Monday, 5 April 2010

Claret on the sword

It has taken us roughly seven months, but last Saturday at Turf Moor we finally gave someone a good tonking. I’d love to say that this result has been coming, but I don’t think it has. We haven’t been playing particularly well of late and haven’t looked like giving anyone a hammering. But I’m certainly not complaining. Plucked right out of the blue, our 6-1 demolition of Burnley could not have come at a better time.

Just like watching Brazil
On the occasions when the team have been playing well down the years, City fans have been known to sing this line from the terraces. Whilst rubbing City’s dominance into the faces of opposing fans, the undertone of the line also served to self-mock. In reality of course, City would be nowhere near the level of the Brazilian national team. I have to say though, that this was not so yesterday, the day when everything went right for us in an attacking sense, the day when every offensive clog clicked. It actually was like watching Brazil.

Gravity begins to pull on Laws’ Burnley
A large part of that was down to the complete and utter shambles that was Burnley. I have never seen a top flight team collapse so early in a game that meant so much. I must admit, I thought Burnley would be well up for the battle, primed with a David vs. Goliath attitude. But they simply melted away from the very first minute. You have to wonder what was said in the dressing room immediately before the game. You have to wonder what the manager has been telling his players all week. One look at Laws’ face ten minutes into the match, 3-0 down and staring down the barrel of more oncoming City attacks, and you knew it personified the meaning of perplexed. It was the look of a manager, the look of a team that do not seriously think they can stay up. Anything is still possible of course, but if you are that low in the League at this point in the season and losing by those kinds of margins, it is difficult to look beyond any other scenario than one of relegation.

Demolition men
This should take nothing away from City’s performance. The Clarets were awful but they still had to be beat. Everywhere you looked there were openings, and City exploited each one in full. Bellamy and Johnson were running riot from wide positions. Tevez looked as dangerous as ever. Even Emmanuel Adebayor got in on the act, and hopefully his two goal salvo will now get his season back on track. Patrick Vieira is coming in for quite a bit of stick from the terraces at present. Some of this is justified, as he does seem off the pace at times and more often than not this leads to us conceding possession. But the Frenchman still retains class that has been understated during his time at Eastlands. He is the most creative defensive midfielder I have seen, a unique gift in today’s game. This was evident at Turf Moor when he sent through Adebayor for his second, and it has been evident in previous games since his arrival. In fact, he has sent Adebayor through on goal on a number of occasions with different kinds of passes. It just makes you realise what a force he must’ve been in his heyday. At any rate, he played well against Burnley and more than deserved his bullet header of a goal from Johnson’s corner.

This was an excellent result in more ways than one. Building on the 3-0 defeat of Wigan, not only will it have boosted team confidence, it will have boosted Mancini’s chances of staying in the job. There is still a long way to go of course and I suspect the favourites to land fourth place will change game by game, but you cannot deny what an excellent week of results it has been for City. Spurs came a cropper at Sunderland, Liverpool could only manage a draw at Birmingham (and on a completely unrelated result, United were despatched by Chelsea!). The margin of our victory over Burnley also brought us closer to Spurs’ goal difference.

Mancini’s equation
It was also a good result for fans’ confidence in Mancini. There seems to be two schools of thought developing about how the team play. Those that want to go back to the more free flowing attack of Mark Hughes’ tenure, and those who prefer the more cautious approach of Mancini, sometimes employing three defensive midfielders. Although Burnley were bad, this result proves that sometimes in football, you can have it all. Indeed, Sven-Goran Eriksson, watching from the stands, and Kevin Keegan, watching from the ESPN studio would have no doubt both been in complete rapture. This was the kind of side they dreamed of building, the kind of the performance longed to deliver, a statement from their school of footballing philosophy – that you really can play high octane, unfettered attacking football whilst keeping the door shut at the other end. If nothing else, the result proves that there is a middle way out there that leads between the naïve attacking spirit of Hughes’ side and the smothering, defensive-mindedness of Mancini’s. The devil in the detail for Mancini is finding the right balance, the right solution for the equation. If he can merge his own philosophy with a kind similar to that we saw under Hughes, then he will keep his job, because that solution will secure us fourth.

It is interesting that Mancini seems to identify Emanuel Adebayor as being integral to that balance. So much so that the Italian directly linked our chances of finishing fourth with the level of Adebayor’s performances. He has a point. Whilst formidable, Carlos Tevez cannot do it all on his own and he has been carrying the can for far too long with little help. Think of how much better we would be with the talent of Adebayor firing on all cylinders?

We should now briefly bask in the light of this fantastic performance, and take comfort in the fact that we are back in the box seat for Champions League football. Of course we should take nothing for granted. We’re City fans for Christ sakes. In the court of footballing opinion, we will never be found guilty of taking things for granted. But the fact remains: its April, we are 32 games in and we are in fourth position. As a City fan, when was the last time you could say that?

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