Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Title blow at ‘classless’ Liverpool

A horrible 2nd half miss by David Silva, a ‘howler’ by our Captain along with some poor & inconsistent refereeing saw us slip-up at Anfield in a game, where, a draw would have been a fair result. But the glaring fact remains that we’re now reliant on other teams to do us (and themselves of course) a favour…


No class


As though it was pre-planned and most-certainly orchestrated for some bizarre reason; every time we had possession – huh…not often for much of the first half I will admit – almost every Liverpool supporter booed their hearts out. This puzzling behaviour continued into the second half but promptly ceased when we scored…and then scored again.

Not content with the peculiar treatment dished out to every Manchester City player, the home crowed then roundly applauded Jordan Henderson as he trudged off the field following a studs-up, red card in injury time. Yeah, that makes sense doesn’t it?.

But it wasn’t just inside the ground where the Liverpool fans displayed inexcusable behaviour on a day, supposedly, packed with emotion for ‘the 96’. On the way to the ground some Manchester City fans were attacked; bricks were thrown and windows smashed as minibuses and coaches made their way to the so-called iconic stadium.

Liverpool fans might point to the fact that they ‘clapped off’ Yaya as he hobbled off the pitch – yeah of course they did, they were glad to see the back of him after just 19 minutes of play!

 
After displaying perfect silence and having joined in impeccably with the pre-match ‘holding up of remembrance cards’; what DID we do to deserve their obvious aggression?

Game analysis


The beginning of a game fuelled by high emotions was always going to be high octane; we were always going to have to handle a 10-minute or so initial onslaught. But, having conceded IN those first ten minutes, we were slow to react and simply allowed Liverpool to dictate the next 20 minutes too. Having then gone 2-0 down to a fine Skrtel header, we woke up as their adrenalin subsided…but even then they could have gone 3-0 up before the break.

Their energy levels were never going to last into the second half; they were playing above themselves as they were carried by an Anfield crowd high on sentiment and passion, when they weren’t booing us that is…

So I fully expected a reaction from our lads and that’s what we got. Silva, who had largely be waiting for the ball to arrive in the first half as he was being played as a secondary striker, dropped deeper and, thankfully, got more involved. Once he did, he pulled the strings and got us going. BANG!  2 goals in 5 minutes and we were back!

And we were still buzzing as Silva came oh so very close to making it 2-3! IF ONLY!

Just as Liverpool owned the majority of the first half we possessed most of the second. Milner, who for me should have started this predictably high-energy game, made a huge difference. Then, THAT mistake from Kompany.

The Manchester Evening News gave a damning, cruel and unrealistic 5/10 for ‘our Skip’ in my opinion; they sighted his injury for his below-standard performance. I didn’t think his knee problem hindered his general play and the M.E.N.’s assessment that he was at fault for all 3 goals is way off the mark in my opinion.

Having been passed by the in-form Sturridge, Vinny was effectively one-on-one with the England striker (with Hart bizarrely tucked in behind him) and so you have to say ‘well done’ to the Liverpool man there I think. As for the second, there were 3 City men (Vinny included) close to Skrtel who ‘failed to deal’ with the corner for Liverpool to double their lead.

Okay, so Vinny then produced a terrible moment to forget (but he won’t of course – he’ll use that to drive himself on even further) but the error could hardly be blamed on his injury.

The rest of the defence did okay; perhaps Clichy didn’t have a very good game. I’m weary of talking about our left-sided flakiness…

As for ‘up front’, Dzeko just wasn’t in the game at all. Why would he be; just as much as this was a game custom-made for the highly mobile and energetic Milner; those 2 words simply don’t exist in Edin’s world and so this game was just NOT for him. Aguero clearly wasn’t going to be risked too soon and although much more mobile than the Bosnian; I suppose Negredo isn’t exactly ‘Mr nimble’ either. So I have to ask – and was asking on the day – what happened to Jovetic, who didn’t even make the bench? Please don’t tell me he’s injured again.

Of course you can’t pack the bench with forwards – Dzeko to start, Aguero, Negredo and Jovetic wouldn’t have left too much else in reserve. But that's why, if Aguero wasn’t fit to start, there was a good case to play the more-mobile Montenegrin forward just in front of Silva.

But I suppose it’s all ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs’…and hindsight is a wonderful thing of course.

Aguero’s contribution? He was on the pitch 27 minutes, had no shots and touched the ball just 5 times. One of those touches did set up Silva but, as I’ve bemoaned, the Spaniard just didn’t finish it.

The ref was poor. Suarez should have walked early on in the game for repeated offences after his early yellow and we had penalty claims (including a replay-clear handball) turned down. But then again so did they…


C’mon the rest!


So, I have to demean myself now – as do we all – and look to Liverpool’s remaining 4 fixtures to see who might take points from them; giving us a chance, once again, to regain our Premier League trophy from Manyoo.

Norwich City (A) – Sunday 20th April 2014:


At first glance, 2 wins in the last 10 games as well as being the lowest scorers in the league doesn’t bode too well for them (nor us) in taking anything from this game. But there are some encouraging signs to [desperately?] cling on to.

1. Norwich dangle just 2 points above the relegation zone and so that alone is motivation to raise their game. Another motivational factor is that a win, depending on results the previous day, could lift them 3 places to 14th – a huge psychological boost!

2. Following the recent and bizarrely-timed dismissal of Chris Hughton, they have a highly motivated, stand-in Manager in the form of former youth-team Coach, Neil Adams; a man who stated that he’s been ‘chomping at the bit’ to take the reigns of the first team for a long time.

His first two games have seen 2 defeats but, I would add, both have been very close one-nil reverse scorelines against relegation-threatened rivals. In fact, the weekend defeat at Craven Cottage saw Norwich get 55% of the possession; they equalled Fulham’s 14 shots and got one more shot on target than the home side.

3. It’s a 12-noon kick off. Although, of course, Liverpool will be staying at a ‘locale’ close to the ground the night before, very early kick-offs don’t often favour the away side. I don’t know what it is but it can often be an upsetting factor (I told you I might sound desperate here).

4. They held us to a draw. Although we enjoyed a whopping 68% of possession and had 15 shots to their 7, they defended like lions [and not canaries]; reducing us to just 2 shots on target of those 15. I recall the frustrating game clearly; not only did they defend very well, they had – and wasted – great chances to take all 3 points! After 90-odd minutes I recall being reasonably happy with the point gained...

It might have been 10 league games ago and under a different Manager but if they can do that to us, surely they can repeat it against the Scousers!

A draw is all we need to get a chink in their armour…

Chelsea (H) – Sunday 27th April:


Manuel Pellegrini doesn’t do mind games. Yeah right. Although he didn’t mention them by name in the Liverpool, pre-match conference; there was certainly an inference that it was Chelsea being referred to when he stated that he hopes it’s an exciting, attacking team who wins the Premier League [and not them].

Over to you Mourinho

This is about the best chance we can hope for of Liverpool dropping points and, at the risk of me repeating myself, we only need them to draw [and not necessarily lose this one].

Crystal Palace (A) – Monday 5th May:


I say the Chelsea game is the biggest chance we can hope for of Liverpool dropping points but this one is CERTAINLY no easy game. Only 1 defeat in 5 league games and having won the last 3 games by scoring 5 and conceding none; certainly at home The Eagles are now a force under Tony Pulis. Just ask Chelsea

AT home – and like Liverpool had - they have their own 12th man in the form of the crowd; they make an awful but brilliantly orchestrated din! The only problem is, we have to go there too…

Newcastle United (H) – Sunday 11th May:
 
 
Well something good for us had better happen in the previous 3 fixtures because this one is surly a shoo-in for the home side. I don’t need to say anything else on this game…

Other factors in our favour


Ever-present midfielder Jordan Henderson is now suspended for 3 games; the 3 more-difficult ones too. As for Sturridge, who limped off clutching his hamstring, there’s no firm news as I type this. But ‘hammies’ being as they are; that COULD, indeed, see him miss the remainder of the season.

Ya-YAAGH!


We’ve got our own injury concerns though. Whether it’s his hamstring or his groin; Toure left the field of play after just 19 minutes. Once again there are no firm reports as this Blog-entry goes out but that could well have been his last kick of a ball this season too.

And although he played out the full 95 minutes, I’m sure Vinny was playing with pain killers on Sunday. We’ll see…

Next up…


So, as fruitless as it might now seem (OF COURSE IT ISN’T!) we take on the first of our two ‘games in hand’ tomorrow night. Whipping boys and relegation-doomed Sunderland come to the Etihad and they just cannot be looking forward to it at all.

Ironically, if we’d gotten some kind of result against Liverpool then I might be waving a flag of warning [of complacency] against these. This, after all, is also THEIR first [of two] games in hand over their relegation-threatened neighbours.

 
The last time we attempted to play this fixture a terrible storm forced officials to postpone the game an hour or so before kick-off. I think Sunderland can expect a different kind of climatic event on Wednesday night. With no wins in 8 (losing 7 and drawing 1) and with our lads wanting to get that 3-2 out of our system ASAP; I can’t see anything other than a emphatic win for City.

This is how I think he’ll set up to do it…

4-4-2

__________Negredo____________________

____________________Aguero___________

 
 

Nasri_____________________________Silva

_________Milner_____Fernandinho________

 

Kolarov___Demichelis___Kompany___Zabaleta

 

 
__________________Hart_________________
 

Subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Lescott, Garcia, Navas, Jovetic, Dzeko

Back comes the 4-4-2 and back comes Beauty and The Beast! Never will there be a better time to attempt to reignite the forward fire than this game.

Moving backwards then…

With Yaya out for this game at least (I’m sure), surely Milner gets his place. And although our manager could well stick him out on the right wing I’m hoping he sees sense and puts him where he’s best. That would mean Silva would have to move out to his slightly-less-effective wing position but it’ll be a fluid system I’m sure; he and Nasri will 'float around' and will get the support of Kolarov and Zabaleta at home to 'this lot'.

At home, the back 4 and the goalie pick themselves (I’m assuming Vinny is going to be okay of course).

Strong attacking options on the bench if required.

Result? I’ve already stated my predicted outcome. Perhaps we have to be slightly wary of them playing either with a ‘final push’ of determination [to survive] or an almost resigned, ‘free-abandon’ - both are dangerous. But we should be able to take these with enough effort and desire to win ourselves.
 
Hyperlinks to be completed when Blogger stops playing silly buggers with me and my dodgy back can stand another session of sitting in front of the PC...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

It’s the big one! This is how I see it…

Win it and the title is ours for the taking. Get a draw…likewise. Lose our clash at Anfield and it’s certainly not over…but it probably will be if they-then beat Chelsea on 27th April. I don’t like the last scenario very much…


'Strengths' are in our favour


Let’s get the obvious out of the way, Liverpool have amazing strength in attack. It’s not just SAS – Suarez & SturridgeCoutinho & Stirling add a certain potency from the wings too.

Is their attack any better than ours? Well the ‘goals for’ in the Premier League column does suggest that it’s ever so slightly better. But if we add goals from ‘all competitions’ in there, I bet we blow them out of the water!

All in all, I suppose it’s about the same…although I will make a strong point of mentioning that a certain Sergio Aguero has missed a whopping 14 Premier League games and only played bit-parts / half-games in a further 4. That means that he’s only played the majority of 13 league games of 31 so far!

So, ‘forward lines’ put aside, this is where we leave Liverpool trailing in our wake, in my opinion.

Have we had a few defence concerns throughout the season? Of course we have. We’ve had the left-back dilemma all season, something, which, isn’t going to go away until we sign at least 1 class left-back. And we’ve had the ‘Demichelis debate’ for what seems like the last 6 months now. In fact, despite his MUCH improved performances and growing partnership with Kompany, there are a few concerned Blues faces out there when they look at the pace of Suarez pitched against his much older, South American cousin this Sunday afternoon.

But if our defence has been under scrutiny then what about Liverpool’s? The ‘against’ column in the Premier League shows them to have conceded 11 more goals than us (albeit they’ve played 2 more games than we have) and have kept just 10 clean sheets from 33 games, against our 13 clean sheets from a fewer 31 games.

Then there’s the midfield. For all his past successes, great performances and penalty-taking exploits; does an almost 34-year old Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and ex-Swansea City Joe Allen really match up equally to Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, David Silva & Samir Nasri etc? Do they ‘eckers like! And this, not for the first time [against most opponents], is where we’ll truly break away from Liverpool and can come away from Anfield with something.

Last meeting…


Aside from some excellent defending in our 2-1 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad in December, it was the quality of our midfield in my opinion that won it for us, not to mention the strength in numbers in a 4-5-1 home formation.

Not only did we, in general, cut off the supply to a very frustrated Uruguayan striker; we counteracted anything their similarly-compact midfield could throw at us that day; as they played Suarez up front on his own with a counter-attacking midfield behind him - Coutinho scoring the opener and Liverpool’s only goal…

And this, in my opinion, is where they’ll fail even more-so…unless Brendan Rodgers is even MORE ‘on the ball’ than I already give him credit for. The reason? Sturridge wasn’t fit for the Boxing Day, Etihad encounter and so 4-months-on and dozens of goals later; who could blame the Liverpool boss for wanting to play both SAS at home against us?

I hope he does…because that will fall straight into our hands!

Straight into our hands, that is, unless Pellegrini has something similar planned, which, in my opinion, could backfire on him (and us). Of course it’s tempting to play both fit-again Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo together – for SAS also read Beauty and The Beast. Early-week reports stated that our manager was planning an all-out attack on Liverpool and that’s all well ‘n’ good; Liverpool do have that afore-mentioned creaky defence of course.

But if we want to have a serious chance of getting something out of this pivotal game then, again in my opinion, we need to ‘compact’ that midfield with attacking players again.

The only quandary in doing this is…just how fit-again is Sergio? Because, of course, if we do go something like a 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1 against Liverpool and our Argentinean Battleship is ready for a starting place; why would he NOT get chosen ahead of goal-drought-victim Negredo and (even) in-form Dzeko?

But could he stand up to the rigours of going from no games in 8 to the fiery caldron of a vital, top-of-the-table clash at Anfield? That would concern me a little…

Decisions, decisions…


Okay, so from midfield upwards Pellegrini’s attacking plan could look like this:

4-5-1:

_______________Aguero_______________
 



 
____________Silva____________________

Nasri___________________________Navas
______________________Toure__________
_________Fernandinho_________________

Pretty potent, if not a little on the vulnerable-looking side with, mostly, Fernandinho left to help out the defence.

Or he could satisfy his attacking wish / instinct and really go for it, with…

4-1-3-2:

__________________Negredo____________

 
____________Aguero___________________

 
 

Nasri____________Toure_____________Silva

 
______________Fernandinho______________


Again, looks pretty good and would CERTAINLY put them on the ‘back foot’ in many ways.

Personally, I think I’d like to see this:

4-2-3-1:

_______________Aguero_______________

 
 

 
Nasri___________Toure____________Silva
 

________Milner_______Fernandinho______
 

Yeah…I’ve gone for the, “risk”, of using Sergio up front on his own and the combo of Milner and Fernandinho ‘sitting in there’ might also look a little unambitious in a way.

But WITH those two in there and doing the dirty, sweeping-up and harassing work; Sergio would have the almost-uninterrupted support of Samir, Yaya and David…and THAT’S priceless!

There’s a decent argument too for using Jovetic in this one but, then again, there are SO many options and formulas that I could spend a full day on it (probably driving myself mad!)

Step forward ‘The Engineer’


This is Anfield...
 
This is what he was brought in for; these are the title-deciding games where his decisions will count more than ever. And I think the seemingly-unflappable one will come through for us too; I also think this is what he’ll go with…

4-1-4-1:

_______________Aguero_______________

 

 
 
Nasri___________________________Navas
__________Toure_______Silva___________
 


_____________Fernandinho_____________


Clichy___Demichelis__Kompany___Zabaleta
 

 

________________Hart_________________


Subs: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Lescott, Milner, Jovetic, Negredo, Dzeko

Hart, Demichelis, Kompany & Zabaleta set in stone. I think he’ll go for the more-defensively-solid Clichy over Kolarov, who gets a place on the bench.

Fernandinho, hopefully, to have a better game than his apparent-niggley injury allowed him to have against Southampton…and then a colossal supporting 4 behind the returning Argentinean Assassin!

A very much attack-minded bench, with also Lescott available if needed and Milner for his defensive, attacking, energy and much-determined endeavours if required too.

Result? I think we can take these. We might concede but, as the old adage goes; you score one and we’ll score two. And I think we'll do just that.

There are goals in this one for sure…but more in our game-‘for’ column than theirs at the end of the match I think. My main concern? Penalty decisions to the home side…

Strap yourselves in! 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Strange game, great outcome

Struggling for possession for large parts of the game yesterday, that’s exactly what I expected from a very good Southampton side. Perhaps not to that extreme though; at times in the first half we watched a South-coast team completely dictate and frustrate our boys in blue. That’s why it so odd that it could well have been 8-1 in the end…


Twilight Zone 1:


 
Regarding the possession, I’m not sure what the FIRST half reads as but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be 70% / 30% in favour of Southampton. We pulled it back somewhat in the second period – although there were still periods after the break where Pochettino’s men got a-hold of the ball and stroked it around impressively – but we managed to pull back the overall possession to 56% / 44%...still in The Saint’s favour however.

So after 2 quite-correct penalty decisions, which were dispatched perfectly by both Toure & LambertBANG-BANG! We were suddenly 3-1 up at half time. Hey?

Twilight Zone 2:


The crowd, myself included, were very, VERY subdued yesterday afternoon. I’m pleased to say that it’s not just us though; I watched most of the Liverpool v Sunderland game the other week and until the home side scored – and then scored a 2nd – the Anfield crowd were uncharacteristically very subdued also.

It must be a nervous thing – SO important is it that the top sides don’t drop points (even a draw is seen as a disaster in most cases at this stage of the season) that the stands at the Etihad, at least, are looking even more blue at the moment! This, I can tell you from experience, is due to 1,000s of fans who are holding their breaths (until the 81st minute in yesterday’s game).

We need to stop that; at home to Sunderland we need to be lifting the roof in support of the lads!

Twilight Zone 3:


What happened to Yaya? Although I disagree with the Manchester Evening News’ slightly-harsh rating of 6/10 (7/10 from me) he cut an increasingly frustrating figure yesterday. I’ve rarely seen him like that. I can only assume that he was feeling hard-done-to; by having 2 further penalty appeals turned down.

The first one falls right into 2 categories. A: I’ve seen them given. B: It would have been a soft one. Although the Southampton player certainly and quite forcefully barged into the Ivorian; it was more of a ‘coming together’ of shoulders for me…and the big frame of Toure did appear to go down a bit too easily if I’m being honest.

The second one was a clear attempt at a dive and, quite rightly, Yaya received a yellow for it. I’ve never seen him do that before…

Then he was involved in a couple of challenges that just ‘did it’ for him. He had his calf studded in the second, slightly-naughty challenge and that’s when the ‘red mist’ descended. Already on a yellow, I really feared the worse as he stomped around with his arms flapping in protest. Even he own team-mates (mostly Garcia & Nasri) could barely control him; Nasri, in fact, was on the receiving end of some serious Yaya verbal - hopefully it was in French and the Referee didn’t take up that option at School…

He was certainly fortunate was our usually-cool midfielder. Having since seen the footage on the TV it was quite clear that the Chris Foy was becoming increasingly irritated by Yaya’s protests and general shenanigans. On the day itself, my wife spotted Pellegrini’s own attempts from the side-line to pass on a ‘calm it down’ message.

Fernandinho had an abnormally below-par game and, quite rightly, the yellow-carded (for an obvious handball) Brazilian was replaced by the [soon-to-be-yellow-carded] Javi Garcia (for an irritation-fuelled scrape on the Achilles of Lallana).

There was a lot of frustrations ‘out there’ on Saturday; mostly caused by a game-controlling Southampton side I have to say. Well-done to them...but it was a little bizarre [reaction] from our boys…

Twilight Zone 4:


If I was to go off ‘goals seen’ yesterday then the game ended 1-1 for me. I actually didn’t even see a goal from open play for all my match-day-attendance efforts!

I don’t always nip to the bar at half time and despite the fairly lengthy injury time after the treatment and substitution of Jay Rodriguez, I felt it was safe to leave my seat to get a pint with 43 minutes on the clock (6 minutes before the half-time-whistle it turned out). Oooops… Queue a brilliant (off-side-pass) move and a Nasri finish and then a great Kolarov cross and a firm Dzeko header. 3-1! Great…I heard the cheers from the queue at the bar.

To be fair and, of course, I wasn’t alone (hence the queue) and I swapped a joke with a couple of blokes behind me; by proclaiming that we’d all be happy to spend the whole of the second half  ‘down there’ if it ensured all 3 points for City!

Result of having another pint? On 79 minutes I needed the loo. Queue...YEEAHHHHH! Another roar went up as I miss the Stevan Jovetic goal; his first Premier League goal for Manchester City. Great first-time cross from Navas by the way.

Twilight Zone 5:


The “N” factor - Navas & Negredo.

For me Navas gets a solid 7.5/10 yesterday. He’s a nuisance to the opposition in more ways than one. Not only does he have pace AND energy in abundance - often causing the opposing defence more than a few heart flutters - but, yesterday, he covered the right-back slot really, really well too. In fact he ‘dug in’ and tried his best to break-up Southampton’s high possession as much as he possibly could. He can also, quite-superbly, trap even the most powerful and long-range passes that head his way.

HOWEVER…if only he could improve his general passing and crossing; he’d be even more impressive. Although a little harsh in their assessment that “…he was having a nightmare game”, 2 chaps behind me & my wife were quite right in pointing out his passing / crossing failings (excellent cross for Jovetic aside of course).

I said so after the Fulham game, Negredo is doing all the right things and looks to have shaken off his troublesome shoulder injury…but he just can’t buy a goal at the moment, as the phrase goes.

He was a TOE-nail’s-length away from connecting with Jesus’ fine cross, which, thankfully, Stevan was able to follow up and connect with to make it 4-1. And as the net rippled, Alvaro momentarily lay facedown in the grass; almost as though his team had just CONCEDED a vital goal! It’s understandable though; he must be desperate for a goal of his own…his first since January 2014 in fact!

He had another chance and although he had two defenders chasing him down left & right, as well as an advancing keeper in front of him; perhaps the OLD Alvaro Negredo would have ‘rounded’ rather than slap an effort right at the Goalie. Still the crowd tried to lift his spirits as they momentarily woke from their fear-induced trance to shout, "Beeeeeast!". I hope he takes heart from that.

So…4-1, job done. Over to West Ham today now…

Site developments


 
I’ve not done any ‘update’ pictures of the training complex development for a while; I’ll make an effort to do that as soon as possible. What I can say to those who don’t pass the site on a fairly regular basis is that it’s really beginning to take shape.

The bridge spanning Alan Turing Way / Ashton New Road - and stretching from the main ground to the new complex - is up…although still incomplete at the moment. The main stadium [in the training complex] is up and looking mostly complete; other buildings are looking mostly finished too and there’s been grass on most of the training pitches for some weeks now.

 
As for the Etihad itself, it’s a bit of a building site at the moment – and will be for some considerable time I’m sure…

Behind the South Stand is a cordoned-off area where the 6,000 expansion work begun about a week ago. On the grounds of the East Stand area near to the official – albeit rough-ground - car park, is a large area being used to store all sorts of building site vehicles and materials, which, no doubt, are all in full use whenever there’s no match.

BT City Square at the Etihad Stadium
And when the South Stand is complete (due for opening at the start of the 2015/16 season), of course work will then begin on the North / Family Stand extension. Not sure what’s going to happen to BT City Square [predominantly situated behind that stand] when work starts there, if the site-area behind the South Stand is anything to go off…

Transfer developments


Transfer talk has be RIFE this week. Most predominant has been the news that we have, apparently, all-but-secured the services of Porto’s excellent central defender Eliaquim Mangala. What was a little (pleasantly) surprising about this one was the reported and much-repeated figure being banded around, which was £20M…a whole £15M or there abouts less than we were being quoted in January.

When I first heard reports on this earlier on in the week I wondered whether this price suggested that we’d actually finalised a double-deal to bring both Frenchman and the Brazilian Under 20, defensive midfielder, Fernando, to City in the summer. Then, just yesterday morning, this popped up. It would seem that it might well be on the cards…for £41M. That’s an good pair; some well-needed positions secured and some excellent early business, if true…

Then all talk suddenly switched to strikers, as reports were suggesting that Txiki Begiristain had flown to Madrid for talks with both Radamel Falcao and his agent last Tuesday. £50M is the reported fee that we’re considering in the summer.

If he’s over his cruciate ligament injury - with reports suggesting that although recovering well he might not make the World Cup - he’s a PHENOMENAL striker! Dare I suggest that, ability-wise, he falls somewhere between Sergio Aguero & Lionel Messi? There, I’ve suggested it...

Although I’ve recently stated that I don’t want us to get drawn into a long battle with Chelsea for his services, if we’ve already made our mark and can do something early on then…WOW!

Then, and not for the first time, Luis Suarez rumours sprung up from nowhere. An AMAZING talent who has done (and is doing) it in the Premier League. But I don’t like his attitude, which often lets this massive talent down. Can’t see it ever happening either…

News also circulated in mid-week that City intend to swell their English ranks by pursuing both Southampton’s left-back Luke Shaw and Everton’s young midfielder Ross Barkley. Both excellent, young English talents; both of whom will be difficult to prise away both from a determined & building Saints side and a Toffees team almost certain to be playing European football at some level next season.

And thinking about the home-grown rule, apparently City are considering bringing both central defender Karim Rekik and all-round midfielder Emyr Huws into the first-team-fold. Both have been on loan; Karim all season at PSV and Emyr at Birmingham City.

Both have been getting rave reviews; although Karim’s excellent control and general ball-play isn’t matched by his physical presence by all accounts. I wonder if a season on loan with a newly-promoted Premier League team or a Championship club (one who will allow him to develop further) would be good for Karim first?

Barcelona transfer ban


Bit of a shock this one; I’m not the only one not to have been unaware that they were even under investigation. Something to do with irregularities in their acquisitions and/or approaches for foreign-national under 18 year-olds.

If upheld – assuming they’re going to appeal of course – the knock-on affect will be interesting. Having been given a 15-month ban (2 transfer windows) on any incoming or outgoing players; on the one hand some teams with talented players on their books can breath a sigh of relief [that a ‘sniffing’ Barcelona can’t touch their players for a while] and others will be left a little frustrated. Manyoo might be one of those kicking the dust at their feet; I think they were hoping to launch another bid for Cesc Fabregas and have, more recently, put Alex Song on their radar too. Shame…

Leicester City


Leicester City players' selfie-celebration
 
Congratulations! After beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 on Friday night and after Q.P.R.’s 2-1 loss at Bournemouth, The Foxes gained promotion to the Premier League without kicking a ball yesterday. It’s been on the cards for a while now; 9 points clear of 2nd-placed Burnley and a whopping 19 points clear of the play-offs in the Championship!

Surely Burnley will be joining them and if so, we’ll have 2 sets of fans at the Etihad who like to make a LOT of noise. I say again; we City fans need to ‘up our game’ at home...

And ‘good luck’ to Uwe Rosler’s Wigan Athletic in the play-offs (so we can reap revenge on the annoying pie eaters next season); surely a safe bet to make it to the semi-finals along with Q.P.R. & Derby County.

Although Reading are 5-points-safe and ‘in there’, I suppose Nottingham Forest, Brighton & Hove Albion, Ipswich Town & Bournemouth shouldn’t be written off either. Blackburn Rovers too might have a slim, outside chance; certainly their 2-0 victory over play-off-chasing Ipswich yesterday did their chances no harm at all.

Marouane Fellaini


….or, perhaps more accurately, Marouane Flailing-his-elbows should be his name. How IS he getting away with it?!

A ‘straight red’ completely missed when he attempted to floor Pablo Zabaleta in the 3-0 defeat to us in the Derby the other week and now? Not-only does he not even get a yellow for elbowing / slap-punching Dan Gosling yesterday but HE, somehow, managed to get the free kick award for the incident! He also managed to get away with a SECOND, unpunished elbow at St James’ Park in the same game yesterday. Unbelievable.

Perhaps his hair is memorising the officials; distracting them from his persistent and quite-violent offenses…
 

And finally...

 
...finishing on the theme of the 'strange & bizarre'. Firstly, I won the Grand National sweep at work yesterday - I cannot recall ever backing the winner before! And...do Southampton just have similar looking players and back-room staff or was there some kind of Matrix glitch as they arrived at the stadium yesterday? Watch this from 15 to 55 seconds...

Thursday, 3 April 2014

It’s all in the patterns

If the ‘signs’ are to be believed we could be in for a decent weekend. Fate we should really leave in our own hands; we need to work hard and win this title for ourselves. But a bit of help from somewhere wouldn’t go amiss…


Looking back


After a tremendous performance and 3 points away at Manyoo (a team who, apart from getting destroyed by Liverpool, have not been beaten otherwise in 10 games in all competitions), we travelled to a very tough Emirates Stadium. There we faced a team who were ‘smarting’ after some recent and very poor results. It was a dangerous place to go.

Nerves amongst City fans were tangible leading up to this game and, to be fair, as much as I wanted a win of course; I was content before the game to take just a point home. In the end – and on the overall balance of play – I thought a draw was a very fair result.

But it could have and perhaps should have been all 3.

We absolutely TORE them to pieces in the first 10 to 15 minutes – especially down the right-flank. But we just didn’t have the finishing power to get on the end of some fine, fast-paced attacking wing-play; mostly provided by Jesus Navas. I’m not saying he had a bad game but if Dzeko had managed to have kept up with the play and imposed himself early on (or had-we-have-had a fit Aguero on the pitch) the game would have been dead ‘n’ buried less than a quarter of the way in.

But we didn’t…and although we dominated most of the first half we just couldn’t find the same intensity in the second period; Arsenal came right back into it and there was huge relief from the Blues who I was with at the final whistle.

Quick note on that: My wife & I watched the match in a (packed) pub in Manchester with a couple of friends / work colleagues before heading off to a 50th party just up the road and I have to say the atmosphere was very good considering the mixture in there. Yeah there were a couple of ‘bouncers’ on the door and this pub is well used to housing footy fans. But there were Manyoo & Villa fans in following their early kick off; a Leeds United fan, a Blackburn Rovers fan, a smattering of Liverpool fans and nationalities from several countries. It certainly restored my faith that fans of English Clubs can get along when they want to – ‘well done’ to all!

If there’s anything to these ‘patterns’, then…


Liverpool travel to mid-table West Ham United on Sunday and although, looking at the sizzling form of Liverpool, that doesn’t exactly look like a daunting prospect for Brendan Rogers’ men; I’m not so sure they’re going to have it quite so easy – I’m quietly confident, in fact, that West Ham can take something from this one.

Similar to a lot of strikers; I’ve noticed that Sam Allardyce’s West Ham side seem to be a ‘confidence team’. Whenever they hit a rough patch then can go 3, 4, or even 5 or more games without a win. But on the ‘flip side’ whenever they DO find that allusive victory, it seems to send them in the complete opposite direction; they go on a reasonably sustained run of wins & draws.

After getting whacked at home by Newcastle United 3-1 on 18th January we then spanked them 3-0 (9-0 on aggregate) on their own patch in the League Cup just 3 days later; that ill-fated, Negredo shoulder-fall game.

So West Ham did what they seem to do best, they scrapped their way to a creditable 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge and then went on a run of 4-straight Premier League wins! Then, at a difficult Goodison Park, they slipped to a narrow 1-0 defeat, which sparked another ‘mini crisis’ with 3 back-to-back defeats.

Queue a home game with Hull City and a 2-1 win and what do they do just 5 days later? They travel to battling-for-their-lives Sunderland and despite West Ham only having 39% possession, they manage another 2-1 victory…and all of a sudden they’re on another ‘winning streak’.

And so it’s Liverpool at home next. Andy Carrollthe ex-Liverpool striker – got a confidence-boosting goal at the Stadium of Light on Monday night too and so I’m more than hopeful that West Han can eek-out a point against the Scousers this coming Sunday afternoon…perhaps even all 3? That would be wonderful - c’mon the ‘ammers!

What about us?


Well then there’s Southampton’s very own pattern. Without DOUBT a team NOT to be taken lightly; even at home. But their form is certainly something of interest (and possibly benefit) to us. Put briefly…they’re inconsistent.

Southampton’s last 10 games: D W D W L L W W L W

If we’d have-had that sort of form not only, of course, would we not be where we are in the league; we’d also all be screaming the ‘T’ phrase (‘Typical City’ if you had to ask)!

They’ve just walloped (inconsistent and faltering) Newcastle 4-0 at home and listening to the reports; it was 50/50 a-case of how poor the Geordies were and how brilliant The Saints performed on the day.

But at the Etihad on Saturday early-afternoon – with West Ham poised to do us a favour the following day – whisper it…I’ve got a good feeling about this weekend.

And so…


Prediction time.

Formation: 4-1-4-1:

_______________Dzeko_______________

 

 


Nasri______Toure______Silva______Navas
 

_____________Fernandinho_____________

 


 
 

_________________Hart________________

 
Subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Richards, Lescott, Garcia, Jovetic, Negredo Aguero

I'm doing this prediction before the pre-match press conference / squad announcement and, so, feel like I'm working a little blind here. However...
 
Hart, Demichelis, Kompany and Zabaleta pick themselves for this and most games now. At home and having played Clichy in the last game and most likely against Liverpool next Sunday, I think he’ll go for the more-attacking left-back option of Kolarov.

Fernandinho as ‘the holder’ whilst a marauding, fast-paced attacking quartet will most likely sit behind a lonesome striker; that being the recently improved Edin Dzeko.

Need him back...AND FIRING!

BIG GUNS on the bench! Defensive / midfield cover in the form of Clichy, Lescott and Garcia but other than that; some serious firepower in the form of Jovetic, Negredo…AND AGUERO! Early mid-week reports were suggesting that Aguero himself was being understandably cautious; being quoted as saying that he wasn’t going to rush back and risk anything. However, it transpired yesterday that those quotes were taken from an interview a week earlier [and that he was far closer to a return than the reports were suggesting]. Scratch this now - Pellegrini has since stated that this is one game too early for the recovering striker; who should be fit and raring to go for our trip to Liverpool next Sunday.

Mauricio Pochettino
Hopefully, if the game is sitting right after 60 minutes, it’ll be right to bring on Sergio and, similarly, I hope there’s also an opportunity to reunite Negredo and the Argentinean at least for the last 20 minutes. But in saying that I am not – and I’m sure neither is Pellegrini – taking Southampton lightly at all. Under Pochettino, and with the talent spread throughout the Saint’s side, these can be very dangerous.

They like to mix it up and pass it around and can be lethal on the counter attack. As they like to hurt teams ‘on the break’, particularly away at grounds like ours I’m sure, it might suggest that they’ll also sit deep at times and I just wonder, therefore, if playing Edin up front on his own will be enough. But with that midfield five of ours – four of ‘em out & out attackers – I’m sure we’ll have enough to counteract Southampton’s increasingly respected abilities.

As for Aguero, I can only hope the Physios & training staff have been working on his sharpness as well as ‘shoring up’ his latest hamstring injury. I say this because when he came back from his PREVIOUS ‘hammy’ he was like a man possessed – he was on fire! Although that didn’t last long [coming off at Spurs] and I, of course, don’t want that to happen again; his last recovery / comeback saw an Aguero who couldn’t get out of 2nd gear. He was WELL off the pace [before breaking down again at Barca]!

Thankfully Manchester City officials recently denied Sergio’s request to travel down with the squad for the Arsenal game last weekend. Rather than having him sitting on a coach, train or whatever for x-amount of hours they, quite rightly and instead, wanted him to stay behind and do some more work on the training pitch. Sounds very good and very sensible to me…

Result? I’m glad this one is at home. Even with our ‘tail up’ as it is at the moment  I’d be a little jittery going into this fixture away from home.

But AT home - and with all the personnel at our disposal - even a decent Southampton side will, in my opinion, not have enough to cope with us over the 90-odd minutes. It’s a very needy (they all are now of course) 3 points to City.
 
C’mon City!  C’mon West Ham…