Friday, 28 February 2014

Let’s take this one by the throat!

Like a lot of Blues, of course, I’d love to banish the Wembley F.A. Cup defeat to Wigan this coming weekend with a comprehensive win against Sunderland. Although the Wigan result “helped” sculpt the future that saw the arrival of Manuel Pellegrini and the terrific season that we’re now having; that one was a shock…that one hurt a lot.

And it would appear that Kompany has added his words to Nasri’s recent comments – Samir quite rightly stating that Sunday’s League Cup outcome can shape the remaining season ahead; Vinny himself also simply wants to banish the Wigan defeat-demons. I like both of their attitudes…

Confidence…and fears

Heading to my first, (very) long-awaited cup final as a Manchester City supporter against Stoke City in May 2011, I was receiving text messages whilst on the coach from ‘wobbling’ Blues who, most understandably, had that ‘Cityitis feeling’; that foreboding emotion where you just can’t shake the sensation that we were going to press the much-used, blue self-destruct button.

Although I still haven’t fully banished Cityitis from my system – I’m still undergoing treatment after 28, largely long-suffering seasons – I went into the Stoke game almost completely full of confidence. Yeah of course there was a nagging 5% that it might go horribly wrong…but having 95% positivity going into an important game is something that most footballers & sports psychologists would deem a result I’m sure.

So I’m pleased to say that I have that 95% positive feeling once again going into this League Cup final against Sunderland; if our players have the right mentally and are ‘up for the fight’ on the day then we certainly have the personnel to run the Mackems ragged!

Okay, I’ll address the nagging 5% first of all…

A chance that we'll have no Aguero

Okay, so reports - and now Pellegrini's own pre-match press conference - are suggesting that it’s more than likely we’ll see Sergio play some part (at the very least) in Sunday’s game. God knows we need him! And that’s the slight worry – does Pellegrini play him from the beginning and attempt to blow Sunderland out of the water from the very start? Well my, ‘taking this game by the throat’ title is very much suggestive that this should be our course of action.

But the quandary is this…

If he plays our star man ‘from the off’, the Argentinean will, no doubt, want to stamp his authority on the game from the very first second. In other words, he’ll want to run those little legs of his at 120% like he did at White Hart Lane…before his ‘hammy incident’. And that’s my concern. He’s already experience a “scare” in a “high octane” training session


Does he leave his main forward weapon on the bench as a second half impact substitution; hoping to catch-out tiered Sunderland legs and run them ragged in the final 30 minutes or so? My concern with this option is that, should Sunderland get their noses in front with just 30 to 35 minutes left then you can be DAMN sure they’ll be a red & white striped bus or two parked across their half of the pitch…

It’s a difficult one. As much as I want us to bring the League Cup back to Manchester; I want Sergio to be fit for the remainder of the season much more-so.

The Dzeko / Negredo combo

Let’s assume worse case scenarios; that Sergio isn’t going to be risked for most of the game or, worse still, it’s deemed too perilous to play him at all! With the latest news on Jovetic more than suggesting that he won’t make it - having not trained since and that he does have an hamstring issue [it wasn't just cramp] - that leaves us with our worst striking partnership since Adrian HeathWayne Clarke (there might well have been worse pairings; I just plucked that combo out of the air…)

Seriously, these two together do nothing for me (or, sadly, Manchester City) and on the wide, open plains of the Wembley pitch their largely immobile nature (Dzeko more-so than Negredo) will just wither & die.
We would then be SO reliant on our attacking midfield for goals and this leads me on to…

No change of pace or style from the bench

On the likelihood and assumption of Jovetic not being fit to take any part in Sunday’s proceedings and, less likely of course, the same for Aguero; how would we change the game if need-be? Without the more mobile Jovetic & Aguero, just how would we ‘mix it up’ if required?

Well there’s no Guidetti and, up to now, Pellegrini hasn’t plucked an out & out striker from the EDS (and would be unlikely to do so for the League Cup final – would they even be eligible?)  So that leaves us with the only option, which is to pack the bench with attacking / creative midfielders. Step forward once again Marcos Lopes

Sunderland 'reaction' after the Arsenal defeat – a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality

And finally, in this larger-than-planned, nagging 5%...

Gus Poyet has been left REELING at his side’s recent, heavy 4-1 defeat away at Arsenal and hasn’t stopped ‘banging on’ about how a repeat performance can only mean one thing – a similar heavy defeat against us in the final. Huh...let’s hope so!

Sighting that Arsenal play a similar style to us (how very-dare he!); the Uruguayan Manager said he was going to ‘bang heads’ and ‘ring the changes’ in an attempt to get a reaction from his underperforming players. That could prove dangerous.

Having just slipped into the relegation zone of the Premier League, this could prove to be one of those occasions where a struggling team sets aside their league form and, with the shackles off, REALLY have a go at this one with total ‘n’ utter free abandon! If we’re not on our toes right from the off and for the majority of the game…THIS could be our undoing.

But forget all of that! Here’s why I think we’re going to come back with the one & only domestic trophy I, personally, haven’t seen us pick up…

Quality...and 'target number 1'

Simply put, I could just say that we have the much better players [than Sunderland] and leave it at that. But we HAD the better players against Wigan in the 2013 F.A. Cup Final...
But I would also add that we have the better Manager too; one who now has almost a year’s experience in England and, who, has seen the dangers first hand of taking his foot off the peddle in so-called lesser cup competitions.

Pellegrini’s remit from ‘the board’ is 5 trophies in 5 seasons – in his first season; this is one of those trophies and he won’t be treating it lightly I’m sure.

Big stage, big occasion

Although Sunderland have a smattering of experienced players who have played ‘the big stage’ before, our team is jam PACKED full of them! These are often the games where top-quality experience counts, although the old Wimbledon threw that particular rule book out of the window in the 1988 F.A. Cup final against Liverpool...

But I just look at our 'big game players' against theirs and, well, there’s just no contest really.


Of course Sunderland too will have had a nice, long rest and time to prepare themselves for this one - a week without a game is a rare thing in the English football, especially from around 1st December to the end of the season!

But if YOU were connected with Sunderland, would you want Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva & Navas to have had a full week rest & preparation? That’s not forgetting the others of course but that fully fit ‘n’ rested midfield quintet is quite frightening indeed…and it could prove to be our main attacking strength depending on the afore mentioned forward-line issues.

The Aguero factor!

Setting aside any risks to his hamstring - whether we start with Sergio or bring him on with 30 to 45 minutes to spare – he MUST be the one Sunderland fear the most…and quite rightly so!

I said after his injury away to Spurs that, following his recovering from his PREVIOUS injury; he looked better, stronger, faster. If we get the same again from his most recent rehabilitation then, huh, watch out Black Cats!

v Sunderland's my predicted Pellegrini line-up, formation and subs for Sunday’s final:

Formation: 4-4-2









Subs: Hart, Kolarov, Demichelis, Garcia, Milner, Navas, Dzeko.

I can’t imagine Pellegrini not going with his preferred 4-4-2 no matter which strikers are available; neither can I imagine our manager ‘doing a Mancini’ and playing Joe Hart [after Pantilimon has seen League Cup action from the very start]. I might be completely wrong but I think Manuel will stick Costel in net.

Having also played in every other round of the League Cup I think he’ll give this one to Lescott too. Of COURSE Kompany and Zabaleta will start and I think Clichy will complete our strongest possible back line. Kolarov can provide the alternative of an attacking wing-back change; with crosses and an free-kick-specialist option [to add to Yaya]…

A fully recovered and fit Fernandinho is a very welcome sight and will compliment Yaya extremely well; Nasri & Silva to help the Ivorian explore the wide-open spaces of Wembley to their hearts content.

Crucially…Aguero to start. Negredo is the key here - I think Pellegrini will want Alvaro to find his form and confidence as soon as possible and what better way to do that than hand back his favourite partner in (glorious) crime. With regards to Dzeko, he’s more-often a far better bench ‘impact player’ (when he’s not sulking) than he is from the start of games anyway...

Milner (energy and guile) & Navas (energy, guile and pace) are fantastic options on the bench; Demichelis & Garcia to add a more-defensive calmness should that be required also.

Shame there’ll (probably) be no Jovetic but that’s a strong squad-selection.

Result? The cup will be coming back to Manchester!


Mike Doyle

It’s was great to read that a Manchester City fan from Mossley has started the organisation of a chant of Mike Doyle’s name after 4 minutes of Sunday’s game (the number 4 being Mike's shirt). A fitting tribute indeed to the former City Captain; the last Manchester City Captain to lift the trophy since 1976.

My mate, Rodders, often drank in the same boozer as Mike and spoke with him from time to time. It's thanks to him that I have Mike's Autograph in his excellent book, “Blue Blood”.


 Personal note

So, it’s an early start on Sunday – Mayne coach leaves at 7:30am! Still...could be worse; as the alarm clock goes off at 5:30am to get my wife & I out of bed, most Sunderland fans [those travelling by road at least] will probably be just setting off!

Whether you going to Wembley, watching it on TV or 'tuning in' via any other medium, enjoy and…C’MON CITY!


  1. Good piece, Steve.

    My first thought about Aguero was.....bench. However, on second thoughts, he started the season opener against Newcastle without any pre-season preparation, so I think Pellegrini will just go for it.

    I also think Negredo/Dzeko have misfired lately after a reasonable start as a partnership, irrespective of the opposition.

    I've picked exactly the same starting XI and bench as you in the City forum competition I'm a member of. Great minds or otherwise, haha!

    I'll hopefully be watching the game on TV, as I've got a family function to attend, so enjoy the day and the match, and here's to a City win!

    PS. I did attend the Finals in 1974 and 1976.

    1. Hi Colin... Yeah, I think we're right; Pellegrini will want to go 'all guns blazing' from the very off and, so, Aguero to start.'d be funny if we scored after 3 minutes & 30 seconds and then, as the celebrations die down, 31,000 of us break into, "There's only one Mike Doyle...". That'll leave the goal-scorer scratching his head for a moment...

      Yep, for the most part Alvaro/Edin just don't 'do it' together do they? Could YOU0 think of a worse combo than Adrian Heath & Wayne Clarke? Of course, at that time, they were being rotated with Clive Allen and others but those 2 jumped straight out at me for some reason. 8- )

      Great minds indeed! 8- )

      I know a season card holder at work who can't attend or watch the game due to a family function - hope you get to see most or all of it.

      Really? Another fellow Blue at work was telling me about the 1974 final recently; apparently they were brushing large amounts of snow off to the side of the pitch? I've got a vinyl LP in reasonable nick of the 1976 League Cup final. I'm gonna dig it out and play it today. I once saw the same record in City's Museum at the Etihad.

      Thanks as always for reading and commenting!

    2. The Blue at work was probably thinking of 1970 when talking about the snow.
      We played in Europe in midweek (Coimbra, Portugal in the CWC) prior to the Final, and there were delays in returning due to the weather. Wembley had been used for the Horse of the Year show, and was in a terrible state!

    3. Aaaah...come to think of it, I think he did say 1970. I recall him mentioning W.B.A. [and not Wolves]. Cheers Col...