Sunday, 22 March 2015

A very welcome 3 points / clean sheet

You make your prediction about a home draw (thankfully incorrect) and then rip-up everything after just 89 seconds; when the opposition get the wrong man sent off for a last-man challenge on Wilfried Bony.

I’ll take anything at the moment…

 

Failed barometer check

 
Having played against 10 men for 90 minutes and 31 seconds yesterday it sort of, frustratingly, doesn’t give us any idea ‘where we’re at’ after a torrid time of 1 win and 4 defeats in the previous 5 games in all competitions. Not WANTING to look for negatives in yesterday’s victory of course; that’s about the only really.
 
The early sending off kind of turned the game into a training match of ‘defence v attack’ yesterday and, in doing so, dulled the atmosphere within the ground in many respects.
 
Before the game I always thought it was goin’ to be a flat crowd and slightly flat performance yesterday and with Albion having lost a defender so very early on, it proved to be a double-edged sword; slightly dulling for the fans in the stand but, no doubt, helped to buoy the potentially nervous & self-doubting City players.
 
It was clearly ‘backs to the walls’ for the visitors and I have to give our players credit for breaking down such an entrenched, already-steely (under Tony Pulis) side. You just got the feeling though (well I did at least) that it could and, indeed, should have been much more following the departure of Gareth McAuley.
 
They played with, pretty much, just Saido Berahino “up front” on his own in a 4-4-1 and although 3-0 is a very welcoming, goal-difference bonus result at a time where the goals ‘for & against’ could prove, once again, so very, very important; had our passing radar and shooting boots been tied just a little bit more securely it could should have been at least double that scoreline.
 
Sergio couldn’t buy a goal yesterday, as the phrase goes, but that was largely due to a brilliant, MotM performance from The Baggies’ keeper, Boaz Myhill. The USA born, England Under-20, then-Welsh international (with a Hebrew first name) stopper had an exceptional game deputising for the 6-month injured Ben Foster.
 

Other notable performances

 
I thought the two players down our right-hand-side, Zabaleta & Navas, enjoyed some real freedom of movement and, as I’ve already alluded to, perhaps it should have yielded more end-product-results. But they played well.
 
Fernando will never enjoy that much room ever again unless the same set of circumstances occur and, looking at it slightly negatively (I’m sorry); for THAT reason he had probably his best game for us.
 
You could sort of say similarly for his ex-Porto teammate, Eliaquim Mangala. Aside from an unpunished, clumsy (once again) high-footed challenge in the WBA area that lead to Fernando’s goal (our 1,000th Premier League goal we were informed over the tannoy system) he had a good, solid game.
 
Yeah you could argue that he only really had one player to control…but, having had my first PROPER look at Saido Berahino; not only is he the handful I’ve seen in ‘bits ‘n’ pieces’ and have heard a lot about; but for a fairly slight-framed player he’s as strong as someone twice his size.
 
He’ll be on the move in the summer, I’m sure, and if it wasn’t for his apparent ‘Billy big biscuits’ attitude I’d be seriously wanting us to replace the possibly-departing Jovetic and / or Dzeko with this young striker.
 
On Dzeko…although only on for 14 minutes (including 2-minutes injury time) I thought his attitude was lamentable. What an appalling and so-obvious (once again) attitude Mr Sulk has. Pathetic excuse for a player.
 
Whoever might be in charge next season; we could do FAR worse than replace the Bosnian and Montenegrin flops with the English pair of the afore mentioned, 21-year old Berahino and out-of-contract, 22-year old Danny Ings to join Aguero & Bony in attack.
 
What a ‘superb 4’ that would be - mixing youth with experience and English with foreign players.
 

To sum up…

 
A good, much-needed 3 points and clean sheet going into a ‘no home-game-period’ of a whole month; with an international break (welcome or otherwise) and back-to-back away games at Crystal Palace and Manyoo.
 
Arsenal hung on for a 2-1 away win at Newcastle yesterday and, in doing so, keep the pressure on us, which is not necessarily a bad thing in a way; fingers crossed then that today’s Liverpool v Manyoo ends in a draw or, next best, a Liverpool win.
 
It’s still ‘twitching your arses’ time [in pursuit of 2nd, 3rd or 4th] as the irritating Dutch egomaniac might say…

Friday, 20 March 2015

Thank God that’s over!

As a long-time Manchester City supporter hoping to, one day, see my team be consistently one of the best on the planet it hurts to create that headline.

 

But we binned all domestic chances of silverware this season and…for what? What was going to happen to us even if we’d have somehow pulled off a miracle 2-legged win over Barcelona; were we then going to beat Bayern Munich or Real Madrid etc. in the next round and THEN whoever in the final?

 

Huh…Barcelona toyed with us for large parts - they’re on a different plane of existence to us.


Running before we can walk


Some might point to how much money we’ve spent over the last few seasons and argue that we SHOULD be doing better in Europe…and that we should be able to, at the same time, ‘hold our own’ domestically. And in a way they’d be right and, for me, that says that some of the purchases haven’t been as good as their fees would suggest (that’s being kind).

But stripping it back to its basics we’ve only REALLY started to join ‘the big table’ post-Mark Hughes and with the appointment of Roberto Mancini. Put another way, that’s less than 4 years and two managers later. Two managers both with their very own ideas of how to play promoting no consistency whatsoever…and there’s a good chance that we could be ‘changing the guard’ once again this summer!

The owners are eager, somewhat understandably considering the money they’re ploughing into the club, for European success. I get that. But I am relentless in my belief that we need to be domestically strong - and CONSISTENTLY so – in order to build up a winning side / mentality to take THEN take into Europe.

Winning breeds confident winners and this apparent ‘feast or famine’ season pattern over the last 4 years – albeit great for the fans in the ‘feast seasons’ - is no good for the team / club long term. By fading out with a whimper in both the League & FA Cups and faltering so badly in the Premier League we’ve taken a couple of steps backwards in 2014/2015. Considering the owners see ‘progression’ as one of the main aims then that alone doesn’t bode well for Manuel Pellegrini

More damage done in the short term?


I suggested this pre-Barcelona - I’m concerned for our players’ reaction pre-WBA. Fair enough I thought the lads may have travelled back late Wednesday night or Thursday morning and the management team have, quite sensibly it sounds, decided to remain in Spain and train at Espanyol.

And I hope that they can take heart (no pun intended) from some sterling defending from the defence in the second half…and especially from a 10/10 performance from Joe Hart.

But we had to put 100% into that game just to come away from it with a 0-1’er and we now face a side in, West Bromwich Albion, managed by one Tony Pulis; a man renowned for making work-rate one of his top traits, a man who will likely set up in a counter-attacking 4-5-1 formation…a man who managed Stoke City and in doing so frustrated the hell out of us for so very long. It's says a lot that they have the best defensive record outside of the top-8...

In our scrap, now, for 2nd place or worse, I really do fear for us on Saturday.

v ‘The Baggies’

 
Predicted line-up, subs and outcome in this early KO (12:45pm GMT)…

4-1-3-2:

____________________Bony__________


__________Aguero__________________
 

 
____Nasri
____Milner______Silva______Navas____

 

_____________Fernando_____________

 


 
 

________________Hart_______________

 
Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Mangala, Lampard, Fernandinho Nasri, Toure, Jovetic, Dzeko

Update (8:38am on 21.03.2015): No Milner or Toure due to 'niggles' (and Kolarov wouldn't have been available anyway for the same reason). Nasri, therefore, to step up to the starting 11 and Fernandinho & Jovetic to come in from the cold to join the bench.
 
Hart to, hopefully not be required to be so brilliant again, but to be just that IF required.

Suspended / dropped midweek; Clichy & Zabaleta in. Kompany, of course, and although he was, for me at least, a slightly surprise inclusion in Spain in midweek and his aging legs might be feeling a little sore for this early KO; I just get the feeling that Martin will get chosen ahead of our £35M+ French acquisition from Porto.

He’s not featured for a short while and so I think Fernando might get that defensive midfield role against the Midlands side. With Nasri’s exploding head (what IS wrong with him?), I think Milner will get the nod in a ‘tucked in’, attacking midfield 3. Silva in the middle – and therefore possibly no starting place for jaded-looking Toure – and the pace of Navas at home on the right, albeit slightly more ‘inside’ than he likes to be.

Two ‘up top’; Aguero slightly deeper but interchanging with, surely, Bony.

Bench packed with midfield talent, left’ish and right-sided defensive cover, a keeper and a striker of sorts.

Key missing personnel for this one: Aleks Kolarov (now injured), Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic.

Result? I hope I’m wrong. I hope my ‘spider sense’ lets me down badly. I hope it’s not the ‘can’t break them down’ / Champions League hangover home draw that I think it will be.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

v Barcelona

Still frustrated and seething somewhat at the players’ misfocus, lack of urgency and, in many of the players, an apparent lack of desire against Burnley; it’s with a still-heavy heart that I ‘put pen to paper’ ahead of tomorrow night’s clash with the Spanish giants.


Straight to it then…


It’s getting hard to fathom our manager’s thinking of late and so I make no excuse for getting more-recent – and indeed this – predicted starting 11, subs and outcome nowhere near correct.

Here goes…

4-4-1-1:

_______________Bony_______________

 

 

______________Aguero______________
 

___Nasri____________________Silva___

_____________________Toure_________
 

__________Fernando_________________
 
 
Kolarov__Mangala___Kompany___Sagna

 

_________________Hart_______________
 


Carry on Joe.

Needing a win, the more attack minded Kolarov on the left and the rested-at-the-weekend and slightly pacier Sagna of the right of defence. The more ‘fleet of foot’ Mangala in for the wiser head of Demichelis and ‘our skip’ next to him of course.

Fernando to, hopefully anyway, “protect” and ahead of him a sort of attacking, fluid and interchanging midfield 4, which includes a deep-lying Sergio Aguero behind a, sort of, lone striker in Wilfried Bony.

Key player absentees from this predicted line-up include Gael Clichy (SUSP)Fernandinho.

I’d be happy for our manager to go an even deeper, but counter-attacking, 4-5-1; shoving Sergio further forward and dropping Bony to the bench for an additional, mostly attack-minded midfielder. I’d go for James Milner to be that 100% committed and inexhaustible engine in the middle.

But needing at least a 2-0 or a 3-1 etc., I just get the feeling that Pellegrini will opt for an adaptive 4-4-2.

Result? I can see us scoring; I can see us scoring 2 in fact. But I can also seem them doing likewise. For me it’ll be a passion-fuelled (following the exact opposite last Saturday), creditable but competition-exiting score draw.

 

My concern...


…isn’t exactly about this game.

I CAN see the players trying to make amends in Spain for last Saturday’s appallingly lacklustre display; trying also, of course, to progress in this much-sought-after cup-competition and, therefore, pouring all of their energies into it.

Then with the players not returning home until Thursday and, most likely anyway, feeling battered ‘n’ bruised mentally-also following their exit from the Champions League; for those reasons I really do-genuinely fear for us as we face West Bromwich Albion in a 12:45pm KO (GMT) on Saturday in the fight for 2nd, 3rd or, dare I suggest, 4th place in the Premier League.

 

‘Gulp’…

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The ‘Engineer’ or a right tool?

Dzeko chosen (and endured) once again and a manager, once again, far, FAR too slow to change things yesterday.

If it wasn’t already lost before our trip to relegation-threatened Burnley then our manager lost us the league yesterday. My patience is warring thin with the Chilean boss…


Mystery


Apart from my sub-heading comments I’ll start fairly positively about yesterday. Burnley were clearly up for the fight and went ‘at us’ early on but I thought we coped quite well. In fact, I repeatedly commented at the time, I thought it was the most composed and organised I’ve seen our defence all season. But the defence wasn’t the problem yesterday.

And, in fact, I actually thought a player who isn’t good enough for us - I’ve absolutely decided now – had a good game; for the first 60 minutes at least I thought Fernandinho ran & ran, covered and picking up balls left, right ‘n’ centre yesterday and sprayed them around to good effect. Shame Yaya Toure wasn’t in a running mood or we might have been in danger of getting something out of the game!

I don’t know what game Stuart Brennan was watching but to give the Brazilian 5/10 and the best player in a (terrible blue kit) just 6 is quite baffling.

But that’s enough of the positives…no seriously, that IS all the positives I can find.

Getting past the obvious, which is that Pellegrini CLEARLY and criminally had Barcelona in mind; what is it with the man that he just cannot move from 4-4-2…and that one of those 2 has to be Mr E. Nigma? Nasri on the bench, Lampard being given no more than 11 minutes of ‘the 90’ and Milner nowhere to be seen!

And so flippin’ slow to react…AGAIN!

Even by his-own, low standards Dzeko had a shocker yesterday and yet he STILL managed to stay on the pitch all but 27 minutes of the game! He had ‘that look’ about him again yesterday whereby he just wasn’t up for it at all. He was weak on the ball found himself on the left wing too many times for whatever reason and I can’t even use the word “shot” to describe that weak-ankled, slap-effort on goal before eventually being hauled off for Bony.

Yaya wasn’t up for it either as I say; largely roaming around to little effect and providing no more that little sideways and backwards passes. Where were his monstrous, charging runs into the box?!

Having said that, why on earth at 0-1 and needing the win so very badly did our manager then replace him? Sure enough his replacement (Frank Lampard) is decent at free kicks too but even when he’s not firing Yaya is at least a goal threat.

Replacing Silva with 16+ minutes to go too! Really? And who does he bring on for him? A player in Stevan Jovetic rusty through a lack of games and who cannot possibly have any motivation whatsoever; as he’s all-but-packed his bags for Italy (or elsewhere).

Our manager’s tactics and substitutions just left me cold & baffled as I sat dejected and shaking my head yesterday evening. The players’ attitude and lack of urgency is frustrating as well as quite worrying…and our manger’s actions too have lost us the league this season.

I’m not even commenting on the penalty that wasn’t given – it’d be taking away from the real reasons we lost the game…


No I’m not giving Burnley any credit for yesterday; no I’m not heaping praise on Chelsea for winning the league this season. We have self-destructed this season; going out as we did of both the League & F.A. Cups with a whimper and showing such tactical naivety in both the Premier League and Champions League that I just cannot defend the huge amount of journalistic and TV pundit criticism of our manager.

Still grounded


 
I’ve not gone all ‘Billy Big Time’ as a Manchester City season ticket (card) holder of 29 years; I still recall very clearly the bad and the REALLY bad times as I've been swept along with thousands of other Blues from those largely-darker days and into the heady heights of where we are now.

And I still recall the very wise and sensible words of Ferran Soriano who said that although they expect 5 trophies in 5 seasons; that-may-well have to include a 'barren year', as we continue to ‘build the project’ long term.

But in its own way, and as I say, the situation we find ourselves in this season is now slightly embarrassing and so flippin’ frustrating, in that it was within us to do much, much better than we have done.

F(no-so)FP taken into account - understandably having shackled Mr Pellegrini this season – it’s been a largely poor showing from the Chilean and his faltering purchases. For the first time, in fact, I find that I’m starting to agree with the increasing number of voices who think our ‘charming man’ won’t be with us next season. A la Mancini; 2 seasons…the second one being largely soulless.

Looking to next season already – how sad…


So ‘let down’ has this season been for all the reasons given; it’s even prompted me to do an ‘end of season’ player analysis in flippin’ March! The colour code goes like this…

Green  -           Good enough, in my opinion, and should remain next season.

Grey    -           Varying factors could see the player stay or go.

Red     -           Absolutely, for whatever reason, needs to leave in the summer in my opinion.

 
Joe Hart: Easily good enough to remain our ‘number 1’ despite some voices of doubt and the occasional ‘wobble’.

Willy Caballero: It’s hard to judge a player who you’ve hardly seen and I’m sure he’s questioning his decision to join us. If the manager, who has been his boss at two clubs now, DOES leave in the summer then this might be another reason in the Brazilian’s mind to request a move also. Whoever comes in to compete with Joe, however, surely knows that they’re in for one hell of a fight to dislodge him.

Dedryck Boyata: Like Caballero, arguable not enough game time to judge him properly. Unfortunately for the 24-year old Belgium defender I’ve seen enough of him in seasons-gone-by. Just nowhere near good enough.

Gael Clichy: On his day the French left-back is good enough at the top level. Sadly he’s often blighted with one of the most frustrating traits in football – inconsistency.

Martin Demichelis: On the one hand, thank God for Martin! If it wasn’t for his steady form, for the most part, the disaster that’s been the summer acquisition of Eliaquim Mangala could have proved even more calamitous.

However, if, as I flamin-well hope, we sign another class central defender in the summer; then Martin will become a regular ‘bench man’ at the very most; possibly only getting the odd early-round League or F.A. Cup start. And I’m sure he’ll be reasonably happy with that; I’m sure it was a pleasant surprise for the Argentinean to be offered a new contract that takes him to June 2016.

However, if a new manager is indeed on the cards in the summer then he may well be deemed surplus to requirements. At least with him being ‘in contract’ we’ll be able to command a small fee for him…

Aleksandar Kolarov: Our Edin Dzeko at the back. So poor at defending 9 times out of 10 and barely makes up for it in his slightly better wing / attack play. Provides decent crosses at times and is probably our 3rd best free-kick taker [behind Frank & Yaya]. Amazed he’s lasted this long - goodbye…

Vincent Kompany: Slated by many for a poor season so far. What a joke! Demichelis and a slightly-below-par-himself Zabaleta aside; for me ‘our skip’ has clearly been surrounded by – and has attempted to compensate for - largely incompetent defending colleagues…and has been offered little protection either from a largely ineffective defensive midfield.

And, for me, people seem to forget the high-standard-bar he has set himself over the years of terrific service so far. Good enough to stay? I’m not even going to answer my own question…

Eliaquim Mangala: Knife edge – this guy is either going to become, given time and a fresh-season-start, a monster of a defender at Manchester City for years to come…or we write-off one of the most expensive flops in our history and try to get back whatever we can for him ASAP. I just can’t call it…

Karim Rekik: Like Caballero, I just haven’t seen enough of him to judge or comment other than saying…I just don’t know if he has a future at our club.

Bacary Sagna: It says a lot about his future with Manchester City that, in a season where by his own very high standards Pablo Zabaleta hasn’t had a very good one; the French right-back has hardly played! I like him…but, once again, a lot might depend on whether we’ll have a new manager next season.

If Pellegrini stays then I think they’ll be a knock on his door from this fella requesting a move. Similar to the Hart situation, it would take one HELL of a good right-back to dislodge Zaba…

Pablo Zabaleta: I’ve never liked how a World Cup year seems to effect some players whose national side run to the final stages of the competition. I think that’s what’s happened to ‘our man Zab’ this season.

But even so, he’s having a…‘fairly good season’. And although he’s now slipped to 2nd-place in Gary Neville’s rating of best-current Premier League right-backs to Branislav Ivanovic; Zaba is already in my top-10 list of best ever Manchester City players. The guys ‘a ledge’ and will continue to be so for a few more seasons yet I’m sure.

Fernandinho: I still, 21 months on, struggle to get past how we thought laying out a shattering £34M to £35.2M (depending on your transfer fee source) was value for money. Sometimes I have to say that we ARE responsible for our own downfall in upsetting UEFA and suffering FFP sanctions.

‘World Cup fatigue’ taken into account, he’s an average Premier League player at best. No disrespect intended; he’d suit a Newcastle United, Southampton or Swansea City-type team. He’s just not good enough for what we need in the middle of the park and I really hope we off-load him for something like £20M. If it meant using the cash wisely to get a real ‘powerhouse leader’ in the middle then I’d take £15M…

Fernando: This guy is SO borderline red that I hesitated for some considerable time before deciding. The only – and I MEAN only – reason he falls into the ‘grey category’ is that this his first season and may, therefore, improve next season.

Brought in for his long-legged tackling ability and to be our ‘protector’, particularly in Champions League games and allowing our more-attacking players to ‘do their thing’; the tempo of most games seems to largely pass him by. Like his ex-Porto colleague that eventually joined him, he’s been largely disappointing to say the very least.

Frank Lampard: So vital early on, hardly used since and on his way to NYCFC in the summer. It was looking like a very shrewd move by Manchester City but like our season, it’s all fizzled out somewhat. Thanks for the early-season memories Super Frank.

Marcos Lopes: Likely to sign a contract extension and depending on the managerial situation, will either spend another season on loan or will save us some money and ‘make it’ in the first team.

James Milner: Ironically the scene as shifted somewhat in the last few hours in that SHOULD we dispense with the boss in the coming months; James just might hang around to have a chat with the ‘new man’ before deciding his future. Hope he stays.

Samir Nasri: For Samir Nasri read Gael Clichy. Absolutely bright as a button on occasions and when ‘on fire’ takes that confidence from game to game. Then…splodge (good word), he flops for a few games before picking himself up again.

Full of talent and, at times, determination but has a complex character that seems to effect his game at times. Pellegrini’s father-like style has definitely got more out of him than Mancini ever did. However, even if Pellegrini gets a ‘stay of execution’ I just wonder that if we ARE to spend squillions on a midfield-rebuild in the summer then, other than Yaya, will Samir also be sacrificed in order to fund incoming players.

Jesus Navas: Another one that almost fell into the red batch of players. BAGS of pace and reasonable talent but frustratingly doesn’t seem to use it to best effect. Again…if we lose our Chilean manager in the summer then a new man might get better out of him. Hope so in a way…but equally I won’t be crying in my beer if he goes.

David Silva: Firmly entrenched in my top-10 best ever Manchester City players. Where would we be without him a lot of the time? And imagine what he’d be like with even better players around him! ‘nough said…

Scott Sinclair: On loan at Aston Villa and doing quite well at the moment. Good luck and goodbye…

Yaya Toure: Was ALWAYS going to be ‘grey’. Isn’t he almost every summer? At times unplayable and last season, despite personal problems and ‘a dip’, was bloody brilliant for the most part. Not-so-good to say the least this season and yesterday, at Burnley, summed up the other side of the man.

I just can’t call it with any degree of certainty but my instinct is telling me that, whether he wants to leave or not, it’ll be City who’ll be ‘moving him on’ in order to fund an incoming midfielder of similar style to replace him.

Bruno Zuculini: The Argentinean, Under-20 box-to-box midfielder is either going to be a future diamond for Manchester City…or one of those obscure signings where it has fans saying in a few years, ’Oh yeah, whatever happened to him?’

Probably a season or two too soon for him to be ‘the one’ to save us a great wodge of cash on a midfielder and I can only hope that, at 22 in April, he does make it with us. Again, though, a new manager might want to clear the decks…

Sergio Aguero: Another ‘top 10’er’ for me. What a player! Unless it suits us in order to bring in another stellar name then he’s going nowhere!

Wilfried Bony: Strong, dangerous player who I’m sure will have a good time as a Manchester City player. Doubt even a new manager would move him on so soon after signing in January unless we have one HELL of a summer re-build under a new boss.

Edin Dzeko: The stats say, played 125 / scored 50…and I’m sure he’s got a few assists to his name too. Looks good on paper doesn’t it? And the only defence I will offer him is that he’s a player who, I’m sure, would thrive in a team where they play with 2 flying wingers who can cross. End of.

When you think that those 50 goals include the odd hat-tricks and braces then there are HUGE gaps in the man’s ability to stick the ball in the net. Far too easily knocked off the ball for a ‘big man’, little in the way of pace, can barely trap / control a ball and has an APPALLING attitude a lot of the time. Needs to go - I think his time has finally come…and God I hope so!

John Guidetti: Again I honestly haven’t seen enough of the chap to formulate a proper opinion of him as a footballer and striker. However, and quite sadly, I have HEARD enough of him as both a player and a character. He worries me a little - there’s a bit of the ‘Billy Big Biscuits’ about him.

It doesn’t even look like Celtic WANT him any more regardless of the Swede’s desire (or otherwise) to commit his future to the Scottish side, I think he’ll probably find himself back at Feyenoord or another team in the Eredivisie league on a permanent basis.

Stevan Jovetic: Similar to Jesus Navas; all the apparent ability but with very little in the way of ‘end product’. I will give him the benefit of the doubt in that he has been blighted with injuries and that inconsistent team selections are hardly the basis for producing good performances.

However, he HAS been given opportunities and has rarely taken them. Had a terrific ‘pre’ and early-season and City fans were ‘rubbing their hands’. However, I don’t think there’s anything more certain in-that we’ll be using our hands only for Jovetic, now, to simply wave him goodbye in the summer. Will probably do a good job for Inter Milan or someone similar…

Jose Angel Pozo: Most likely a ‘stayer’ but likely to be shipped out on loan next season to test him at a higher level than the EDS. Has just turned 18 today (happy birthday fella!) and one that many are tipping for a future at the club.

Manuel Pellegrini: Won the Premier League and League Cup in his first season. And WHAT a season – some of the very best football and goal-scoring I’ve ever seen at Manchester City. And then, through no fault of his own, was hindered so very much by F(not-so)FP sanctions. Oozes class and never gets drawn into press ‘trickery’ and rarely with other manager’s mind games (Mourinho a small exception to that). A ‘father figure’ to the players and a calming influence all round.

However, extremely na├»ve and stubborn in his use of 4-4-2 at times and very slow to change / react in games. Shows a worrying lack of ideas at Champions League level and, despite saying that he treats all competitions the same, often weakens the team far too much for domestic cups and ‘so-called’ easier Premier League fixtures. Also persists all-too-often with sub-standard players.

I just can’t call it but what I WILL say is that a lot will depend on what Bayern Munich & Pep Guardiola do. He is DEFINITELY our log-term target…and it’s all about the timing.

1. If it looks like Pep is going to stay for a few more seasons then I recon we’ll ditch the Chilean in the summer and go for either a Rafa Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti or Diego Simeone-type manager (although I see the latter as a more longer-term contact scenario as the previous two guys) and then wait our turn / opportunity to nab the much-sought-after Guardiola.

2. If it looks like Pep is only going to give Bayern another season and then reassess his situation / future; then I think this scenario will see our manager be granted another season with us; seeing his contract out to the very end.

3. If there are any noises that the German side’s manager wants a change this summer then we’ll ‘bin’ Pellegrini without a seconds thought if there’s a chance Pep fancies a reunion with Ferran Soriano & Txiki Begiristain.

It’s all very finely balanced…

Immediate concerns


As I sometimes do when watching an away game on TV at home, I listened to the post-match phone-in on Radio Manchester. Most notably was one Manchester City fan who, somewhat disturbingly, said that he has a strong feeling that the players are now showing the very same ‘lack of fight’ as when things ‘weren’t happy in the camp’ under Roberto Mancini.

I have to say that I sort of agree with him; something doesn’t feel quite right and others too have started to note certain players’ demeanour.

 
On a personal note, I gave up smoking 5-years ago this July and although I haven’t exactly started again - and you can’t class the two in the same league as each other – having already drank a good amount of beer by then; I trudged in contemplative mood to the local shop last night and purchased a cigar. I then sat in the dark and under the cold, starry sky in my garden with my brown-leafed friend and 2 glasses of red wine, wondering quite where it all went wrong.

Barcelona on Wednesday night…but the fight for 2nd place (or could that even be 3rd place now?) starts for us at 12:45pm (GMT) on Saturday 21st March 2015 at home to West Bromwich Albion.

Yikes!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Focus and steel required…

…in our mountainous task to catch up on leaders Chelsea, which continues on Saturday in the testing hills of Burnley.

Barca concern…and concerning noises


With the Champions League game at Camp Nou looming large on the horizon, I just hope the players’ focus is 100% on Saturday’s ‘must win’ at Turf Moor. Of course, when inevitably asked in his pre-match ‘presser’, Manuel Pellegrini will say that he and his team are just talking about Burnley. I’m sure he is…I just hope that, not wanting to pick up a ‘niggle’ in Lancashire, the players are 100% on this this local’ish derby.

I also don’t like the story that's coming out about the half-time, dressing room 'angry clash' between Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany at Anfield. I’m not naive to the fact that things like this happen in football (and many other sport’s) teams and, if you listen to ex-pros, it’s not exactly an unhealthy thing. But for both (and others of course) to-then be dropped from the next game notches up the volume of that little alarm bell somewhat.

I made no qualms about blaming our manager for the largely insipid performance and defeat against Liverpool. However the manager himself, it would appear, believed the problem lay elsewhere and wanted to ‘refresh the team’ by 'resting' a few following our disappointment in Merseyside.

I hope that’s the case…and I think it is.

I say “hope” not only because that-then rules out any more serious, underlying issue (or issues) with the players themselves but, just as important, that our manager – questioned for being too one-dimensional and non-reactive of late – saw some of his players feeling jaded and moved to fix the problem quickly before it got worse and damaged us further.

Samir Nasri has also seemed a little distracted of late; gobbing off once again about his fall-out with the French national coach and firing a few shots over in Chelsea’s direction for being, “...not special”. He too was withdrawn for the Leicester game; not even making the bench.

More-so than ever do we need the squad to be a solid unit and when he first became our manager we were told that one of his finest qualities was that Manuel was very much a father figure; making even the most troubled players feel at ease. Let’s hope he’s been ‘doing his thing’ in the week leading up to this one…and how ironic that the most seemingly-focused player is the one about to expire his contract (James Milner if you needed reminding). I hope that’s not a sign that he’s settled in his mind that he’s about to sign for someone else…

But back to the task in hand…


We’ll need "unity" because Burnley are scrapping for their lives; Burnley were the ones who strikingly pulled-round a 0-2’er at the Etihad to draw 2-2 and who have either held or beaten the likes of Manyoo, Southampton, Tottenham and Chelsea. Burnley have a striker in Danny Ings that a number of decent sides both domestic and foreign are waiting to pounce on in the summer; Burnley work as hard for 90+ minutes as any other side in the Premier League and they also have a nasty habit of taking the lead a heck of a lot this season…fortunately also then having another bad habit of letting those leads slip.

This one won’t be so easy as some may think.

v Burnley (5:30pm KO GMT)



Not for the first time I’m trying to predict Saturday’s starting 11 & subs before the press conference and, therefore, confirmation from our manager of who will and will not be available. Slightly forced as I am by restricted time on Friday night; this alone makes it difficult to predict.

But when you also throw into the mix our manager’s often rotating of the full backs, his recent juggling of (more) striking options as well as his uncharacteristic dropping of ‘our skip’ and a fully fit Fernandinho & Samir Nasri for whatever reason you choose to believe; well…they're my excuses in advance of this fixture.

4-4-2:

___________________Dzeko__________
 

__________Aguero__________________

 
 

___Nasri___________________Silva___

__________________Toure___________
 

__________Fernando________________


 


 
________________Hart_______________

 

Hart to 'keep net'.

With the likelihood of the more attack-minded Kolarov and slightly pacier [than Zabaleta] Sagna possibly being chosen for a ‘win or bust’ game in Spain on Wednesday night; their replacement colleagues to get the...less glamorous fixture. The wiser Demichelis to get the nod ahead of Mangala for this one; the Frenchman’s pace also more likely to be required in midweek. Kompany to get his place back.

Nasri to return also; ‘tucked in’ and ‘floating’ slightly as does Silva on the other flank. And with Toure being the third mostly attack-minded midfielder behind, also, two strikers; they’ll be a need to employ an all-out defensive midfielder. Fernando gets that job.

Aguero, of course, and once again with Barcelona at the back of our manager's thoughts; I get the feeling he'll want to unleash our new striker on the Spanish side IF he chooses to go 4-4-2 against Barca.

Notable absentees are Bacary Sagna (saved for Wednesday and stepping aside for Kolarov in case we need a different attacking option to come on against The Clarets), Fernandinho who I recon will start in Spain and the likely-departing Stevan Jovetic.

Result? Fully refreshed and focused we should prevail. Tough test in many ways but I’m going for a City win.

Bits ‘n’ bobs – comment


Anyone else find Roberto Mancini’s comments about his desire to acquire Yaya in the summer slightly disrespectful? A player that has 3-years left to run on his contract? Of course the Italian is not stupid; he knows that this might be our last summer to REALLY command a proper transfer fee for the Ivorian but still; most managers would quite rightly not comment so specifically on another club’s employee.

We were always going to have to endure another summer of ‘Yaya speculation’…unfortunately it started a few weeks ago in flippin’ February! And, strangely, it sort of started with, apparently, not just his agent but the player himself appearing to hint that not only does he want to see out his contract but to-then stay at Manchester City in some capacity afterwards. I take it all with a pinch of salt…

Staying or going?


Is anyone else getting really quite twitchy about James Milner not signing a new contract? If so there will be, apparently, no quick medicine to calm your butterfly-filled stomach. Rumour has it that the Yorkshireman is now refusing to discuss his contract until the summer…when he’ll be out of contract. Rumours the OTHER week were that we were only offering him a 3-year-deal and that James wanted 4.

I doubt it’s that simple (I flamin’-well hope not!) and, I’m sorry to say, I think he’s simply hoping for a move to a side whereby he can be played more…and more in the middle of the park. I also see that being at either Liverpool or Arsenal…or perhaps even Roberto Mancini’s Inter Milan (hence the curve-ball comments about Yaya from the ex-City boss?)

Future replacement?


On that subject, the Manchester Evening News ran a piece about some of the EDS players who might break into the first team next season. This was then followed up by another piece regarding the most ‘voted for’ EDS player by City fans following the first article.

The player to get the most votes [for making it in the first team next season] was Marcos Lopes.

In addition to suggesting that Lopes could be the perfect replacement for Milner (what…to sit on the subs bench?) the second piece touches on the versatility of the Portuguese youngster and, crucially, that he yearns to make a so-called “number 10” spot his own; operating behind a lone striker. Well, in that case, if Manuel Pellegrini is still our manager next season then I doubt very much that he’ll get that specific wish.

All ‘Messed’ up!


Speculation seems to be intensifying about Lionel Messi moving away from Barcelona...possibly this summer! So expensive is the player ‘all in’ that, apparently, only 3 clubs have launched feasibility studies about whether they can afford him. Of course one of them is us.

I dunno…WHAT a player…but even if there WAS any possibility of this happening; “eggs” and “one basket” spring to mind in an era of F(not-so)FP and in a team that is desperate for improvement in more than one area of the pitch.

Crazy season starts early…


Are we still in March or have we been somehow propelled to the beginning of June? In the same week where it was confirmed that Matija Nastasic was to make his loan move to Schalke 04 permanent in the summer, Edin Dzeko has been apparently fending off (more) speculation that he be moving out of the Etihad after the season finishes…and our manager’s very-own agent has now stirred up things a little by suggest 'The Engineer's' next job (Napoli) should he leave us after just two seasons.

Huhhhh…bring on a good old-fashioned game of footy on Saturday before I go crazy!

PS. Chelsea getting knocked out of the Champions League - good or bad for us? Mmmmm...

PPS. Thanks to NewsNow and, in particular, Jack for including my Blog on their WEB site and for the technical support to get me there!