel seemed to suggest that it wasn’t a consideration at all. Other pundits have since backed ‘Lamps’ to be professional and make himself available for selection…other footy sources are even backing the England international to score on Sunday.

The alternative would be to put another ex-Chelsea player on the bench instead, in Scott Sinclair. Still seems strange to see him in contention for a place (and I say that in wishing him all the very best of luck).

Result? Pre-season I said we’d win this one…and I’m sticking with that. I don’t normally go as far as predicting an actual score but I’m thinking a 2-1 win here. A draw wouldn’t be a complete disaster but it would, of course, be a better result for the away team on this occasion.

But I’ve got a good feeling that we’ll use the last home defeat [to Stoke] and the midweek irritating disappointment to good effect against the Londoners.

The Yaya debate


It just goes to show you how fans view games differently. Where I agree with the apparent majority is that Yaya produced a performance that yielded few, if any, results in the Champions League opener. I also agree that he’s had a quiet start to this season’s campaign (his Fantasy Football League stats alone are proof of that) and I totally agree that it was foolhardy to be laughing & joking in public with the opposition manager, Pep Guardiola, so soon after a very disappointing, last minute blow for his colleagues and travelling fans (whatever his reasons and possible intentions).

Powerful running - need to see more...
Huh…all that aside, I recall sitting in front of the TV at home and although it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination the most obvious detail of the evening; I clearly recall observing – and even commenting on – the fact that, for the first time this season, Yaya had got his ‘stride’ back. When given the room and on, okay rare, occasions; his penetrating, trademark, freight train runs were in evident. But, and fair enough, with no end product. 5/10 from the MEN? I suppose so.

Flirting? Certainly silly.
His attitude – and not for the first time – was questioned after the Bayern game…and both the manager and his assistant have been questioned about this too. Neither were ever going to respond other than saying that there wasn’t an issue but it won’t have gone unnoticed that Yaya’s performances haven’t yet come close to those of (mostly) last season.

If Yaya does have some lingering and underlining ‘head’ issues I, for one, have 100% confidence in our ‘charming man’ pulling him out of it soon enough. And if he can’t, I have 100% confidence that Manuel, Ferran & Txiki will ‘off load’ him at the right time and for the right price; whilst they will, I'm sure, have already negotiated for his replacement. Either way, I’m not overly concerned at this stage.

It could be worse, we could still have Mario Balotelli on our hands (I can’t wait for those shenanigans to begin).

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

It can be a cruel, cruel game…

Bayern fans and officials may say a narrow win was a fair result and so might the neutrals. They might say that…and they might be right.


Blue-tinted glasses?


I don't agree - I think a draw would have been the 'fair one'. Yeah they had the better of the chances and MORE chances [than we had]. A illustration of that is the 9/10 performance our England number 1 keeper, Joe Hart, put in. What a performance!

And…eventually anyway…the home side gradually pushed us back from 52 / 48% possession for most of the first half to a slightly improved 58 / 42%. But for a Bayern home side – admittedly a slightly under-strengthen one – that’s hardly a familiar stat to satisfy a Pep Guardiola home side, is it?

Part of that you have to give us credit for in my opinion - in between the scares and immense performance from ‘our Joe’, our possession play was really quite good. At one stage in the first half I swear we had 35 to 40 passes at the Allianz Arena.

But possession is nothing, of course, without some ‘cut ‘n’ thrust’ and although we certainly DID have our chances, they weren’t exactly clear cut…especially when compared to the German side’s efforts.

Edin Dzeko had a couple but was largely ineffective throughout the game and once David Silva EVENTUALLY got going and into the game (that slow start from him was strange - even when we were ‘holding our own’ he appeared absent) the Spaniard had his chances too.

The U-boat Robben
And we had a decent shout for a penalty – certainly more so than the cheating (again!) Robben

Slight criticism from me for the starting personnel (and not just because I only got 8 from the starting 11 correct). I just felt that this was a game for the more fluid Sergio, who looked to pose a bit more of a danger to their defence when he came on for the often-languid-looking Edin who had an...average game all round. Gael played well (again) but doubling-up / overlapping runs from Aleks might have proven a better strategy against a slightly-depleted home side who we may have been able to catch on the break a bit more.

Navas, again and in fairness, saw lots of the ball and provided his usual threat – he’s having a very good season so far (including pre-season). But I just felt that we could have, instead, 'beefed up' the midfield from the start with the pairing of Milner & Fernandinho for this one. Bringing Navas on with ‘tired legs’ around him could have then done the trick.

It’s all about opinions…and Pellegrini has far more trophies to his name than I do.

It smarts a bit and that’s why, rather than feeling too down, our strong-minded, pride-hurt team will come back stronger for it I’m certain.

Next up? A Chelsea side (on Sunday - 4:00pm KO BST) who will also be irritated at being held to a draw at home last night…

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Quick Bayern preview…

With time constraints this, I’m sorry to say, is a bit of a quick Champions League ‘opener’ Blog-posting. Sorry.


Straight to it then (predicted line-up)



4-2-3-1

 
_______________Aguero_______________

 

 

Nasri___________Toure____________Silva
 


_________Milner_____Fernandinho_______

 

 

 

_________________Hart_________________
 


I’ve little doubt that, for an unprecedented second time in a row, our manager will opt for just one striker.

Nasri to start (unlike at Arsenal) and Toure to return after his long trip for his national side. Navas to the ‘the unlucky one’ I think; Silva on the right with TWO holding midfielders in two-games-in-a-row Milner and Fernandinho. If correct of course; what a difference [for Milner] a week makes…

After a tough game just 4 days earlier I’ve gone for Demichelis to have a rest on the bench with Mangala making his debut. Again, if true, I can’t wait to see the fledgling partnership with Vinny.

I think our ‘Engineer’ will go for the slightly more counter attacking full-backs of Aleks & Bacary; although he’ll be cautious of the threat the home side possess he’ll want to hit and hurt them on the break as much as possible.

Result? I’m going for a very creditable score draw.

Confirmed…sadly


Not content with looking like Coventry City at home [colours] and Arsenal / Manyoo away [usual, past kits]; as I suspected City have confirmed the release of a cup / 3rd strip that will make our lads look like Wimbledon tennis ball boys. We might even see it tonight…


Yuk!
Bl-errr...
 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Steely

At times Arsenal were like a red rash down our middle and back yesterday; very much expected, of course, and that’s one of the reasons to be very 'pleased with' and 'proud of' our performance & players yesterday.

 

Let’s get some 'minuses' out of the way…

 
I had an inkling that Frank Lampard would make his debut yesterday. However, I thought he might be 'eased in' and come on as a hopeful ‘impact substitution’ to either set up or nick a goal. Instead he was thrown straight into a fast-paced and compact midfield…and he just couldn’t cope. We’ll see better from Frank in a City shirt I’m sure of it.
 
Fernandinho still looks a little off-pace; he deserved his yellow card and, in general, just wasn’t as effective as his slightly shorter named, midfield colleague would have been. Not a terrible performance but we were looking for someone to attempt to stem the tide a little better yesterday. Again, he’ll improve throughout the season I have no doubt.
 
4 yellows in one game is a considerable amount to take so early on in the season - we could do without Pablo and, especially with our ‘striker situation’, Sergio having to endure a game ban.
 
It wasn’t a particularly dirty game – although I’m starting to see some ‘cheating elements’ to Jack Wilsheres game – and I think, instead, 7 cards between both sides shows how competitive and frantic it was; particularly in midfield.
 
Pellegrini made a point of this in his post-match interview where he appeared to be considerably irked about decisions not going for us (leading to their 2 goals); commenting also about the fact that we were shown too many yellow cards in his opinion. By his standards it was practically a refereeing rant!
 
For ‘the negatives’…that’s about it really.
 

Late night viewing

 
Having got back from a wedding (minus the evening ‘do’ part) at 7:00pm; by the time we’d ‘sorted stuff out’ it was almost 9:00pm before I started to watch the game. And my viewing started with a personal victory in that I’d managed to go through the whole day without knowing the result! Of course there was a media (phone & radio blackout) but there were enough Blues, reds & neutrals there to ‘let it slip’. They didn’t.
 
Didn’t Arsenal just ‘bluster’ their way through the middle? It was like a souped-up, red & white battering ram at times; not much to their width-play at all but they were through our midfield and ‘at’ our defence time and time and time…and time again.
 
Kompany was immense! If it wasn’t for one over exuberant moment in the second half that lead to one of their goals his 9/10 performance would have made a 9.5. Apart FROM that one mistake [that saw him out of position as Arsenal scored] his defensive work was phenomenal; he was only missing a ‘cherry on’ goal to push him to a 10 for me. The watching Eliaquim Mangala must be rubbing his hands to get his chance of playing next to ‘our skip’…
 
But it’s Demichelis who ‘has that particular shirt’ at the moment and although I’m sure we’ll see Eliaquim make his debut at Bayern on Wednesday night; Martin deserves to keep his spot against Chelsea the following Sunday.
 
Should Mangala put in a Kompany-like performance against the German side – and I hope he does of course – Demichelis might, however, find himself a little unlucky to be left out at home to Jose’s men just 4 days later. I say that because he’s had a very solid start to the season [on the back of a decent last third of last season] and I, personally, find the M.E.N.’s rating and comments a little harsh following yesterday’s game. All things considered about the afore mentioned attacking Arsenal midfield - as well as his age / lack of pace - I thought Martin did remarkably well. A solid 7/10 from me.
 
Clichy & Zaba too deserve plenty of defensive plaudits; Navas down the right in attack continued his very fine form (good tactics from our manager to pick him for this one). And what a classy finish from Aguero.
 
Milner did his "argument" no harm at all yesterday either.
 
Hands up who'd have thought, last season (or this for that matter), that you'd see Scott Sinclair being named on the bench against Arsenal this season.
 
But although I could see that Arsenal’s pacy, raiding midfield was overwhelming for our lads at times, what impressed me the most was our ‘steel’. We were NOT there to be pounded on into submission and sat there, as I was, watching the recording; the sheer determination our lads produced was palpable.
 
After the game Vinny said that the team showed “mental strength” and our Manager praised his players for showing a collective “personality”. Very accurate words indeed. And for a team missing Fernando, £32M acquisition Mangala, Toure, Nasri (for 50% of the game) and Jovetic; that’s very, very heartening indeed.
 
Other clubs may have spent and spent big on some amazing players in the summer – Chelsea look frightening and if they ‘click’, Manyoo have some extraordinary attacking talent at their disposal – but we are so very obviously a “team” now and, as our neighbours have shown down the years, that counts for LOADS in the Premier League.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Arsenal preview and…

…so it begins. I’m not gonna say “I told you so” with regards to limited cover through times of injuries and I certainly wasn’t the only one to raise eyebrows at the end of the 2014 summer transfer window.

But already it’s started with a Vincent Kompany scare and an injury to Stevan Jovetic.


Will ‘no Jovetic’ change our plans for Arsenal?


Well the short answer is “No” – Pellegrini likes his 4-4-2, even if it can be a ‘fluid one’ when required. And, of course, he still has two fit, first team strikers at his disposal…for now at least.

The longer answer might lie in the fact that we are away to a VERY good side indeed and one, which, by design or forced-otherwise, might once again pack the midfield behind just one striker. I say “again” because, of course, that’s exactly what they did against us at Wembley in the Community Shield and albeit a very much weakened City side; it worked tremendously well for them.

With Giroud out and with their new acquisition firing for England – along with the added incentive of a home debut against his former employer’s rivals – you won’t get good odds at all on Whinger playing an attacking 4-5-1 against us on Saturday.

Even with Ozil (a small doubt) & Walcott (definitely out), The Gunners have plenty of attacking flare AND pace in their side and, for that, we are going to have to be 100% alert throughout the whole of the 90+ minutes. That being the case, it poses some interesting questions about our personnel throughout the whole of the team for the early Saturday KO (12:45pm BST).

For example…

‘To Mangala’ or ‘not to Mangala’. A defender, we are told, with BAGS of pace and power. Fully fit and ‘at pace’? Then I’d say ‘go for it’ Manuel.

Debut this Saturday?
However, it doesn’t get much more ‘baptism of fire’ than a game at the Emirates facing the pacy duo of Welbeck and Sanchez (to name just two) and so would introducing the ex-Porto player be a big mistake? Then again ‘next up’ (in the league) is a certain Chelsea after a trip to Bayern…and so how long would we have to wait to ‘ease Eliaquim into a Premier League game’?

Away at Hull (27th September)?

Away at Villa (4th October)?

Home to Spurs (18th October)?

Perhaps ‘in at the deep end’ might be the way to go here…

And I say that also because – baring in mind the afore mentioned formation and pace of the opposition – the alternative would be the considerably slower Martin Demichelis. For this game, at least, that sends shivers down my spine!

And then there’s the inevitable left-back dilemma. Neither have BLISTERING pace and although I think Clichy would win a race; I don’t think there would be much between both him and Kolarov. Clichy for me is the more defensive of the two...

Normally I wouldn’t have a seconds thought about the right back slot but, on this occasion, would ‘familiarity’ win on the day? Would Sagna’s recent release from Saturday’s opponents have an advantage for us? Would it have a disadvantage / be an advantage for them?

Never, in my time of doing this Blog (since 28th April 2013), has a fixture thrown up so many intriguing questions about ‘personnel possibilities’ – and I’m not even past talking about the defence yet!

The right-side of the defence, however, could well be decided by ANOTHER possible injury rather than by choice or design as, apparently, Pablo hobbled off against Germany the other day. He might be a doubt or, at least, a risk to start with him.

Moving on and up the pitch…

We’ll certainly need at least one, solid-defensive unit sitting in midfield just ahead of the back 4 for this game; two in my opinion if we are to (over) stretch ourselves by fielding two out & out strikers from the start.

This is tailor made for Fernando, should he be deemed fit to play following his recent injury. Fernandinho could, of course, fill that role too; providing he listens to instructions to mostly defend and not ‘go-a-wandering’. Milner, for me at least, is another fine option ‘in there’.

Not sure this is a game for Yaya to be honest; not unless we stick him right up top against their defence / behind our striker. Heavily populated midfields just aren’t his thing; especially on the back of a relatively slow start to the season for the big man. It would be a bold move by Pellegrini to leave him out of course and GOD would it get the media tongues excruciatingly wagging. But it would be an understandable one in my book at least.

Then there’s the Arsenal fans / Nasri factor. Putting it bluntly, they just…DO…get to him. I might well be wrong here but I’m sure my memory banks recall more ‘poor’ performances from the French winger / midfielder than ‘good’ ones when facing his old club. Again…it would be another bold but understandable move to leave Samir on the bench at the start.

I just can’t see that happening though, and although I can’t see this either…

_______________Aguero_______________
 

 


Nasri___________________________Navas

___________Toure_______Silva__________

 

_______________Fernando______________
 

Clichy____Mangala____Kompany___Zabaleta
 

 

_________________Hart_________________

…I would certainly like to see our Manager adapt to a game without Jovetic by putting in our very own frightening, attacking and fairly pacy midfield.

However, this is what I THINK our manager will go with (tough one for me to call though):

v Arsenal

4-4-2 (albeit a fluid one):
 

_________________Dzeko_________________


 
_________________Aguero________________
 

______Nasri___________________Silva______

_________________Toure_________________

                               * Fernandinho
________________Fernando_______________

 

Kolarov_____Mangala____Kompany____Sagna

 
 

__________________Hart__________________

Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Lampard, Fernandinho, Milner, Navas.

* Update (13.09.2014): Fernando out for 2 weeks as from 12.09.2014; Jovetic about a week to 10 days as from the same date.

I think he’ll go with my centre back 2 pairing but he might plum for Aleks instead of Gael on the left. Why? Well, as you can see, I’ve gone for him picking a diamond 4 midfield (that includes Aguero sitting slightly deeper) with Samir & David ‘tucked in’ a little more. This, I think and if he ‘does do’, will encourage Sagna (preferred over the recently 'knocked' Zaba) and Aleks to attack more than you might expect away to Arsenal.

A very busy afternoon and a hard task there then - pasta for breakfast Aleks & Bacary!

Dangerous tactic? Well…not really. And knowing our Engineers’ psychi as I think I do; he’ll want to put the home side – and their potential, marauding midfield – on the 'back foot' as much as possible. Hope so. And what better way than to squeeze our midfield in slightly and allow room for an extra ‘wing bursts’ from the back from time to time (with Fernando or whoever watching the back like hawk).

A‘bench spot’ for Frank today I think. WHAT a reception he’d get from the home crowd if he came on! And, in ‘Lamps’, we’d have the potential for late goals, which'll be a bonus with a lack of substitute strikers on the bench.

Result? It should be a very intriguing & exciting game indeed. I’m sticking with my pre-season prediction for this one and I’m going for a draw - goals...but a draw.

I’ll take that…

Of course this Blog-posting comes a good way before the official pre-match press conference and only about the time some of the players are just returning from international duty. Therefore I’m sure we’ll all know more about who is available and who isn’t.

Personal note


I’m at a flippin’ 12-noon wedding on Saturday!

If anyone tells me the score before I get home at about 5:00pm to, then-hopefully, watch the recording; I will be mightily peeved to say the least. With a room full of both Blues and reds I don’t think I’ll be able to avoid it really…

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Almost lost for words and…

…is this the end of Pellegrini’s permanent 4-4-2?


Feeling a little numb…


I think this is the most stunned – negatively so – I’ve ever been since our new owners took over. Even more so than when Roberto Mancini was ‘done away with’.

Is it because we’ve not splashed loads of cash in the final throws of the summer transfer window and have not, specifically, brought in some more top-quality players? No, not at all; I fully understand and appreciate the situation with regards to F(not so)FP and our current ‘slap on the wrist’ sanction.

Is it, then, because we haven’t brought in ANY creative / goal-scoring threat whatsoever? Yeah…partly.

But in addition to…no addition in the creative / attacking department, it feels like we’ve had our team stripped to the bone in terms of defending our Premier League title. At least we no longer have to listen to the words – and live up to the expectation of having “…the biggest squad in the Premier League” because we [now] haven’t.

And as for having the most expensively assembled, Premier League squad ever, well…huh.

So what’s ‘the damage’?


Goalkeepers:

No issues there with 2 top-class keepers and decent quality in Richard Wright too, should we need him.

Left-backs:

Well…regular readers will know that I don’t hold Aleks Kolarov in VERY high regard in terms of him being a defender but he’s “okay” and sure has his uses as a wing-back. As for Gael Clichy, he has the ability to be a very good defender and just needs to apply himself more regularly at times. His first season in a blue shirt was top-notch and he appears to be having a good start to this campaign (including pre-season). No MAJOR issues there…

Central defenders:

Well if we’d have off-loaded Matija Nastasic – a decision for such a decent and promising defender that completely baffles me – then I would be saying that we have been left a little vulnerable in this area.

Clearly our manager who, fair enough, sees Matija in training [and we don’t] just doesn’t like him for some reason. So let us, just for a moment, “forget him” and see what we have.

A much-improved and Premier-League-settled Martin Demichelis but one, who, still lacks strength on the ball and whose lack of pace will, I’m sure, undo us from time to time again this season.

Vincent Kompany – one of the best central defenders in the world…but one who can ‘break down’ twice a season and for 6 to 12 weeks at a time too.

Eliaquim Mangala – a much sort-after and, apparently, classy & pacy defender. Hope so.


So, the scenario goes like this…

Kompany ‘pulls up’ and is out for 8 weeks and, adjusting to the pace of the Premier League; Mangala clips the heels of an opponent when he’s ‘last man’ and gets a straight red for his troubles. Not an outlandish scenario I hope you’ll agree?

Are you, therefore, happy with the centre-back-pairing for the next Premier League game (or games) being that of Demichelis & Boyata?

Defensive midfield:

No problems there whatsoever.

Attacking / creative midfield:

Not really an issue…but we could have done with one more (and that’s NOT being too greedy in my book).

If they are all ‘firing’ and can stay fully fit then we shouldn’t have an issue at all really. BUT…just look at the creativity [and firepower] available to us at home to Stoke last Saturday where we scored ‘zero’ and, erm, ‘lost’.

Strikers:

Possibly the most stark I’ve ever seen our strike-force since we joined the ‘top table’ of the Premier League (and aren’t we pushing for “improvement” in the Champions League this season too?)

Again…when on form, fit and firing we have three tremendous strikers on our books. But similar to the central defender situation there is some serious ‘flakiness’ here now.

Admittedly in Alvaro Negredo we’ve just let a striker go (basically, permanently) who’s going to be injured for another 8 weeks or so and yeah; he lost form dramatically after his (unnecessary) shoulder injury last season. But my WORD are we exposed here now.

So THIS scenario goes…

Stevan Jovetic, out for most of last season with various ‘niggles’, breaks down again and takes 6 to 8 weeks to get over the injury…and then another 3 to 4 weeks to find his pace / form again. Half-way-through that period Sergio ‘does a Sergio’ and ‘pulls up’ in pain. After a failed return, whereby the Argentinean ‘goes down’ again after just 30 minutes into his ‘comeback game’; he’s then out for a further 5 weeks.

Unrealistic? No I don’t think so either.

Meanwhile, in the world of Mr Dzeko and whilst playing in a lone-striking role, Edin doesn’t exactly grasp the situation with both hands (or feet). Rather he clumsily tries to grasp a wet bar of soap with one hand; occasionally managing brief moments of decent play and even managing a few goals; some of which are vital ones, at vital times and in vital games to be fair.

John Guidetti? Well like Nastasic he clearly isn’t wanted and we can’t even rely on EDS-impressive Devante Cole because he’s been sent to…Barnsley.

Will, then, Jordi Hiwula be promoted to the first team? Huh…who knows.

Change of formation


Whether he wants to or not; some of those scenarios (or similar) might just force ‘The Engineer’s’ hand now. And yeah…David Silva has played ‘in the hole’ behind the striker to a high degree and Yaya Toure does a pretty decent job of an advanced midfield role too.

Ahead of a back 4...

Possibility number 1:

_______________Dzeko_______________

 

__________Silva_____________________
 
Nasri________________Toure_____Navas
 

__________Fernando_________________

 
Possibility number 2:

_______________Dzeko_______________

 

 
Nasri___________Toure____________Silva


________Fernando______Milner_________
 

Possibility number 3 (all three strikers out) – the 4-6-0 Barcelona / Bayern plan:



________________Silva_______________
 

Nasri___Fernandinho____Toure____Navas

 

_______________Fernando_____________

 
And for one Manchester City player, the Manchester City ‘outgoing activity’ should be seen as a good one. HAHM-ez Milner should be a little happier in-seeing that there might now be room for him somewhere in a 4-4-1-1 / 4-5-1 from time to time.

But what worries me (even more) is that our midfield (and defence of course) might be far too busy stemming the incessant tide of attacking waves produced by the other ‘challenging’ teams who have all spent big…REALLY big on their attacking / creative midfielders & strikers this summer. Mangala, Fernando (& Lampard) couldn’t possibly have envisaged the size of the task that now clearly lies ahead…

And just as I was trying to get my head around all of this, up popped the news that we’ve SOLD – not loanedEmyr Huws to Wigan Athletic! Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the ‘promising few’ coming through the EDS? WT…?!

In Pellegrini we trust? In Khaldoon Al Mubarak & Co. we trust? Well of course I do. And, I have to remind myself, I have been ‘banging on’ both via my Blog and in conversation that we are still ‘in this for the long haul’ and there are some VERY exciting, long-term plans (and times) ahead.

We have, for example, recruited some apparently-exciting youngsters (sadly all from abroad at this stage of our development) in the form of Kelechi Iheanacho, Rodney Kongolo, Javairo Dilrosun and Kjetil Haug; all more-recently added to other young lads MCFC have requited over the last 12 months. And in the Etihad Campus we have one of the best – if not ‘THE’ best – academies about to open in October 2014.

Then, of course, we have the stadium expansion(s). 54,000 capacity for the start of next season; 60,000 for the start of the 2017/18 season. If we can mostly fill them by those timescales…then great!

And, of course, we’ve easily passed the sanction imposed on us by UEFA and with ‘the guys in the City back rooms’ working hard, I’m sure, to secure some more lucrative deals in the next 6 to 12 months; we’ll see a far more active incoming transfer window; if not in January then CERTAINLY in the summer of 2015.

Being realistic…


But – and I hope I’m wrong here folks – brace yourself for us not retaining our title this season (despite my earlier, pre-window-closing prediction). Brace yourself also for a repeat, at best, of last season’s Champions League campaign (perhaps getting to the ‘quarters’ at best).

Be satisfied, if you can be, with a possible 3rd-place-finish and, with some luck with injuries, a League or F.A. Cup final for us to try an’ win. Because without wishing to sound dour; I believe that is where we’ve left ourselves after 11:00pm (BST) on 1st September 2014.

Summing up


We have tremendous players at our football club with HUGH talent of course; the envy of many-a-Premier League and European Club. But apart from some sound, defensive recruitment early on; I feel that with ‘the others’ strengthening as they have done, we have been left looking a little motionless in the last few weeks.

I hope I’m wrong of course but when you look back at the crazy, CRAZY summer of spending and, as I say, where ‘on the pitch’ our rivals have strengthened compared to our ‘trimming of the squad’; it just leaves me feeling as though not only have some of the other teams caught up but in many ways they have surpassed us ahead of the long season that awaits us all.

Want to do some last minute recruiting, City, then get the best equipment, medics and physios around to join the (already accomplished I’m sure) staff at the club…because we’ll need to keep all our lads fully fit and available as much as humanly possible over the next 9 months just to keep up!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

‘Hats off’ and the ‘T’ word

I suppose you’ve got to hand it to Mark Hughes and Stoke City; they certainly ‘did a number on us’ yesterday. 73% possession just wasn’t enough to break down the Stoke wall(s) and a fully expected 3 points turned into a miserable zero on a dull and eventually very wet afternoon / evening.


So what went wrong?


Well, as I say, I think we have to give some credit to Stoke - they came with a game-plan and it worked. Defend, defend and defend again…and then hit us on the break. It certainly isn’t the first time teams have ‘sat’ and done this either at the Etihad OR on their own patch to a large degree and it won’t be the last.

And, once again, in fairness to Stoke - and in the first half - they created some chances for themselves with some lively play in very short bursts. They also, I have to remind myself, had a couple of chances to add to their goal later on in the game.

It’s almost surprising to see that we had 16 shots on target [to their 2] because, and quite rightly, my mate frustratingly screamed out 3/4s of the way through the match, “Will SOMEBODY please shoot!” There was a sense of a little TOO much tippy-tappy from City and not enough ‘drive’ at times but, then again, what CAN you do when faced with 2 layers of Stoke City shirts?

We did rattle the crossbar in the first half and of the two teams we did look the more likely to score. It wasn’t a terrible performance (I think the M.E.N. player ratings are a little harsh).

But with the creativity that we have in the likes of Nasri, Silva, Toure, Navas, Fernandinho, Jovetic & Aguero  (and ‘pushed on’ fullbacks) that SHOULD have been enough to unlock them on our ‘own patch’.

But I find myself repeating – ‘well done’ Stoke. At one point we were so far up the pitch that I pointed out at the time that we were playing a kind of 1-3-6 formation. As crazy as it might sound, this then turned into a kind of 0-5-5 formation as we put tremendous pressure on the Stoke box.

Just as I had pointed out this crazy-sounding team set up – BANG! 0-1.

Blow


Yeah it’s a small set back, especially as Chelsea picked up another 3 points and added 3 goals to their ‘GD’ column in a mad 3-6 away win at Goodison Park. And having picked off Newcastle away and last season’s runners up Liverpool at home the Typical City reared its ugly head again yesterday. It didn’t do my Fantasy Football team much good either, as my Captain & Vice Captain Aguero & Jovetic both hit blanks.

Back to reality, though, and we are also awaiting news on Fernando’s injury, which looked like a ‘groin thing’.

Although I’ve heaped plenty of praise on Mark Hughes’ side I will add that I thought they ‘roughed us up’ a bit too. I’m not crying ‘foul’ too heavily here - it’s a so-called man’s game after all.

But there was an awful lot of ‘digs’ and ‘clips’ going on yesterday. Once again, however, I suppose you could say ‘well done’ for that too because they got away with it for the most part and it did appear to rattle us a little.

But let us not forget they also got away with a blatant penalty. I say blatant because it LOOKED like, from my seat at the time, that the Stoke player ‘left a leg dangling’ but I couldn’t be certain as to how much that affected Yaya forward run towards goal or whether contact was made. Having now seen the footage a few times it an obvious penalty for me and the fact that Yaya was booked for diving was a complete farce.

Then again, Stoke had their own penalty shout in the first half when Kolarov made contact with the lively & dangerous Diouf right on the line.

So there was an ‘unlucky’ aspect to yesterday’s defeat too and, at the risk of sound-bite-clich├ęs; we will get the rub of the green in the long season that lies ahead – we’ll recover whilst at the same time other title chasers will stumble on their ‘off days’.

 

Any positives?


As we trouped away from the ground in the increasingly heavy rain (where was the forecasted mid-afternoon sunshine yesterday by the way?) my friend & I were trying to be a bit philosophical about the defeat. It might, we discussed, not be such a bad thing to have an early defeat like this. We agreed that it might… 

  1. Remove any possible complacency following 2 tough-game-wins prior to this disappointing “shock”.
  2. Perhaps shake-up any fence-sitting doubts if the club were / ARE thinking of adding to the squad before Monday’s transfer deadline of 11:00pm (BST).
  3. Add some additional steely resolve ahead of our tough trip to Arsenal (after a flippin’, early-season international break).
Another positive – although he wasn’t exactly at his VERY sharpest yesterday and also almost came a cropper of Stoke’s obvious intent – was that Sergio got a full game under his belt. Nothing like a competitive game to get match fitness back an’ all that jazz…

Yeah of course this was an expected home win that turned into a defeat and that does stick in the throat a little.

But I remind myself that single points away at Newcastle AND at home to Liverpool wouldn’t have been an out-of-the-question scenario at all…and so for me, in some ways, we’re a point AHEAD of where we could-well have been at this stage. Glass half full…

Transfer possibilities?


Well I’m not really looking any further than ones we’ve been linked with many times before in the attacking / creative department and that’s Isco and Radamel Falcao.

Will he move? Will it be to City?
Falcao seems intent on leaving AS Monaco and they seem “happy” to let him go. At one point – and very recently - he was “definitely” heading to Real Madrid and has been continuously linked with a move to Arsenal too.

We’ve been consistently linked with the phenomenal striker ever since we came into a little bit of cash and this time a £20M, two-year loan has been muted. Considering the purchase value of the Colombian that, to me anyway, sounds like we are seriously trying to negotiate a way of adding a top-quality player to our ranks without blowing the good work we’ve done to satisfy our F(not-so)FP sanction. I’m giving this one some credence.

There are rumours too that we are considering a similar paid-loan-deal to allow Alvaro Negredo to leave for a season. However, I find it a little bit strange that it’s Real Madrid who are the apparent interested party; particularly for a player once rejected by the Spanish club and who won’t be clear of his current injury for another 2 months or so.

Isco & Manuel Pellegrini - Old friends...
In the mad, mad merry-go-round that is the football transfer activity – and although I’m talking about players in different positions here – I just wonder if a move by Real for the Monaco striker will see Isco finally surplus to requirements in a change of emphasis / formation-style by Real? And IF we get Isco surely that WILL be the end of (HAHM-ez) Milner.

 
STOP! I wanna get off!

I’m sure that, if we are in the market for a £20M player, it won’t affect our UEFA sanctions…won’t affect, that is, if we can off-load Micah, Scott & John. Suitors at home and abroad are, I’m sure, lining up to sign all 3 and I’m guessing any stumbling blocks will be our asking prices AND their considerable wages.

On the player’s part if they have anything about them when in a position of clearly not being wanted by their current employers – they will surely do all they can to move now and get some first team action elsewhere.

As for MCFC, although we shouldn’t be ripped off, of course; I’m not sure we should be asking for much more that £5M for each player. £15M would be plenty to ‘soak up’ any bid for the afore mentioned (or other similar player).

Sky Sports' Jim White

As for any possible Premier League admirers for those players, an Everton, Newcastle, QPR, Southampton, Stoke or Swansea-type club could do FAR worse than to put a bid in for all three! Three very decent players that would add a lot of quality to a side in a bid to either retain their Premier League status or to make a push for a Europa League placing. Put the word out if you can…

And put your seatbelts on folks - the last, mad 24 hours is fast approaching...