Thursday, 18 December 2014

Adaptability

Circumstances mean that I’m having to post a Blog entry quite early before this weekend’s game and, therefore, I’m feeling in the dark a little with regards to who might be and might not be available to face Crystal Palace.


It’s (probably) all in the midfield


In addition to ‘no Vincent Kompany’; we definitely have ‘no Sergio Aguero’ and ‘no Edin Dzeko’. Most likely out too is Steven Jovetic. So, with the well-publicised shortage of forwards / strikers, will our manager give another lone-staring-roll to EDS forward Jose Angel Pozo or does he try a little something different? No disrespect to the youngster; personally I’d try something new.

For all our injuries to key players at the back and up front what we DON’T seem to have at the moment is any issues at all, as far as I am aware, with any of our midfielders…so why not let us take advantage of that and give Neil Warnock’s men something different to think about?

Palace will I’m sure, after all, pack the middle and use their pacy runs to hit us on the break; as we’ve often seen them do to very good effect against teams of all sizes and abilities.

 
Here’s what I’d go with…

4-6-0:

__________________________________

 

_______________Silva_______________

Nasri_________________________Navas

_______Fernandinho___Toure_________
 

_____________Fernando_____________

 



 
_______________Hart_______________
 


And d’ya know what, I’m going to use this as my predicted line-up & subs for Saturday’s early KO (12:45pm GMT).

Hart in net and a pretty much forced back-4 with Clichy playing well, Zaba rested in the last game and the grand-master next to the expensive apprentice.

Fernando providing the shield and although similar with Fernandinho, in this line-up I think he can also be given licence to attack down the middle with Yaya. Creative wizardry and pace on the flanks with Nasri & Navas and in a deep-lying striker / advanced midfield role, our little Spanish genius Silva.

There’s ‘goal potential’ all over the place there…

Result? Key to this is that our injury hit squad have had a good week’s rest; good time to heal any minor issues and assess everyone. Of course Crystal Palace have had the same amount of ‘time out’ too…but I think we needed it more.

They do have a chance of getting Manyoo loanee Wilfried Zaha back after recovering from a knock and aside from him, they’re almost at full strength. This will be a test even at home believe me.

But with that wealth of talent in our midfield – and if used like or similar to this – then we should have way too much for them over all. And we have the ability to introduce differing threats in Milner, Lampard and Pozo from the bench.

I do have concerns that Yaya might not be at his most fully effective in such a compact centre (from both teams); I’ve noticed that he often prefers a little more room around him to be at his damaging best. It might be close for a while but I’m going for a fairly comfortable win in the end.

January window rumours


Speculation is mounting on possible transfer targets for January and a lot seem to be concentrating on the midfield…with even a little emphasis on the defence too.

That all seems quite strange considering the lack of striking option that we have but the most persistent rumours seemed to be surrounding two Real Madrid ‘middle men’, in German international, defensive midfielder Sami Khedira and Spanish international, attacking / creative midfielder Isco.

Sami sounds like a very good player…but I understand the link to us following the very recent acquisition of Fernando.

Isco, yeah, and it’s a link that just won’t go away season after season. Another tricky, creative midfielder with goals in him and at just 23 years of age (in April) it’s something Chelsea ‘would do’ and it would do us no harm at all. Having worked with our manager in the past and if game-time is an issue for him at Real then it’s almost inevitable that the young Spaniard will join us as some stage. Weather that’ll be in January remains to be seen of course.

Koke of Atletico Madrid is another attacking midfielder / winger recently linked with a move to the Etihad as is, once again, Paul Pogba of Juventus.

Wesley Sneijder would appear to be on the move again and out of Galatasaray – is it a surprise that along with Manyoo and Southampton we’ve also been put in the frame? As with Isco & Pogba, not really…

Midfield certainly is, as I say, the focus of all the speculation at the moment, although the high asking price of Everton’s Ross Barkley seems to have quelled that particular link for the time being at least.

Despite splashing out so much money on steadily improving Eliaquim Mangala, it’s obvious – if not a little disappointing – to most that the centre of defence is something that still needs fixing.

With Martin Demichelis getting no younger (of course), Matija Nastasic forever seemingly injured, not wanted by Pellegrini AND being linked with several teams abroad; with no real confidence being shown by our manager in Dedryck Boyata and with Vinny showing MORE signs of his continued injury issues that have plagued him year on year, we are told that we’re about to join the frantic race to sign Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels. However, if we are in the market for him then a summer bid is more likely to succeed…and I’ve got an awful feeling that, somehow, Manyoo might pip us to his signature.

Gossip hasn’t complete gone away from the striking department however, with Edinson Cavani (I want him!), Zlatan Ibrahimovic ('getting on' but a more-than-decent alternative if PSG won't let Edinson go), Mauro Icardi (exciting, young prospect already banging in the goals), Wilfried Bony (knows the Prem; strong but seems to blow hot 'n' cold), Christian Benteke (too injury prone for me), and the still-injured Jay Rodriguez (if he's over his injury soon then he ticks several boxes) all having their names printed with the words “Manchester City” soon afterwards. Some we can almost completely forget for January in my opinion; with some of them involved in important European campaigns for their own clubs.

It’s also difficult to see us spending TOO much in the winter window but if we can (finally) offload unwanted trio Matija Nastasic, Scott Sinclair and John Guidetti (£15M for the three?) at the very least then that’ll help.

Other stuff:


Barcelona in the draw for the Champions League hey? Huh…who’d have predicted that?

Negotiations appear to have stalled slightly in agreeing a new deal with, strangely enough, Barcelona-predicting, James Milner. Unlike my feeling surrounding the acquisition of Mat Hummels, I’m much more confident that James (and Joe Hart) will sign new deals very soon.

Is anyone else getting completely fed up to say the least of listening to Frozen’s ‘Let it go’ song nearly every…single…time you turn on the flippin’ TV or click on a WEB page? I’ve provided a link there myself but click on it at your own peril – it’ll be in your mind for DAYS!

Thanks as always for taking the time to read.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Putting this one out there...

With Aguero most likely out for at least another 5 or 6 weeks, Dzeko probably at least 4 and Jovetic now possibly out for a fortnight, it got me thinking about a possible - and realistic - January target.

Let's pip old 'arry to this one


He's managed him before and is, apparently, sniffing around him with a possible move in January. And if his current overseas club are WILLING to let him go then we could do far worse than make a move for...Jermain Defoe.

He ticks all the boxes:

* He knows the Premier League very well

* Wherever he plays he always hovers somewhere between a 1 in 2 / 1 in 3 goals-per-game rate

* At just turned 32, Jermain still has decent pace

* More importantly...he's English.

With F(not so)FP to consider, we also have to bare in mind that we already have our full quota of foreign players. This move is, therefore, an absolute 'no brainer' really.

Being only 1 year into a 4 year deal with Toronto FC, even at 32 the Canadian club would command a reasonably high asking price for the ex-England striker. But I'm sure it's something we could afford - and afford with the restrictive ruling in mind - and with a quick word or two in the ear from Frank Lampard; I'm sure fellow Londoner Jermain could be tempted to join the champions of England.

Step forward midfielders...literally


I'm convinced that, for the next few weeks at least, we have enough in our midfield locker to more than cope. We certainly have the creativity and, I believe, the goals 'in there' to tick along nicely up to Christmas and into the new year. And, to be honest, a 4-5-1 / fluid 4-6-0 quite excites me (as long as it yields results of course).

But with our injury record at the moment we can't rely on that for too long - an injury to Yaya (and we're about to lose him to the African Cup of Nations in January anyway); Super goal-poacher Frank or another breakdown with the highly creative David and we could really start to struggle without a recognised, out & out striker.

Although we might have to offer the ex-Charlton Athletic youth, West Ham, Bournemouth, Tottenham and Portsmouth man a 3-year deal and similar weekly wage to the one he's on in Canada (and a map of how to get to places North of Watford), the acquisition of Jermain makes PERFECT sense to me - he'd THRIVE on the service our players can provide!

He has just had, in November, corrective surgery to solve a groin / hernia issue and so, I suppose, that's a risk. But IF the problem has been corrected and he's now on the road to recovery, go get him City...

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Back down to earth

After a very good performance over all against Roma and an EXCELLENT outcome, we need our lads to now show the fighting spirit exhibited against Everton last weekend.

Leicester City may be struggling at the bottom of the league with no wins in 10 or more games but they’ll be looking to change that at home against the Champions.


Another brief one folks…

In between work and Christmas-related stuff it’s proving a little difficult to find too much time to ‘post’ at the moment. So with that excuse, I give you another ‘straight to it’ predicted line-up and outcome for tomorrow’s fairly rare, 3:00pm (GMT) Saturday KO. This one has a ‘stick or twist’ element to it.

v Leicester City

 
4-4-1-1 / 4-5-1:

_______________Jovetic_______________
 

 

________________Silva________________

 

Nasri_______________Toure______Milner
 

_________Fernandinho________________

 



 

________________Hart________________
 


Stick: Joe in net

Twist: Recovery most likely fully complete, I get an awful feeling that our manager will be tempted to give Clichy a rest on Saturday and insert Kolarov instead. For several reasons that I won’t go into I think that would be a mistake and so I hope my gut feeling is wrong.

Stick: Still showing signs of naivety and rawness against Roma at times, I was tempted to suggest that Pellegrini my play Demichelis instead of the French powerhouse. However, I just wonder if Martin’s legs might be in need of a rest after Wednesday’s exertions?

Twist: Kompany to return.

Twist: I hate to suggest that Manuel might almost completely change a back line that’s only conceded 1 goal in the last 4 games…but that’s what my ‘spider sense’ is telling me. Zaba to be rested too for the ‘itching to get a game’, I’m sure, Bacary Sagna.

Stick: Fernandinho is improving game on game and will probably get the nod ahead of Fernando. And although…

Twist: …the pair had a decent game together against Roma, Yaya to step back into the team after his European suspension.

Stick: Nasri is having one of the best runs-of-form I can recall and so must surely start.

Stick: Likewise Milner…although he may have to shuffle over to the right, replacing Navas who didn’t exactly have a good one in midweek.

Twist: The magician is back! David looked lively as always when he came on and with no Aguero at the moment, he’ll fit in perfectly in an advanced position in a 4-4-1-1. I just hope his return doesn’t see a downturn in Nasri’s performance and form – we’ve seen that before when both play…

Twist: If our ‘Engineer’ does his maths correctly then he must surely see that the more fluid, hardworking and creative remaining forward is Stevan and not Edin. Surely…

Strong bench, as it often is these days, and we might need to change it to break down a very determined, I’m sure, home side eager to stop the rot.

Result? I’ve rarely been so torn in my thinking between a vey close game that we might have to settle for a very frustrating point against the bottom side…and a ‘confidence is high’, absolute rout against Nigel Pearson’s men.

So I’ll go for an in-betweener – a scarily close one that we will eventually win by changing and ‘mixing it up’ throughout the second half.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

v Roma

Having spent some CONSIDERABLE time posting my last Blog entry and uploading pictures etc., I hope you can appreciate that I only intend to do a short pre-Roma posting.

 

And with team news only trickling in and being speculative at best, I’m not claiming this to be one of my most accurate predictions…

 

The team

 
Straight to it then really – predicted starting 11, subs and outcome for Wednesday's game...
 
4-2-3-1:
 
 
_______________Dzeko_______________
 
 
 
 
 
Milner__________Nasri___________Navas
 
 
___________________Fernandinho______
 
________Fernando____________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
________________Hart________________
 
 
 
Hart to continue in net.
 
Clichy, similarly, and I’m going for Vinny to have recovered enough to get selected ahead of Mangala. I say Mangala because I’m going for our manager to go for the experience of the Argentine over the pace and strength of the Frenchman. His pace and energy might be required later on in the game. Zaba on the right.
 
Before a couple of days ago I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of Yaya being suspended for this one. However, suspended he is and so Fernando and the recovering Fernandinho to play centre stage.
 
Milner left, Samir ‘just behind’ and the pacy Navas on the right. Dzeko to start ahead of the recovering (also) Jovetic.
 
Strong-looking bench – in addition to Willy the defensive flanks are covered with Kolarov & Sagna; with the extra option of Alek’s wing-play / crosses and free kicks. Lampard to add his vast European experience and assist / goal threat and in addition to Stevan being fit enough for the bench, I’m going for David to be likewise.
 
Result? Although at home I think they will sit deep; defend in a very organised way, try to draw us out and then hit us on the counter. It’ll be a very close first half.
 
We need to score first to stop them from deploying their plan to good effect and I think we WILL score…eventually. Sadly I think they will also but as long as we can maintain a score draw, we only need Bayern to beat CSKA at home to then go through. A score draw it is then and, so, into the last 16 we go!
 

Domestic cup draw

 
Sheffield Wednesday at home in the F.A. Cup isn’t a bad one…

Golden Ticket

About 2 weeks ago now I received an unexpected e-mail from Manchester City inviting me to the official opening of the new Manchester City Academy. To say that it was an honour to have been chosen – along with a few other supporters – is putting it mildly.


What a Club!


The invite

I can’t express enough just how great the Club were in making a ‘regular fan / supporter’ feel comfortable and at ease around such other prestige guests. There were players & officials both past and present; past players not necessarily associated with Manchester City, well recognised faces from the BBC, ITV & Sky Sports and well-known officials from Manchester City Council as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The "Guest" wristband
Most of the afore mentioned met in the same reception area at the ground; made their way to the Academy on the same coaches, mingled together having breakfast refreshments in the same area and aside from a few reserved seats we were all sat mingled-together for the main presentation speeches and unveiling of the official plaque. It was just ‘spot on’.

Arrival


The ‘invitation for one’ stated “smart casual” and having taken the dog for a walk and chosen to incorporate a visit to my mum’s house, she appeared disappointed that I wasn’t all properly ‘suited up’. It’s an age / generational thing I think…

But having not let those comments blow my confidence, I must admit there was a sense of justification and mild amusement when, ironically, I got into the taxi and upon telling the driver our destination; his first response was to say, “Are you going for an interview?"

So I wasn’t as ‘dressed down’ as my mum was suggesting, bless her.

Arriving bang on 10:15am in the icy cold breeze, I headed straight into the West Stand Reception area where some of the other guests were queuing up to be registered and to receive their guests wrist bands.

I was pleased to see that I'd hit the tone just right with my smart / casual look.

Whilst stood in the queue I very soon realised that I was right next to Alex Williams who was talking to some bloke at the side. It’s hard not to notice the ex-City goalkeeper and head of  City in the Community and I have spoken to him a few times in the past.

In fact, he lead the one & only tour of Maine Road and Platt Lane that I was to go on in the early 90s. In addition to that, Alex is a passing acquaintance of my wife and with her being the Practice Manager of the Dentist he used to attend; whenever we both visit the Etihad and pass him by Alex lets on to my wife [rather than the person who’s attended City far more and for over 30 years]. I don’t say that out of bitterness in the slightest – it’s a little running joke we both share… J

I ‘signed in’, got my wrist band and not really knowing for sure if the three, rather plush-looking coaches were indeed for us (me) and were to be our transport across the road; I eventually asked a G4S Customer Service Officer. They were our coaches and as one of them pulled away, I got on the second in line.

They were plush – well…the most posh I’d been on anyway. Leather seats no less! Easily pleased...

As I embarked I noticed that most people were sat in ‘singles’ with a seat separating most. Clearly I wasn’t the only one to have received an invitation ‘for one’. So I did likewise; taking my seat just a few from the front and on the left overlooking the entrance I’d just emerged from.

As it started to fill up, Alex and the man he was chatting to emerged from the West Stand Reception area and it was at this point that I realised, all-too-clearly, that the ‘some bloke’ Alex had been – and still was – talking to was a certain Colin Bell; only one of the most iconic City legends ever!

Thankfully I was sharing my foolishness with no-one other than myself - well, until sharing it with you all now…

They were both heading to my coach and as they got on, I found myself sort of ‘budging up’ towards the window as if to suggest to Colin (or Alex of course) with a child-like voice in my head, “You can sit here if you like?”

Colin gave me a brief look and walked past (perhaps I should have worn the suit after all) and Alex gave me a nod and an, “Alright”. I then fully expected him to ask about my wife…but he didn’t. So, sitting on my own - and not with any past City-playing legends - we soon set off as the winter clouds gathered.

The (very short) journey


Out of the ground, up Ashton New Road, across Alan Turing Way and in through the Academy gates. It was brief but all still very exiting.

Well it was for me anyway – I’d managed to get the day off work and was sat on the coach wide-eyed like a child off to the seaside for the very first time. However, at least 2 others near me appeared to be squeezing in the visit in-between ‘dealings with work’. As we entered the gates at least 2 other chaps were on their mobiles sorting out work-related matters right up to the point where we disembarked. Priorities all wrong in my world at least…

Anyway...momentarily, any excitement turned to slight confusion. As we neared the main, central complex listed as the, “Performance Centre”, I noticed the first coach parked up and facing us towards the left. But as we continued up the newly tarmacked, pristine road to the right, we were abruptly stopped by an attendant and a 2 or 3 minute conversation then ensued with the driver.

I don’t know, of course, what route the first coach had taken but clearly [from listening to the dialogue] our driver had been given instructions to drive the guests right around the Performance Centre before dropping off at the main entrance where the other coach sat; whereas the attendant had been given instruction that no-one was to drive around the back. It all got a bit awkward at one stage until the driver quite amusingly said, “Well…we’re stuck then aren’t we? How about I just drive on and I’ll them ‘em that you must have missed me, hey?”

So if there’s a new opening for a road / park attendant at the new City Football Academy then you now know why…

Once inside…


Official brochure
One of the youth teams were training outside in the cold air as we were directed into the Performance Centre, which was considerably warmer. It was huge. We were all stood on (state of the art I’m sure) artificial grass as we made our way over to the breakfast refreshments.

There were juices, fruit, tea, coffee and various pastries available and, most notably, Manchester City ice-topped cup cakes. Having had a little breakfast at home but not sure exactly how I’d feel when it got to about 1:00/1:30pm (the time where lunch refreshments were to be served) I went for a tea and a small (in case my diabetic nurse reads this) but very sweet pastry.

I then just wandered lonely as a ‘single invitee’; taking a few snaps of the time-line display boards for my Blog and avoiding the temptation to stand too near HUGE names of past players just in case they spoke to me and I turned to jelly; unable to speak after a sugar rush and general star-struckness.


Timeline exhibition

I took a few snaps of our trophies and, most noticeably of course, the Premier League Trophy...but resisted the crossbar challenge that was going on at the far end.

The area grew slightly dark and we experienced a 5 minute hail storm that, from within the large, high-roof complex, sounded quite impressive for a time.

The cups...
I soon found a fellow Blogger / fanzine writer in Dave Wallace from King of the Kippax and not long afterwards his colleague, Steve Parish, joined us. Steve did, he informed me, have a go of the crossbar challenge and proudly told me that he’d got 2 from 6 shots!

'THE' cup!
It was lovely to see and chat with them both again and 45 or so minutes later, Steve & I walked through as the divide was opened up to allow us into the main presentation area.

15 milliseconds of fame!


Steve was off like an Aguero shot! No messing - he headed straight for ‘front & centre’…and I quickly followed.

Separated only by a row of reserved seats, we were LITERRALLY sat at the front and RIGHT in front of the speaker's podium. With cameras of all descriptions from various medias - and with Sally Nugent hosting the ceremony - I was convinced (and told my family so) that I’d be on the telly! To date, I’ve seen the back of my head and my clapping hands on both Sky Sports and the BBC.

Timeline exhibition
Timeline exhibition

Timeline exhibition
I keep checking the Internet…

I had a pretty good idea that Chairman Khaldoon would be present; Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano, someone from Manchester City Council and Patrick Vieira. However, I didn’t anticipate for one moment that Manuel Pellegrini and Vincent Kompany would be there too (I thought the manager, at least, would have been in Italy ahead of our game with Roma) and certainly didn’t expect George Osborne.

Front-row centre spot!

Alex: That bloke in the second row - what's his wife called?
Andy Warhol & Peter Swales lookalikes share a joke...
 
Serious now - our Chairman speaks...



And it was great to see, a later-understandably, quite emotional, Tony Book officially ‘lift the veil’ / open the Academy.

As well as reading and being very impressed with Tony’s book / life story, I used to get to Maine Road and sit on the concrete steps of the Kippax with my homemade sandwiches and match-day programme very early as a teenager; and have very vivid memories of Tony being the first out EVERY time, warming up the keepers (Alex Williams included of course) by firing-in cross after cross.

A lot of poignant words were spoken by all and as a Manchester City fan reading this, you have every right to be excited about the journey ahead.

We have very professional people with the right attitude and plans for our Football Club and any outside neutral with negative words about our recent spending – or worse still those with specific, anti-City tendencies / hidden agendas – well just feel pity for them and let them ‘snipe away’ to their embittered heart’s content.

We’re doing things the right way – patience and relentlessness are our goals.

Not in Italy - second right is our Vinny
Also not in Italy - Manuel & Ferran Soriano

Tony Book being interviewed by BBC's Sally Nugent
Messrs Pellegrini, Soriano, Sir Richard Leese, Osborne & Al Mubarak

The unveiling
Based on the Maine Road...
...Main Stand mosaic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo opportunity…and another case of chronic 'blind spot'


Following the ceremony we were invited to watch the first, official training session / game to be played in the centre and the very proud-looking youngsters that were sat across the stage moments earlier did, what I’m sure they enjoy doing, the most.


Not long into the ‘kick about’ I turned to my left to see that I was watching proceedings whilst stood almost next to Manuel Pellegrini!

The match

You know…for someone 6’ 1” (in boots) and with little wrong with his eyesight I don’t 'alf almost miss key individuals at times. For someone famous who’d prefer to simply go about their business undisturbed / unrecognised I’m probably a celebrity’s dream!

Could have done with 'Eagle Eyes'
Thinking that the huge amount of clicking press cameras would want to take a few snaps of our manager, I must admit that I made a point of ‘lingering around’ him a little. After 5 minutes of so of doing that, I decided to move away and watch the action from a little further down the cone-marked-out pitch.
Once again my ‘eagle eyes’ failed me as, although I instantly recognised that I was stood next to Life President Bernard Halford; it took several more minutes to see that he was stood next to that very same, ‘some bloke’. For a TRUE Manchester City hero, Colin Bell isn’t half a very unassuming man who blends in very well indeed into the crowd…

 
Upon hearing my news that I’d been invited to this event my wife text me, “You’ve got a golden ticket!”, clearly referring to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

That, then, had been in the back of my mind as the exciting day began and so towards the end of the kid’s exhibition match, I thought I was (finally) going mad! Sure enough, with background music playing in the ‘front end’ of where we’d been gathering before the ceremony, Willy’s “Pure Imagination” began to play. Very weird…

The footballing session finished, we meandered to the front once again and although we were invited to take the coach back to the ground (presumably where the lunchtime refreshments would be served – I dunno); I decided, instead, to walk around the complex taking more pics for my Blog as the coaches departed.
 

Some of the training pitches and surroundings.


 


Still some work being finished...and my brolly
Outside of the Performance Centre

 


The 7,000 capacity ground within the Academy complex


 
 

Eager to then get some ‘domestics’ out of the way before heading to my local 'for a few' to absorb the fantastic few hours that I’d experienced, I made my way to the front exit gates.
 
“Did you enjoy that?”, was the question from the smiling, female gate attendant. “Oh yes…” I replied “…but back to reality now” and pointing to Asda over the road I added that I had to do the ‘weekly shop’.

 

In the pub…

 
The irony that I then got to my local to find ½-a-dozen Manyoo fans round a table talking very loud and being very scathing towards Manchester City. So much so, in fact, I finally broke from reading my newspaper to text some fellow Blues the following:
 
The City Academy launch: Full of optimistic, bright-future talk from City and non-City officials alike.  My local: Full of afternoon-pissed, loud, embittered Manyoo fans spending 85% of their football talk-time taking about - and slagging off - Manchester City. Says it all really…
 
It amused me actually.
 
From past to present and looking very much to the future...
 
Great day all round, fantastic Football Club.