Sunday, 29 December 2013

Top of the tree!

Well we were for a few hours until Arsenal’s win a St. James’ Park this afternoon. It felt good to be league leaders with exactly half the season’s games played and it was achieved after a gritty win against a very predictably-defensive Crystal Palace side who themselves had chances against a somewhat weakened City side.

Almost too much / too little



As I previously stated in my last post I was confident that Pellegrini had moved past his Premier League naivety by weakening teams too much on occasions but I retract that just a little bit now. He almost messed this one up.

In his defence, of course he had to rest key players who had not only just come through a congested fixture list but who had also just played out a very tough game against the then league leaders Liverpool less than 48 hours earlier. It was the correct decision to have one eye on a tricky game away at Swansea on Wednesday.

However, his persistence in his opinion that Javi Garcia is anything LIKE a football player is beginning to bug me and, no doubt, frustrate the hell out of Jack Rodwell. I don’t see Jack in training of course and I can only assume, therefore, that despite getting a seat on the bench yesterday he must be an utterly bobbins player! I say that because, well…he must be if Garcia persistently gets picked ahead of him!

Javi looked like a lost boy on the field of play yesterday; he looked hesitant for the most part. A couple of decent defensive headers aside I was scared to death that he was tasked with protecting our back 4 (even from very minimal Palace threat) and I could not believe that Pellegrini chose to remove Fernandinho for Nasri on 55 minutes! It wasn’t just my opinion in the area where I sit that Fernandinho should have been put back into his more-usual defensive role and that Garcia should have made way for the much needed, creative Frenchman.

Boyata on for Negredo during the same 55 minutes change was a strange one too. Although Dzeko CLEARLY needed some assistance up front in yet ANOTHER game where he largely struggled to even control the flippin’ ball; it meant that we then-also lost the support-attacking qualities of James Milner [moved to right-back] in a game where we were always going to struggle to break the opposition down.

Not content with making 2 very strange substitution decisions we then LOST the impressive Milner for…Kolarov! All of a sudden we had a left-back (Clichy) at right back and a rubbish left-back playing at left-back. Chuck a floundering Garcia and Dzeko into the mix and no WONDER 17th placed, defence-minded Palace had only 3 less shots than Liverpool just 2 days earlier; 4 of which were on target.

If you need any convincing that the Londoners did indeed cause us more problems than they should have done [given their formation-line-up and manager’s clear instructions] then look no further than the City player who got MotM – Joe Hart!

But…

…win we did and for that, despite my frustrated ramblings; Manuel has to be given credit for orchestrating yet another victory.

And of course I have to give some credit to Edin for his (winning) goal at least. Despite being left in acres of room in a rare defensive, Palace slip-up; his finish was confident and precise. And at least this time he looked like he enjoyed his goal…unlike when scoring the 4th goal against Viktoria Plzen.

Shaun Goater has apparently come out and said that Edin’s work rate needs to improve. I – and my mate at the match yesterday – agree. However, Shaun is either being very kind, diplomatic or naive in not pointing out Edin’s true weakness, which is that…he just can’t flamin’-well control the flippin’ ball! When the ball comes to HIS feet it’s as though it’s been instantly transformed into a half-helium-filled beach ball! What’s wrong with the man?

There was one moment of very neat, quick footwork from the 6’ 4” striker yesterday but on that 1st half occasion he was running at goal. With his side or back to goal his teammates may as well pass the ball to the opposition because 9 times out of 10 that’s where it ends up after Edin has fumbled with it.

He’s so frustrating! If it’s not his sulking attitude that gets under my skin then it’s his inability to do one of the most fundamental things in football – control the ball! The clue is in the word “foot-ball”.

What Edin DOES do best – and he did it again yesterday – is score vital goals at crucial times. He has a (great) habit of popping up, changing and even winning games and for that I have to give him huge credit. In fact it might be the only reason he’s still at the club – he’s scored 34 from 90 games and a lot of those have come from the substitutes bench.

But like Jack Rodwell; John Guidetti (who didn’t even make the bench yesterday) must wonder how, with Aguero out and Negredo being mostly rested, he didn’t get ‘the call’ yesterday or, indeed, more often in general since his return to fitness.

Counter productive


I hope for Pellegrini and our sake that his personnel decisions don’t backfire at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday. Every person to a man and woman that I spoke to and heard at the game yesterday said the same thing, which was that he should have picked a stronger team; finished them off as soon as possible and THEN withdraw key players for the last 35 minutes or so.

I could understand their reasoning completely because what our manager affectively had to do [when it was clearly not working] was to bring on some of those ‘rested’ players to help rescue the game! Rather than being withdrawn and rested for the majority of the post-interval period, they ironically rested in the 1st half and had to play-out almost half a game in the SECOND period! As I say; somewhat counter productive in the end…

Outsung


Not surprisingly we were outsung by a vibrant Crystal Palace support yesterday. Their home vocal support is excellent; they were always gonna travel in numbers and that large support is always going to be the louder of the two sets of fans…and that’s despite some recent efforts and improvements from Blues fans at home.

But not wanting to heave too much praise their way; part of the problem was nerves and huge concentration from City fans on the afore mentioned weakened side. You could feel a sense of trepidation from the start and although it could be (quite rightly) argued that we should have had even MORE reason to rise the roof in support of the team; most of us were like rabbits caught in headlights yesterday.

At the final whistle, rather than a loud cheer of victory; the structure of the Etihad Stadium itself breathed a huge sigh of relief!

Of course Palace fans – some of them clutching inflatable Champaign bottles for some strange reason - revelled in the fact that they were making pretty-much the only noise in a 47,107 crowd. But what I would say in response to their chant of…

“We sing all the time, we sign all the ti……me. We’re Crystal Palace, we sing all the time”.

…is good for you; you’ll be singing when you’re on your way down then.

So…fully rested = victory on Wednesday then, doesn’t it?


Well that’s the Pellegrini plan of course and I would fully expect a Vorm, Dyer and Michu-less Swansea City to be our next victims. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant because that’s just not me; nor is it the trait of any Manchester City fan I know.

But having seen Zabaleta, Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri and Negredo all mostly rested, you’d have to fancy us for all 3 points on the first day of 2014.

So, Wednesday’s line-up and formation then…

Formation: 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1


________________Negredo_______________


 
 

Nasri_____________Toure___________Navas

__________Milner_____Fernandinho________

 
 

Clichy_____Nastasic____Kompany____Zabaleta

 
 

__________________Hart_________________

 
Subs: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Lescott, Boyata, Garcia, Rodwell, Dzeko.

I’m going to assume here that Zaba didn’t even make the bench against Palace yesterday not because he’s broken down but rather he was just being protected after his quick hamstring recovery and subsequent, tough 90+ minutes against Liverpool. It’ll be great to have him back!

I’m also going to assume that Hart’s cut-black-eye acquired against Palace yesterday won’t stop him from playing.

With Silva suspended, I think James Milner will get an almost unprecedented two starts in a row! Being away from home - and with a largely 5/10 performance from Dzeko despite his goal – I think he’ll go 4-5-1’ish for this one. And so James will join a packed, counter-attacking City midfield behind the one they call, ‘The Beast’.

4 days should be enough time for the likes of Clichy, Kompany and Navas to have recovered and so I think they’ll all keep their place. Assuming Nastasic shows no ill effects from his first game back I think he’ll keep Lescott out of the starting 11.

I’d love to think that they’ll be a place for Guidetti before his almost-inevitable January loan but I doubt it very much and so it’s not a very inspiring-looking nor game-changing bench (but a very strong starting line-up at least).

Result? An away win.
 

There's no opportunity for me to make any updates between now and the game on January 1st because straight from a day in work tomorrow (boooo…) I’m heading to Stamford to spend a couple of days/nights with friends for ‘New Year’. With the forecast mostly predicting very wet ‘n’ windy weather over the 2 days, mulled wine and a log fire will be the order of the day I think.

 
 
 
 
Whatever you’re doing for New Year’s Eve have a good one and enjoy the Sky-televised game on Wednesday 12:45pm (GMT).
 
 
 
 

Friday, 27 December 2013

Pride in battle

Yes there was skill-a-plenty from both sides yesterday; it was a very good game of football indeed. But it was the battling qualities of City that impressed me a lot yesterday in our DESERVED win.


Fortune


I was a little shocked by some comments from a couple of Blues last night when I popped into my local straight after the walk home from the match. Having watched it in the pub they said we were “lucky” and “…didn’t deserve the win”! Very harsh.

Would it have been a fair result if it had been a draw? Yeah, perhaps. But it would have been fair only because Liverpool were good…very good in fact and certainly not because of any major deficiencies on our part.

Of course it wasn’t off side in the first half; the TV footage clearly shows that. There was a heart-fluttering mad scramble in our box in the second half too; a terrible miss by Sterling towards the end and Joe Hart made a couple of crucial stops…that’s his job. Negredo’s goal too had a touch of fortune to it as Liverpool’s chocolate-wristed goalkeeper allowed the Spaniard’s shot to bounce slowly over the line.

Guile and grace


But we showed tremendous determination, teamwork and some beautiful moments of graceful, quick passing yesterday and so it irks me somewhat to hear some people suggest that we weren’t good for our win yesterday.

Not a happy chappy
I’m also paying very little attention to Brendan Rogers’ protests at a Greater Manchester referee being chosen for this game. Firstly he’s from Bolton, which is hardly Manchester is it? Bolton to the Etihad is about 15 miles, Bolton to Liverpool is only around the 30 mile mark - tomatoes / tomahtoes anyone? Besides which, if he’s got any ‘beef’ about the off-side decision then shouldn’t he be directing his frustrations towards the ASSISTANT referee? Where’s he from?

Cheating b...
Anyway, Suarez should have left the pitch before the rest of the players on a red card for a second yellow. Before he received his yellow card he should have been booked for that horrendous, cheating starfish dive towards the end. I must make an apology at this point to all those within earshot yesterday, when the ‘red mist’ descended and my language was a little bit choice to say the least. Tense-match-fuelled adrenalin, alcohol and a diving cheat aren’t a good mix let me tell you.

Yes Lescott had hold of his shirt a little but why that forces someone to lurch forward and land on the floor in such dramatic style only the cheating Uruguayan could tell you – it was as bad as anything Ashley Young could have produced! Anyway, if the seemingly-bias referee was going to give anything for that then we would have been owed 3 or 4 penalties too; as the Liverpool defence were trying to undress both Joleon and Kompany at almost every City corner!

We edged overall possession and had 20 shots to their 12…so 'nerr' Mr Rodgers!

Surprises


I was very pleasantly surprised to see Zabaleta start and he showed absolutely no signs of his hamstring injury. That was one mighty quick recovery from the almost-indestructible one!

It was pleasing also to see that Nastasic was fit enough to make the bench yesterday. We could well see him in contention for a starting place against Palace on Saturday, particularly with Demichelis out with a ‘knock’ and perhaps Vinny & Joleon suffering from stiff legs from yesterday’s gruelling game.

And unless he’s injured again I was somewhat surprised - and quite disappointed - not to see John Guidetti not make the bench yesterday. Assuming he IS fit and raring to go; if he can’t make the bench at home and with Aguero out what chance has he got at Manchester City? It must be so frustrating for him to see that, at home, he finds Boyata, Nastasic, Clichy (all defenders) and Garcia all being given hope with a place amongst the substitutes.

Surely John will make then bench against Palace tomorrow…

Trading places


That was a great ‘6 pointer’ yesterday. That win not only see us nicely tucked in a point behind Arsenal and primed to finish 2013 ‘top of the tree’; but Liverpool slip from league leaders to 4th.

A solid Arsenal win at strugglers West Ham puts them back on top and Chelsea squeezing out a 1-0 home win against Swansea sees them just a point behind us in 3rd (I just get a feeling that Jose Mourinhos men haven’t quite clicked yet and if they do – along with, SURELY, a new striker in January – they’ll be up there for the remainder of the season putting in a very strong title challenge).

That was a cracking win for Sunderland (and us!) at Goodison Park yesterday; that pegs the Evertonians back a little (now 5th and 4 points behind us). Tottenham are a fading force and despite their win yesterday; hugely-improved Southampton are 11 points behind us.

Manyoo fought back well (and had some own-goal & crossbar fortune) at Hull, after a comical defensive start to their game. They were eventual 3-2 winners but notably picked up a crucial injury and suspension to Jones and Valencia respectively.

Let’s finish 2013 with a bang!


Now I’m not suggesting for one moment [with that sub-heading] that we’re going to produce another scoreline where, at a quick glance, you’re not sure if you’re looking at a football or rugby result. In fact, not only will Crystal Palace be buoyed by their excellent win at Villa Park yesterday but Tony Pulis will have them well organised and prepared to ‘dig in’ and scrap like hell tomorrow.

With half-a-season in the English Premier League now under his belt I doubt very much that Manuel Pellegrini will be so ‘green’ (as he was at Stoke and Sunderland in my opinion) as to weaken the side too much ahead of a tough trip to Swansea just 4 days later. If he does, the South Londoners will prove extremely difficult to break down in my opinion.

Of course he does have to bare in mind that his players have just come through a muscle-sapping game against Liverpool and, on paper at least, a trip to the Liberty Stadium is more difficult than a home game against a side who have lost 7 of 9 away.

With these quandaries in mind it’s more difficult than usual for me to predict how he’ll run with this one but I’ll give it a go of course. This is how I think he’ll line-up against the slightly resurgent (form guide now 9th from 20) London side…

Formation: 4-4-2

_____________________Dzeko___________

__________Negredo_____________________

 
 

Nasri_____________________________Milner
___________Silva____Fernandinho_________
 

 

Clichy_____Lescott_____Kompany____Zabaleta
 

 

__________________Hart_________________
 

Subs: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Nastasic, Garcia, Toure, Navas, Guidetti.

Working from front to back…

Despite being rarely tried, the Dzeko / Negredo combo hasn’t been a good one so far and so I’m setting myself up to be wrong on that one straight away. There’s also a good argument to go 4-5-1’ish against Palace again - it was quite correct to go with one striker and five midfielders against Liverpool for different reasons but against Palace it could prove shrewd once again; in the sense that their packed defence might not know who best to mark if we’re flying at them from all angles with more attacking midfielders.

However, I’ve just got a feeling that he’ll try to, somehow, combat their brick wall at the back by sticking 2 strikers right up against it.

If he does, then this might well suit Navas; having two ‘big men’ to aim at. But I recon he’ll go for the industry of Milner here; the fresh and (always) raring-to-go James being given a very rare start tomorrow afternoon in place of the pacy Spanish right-winger.

 
Silva is a must; we’ll need his genius to unlock the stubborn Southerners.

I can’t see us getting another productive game out of Yaya less then 48-hours after the Liverpool encounter and so Fernandinho partners Silva in the middle. Having said that, he could also stick Silva on the right and Milner in the middle – that midfield two would certainly chase-down every ball in a no-doubt packed Palace midfield.

The only change I can see at the back is Clichy for Kolarov. I’m not sure who Pellegrini thinks is the better of the two and so he’s just grateful, I’m sure, that he has both fit to rotate (I’m sure if Micah was fit Zaba would get a rest on the bench tomorrow).

Despite the seemingly recovered Nastasic being available, I think Manuel will go with the relatively solid paring of Lescott and ‘our skip’ once more.

If he does go with this formation and line up, there’s also some decent ‘impact players’ to come on in the form of Yaya, Jesus (and John!). If we’re struggling to break them down from open play then we have, of course, both Toure and/or Kolarov’s free kicks to mostly rely on too.

Result? A patient, eventual home win.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Annoying wasp!

The weather forecast for the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day at around 5:30pm is a rather chilli 2C (35.6F). But despite the cold we need to somehow find an annoying wasp against Liverpool and that wasp should come in the form of Fernandinhoor perhaps even James Milner.


The ‘Suarez factor’


With our defence, at best, creaking and now downright beginning to crack with the added nuisance of a makeshift right-back situation; even on home soil the prospect of facing 'one Luis Suarez' should be of real concern. It’s bad enough that we don’t have our very own South American forward to help us with another, ‘You score 3 and we’ll score 4 or more’ scenario!

So, in my humble opinion, we need an old-fashioned man-marking job done on the Uruguayan and the perfect fit would be Fernandinho. James Milner is more than capable of that role too but, by his own recent admittance (and it’s quite obvious to see); Mr versatile is probably best in an attacking-support role. Additionally, choosing Fernandinho to latch onto the on-fire Liverpool man not only means that the Brazilian would be functioning in his own, quite-natural role of sitting deep and “protecting” but also it allows us to keep in tact the structure of our very own, fiery attacking formula.

Of course Liverpool have other dangerous players and not only would Yaya have to put in an energetic shift but so too will the likes of Silva, Nasri and, if used, Navas; who would have to keep half-an-eye on some of Liverpool’s midfielders before going on their own attacking endeavours – I’m thinking Continuo, Henderson and Stirling here. Fortunately for us both Gerrard & Sturridge will be missing for this vital clash, which just goes to show what a threat the rest of them must be for the current league leaders (as I type this)!

So, tell the rest of our midfielders to ‘dig in’ and work hard like a team have never worked before and give Fernandinho one mission and one mission only – SMOTHER SUAREZ!

I also wouldn’t play Dzeko and, therefore, wouldn’t play with 2 strikers against Liverpool. What, not even at home? No, I wouldn’t. If we WERE to (very sensibly) use Fernandinho as a man-marker then we’d need the rest of our team to be workmanlike, fluid and pacy in the counter attack…and you just cannot associate those words with the Bosnia & Herzegovinian striker. Having such a pacy, marauding attacking midfield behind the dangerous Negredo would put them on the back foot too; effectively cutting off the supply to Suarez.

But I also won’t hide my other reasoning for not wanting to start with Dzeko on Thursday evening. His 2 goals against a lower-league team in the League Cup aside; I looked at the highlights against Fulham and I saw a player who mostly slaps half-heated, weak shots at goal and fails miserably to spot colleagues in better positions. In general, HE JUST LOOKS SO FLIPPIN’ LACKLUSTRE AND DEVOID OF BALL CONTROL MOST OF THE TIME!

I hope Pellegrini gets a cattle prod for Christmas and uses it wisely…

So, I’m gonna assume our ‘Engineer’ at the helm can see all of these very wise words of mine (no praise like self praise hey?) and will go with something like this against the Scousers:

 

Formation: 4-1-4-1.

________________Negredo_______________

 

 

Nasri____________________________Navas

____________Silva______Toure___________

 

______________Fernandinho______________

Clichy_____Lescott_____Kompany_____Milner


 

__________________Hart_________________
 


After chucking considerable praise his way in recent weeks, I'm starting to see a few failings in Martin Demichelis and, putting it bluntly, if Fernandinho loses Suarez for a moment and the Liverpool hit man then decides to head down the Argentinean defender’s throat he’ll tear him to pieces! So I’m hoping Pellegrini will go for Lescott alongside our Captain here. Although not blessed with great pace himself; Joleon is surely the better option for this one.

And yes, although I’ve just gone on about the virtues of using Milner in a more attacking role; he too has SURELY got to be a better, more solid option than using Clichy out of position or the poor defensive qualities of Kolarov. James’ pace, energy and endeavour would surely assist far better in snuffing out the Suarez threat.

Result? At home…played in the right way…and with the whole team defending as a unit and attacking as a unit, this is a home win. Pick the wrong tactics - or if they eat too much turkey & pudding on Christmas Day - and we could end up dropping 2…or dare I say even 3 home points! This one is on a goose-carving knife edge.

It’s good to be back…blogging that is.


 
I’ll definitely miss the warm weather and relaxed atmosphere of my recent week in Tenerife and I haven’t missed the cold, grey weather of England. But I have missed ‘banging out’ my thoughts on my Blog.

It’s good to be back Blues!

Another period away from footy (hopefully my last this season); another home game missed and a whopping 19 goals while I was away! 6-3, 3-1 and 4-2!

When will it end?! Hopefully never of course… J

There really is a strong case for me staying away isn’t there? Not that I believe in such things. I have to remind myself that I was there for the 10-1 against Huddersfield Town, the 6-2 against Plymouth Argyle just 3 days later, the 5-1 against Manyoo, a whole collection of other 4 & 5-0’ers down the years (and watched the more recent Cold Trafford maulings of course). If you’re there at the game, you’re there and if you’re not, then tough luck.

I couldn’t find the Arsenal result until about 5:15pm, after watching the live, 2nd half of Chelsea v Crystal Palace on Al Jazeera in an Irish Bar. The slimy pairing of Richard Keys and Andy Gray were presenting and the hairy one informed me that there had been a 9 goal thriller at the Etihad! I momentarily gulped down some air and braced myself. Thankfully Richard soon put some details on that; informing us all that we’d scored 6 of those 9. “Phew” and then…”YES!” was my immediate reaction…and all of a sudden the warm sun seemed to shine even brighter.

I then managed to find (another Irish) bar that was advertising the…’possibility’ of showing the Leicester City game. On the night itself, huge relief swept over the face of one of the bar staff (and City fan), Rob from Gorton (Hi Rob), as my wife & I walked in to the then-empty pub wearing City shirts.

He explained that, if we asked [the Manager] for the City game to be shown then there was a better chance of them NOT showing the Sunderland v Chelsea game. Not long after we arrived 4 more Blues turned up followed by a couple of Mackems. Then another Blue follow by a couple more Sunderland fans - we were winning 7-4…and 2 of us had colours on [against their none]!

The atmosphere grew slightly apprehensive as we sat in front of the turned-off TVs and then the ‘switch on’ moment came…and the Sunderland match popped up! However, I think I was the only one who could see Rob grappling with the remote behind the bar and sure enough - in under 10 seconds - up popped the Leicester City game! Result.

The Sunderland fans were aghast and upon enquiring as to what was happening (what…couldn’t they see our shirts at the next table?), they were ushered to the opposite side of their adjoining bar to watch their beloved team eventually beat Chelsea.

Whether it was simply a ‘numbers game’ or whether Rob had any influence I don’t know. But I’ll still say, “Thanks Rob!”

Good game; a few shaky moments perhaps but I was proud of how we seemed to grow in strength and confidence as the game progressed. As I’ve said, Dzeko looked a different player that night but then again perhaps the Championship team didn’t close down as quickly as Premier League Fulham did 4 days later.

 
He continues to frustrate with wildly inconsistent performances.

Just like with Arsenal; I was in the air for the Fulham game and it wasn’t until the seat-belt-signs were turned off at 7:00pm - when we came to a standstill at Manchester Airport – when the passengers (my wife included) started to turn on their various electronic devices. A man from Yorkshire just behind us kindly rattled off the results (not scorelines) and all I needed to know was that we’d won again! The sun, sadly, had no opportunity to shine brighter on this occasion as the result sank into my senses. My wife soon put detail on the outcome by discovering and relaying the scoreline and scorers.

Good result, especially with another makeshift defence. Let’s hope Nastasic, Zabaleta and Richards all recover very, very soon. Another defensive buy in January? Well you probably know my (very strong) thoughts on our left-back situation but there might well be a good case for another one somewhere along the back.

We’re undefeated in 9 games over 3 competitions since that frustrating, should-have-won game at the Stadium of Light way back in mid-November; our only defeat in 13 games! That’s wonderful form but, as with all top teams needing to ‘press on’ for ultimate glory; another very tough and very vital game lays immediately ahead. A win would be FANTASTIC; a draw and a high-scoring win over Crystal Palace would pretty good also.

I’m sorry folks, though; I’ll be going to these 2 games and so let’s hope my theory about superstitions is correct

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Don’t be silly Mr Pellegrini.

For me tonight’s game is not just an interruption of the Premier League, it’s a outright disruption…and potentially a detrimental one depending on how our manager plays it. I don’t exaggerate when I say, ‘get this wrong and it could actually harm our Premier League hopes’.


Pride could be our undoing


Allianz Arena
Will I be proud if we beat Bayern on their own patch by 3 goals and finish top of the group? Proud?! I’d be on the floor in shock! But yes, I would be very proud indeed.

Will I be proud if we win by the odd goal or even manage, “just”, draw in Germany? Absolutely!

Would I still be proud if we were narrowly beaten; giving an excellent account of ourselves on the supposed biggest Club football stage in the world. Of course I would.

But this SAME pride is probably gushing through most of our players too - even the most cynical footy fan can see that, SOME players care more than just about the size of their bank balances.

On this occasion, however, this ‘pride’ worries me a little.

I, of course, don’t want us to get completely mauled in Germany; neither will our Manager. And I’m DAMN certain the likes of Hart, Kompany, Zabaleta, Milner, the revitalised Nasri, Aguero and Negredo will either! That’s why I would hardly pick any of those players tonight ahead of our absolutely vital game against Arsenal on Saturday.

"What?!"

Just as it was at the Etihad; this is going to be another fast, fluid, typical Pep Guardiola, 4-6-0 / 4-5-1 type of game and so could I ask you, can you see Kompany wanting Bayern to get the better of him and his defence? Can you see Vinny pushing himself anything less than 100% for the whole 90-odd minutes? Can you see Zaba doing likewise? And Aguero? No, neither can I.

They’re up against one of the (or perhaps ‘the’?) best Managers in the world and some of the best PLAYERS in the world. Of course they’re not going to want to look like a bunch of Muppets in front of millions…and that’s what concerns me.

There’s even a rumour that Silva might play a part in tonight’s game!

We’re through to the next round, we don’t NEED to finish top of the group. All this, “…if you finish top you get an easier draw” talk is absolute b…...rubbish in this competition. EVERY game is hard from now on and so why risk injuring or tiring players unnecessarily ahead of what could prove to be such a pivotal game in our very own Premier League?


Regular readers will know what I think of the Champions League measured against where we are in terms development both as a Football Club and with our current team. We’re not quite there yet and we should concentrate our efforts on being more consistent domestically before we try to conquer Europe. In my opinion, we’re at least 3 years away from seriously challenging for the final.

“But our owners what us to be successful in Europe too and have spent lots of money on players. They expect…”.

Of course they do and yes they HAVE spent fortunes on building the team. And I’m not suggesting for one moment that we simply roll over tonight. I’m not suggesting either that each season we should not try to qualify beyond the group stages OR not try to ‘push on’ beyond that.

But we should NOT be risking our, yes I’ll say it, ‘bread & butter’ for the chance of some caviar; not just yet anyway.

So, with my neck fully wound back in, I’m gonna stick two lots of ‘personnel’ & ‘formations’ in ahead of this evening’s clash – what I think he’ll pick and what I would pick.

Pellegrini v Bayern Munich:

Formation: 4-5-1:

_________________Aguero________________

 

 

Nasri______________________________Navas

_________________Toure_________________

_________Fernandinho____Garcia___________

 
 

Kolarov____Kompany___Demichelis___Zabaleta

 

 
__________________Hart__________________



 
Me v Bayern Munich:

Formation: 4-2-3-1:

_________________Dzeko________________

 

 

Nasri______________________________Navas
_________________Toure_________________

 

_________Fernandinho____Milner___________

 

Kolarov____Lescott____Demichelis___Richards

 
 

__________________Hart__________________
 

Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Boyata, Kompany, Rodwell, Negredo, Aguero


Where I think we’ll agree…

-          Hart: He’s not being used for Premier League games at the moment and so he just has to be used in other competitions.

-          Kolarov: The use of Kolarov has been forced due to some “feet” injury issue to Clichy. I say, in a strange way, thankfully Gael wasn’t fit for this one. He’s not even travelled and so hopefully they’re working to get him right for Saturday…

-          Demichelis: Although he looked a little jaded at the end of the WBA victory and more than a little ropey against Southamptonand although he MAY be feeling a little stiff from such a heavy fixture list of late – he has bags of ‘top flight’ experience that will be needed at the back this evening.

-          Fernandinho: A must in a game where you’re trying to quell the opposition as much as possible.

-          Toure: Although he can often, as he did at Southampton, start to look for that wall to lean on when the fixtures pile up; we need his presence in the middle for this exceptionally tough game. There should be enough recovery time, even for him, before the Arsenal game 3 ½ days later…

-          Navas: Was virtually rested for our trip to the South coast and so should be fresh and raring to go. Seems to play better from the start as opposed to being an ‘impact substitute’ for some reason I’ve noticed.

-          Nasri: Without Silva, he’d have to put in another shift as one of our main, creative midfielders/wingers.

Where we differ…

-          Kompany: No! Do I need to say any more? As he does; he’ll push himself hard and, in my opinion, too far in this fixture. We need him for the Premier League.

-          Zaba: If Manuel can tell Micah to ‘stay put’ and not bomb forward quite so much for this one, he’ll do just fine. I would rather have Zaba available for Saturday’s game.

-          Garcia: Are you joking? He’s a 3 to 4/10 man in the Premier League; how the ‘eck will he perform away at Bayern?! Milner all day long along-side Fernandinho.

-          Dzeko: This isn’t JUST about saving Aguero from getting injured or fatigued ahead of the Arsenal game; if we pack the midfield against the German side and get the ammo flowing from the wings from Nasri and Navas then the experienced Bundesliga player might…just MIGHT thrive. Yes Aguero is far more mobile in, what is sure to be, a very fast & fluid game. But I just get the feeling that, if played correctly; Edin would see the fruits of our endeavours in this one.
 
Formations:

Both are very similar…and I HOPE Pellegrini learnt his lesson from our last encounter. There was a collective GASP at the Etihad from most of the City fans when we saw his all-too-obvious 4-4-2 line-up. Even the ‘fairly inexperienced’ must have known how Pep liked to play and could see what was coming our way with such a rigid formation and thin, central midfield.

4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1 might seem like tomato / tomahto. But I’d like to think that with Fernandinho & Milner sitting slightly deeper - protecting & helping the back 4 a little more - it allows Yaya & Co. to (mostly) head in just one direction; in support of the lonesome striker.

Result? Tut…huhhhhhh…I’ll stick with my original gut instinct and go for a defeat. A narrow, ‘head held high’ with, hopefully, no injuries (including pride) defeat. But a defeat nonetheless.

Now let’s move on…


Having already missed two games so far this season due to a short, ill-timed break in Edinburgh (Norwich City) and a bonfire night spent in the house minding my petrified dog (CSKA Moscow); I’m devastated to report that I’m going to miss the Arsenal game too! I know, I know…

I am very much looking forward to my Saturday morning flight with my wife to Tenerifeand I will be back for Christmas and, therefore, the Liverpool & Palace fixtures – but still…what a game to miss, hey?

So as I will be, no doubt, busily readying myself for ‘warmer climes’ over the next 4 days; I thought I’d ‘mash in’ a pre-Arsenal Blog posting too.

Quick note here: I still don’t own a mobile device to ‘Blog’ while I’m away from my PC at home and so, for now at least, “being away” also means “no Blogging” (short of finding a Spanish Internet CafĂ© on this occasion – can’t see that suggestion going down too well though…).

Now stop crying in your beverages; it’s not too long to wait...

So assuming that we’ve come back from Germany unscathed, I’ll get straight into my predicted line-up against Arsenal and the 12:45pm (BST) KO on Saturday 14th December.

4-4-2:

__________________Negredo____________

___________Aguero____________________

 

Nasri___________________________Silva


___________________Toure____________

___________Fernandinho_______________

 

Clichy___Kompany___Demichelis___Zabaleta

 
 

_________________Hart_________________
 

Subs:  Pantilimon, Kolarov, Richards, Lescott, Milner, Navas, Dzeko.

Hopefully the medical staff can do their stuff on Clichy in time for him to take his rightful place ahead of Kolarov. It’s still too early for Nastasic and so it’s Martin and Vinny in the middle of the defence. I think Silva will be back for this one, which is probably going to be bad news for Navas. And, no doubt, it’s ‘same again’ up front.

A stronger looking bench with Navas sitting in there too now and, no…it’s not a misprint. Being under the cosh, as I’m sure we will be tonight, I’ve got a feeling that Hart will be called upon a lot…and will come through the game in fine style. And with Costel “allowing” his 9-foot, extended-armed frame to be chipped by a delightful, Osvaldo goal last Saturday; I’m just going for a punt that Pellegrini will plumb for Joe against the Gunners.

Perhaps I’m putting 2 & 2 together and am coming up with 17.6 here but it’s my guess and I’ll stick my neck on the block as always.

Result? A City win.

2 back-to-back 'aways' taking us into Christmas.


The King Power Stadium
The King Power Stadium is up just 3 days later as we face Leicester City in the quarter final of the League Cup. Unlike a lot of fans of top-4 clubs I actually want this one. Apart from those City fans who have let our recent successes and new-found wealth go to their heads; for me we’ve not quite reached the stage yet where we can be TOO picky about what trophies we’d like to win.

And so despite wanting to see John Guidetti get a shot here and would love to see a returning Stevan Jovetic get a run out too; I hope he doesn’t weaken to team too much. Leicester away is not a terribly easy place to visit for a cup tie.

I don’t know why I’ve said “see” John & Steven; what are the chances of finding a pub in Tenerife showing an English League Cup game? Is it even on TV I wonder?

Craven Cottage
Craven Cottage after this and a full strength City should come back with 3 points against Fulham. Under their new Manager, Rene’ Meulensteen, I watched most of the game against Aston Villa the other day and once they got their head of steam up, they actually looked like a decent threat going forward.

But IF we play our top game then these are the places we should be coming back from with full points if we are to believe we can win the league this season.

Very shrewd partnership


 
Just a final note on something I read the other day. Ever since Oldham Athletic appointed the then-unknown (to me) Lee Johnson as Manager in March of this year, I have been quietly telling a few people to watch this fella. Radio Manchester ran an extended piece on him at the time of his appointment and together with a few things that I’ve since read; I think he’s going to be a very good Manager in years to come.

He’s very modern and forward thinking. Such a (very) young chap in Management too; he’s gone about his early coaching and Managing in the right way by taking notes, ideas and techniques from some of the best around the world.

So I was a delighted - but not necessarily surprised to see with our very own forward-thinking Football Club - when I read that we might be getting together with Oldham in the hope of supplying them with some of our EDS players; in order for them to get some good, league experience to aid their development.

Yes of course ‘loaning out‘ is nothing new and it goes on all over the world of football. But consistently loaning players to one club under the tutorage of a manager with such modern ideas and techniques right on our doorstep? That just sounds like a winner to me!


In case I don’t ‘Blog’ or otherwise miss anyone before Christmas Day...
 
HAVE AN ABSOLUTE BELTER WHEREVER YOU MAY BE!