Monday, 25 May 2015

Manchester City: End-of-season report.

So the curtain comes down on the 2014 / 15 season and already the lads are in North America to play two games against Toronto & Houston Dynamo, before taking in a fan-side-view of league-struggling New York City FC.


Yeah just what the lads needed after a 58-game season (including pre-season).


At least they’ve excused the Copa America bound, Argentinean pair Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero after their (also) very long World Cup campaign in the summer of 2014.

Best, worst and ‘other season bits’…

Player of the season: David Silva

Quite simply, “Where would we be without him?” I can tell you that we wouldn’t be Premier League ‘runners up’ and without being absolutely certain how his goals & assists specifically won us actual points in games this season; I recon he was instrumental in us getting a fair few wins and that without them we could easily have finished outside of the top 4.

12 goals and 8 assists on the face of it might not seem OVERLY impressive when you look at cold, hard stats and perhaps also compare him to other similar playing-position footballers in the division. But it’s my opinion, of course, and you’d just have to trust someone who has been to every league game this season, most home cup games and rarely missed an away game on TV; where I’ve seen this Spanish magician ‘pulling the strings’ ever bit as good as he’s done for us since he arrived in June 2010.

It’s even more impressive – and was even more important for us that David had such an immense season – when you consider that most of his midfield teammates get, from me at least, very average looking 6.5 / 10 markings. Had the lad from Gran Canaria had an 'off season' (has he ever had one for us?) and we would, as I say, have most likely found ourselves battling with Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Southampton for a Europa spot.

Runner up: Sergio Aguero

What a season! And when you add that he’s won the Premier League Golden Boot and that he’s achieved this amidst a severe-looking injury that took him 5 or 6 weeks to recover from and then a further few weeks / games to ‘find his footing’ again; I can understand people scratching their heads as to why I haven’t chosen Sergio ahead of David.

Well I’ve already given my reasons for choosing the Spaniard and believe me there was barley a blade of grass between them! A lot of praise goes to City’s back-room staff too.
They’d already changed - or ‘made additions to’ - Sergio’s training regime after last season’s apparent thigh and / or calf injury-issues, whereby he would do an extra warm up & warm down session more-so than the other lads. And that appeared to work. The injury against Everton at the Etihad appeared to be an over-enthusiastic stretch by our Argentine battleship rather than anything underlying.

But in addition it had been very recently identified that an additional change in diet would benefit him greatly also…and how right both changes in routine seemed to have been!

Like David, where would we have been – especially looking at his so-called striking colleagues – without Sergio? Where would we have been without the TWO of ‘em?! I dread to think…

A very close 3rd place: Joe Hart.

It’s tempting (although don’t tell him so-as-to rub salt into his subs-bench-wound) to give this 3rd-place award to Willy Caballero (or perhaps even Manuel Pellegrini for identifying ‘the need’) because the arrival of the Argentine, ex-Malaga stopper has worked WONDERS for ‘our Joe’.

It’s strange that a fella with such Vincent Kompany-like passion & determination should need regular nudges on his broad shoulders…but he seems to.

Nevertheless he had a fairly decent start to the season and then got better, and better, and better and down-right brilliant towards the end of the season!

A Premier League Golden Glove award capped off a most memorable season for England’s Number 1…it’s just a shame no-one brought it out onto the pitch on Sunday for him to receive it! It was great also to hear Joe praise the likes of Willy and the goalkeeping coaching staff in Sunday's centre circle speech after the Southampton win.

Most improved: James Milner

Do you know what…from his second season onwards I would have given him this award at the end of each season (I don’t recall doing a post-season piece like this in the last couple of years) and I would, therefore, have thought it impossible to award it to him again.

But the fella just improves season on season and, I’m really gutted to say, Liverpool (or whoever…but probably Liverpool) are getting one hell of a changed man since his Aston Villa days.

Always a runner and a battler of course; James has added intelligence, a level of pace, good passing and also goals to his game. At 29 he’s ‘hitting his peak’…and I’m hitting the desk at the thought of him not playing for us next season. I have it on fairly good authority that he is going, by the way…

Worst player: Edin Dzeko.

It took no time at all to pick this disappointment – his inability to control a ball in the main is matched only by his utterly appalling attitude.

Defenders of the Bosnian might point to 50 goals in 130 appearances and several assists, I’m sure, and I am even willing to acknowledge that he has been a scorer of vital goals at vital times and in very vital games. No less did he ‘pull us level’ against QPR in ‘THAT’ game…

But his stats definitely flatter to deceive.
He has scored braces-a-plenty, perhaps the odd hat-trick and even got 4 of those 50 in one game away at Spurs one season. But he hits dry spells only comparable to those of deserts around the world and he makes those barren spells seem even worse by his woeful contribution otherwise.

Apart from, perhaps, another hapless striker in Mario Balotelli; he’s the only City player, in fact, that I’ve able to so-easily read his couldn’t-care-less body language before the referee has even blown to indicate the start of the game!

I’m sure that if he leaves for a team who likes to play with two flying wingers who can cross a ball that he’ll be banging goals in at a right ol’ rate…and I for one can’t wait for that theory to be tested.

Most important game of the season: The defeat to Manyoo on 12.04.2015

After the charity-collecting – and then just annoying – craze of the “ice-bucket challenge” had died down; we City fans had been yearning for more than just a splash of cold water on the players in order for them to 'wake up' in our fast-failing season.

Having been (understandably considering the quality of the opposition) knocked out of the Champions League and then so dreadfully dumped out of both the League & FA Cups; we were then in serious danger of sliding down the table at an increasing & alarming rate of knots!

In our lead-up to this then-daunting prospect of a visit to Cold Trafford, our league form read:


Then came another bloody-awful L in that game in the Trafford / Manchester derby; a game that saw a lively opening 15 minutes – and a City opener – fade away in the all-too-familiar, lethargic & bewildering performance that we’d seen FAR too often this season.

But then this, it appeared, sprung us into life!

The quite understandable “if onlys” started, as we went through a 6-game winning run; 4 at home, 2 away; scoring 18 and conceding only 4!

I can’t see another, such important, season-turning game than the one at Scaffold Trafford…and we then had the added bonus of both the team from Trafford and Arsenal fading towards the end of the season. So it has to be...“Thank you Manyoo” for that 4-2 defeat in many ways!

Player's season ratings:

Willy Caballero:        6 / 10
Joe Hart:                    8.5 / 10

Gael Clichy:               7 / 10
Martin Demichelis:   7 / 10
Aleksandar Kolarov: 6 / 10
Vincent Kompany:   7 / 10
Eliaquim Mangala:    6 / 10
Bacary Sagna:           6.5 / 10
Pablo Zabaleta:         7.5 / 10

Fernandinho:             6.5 / 10
Fernando:                  6 / 10
Frank Lampard:        7 / 10
James Milner:           8.5 / 10
Samir Nasri:              6 / 10
Jesus Navas:            6.5 / 10
David Silva:               9.5 / 10
Yaya Toure:               6.5 / 10

Sergio Aguero:         9 / 10
Wilfried Bony:           6.5 / 10
Edin Dzeko:               3 / 10
Stevan Jovetic:         5 / 10
Jose Angel Pozo:      6 / 10

Far too many, very average 6.5s in the midfield there…

The Manager performance review:

  • Weakened the side too much for the League Cup / didn’t appear to get his side as 'fired up’ as he should have done.

  • So frustrating that I have to say “likewise” for the F.A. Cup too!

  • Despite very tough opposition; Pellegrini showed YET AGAIN extreme naivety time and time again in Champions League games; where 4-4-2 (and playing Dzeko) was largely our undoing… AGAIN!

  • Despite this being his second season in the Premier League; he showed a similar ‘lack of caution’ in certain games that cried out for a more thoughtful 4-2-3-1 / 4-5-1 / 4-1-4-1 formation. Where had our ‘Engineer’ gone? If there is going to be something that will be his undoing (and sacking in the summer) then this apparent lack of adaptability both in Europe and, now, domestic life also could be it. However…

  • …and I’ve seen very little in the way of praise for him here and since [his various faux pas]; he has more recently – even when he had the woeful Dzeko and recovered Bony available – gone for a variation of 4-5-1 and, I hope he notes himself, to great affect in the final 6 games of the season!

But there’s been little to heap praise on our boss this-season-round; unlike his first, tremendous season.

And if he DOES have a say in the incoming personnel - and I’d like to think that the manager of a team has done some scouting himself to a point and that he flippin’-well DOES get to choose who he manages and puts in his team – then this also doesn’t make for GREAT reading.

-        Willy Caballero has been a good motivational signing for Joe Hart; whilst only making 2 competitive appearances himself.

-        Whilst only making a disappointing (for him at least) 9 competitive appearances; Bacary Sagna has put in a season average 7/10 performance in his first (last?) season. Overall, though, you’d have to say this hasn’t exactly been a team-improving capture from Arsenal, despite him being ‘on a free’.

-        Martin Demichelis, quite simply put, has been Manuel Pellegrini’s bargain buy! A stuttering start to life at City to say the least; with Vinny’s ‘injury periods’ and Mangala’s ‘Start-stop-stop-stop-start-stop’ season, Martin has proven to be a vital cog at the back for us. Who’d have thought that?!

-        Does Eliaquim Mangala have a twin brother and, amidst the delay in his arrival, did he send him over first to 'bridge the gap'? WHAT a debut display from the Frenchman (or his brother) against Chelsea! Easily the best debut I’ve ever seen from a Manchester City player at least. So what went wrong? Why all of the nervousness and uncertainty? Sure he benefitted slightly towards the end when ‘our skip’ was out injured (again) but even in a slight week-by-week improving performance trend there were still scary moments of dithering from the big man. Has a LOT to prove and improve on…

-        Similar to his ex-Porto mate, Fernando joined us fairly late and has had a few spells out injured. But it’s taken him a long time to put in anything LIKE a decent run of performances and even those above-average displays came against ‘oppo’ at home where you’d expect him to dominate. Again, no real impact on improving the team and the jury is still very much out on this one.

-        How many times – and for how long – can you blame the World Cup heartbreak (not tiredness, which is understandable) for such a stuttering season? Fernandinho, for me at least, “DOES stuttering”! I find him to be very inconsistent indeed…and I still shudder when I think just how much money we spent on him pre-FFP. Another unpredictable season from the quietly-spoken Brazilian.

-        What a totally unexpected Pellegrini signing Frank Lampard was! It seemed inspirational at first too…and certainly got up the noses of a few in the footballing world. Then it all seemed to fade somewhat and get snarled-up in controversy with NYCFC. But then the ex-West Ham, Chelsea & England man put in some fine performances again, especially as we hit that 6-game run at the end of the season. 38 appearances in all competitions; 8 goals and 4 assists is not a bad Manchester City return for the soon-to-be 37-year old.

-        Has there ever been such a wasted talent in the speed that our flying Spanish winger, Jesus Navas, possesses? If he could make better decisions and / or simply cross far better then we’d have a diamond on our books. As it is, I’m sure there are a hell of a lot of City fans who won’t be sorry to see him go in the summer (and get replaced by someone more effective – is that player Raheem Sterling?)

-        Stevan Jovetic had a very good pre-season and had Manchester City fans almost drooling that this might be ‘his season’, following an injury-plagued first for The Blues. We saw flashes in the first few weeks…then we saw injuries mixed with performances where he simply failed to take his chances. And then that was it.

-        It’s difficult to judge with any HIGH degree of accuracy the Pellegrini-signing of Wilfried Bony. A trip to the African Cup of Nations was soon followed by an injury and then a lot of time to get back ‘up to speed’, which saw the season rapidly running out for him. But I personally have seen enough of the big man in recent games to be very impressed; as FOR a big man he is fluid, pacy, has lovely passing skills & vision, along with a quick-footed touch. He has a mean-looking shot on him too and I’m sure we’ll start to see the net ripple for the Ivorian next season. But it's very noticeably also just what a 'team player' he is; passing and linking up very well indeed with his teammates. This one gets the ‘thumbs up’ from me, despite limited game time.

So there you have it...and sadly there’s an awful lot of red & grey markers in there and very few in the way of greens. If Khaldoon Al Mubarak has a similar scoring system (I suspect it to be a bit more sophisticated than that) then our Manuel is ‘for the chop’ this summer!

As a long-time Blue, however, and including both Mancini & Pellegrini; I’m definitely a ‘glass half full’ and still very pleased indeed with our last 5 seasons of…

-        F.A. Cup winners

-        Premier League Champions

-        Premier League ‘runners up’

-        Premier League Champions and League Cup Winners

-        Premier League ‘runners up’

Okay we’ve spent some serious money in that time but a LOT of that, remember, was playing ‘catch up’ to teams who had been spending those amounts for SEASONSand who still are! Stick the completely unfair – as agreed by SO many not connected with Manchester City – F(not-so)FP into the equation and it’s even more impressive ‘in my humble’.

But whether or not that’ll be a factor our owners will include when deciding whether to ‘stick or twist’ with our manager remains to be seen. I personally think that with Pep deciding to see out his 1-remaining-year contract at Bayern, at least, that we’ll keep the Chilean for one more season…and I think that’ll be a good thing.

I can see us improving the squad-quality GREATLY in the summer and that our manager will engineer another successful season similar to his first in charge…and then we’ll be in the market for a replacement I’m sure.

I've had some formatting issues with this piece and some hyperlinks appear purple and not 'standard blue'...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

It could be a strange one…

Having secured 2nd place on Wednesday night without kicking a ball and thanks to a 0-0’er at the Emirates; with Southampton needing points to increase their chances of a European placing - depending on how the F.A. Cup Final plays out - tomorrow’s last game of the season could be a strange one.


Foot off the pedal? Give youth a chance? Swan songs?

It could be the most difficult predicted line-up I’ve ever had to make. Our team Captain will be pushing for a start in the last game of the season; this could be both Milner & Yaya’s farewell, it IS Super Frank’s farewell and there’s a good argument – and some rumours – that we’ll see an EDS player or two at some stage.
Will our manager rest Pablo Zabaleta ahead of the Copa America; putting Bacary Sagna in his place? Hart & [also Copa bound] Aguero will want to mark their Premier League Golden Glove & Golden Boot awards respectively with appearances – and I’m sure Aguero will start – but we might see Willy Caballero get a rare Premier League start on Sunday.
There are likely to be 2 European places up for grabs at least but, I understand, if top-4 finishing Arsenal also win the F.A. Cup against Aston Villa then 5th, 6th AND 7th place would get you a place in the Europa League competition. To be sure, though, The Saints will want to take all 3 points tomorrow and hope that the Spurs game at least goes their way.
With Southampton thumping Aston Villa 6-1 at home last Sunday and wanting one of those Europa spots; weaken the team too much and / or take our foot off the pedal and we could end the season – and a 5-game winning run – with a defeat…not that it’ll matter at all placing-wise for us.

Recent last games (all notably at home!)…

Forgetting – and brushing over as quickly as possibleseason 2012 / 2013 where we finished 11 points behind a certain team from Trafford and, like this season, had already secured 2nd place; the last game of the seasons either side of that runners-up year have proved to be so very vital in terms of needing points [to win the league].
It’s notable, then, that on the last game of the season in between those two league-winning years; not needing any points to secure 2nd we lost 2-3 at home to Norwich.
I’m sure this one won’t be an anti-climax – and I believe the Club are planning some kind of well-deserved Tribute to Frank Lampard’s long and fruitful career - but it might be a little flat in some ways tomorrow afternoon.

v Southampton

Predicted line-up, subs and outcome…
Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Sagna, Mangala, Navas, Bony, Iheanacho
In Pellegrini’s ‘presser’ Manuel Pellegrini seemed clear that the game against the South Coast men was ‘business as usual’ and that he won’t be changing the team; wanting to finish the season with a win, which would make for a strong & impressive 6 in a row.
So I’ve shied away from picking Willy over Joe but I am, however, going for ‘The Engineer’ to make a minor change to the back 4.
Kolarov – another player who may be saying his goodbyes tomorrow – should get rewarded for three back-to-back 7/10 performances; something I don’t think I’ve EVER been able to say since he arrived at our club almost 5 years ago!
However, someone who definitely didn’t have a 7/10 game at Swansea City last Sunday – a player who STILL seems to have plenty of errors in him and who scares the hell out of us City fans despite some slight, overall improvement in recent weeks – is Eliaquim Mangala. I’m going for the French defender to drop to the bench as Vincent Kompany joins Martin Demichelis and makes his first start in weeks following injury. Zaba to keep Sagna out again.
No Fernando through injury and so (for me the inconsistent) Fernandinho to keep his place alongside Toure’s possible last game for Manchester City. Same midfield [as last weekend] then…as our main attacking trio of David, Frank & James back up lone striker Sergio.
Just one change then from last Sunday in my predicted line-up; ‘an 11’ that contains at least ONE sure-to-be deportee [to America] and quite possibly 4 others in Aleks, Fernandinho (depending on our incoming midfield plans), Yaya & James. God I hope Milner stays!
A bench with no central midfielders, which contains a keeper, 3 defenders, a right winger (although ‘floating’ as he did against The Swans he looked more menacing in my opinion) and 2 strikers; one of which is EDS’ Kelechi Iheanacho…a very exciting prospect for me.
Of the bench, with regards to departures…I just wonder if Willy, Bacary & Jesus will be leaving also?
I can understand Willy wanting to play (much) more, although we’d then have to bring in another threat to ‘pressure Joe’ again, which has worked a treat this season!
I hope Bacary doesn’t go – I think he’s a decent player; one which Arsenal fans were very sorry to see leave. But, once again, I could understand if he wanted to leave after very limited chances, which is even more surprising when you consider that Pablo – apart form the last few weeks – has had a below-par season by his very high standards.
I can see Navas going though. For all his pace his end product is so frustratingly poor and with rumours gathering pace by the day that Raheem Sterling is heading to East Manchester; although the ex-QPR & England man prefers a more central / forward role he is essentially an attacking right-winger and, therefore, I can see our Spanish flyer heading back home.
Back to the game…
Notable absences: Fernando & Nasri (both injured), Dzeko & Jovetic (both not selected)…and more departing names in that little section too I’m sure.
Weather forecast: Cloudy start to the game but becoming brighter in the second half. Temperature is a non-May-like "high" of 55F with a fairly brisk West-North-Westerly breeze.

Result? I like the Southampton team and they can really hurt you when they attack. Very organised too.
But we’re at home, we’re playing really well and although there’s a ‘no motivation’ factor about this one for us; with the exact opposite applying to the opposition I can see them coming to attack…and that’ll suit us.
They’ll be goals at both ends, I think, but it's the home side who’ll score more.
Thanks as always for taking the time to read!
I’m sure they’ll be very little time if any to ‘draw breath’ before the transfer window starts and, whilst trying to avoid ‘spewing out’ the same stuff that’s already out there, I will be joining in the ‘transfer madness’ of course (although I do often look forward to a summer, footy 'refresh-break' myself).
They’ll be a purchase of a new, detachable-screen laptop in July (my first ever - ooooOOOOooo...) and so regular readers will know that this will help me to fill in some Blog-posting gaps whenever I go away. However, I won’t be getting this before a week’s holiday starting on 6th June and so I make my apologies now for a break in postings at that time (to about 15th June).
Although, due to a rather agreeable change in my work situation I will have PLENTY of time to Blog from July onwards, which will be a genuine pleasure!
Thanks once again for checking in.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Stay focused City!

With us having lost out on retaining our league title a few weeks ago now all we could have done was to fix our steely glare on second place.


And so while Manyoo lost 3 in a row and with Arsenal suffering a last-home-game-defeat to our next opponents, that’s exactly what we’ve done…and in some style it has to be said; with 4 straight wins, 12 goals scored and 3 clean sheets.


That needs to continue into tomorrow and next Sunday.

Weekend permutations...and ‘the next best thing’

IF we beat ‘The Swans’ tomorrow we should have all-but secured our ‘runners up’ spot – only three Arsenal 5 or 6-0 wins could ruin that on goal difference IF we follow a victory in Wales tomorrow with a win at home to Southampton in the last game of the season the following Sunday.

Lose tomorrow – and here comes the other scenarios in the ‘what if’ section - and we’ll need Manyoo to do us a favour. Or will we?

Okay, so City lose to Swansea and we then find ourselves in a situation where Arsenal – playing after us at Scaffold Trafford tomorrow – are just 3 points behind but with TWO games in hand. Those games-in-hand are at home to Sunderland and West Brom.

Now of course Sunderland might be scrapping for their very Premier League lives and, you have to chuck into the mix, Arsenal may have one eye on the F.A. Cup Final on 30th May. Perhaps that’s what happened to them last Monday (taking nothing away from Swansea of course).

But having LOST to Swansea I can’t see them taking another risk and will want to finishing runners up I’m sure and, so, I recon they’ll most likely beat the lowly Black Cats and mid-table-safe West Brom…and that scenario sees us slip from a creditable 2nd-place finish.

SO…lose tomorrow and we’ll want Manyoo to beat Arsenal, right? Well do we? Lose in Wales tomorrow and Manyoo win and that-then sends us into the last game of the season with the possibility of a home slip-up to The Saints and Manyoo possibly battering doomed-looking Hull City to ensure that the Trafford lot will finish above us.

What about an Cold Trafford draw tomorrow then, should we lose our game? Well that would certainly ensure that Manyoo will finish below us; seeing as that would leave them 4 points behind with just 1 game left for both the Manchester & Trafford teams. But that would then put Arsenal in the driving seat as they would sit just 2-points behind but with two (home) games to play to our one.

If you don’t mind, I’m not going to go into the "what if we draw tomorrow" scenario – I’m starting to feel dizzy and a little sick…

So shut it!

So I’ll stop now and moving onto my Pellegrini predicted line-up, subs and match outcome; I’ll continue the headline message in that it’s simply up to us to focus on achieving the only outcome we should be aiming for; one which kills off Manyoo and goes a long way to shutting out The Gunners.

I will finally add, though, that if we DO win in our 1:30pm KO (BST) game tomorrow I will bloody-well be cheering on Manyoo from 4:00pm…and I might even cheekily do it ‘down the pub’ too…

v Swansea City

4-5-1 (4-2-3-1):









Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Kompany, Toure, Navas, Dzeko, Bony

Looks familiar? It’s the exact same personnel & formation as the home game to QPR last Sunday. Same set of subs too.

Basically…despite the possible temptation to go with the recovered Clichy in place of Kolarov; the same temptation to go with the recovered Kompany (for Mangala?), that our manager also has Toure available and then he might even have the urge to thrown in Bony against his old club; I don’t think he will.

We’re winning and we’re not conceding many – why change it with only 2 games left?

Besides, he has those other options on the bench should he decide that they’re required.

Notable absences: Samir Nasri (injured) & Stevan Jovetic (not selected).

Result? Swansea draw a lot of praise from many – myself included – and quite rightly so. Garry Monk has them playing decent and very attacking football and at home in particular they are strong; with only 4 defeats from 18 league games.

They’ve won their last 3; are within striking distance of 6th and with 11 teams in the Premier League ‘in the minus’ on goal difference, Swansea have made it to the penultimate game of the season with a very reasonable and level “0” in the ‘GD’ column.

This one will be a fight…and should be a good game too!

But we’ve shown of late that we are now up for the fight and, in many ways, we’ve got our ‘swagger’ back. If we can avoid the sort of early scare – or survive one again at least – that we saw at White Hart Lane a couple of weeks back, which gave us all heart flutters, then I’m going for our ‘superior quality all round’ and current ‘flying confidence’ to see us through. It’s an away win and our 5th win in a row.