Sunday, 14 August 2016

Learning, learning, learning…

It slightly amused me last night to see Pep’s face when being interviewed by the BBC after the game – perhaps tinged with a sense of relief at the eventual 3-point result; he looked like an excited child with an expression that said, to me at least, “So THIS is what they meant about the Premier League being tough & unpredictable; where anything can happen to scupper even the best-laid plans and produce 'result upsets' aplenty”. 


Yes, Pep, welcome to the English Premier League…and welcome, again, to Manchester City Football Club.

Little change, in some ways…

You can’t expect MASSIVE changes in just a few weeks over the summer – and I didn’t – especially one “interrupted” by a Euro competition and hindered also by a largely disastrous pre-season programme. There were a number of obvious difference to Pellegrini’s Manchester City team yesterday but there were also a lot of similarities too.

Still there in evidence is all the possession play from the ‘Manuel era’, although I can’t recall one as high as 77% off the top of my head. So all the ‘high possession’ is still in place and, even, improved…but yet still with a slight tinge of frustration with regards to a lack of ‘receivers in the box’ / central attacking drive towards goal.

16 shots at goal yesterday (only 4 on target) might suggest otherwise…but I was there and it didn’t quite “feel” like that for long periods.

Not to say that I thought it was a poor performance from City yesterday…far from it in fact; I thought it was a workmanlike one where you could see that the new training regime was already starting to pay dividends with regards to retaining the ball, playing with a ‘high tempo’ passing game, winning the ball back quick-time - whenever Sunderland did manage to touch the ball that is - and work on player fitness levels was very evident also.

I was also very impressed indeed with the quality of the passing and, indeed, control of receiving such fast & hard-hit balls from teammates.

The 2-7-1 formation.

In my pre-match piece I explained that I was going to call Pep’s formation a fluid 4-5-1 come 4-3-3 come 4-2-4 for now…and I think I will-indeed sick with that for now.

But I’m sure I wasn’t alone amidst the 54,362 in the ground and however many around the world watching via TV etc. who was slightly furrow-browed at seeing our flanking defenders, Gael Clichy & Bacary Sagna, spending a fairly high amount of their time in central midfield; swelling the ‘line across the middle’ to 7 a lot of the time and, some of that time, then leaving just Aleks Kolarov & new-signing John Stones covering Willy Caballero in net…sometimes supported by Fernandinho who, like Gael & Bacary, was asked by Pep to perform a busy ‘duel role’. Huh…welcome to your ‘new jobs’ fellas.

I, eventually, got it…and do get it. It’s clear to me now, after seeing my own team / players perform in this way, as to how Guardiola’s previous teams have managed to overwhelm the opposition; seemingly having more PLAYERS than to ‘oppo’ too!

I don’t think, at times, both Gael & Bacary looked entirely comfortable with their new instructions but they didn’t have bad games at all and they will improve, I’m sure, the more practice they get of course. And, of course, we still have new signings to come in, in the form of Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane.

In addition to THAT we also have Nicholas Otamendi to come back from being a ‘slight injury doubt’ yesterday as well as ‘our skipper’, of course, too!

But as well as a sense of relief when leaving the Etihad, last night, of-having pulled out of the fire a victory after allowing Sunderland to equalise; I also couldn’t help thinking that any team with ‘a lot more about them’ and who have better quality, particularly up front, would have really punished our often-sparse defence yesterday and had they done so…I’m not so sure we could have responded to a team who may have scored more than just one against us.

-       We still need a new left-back in my humble opinion, unless Angelino is going to be a serious consideration this season. Why? Well Gael can't 'go all season' and, so, imagine Aleks Kolarov being asked to provide that left-back / central midfield duel role? Shudder… Although I say that having given him a decent 7/10 for yesterday’s central defender assignment (credit where credit is due as always).

-       Despite new-signing John Stones, do we still need an additional central defender? I would say there’s a very good argument for one. Again…why? Well we still have injury-prone Vinny recovering from his latest problem and, as I’ve already stated, Nicholas Otamendi had a slight niggle yesterday; keeping him on the bench as an ‘unused sub’. And so with ‘just those two out’, look what happens - Pep decides to stick Aleks Kolarov in there and asks Fernandinho to ‘drop back’ / cover also. Jason Denayer, I understand, wants to leave / might be on his way out in the next fortnight; likewise Eliaquim Mangala. And then we have Tosin Adarabioyo who is yet to be tested in the Premier League, aside from an appearance against Chelsea in last season’s F.A. Cup.

-       Despite having a wealth of attacking & creative midfielders & wingers and despite, also, the possibility of using new-signing Gabriel Jesus from January (although he will have not only competed in this year’s Olympics in his home country but also a full Brazilian football season that ends in December) do we still need an additional striker? Again…I would say there’s a very good ‘case for’. Why? Aguero is brilliant but, similar to Vinny, can ‘break down’ for 2 or 3 months-a-season. Iheanacho is very good and has a very promising future too. But he’s still learning...yesterday’s apparent ‘unawareness of’ or ‘unwillingness to pass to’ Fabian Delph late on yesterday being testament to that. And with Wilfried Bony almost certain to leave in the next fortnight; that, to me, leaves us AWFULLY thin for ‘out & out’, central striker options.

An additional goalkeeper is required too, of course, and so with just over 2 weeks to go of the summer transfer window; there’s still some serious ‘transfer in’ activity to do in my opinion.

Hart of the matter.

I’m concerned. Rumours of a ‘fall out with Pep’, correct rumours yesterday hours BEFORE the game and ‘starting 11’ announcement that Willy was going to be selected instead of the England ‘number 1’ stopper…and a conversation the other day with a fellow Blue in my local who said that a mate of his had spoken to one of the City Chefs, who told him that Hart had said he is to leave the club soon and will probably go abroad (rather specific & trusting I thought).

For those who don’t know where I stand on Joe in general - and particularly from last season’s ‘End of season report / ratings’ piece - I’ll nail my colours to the mast straight away. Simply put, Joe Hart was my ‘player of the season’, last season, by a mile.

·        Is his distribution / ‘foot work’ not so good? Perhaps.

·         Can a 29-year-old-dog be taught new tricks? I’d say so.

·         Is he, overall, better than Willy Caballero? Without a doubt.

·         Let’s say Joe is given a ‘stay of execution’ and a new, Pep-style keeper is brought in to ‘compete with’ Joe even help TEACH Joe some new ‘footwork skills’. Would Joe respond / react positively & professionally? I also have no doubt about that whatsoever…and I look back to the time where he was competing with Shay Given in the 2009 / 10 season; when loaned to Birmingham City for a season and, where, he came back a much better player and character.

So let’s say Pep decides to move Joe on – what then? That’s leaves us with Willy & youngster Angus Gunn.

So our new manager then, say, successfully moves for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen or Claudio Bravo. Being ‘Glass half empty’ for a moment…what happens if that new keeper suffers a bad injury in September / October; keeping him out for 4 months? Does having just Caballero & Gunn for half-a-season in 4 competitions not make you a little jittery? And for those who don’t know, Ter Stegen has already, recently broken down with a knee ligament issue in the last few days…

Keepers of Marc-Andre, Claudio & Joe’s quality might not LIKE to be second choice for too long - and, in fact, Ter Stegen has already expressed concerns to his Barcelona employers about a lack of ‘game time’ - but that’s footballing life at a top club; one competing for honours and having a large squad full of top stars. Besides, a good run in all competitions and your team can play 60-odd games a season!

Obvious statement alert! I would be both baffled and gutted if Joe was to be sold in the next 14 days or so.

Back to yesterday’s game…

A good win / 3-points to kick us off, no fresh injuries going into Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier as far as I’m aware; I like the pace & energy-look of the side already and there’s plenty of ‘improvement scope’ and new players yet to come into the side.

Room for improvement also with new-signing Nolito, who is already attracting some doubtful criticisms from some Blues who post on-line; De Bruyne & Aguero will get sharper. Raheem looked good yesterday; mainly on the right-wing, as was trialled in pre-season, but who also worked very well whenever he ‘dipped inside’.

Atmos yesterday.

Decent when the banners & flags were ‘rolled out’ as the players entered the field of play at the start; died very quickly and was subdued for most of the game. Came back to life when we needed to drive the team on, which is good, after Sunderland equalised.

Sunderland fans, although not brilliant throughout the game and took a while to get going it has to be noted, were, in general, far noisier than the home fans.

Although it’s not JUST up to them to get the atmos going and ‘sing throughout’ - and I did both see & hear support activity from the South Stand and 1894 Group area yesterday – I’m often left wondering why this part of the ground is not far noisier and unrelenting than it perhaps should be? The 1894 Group, to their credit, are an active bunch who liaise with the club and make efforts to improve the atmos.

I’ve said this before though; some new, long-lasting chant-songs to support the team please, guys & girls…

The bar.

Still no improvement in the area of the ground I sit – still massive queues and startled-looking staff who don’t appear to have been given adequate training and “supervisor”-looking staff who, similarly, look like they’re about the have a nervous breakdown themselves.

Most of these will have probably handed in their resignation after yesterday’s game and, as usual, we’ll see the rotation of new staff or…‘lambs to the slaughter’ as I’ve come to refer to them as.

It doesn’t have to be this way and despite efforts in recent seasons to encourage the formation of sensible queuing rather than a rugby scrum and other ideas such as a quick ‘pay by card only’ line, which I don’t think works at all / causes more confusion and, which, I don’t recall seeing yesterday; there’s just something still so very wrong that causes the whole thing to be totally ‘not fit for purpose’. Good job I often have an ”alternative option”…

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