Sunday, 5 December 2010

A 1-0 destruction

If one team could ever destroy another 1-0, then City’s one to nothing victory over Bolton yesterday was surely a classic example. Bolton have impressed of late and to their credit they came to play football, but for large parts of the game they were crushed and were lucky to escape with only conceding the one goal. The result betrayed City's true performance.

Almost stalemate from the jaws of victory

Despite City’s dominance, Joe Hart almost threw it all away in the second half when he let a cross slip through his gloves, only for the ever reliable Vincent Kompany to clear the ball off the line and save all our blushes. But in truth that incident represented the sharp end of the Bolton threat.

City’s dominant forward diamond

Another home draw would have been difficult to stomach. We were much more dominant here than we were against Blackburn or Birmingham. That Bolton actually tried to play football probably went to their detriment, as it opened up spaces at the back for our forward diamond of Tevez, Balotelli, Silva and Yaya skilfully to exploit.

And exploit it they did – from the off in fact – when a lovely through ball from Yaya Toure placed Carlos Tevez through to finish cleanly. At the time I thought we were in for a hatful, but it was not be – more because of our poor finishing rather than Bolton’s defending.

Time and again we broke through Bolton’s backline. In behind, approaching the box, round the back from wide positions – any which way but loose. Mario Balotelli struck the post, David Silva struck the bar, as City searched for the goal to kill off Coyle’s men. Our front four were all impressive, but playing just behind the front three Yaya Toure had his best game in a Blue shirt. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he is the joker in the pack as far as our so called ‘defensive midfield’ goes. The dog work is done by De Jong and Barry, whilst Yaya is given license to power forward. His dribbling skills, combined with his power, make him formidable from central attacking positions.

Mancini’s eleven

I have been disappointed of late to hear of fans complaining about Roberto Mancini at the helm. Its true that we haven’t been the best side to watch of late, but I really must ask what more do fans want? As the table stands we are three points off 1st position. Everyone is dropping points and we will be no different, no matter how much our team costs. We have excellent players at the club now, of course that much is clear, but so do Arsenal, United, Chelsea and Spurs – more to the point these teams are much more settled than ours.

Fans harp on about all the money we have spent and the astronomical wages that we pay, and about not getting a just return for this investment. Just because we pay £25m for a player and pay him over £150,000 a week doesn’t make him 15%-20% better. He is still the same – albeit very good - player who like any other needs time to gel and settle in the team.

And besides, no-one can complain that we played boring football at Eastlands yesterday. This was the strongest City line up that I think Mancini can field. Hart, Kolarov, Kompany, Toure, Zabaleta, Barry, De Jong, Yaya, Balotelli, Tevez, Silva. More to the point, this team very much has Mancini’s stamp on it – especially in an attacking sense. And we were all over Bolton yesterday. Surely that confirms some doubts about us in a tactical sense.

Booing Mancini’s decisions – like fans did against Birmingham – is small minded and fails to see the bigger picture of which stability is the key ingredient. Honestly, I would’ve thought that City fans above all others would understand this. Just take a look at the last 17 years for starters: something like 11 managers and zero success.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Regime change on film

For all those City history buffs out there, if you haven't had chance to watch then this Granada documentary is certainly not one to be missed.

The year is 1980 and City are struggling in the lower reaches of Division One. Malcolm Allison is the man at the helm. He is undergoing his second spell at the club – only ten years earlier Allison had been a key part of City’s European Cup Winners Cup triumph.

Allison tries to arrest his team’s decline in form but as he goes about his work the threat of the sack increasingly begins to emanate from the boardroom – most starkly in the form of Chairman Peter Swales. What follows is an unusual and highly rare look behind the scenes of a club undergoing a managerial change.

There’s some fascinating footage in here: Allison’s pre and post match talks, his tactics on the training ground and the squad’s difficulty in getting to grips with the those tactics, Swales giving his manager two games to save his job, the sacking of Allison, Allison saying goodbye to his players, the interview and subsequent appointment of John Bond, and Bond’s frank assessment of his predecessor – which takes place in right in front of Allison and Swales.

Click on the links below to access the documentary. If only we had this fly on the wall stuff nowadays.

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3KVEy1XKoc

Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3XEPJ923AQ&feature=related

Part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YfQQjptuak&feature=related

Part 4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo_fV3h2DDI&feature=related

Part 5 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAbzMloipcY&feature=related

Part 6 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLq7MvHUh7g&feature=fvw

More comments on our recent fixtures coming soon.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

An interview with the enemy

Something to get the derby juices flowing. An avid United fan - from Greater Manchester - lays the law down on Roberto Mancini, 34 years, the importance of Baconface and the recent Rooney transfer saga.


1) How long have you been a United fan?

All my life, my granddad is a red, and so are my mum and dad. We are all season ticket

holders.

2) Where do you sit in Old Trafford?

We sit in the corner of the North stand and East stand, directly across from the tunnel. (Block N2401)

3) If you could have one player from City’s squad, who would that be and why?

I think Joe Hart has a bright future, England no 1 for the foreseeable future. I would like to

see him work with VDS for a season or so and take over the role when he feels it’s time to retire.

4) There have been a few murmurs recently about the future of Roberto Mancini, mainly due to a string of recent defeats and his cautious tactics. How do you think the Italian has performed since coming to Eastlands last year?

I think failing to deliver Champions League football last season was a major blow. The Tottenham game was a cup final at home and he fielded a defensive team like in most other

matches. In my opinion a game of that magnitude is something you should be looking to win not starting with 3 defensive minded midfielders. That mentality was summed up in the game at Wolves, 2-1 down and he takes a striker off and puts Zabaleta on. Those sorts of decisions will not win you the league; you need to be throwing strikers on trying to nick a goal if not two.

Overall I think the Italian has failed to deliver so far, failure to win a major trophy in the summer may well spell the end of Mancini’s short reign in charge.

5) Why do you think City has failed to lift a trophy over the last 34 years?

Since I started watching football closely I have never seen any consistency at City. Since

Fergie took charge 24 years ago he has seen at least 10 different managers come and go, you can’t expect to win anything unless the manager gets to stamps his mark on the team.

This season’s carling cup was a perfect opportunity to forget about last year’s semi final defeat and put the 34 year hoodoo to bed, yet Mancini showed WBA no respect and crashed out at the first hurdle.

6) Do you think the Blues can break their duck and win a trophy over the next few years?

I think they should do, the squad is capable of challenging for honours. I just think the longer the run continues the harder it will get, no matter how much money you spend.

7) The recent Rooney saga must have been a shock to your system. Do you think that is a sign of United’s decline?

It was a massive shock, one which I don’t think some fans will ever forget. Whether it was a ploy to get more money, to make the Glazers spend some of the Ronaldo transfer kitty, or he really did think United had no ambition and he wanted to join a club that hasn’t won a major trophy since 1976 you don’t go against the grain. You don’t say that Manchester United, a club who has won over 20 trophies since 1976 has no ambition.

I think Sir Alex played the situation out very well, but I don’t hold my breath, we may never see Rooney in a United shirt again. The whole matter can be put to bed till at least January. And while Fergie is in charge Man Utd will be successful.

8) How important has Sir Alex Ferguson been to the success of your club in the modern game?

Immensely important, Fergie has an unquestionable will to win. In his time at OT he hasn’t just built 1 great team but 3 or 4. He is the boss, he commands respect from his players and they believe in him. You only have to look at players who have played under him and gone on to manage themselves. Mark Hughes, (brushed out of the door at City prematurely) Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson all learnt from him.

The fact he is still it at helm after announcing his retirement in 2001 shows the passion he still has, his desire to ‘fucking knock Liverpool off the perch’ still remains.

9) How do you think both teams will fare in the league this season?

I think the league will be close, just like last season between United and Chelsea, United to win it by a point.

Man City will come in the top 4, and maybe challenge for the Europa League.

10) Turning to Wednesday night what’s your thoughts on the game? (United’s main danger man, City’s main danger man).

It’s a derby; maybe the most eagerly anticipated in my life time. Anything can happen. I think it will be tight. The team that can keep their heads not let the occasion get to them and keep possession will win.

City’s danger man is without doubt the ‘money grabbing whore’ he is your talisman, without him you struggle. He still feels he has a point to prove to Fergie, the man who rightly thought he wasn’t good enough for United.

United’s danger man is dependent on how bad the speculated injury crisis is. Nani has been our best player this season; if he is fit he will cause your defence problems.

11) And your prediction for tomorrow night game?

2-0 United.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Now we must look to the players

Its fair to say its been a week to forget at Eastlands, compounded by the 2-1 defeat to Wolves. The 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, an injury sustained to our talisman Carlos Tevez, followed by the alcoholic excesses of Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry and Joe Hart all captured perfectly on camera for Roberto Mancini to see for himself. Nice work.

Defeat at Molineux…

In all of this, the killer blow was surrendering a 1-0 lead to capitulate against Mick McCarthy’s men. Victory at Wolves and the exploits of messrs Barry and co would have quickly faded. Victory at Wolves, and the absence of Tevez would not have been so clear for all to see.

But defeat, combined with the arguments of Vincent Kompany and Emmanuel Adebayor on the pitch, added to the fact that James Milner and Yaya Toure were so clearly arguing on the during the Arsenal game (to say Nigel De Jong had to split them apart would be to dramatise things, but he certainly had to adjudicate), and the media find themselves enjoying a nice little feast. And all of this without knowing the reality of what is going on inside that dressing room and inside that training camp.

The BBC Manchester phone in after the game was predictable enough. There were comments of doom and gloom: getting rid of Mancini, our tactics are all wrong, we’re too defensive, why don’t we start with Adam Johnson, why did we withdraw Adebayor and replace him with Zabaleta when we were trying to get us the goal that would’ve drawn the game.

Any comments about sacking Mancini are just wide of the mark - we are fourth in the league and still a strong candidate for Champions League football. Any criticism about his team selection, substitutions or tactical approach to the game do not get to the heart of why we lost. I went to last season’s visit to Molineux, where our discipline and clinical finishing ground Wolves into the ground. We were on the wrong end of things here because we did not demonstrate these qualities, both of which are fundamental to winning a game of football. So what do fans expect?

At the back and in the centre of midfield we lacked the assured air that we had both last season at Molineux and indeed earlier in this campaign. Despite a lack of concentration from Micah Richards, and a lack of cover from James Milner we were unlucky for the Wolves equaliser, a deflected cross landing in the path on the onrushing Nenad Milijas, just high enough for him direct the ball beyond Hart into the far corner of the goal. The second goal was absolute madness. A speculative cross, a defensive header straight to a Wolves attacker, a parry from Hart going straight to another Wolves attacker who did the honest thing and put us out of our misery. I’m not sure exactly how many bites of the attacking cherry we wanted to lavish on Wolves for their winning goal. We simply weren’t good enough at the back, and we were punished for it.

But more tellingly we lost because of how we performed at the other end of the pitch. Wolves were rocking in the opening 10 minutes as chance after City chance went begging. A surging Adebayor run just failed to find the lurking Mario Balotelli. To add to this the Italian spurned a superb, low driven Milner cross, and narrowly shot just over the bar after a neat one-two with Adebayor. In the second half an excellent run by Yaya found Adam Johnson who cut the ball back only for Adebayor to place into row Z. Our other strikers have simply got to start stepping up to the plate. Tevez cannot do it all on his own. We have more than enough in our locker to get by without him against a defence like the one we faced at Molineux.

…and its repercussions

We can harp on all we want about managers, tactics and substitutions, but it was the players that lost us this game, not Mancini. It is they who must now carry the can and bear the brunt of the pressure.

A good start might be to stop remonstrating with each other on the pitch. In a sense it is a good sign, they care about winning. And I’m not na├»ve enough to think that disagreement doesn’t exist on a football pitch, of course it does, and in every team, but perhaps we need to start controlling our disagreements a bit better. At the moment they are betraying a lack of concentration. There’s a sense that we are complaining about our lot rather than getting on with the job of doing something about improving it.

All eyes now turn to our trip to Poland on Thursday, and perhaps the sterner test of West Brom this coming Sunday. The spotlight will be on us at the Hawthorns and of course the game will be important. But for me nothing has changed and we are still very much in the mix. Chelsea have set the pace, but it is another thing entirely to sustain it. We on the other hand are still up there despite not playing particularly well for the most part.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A tale of three Silva's

If there was any doubt that David Silva could withstand the rigours of English football, then the Spaniard’s last three performances in a blue shirt should have eradicated it. In Silva we have signed a top draw talent, arguably in his prime.

Perhaps we should have seen these performances coming. At the beginning of the month Silva put in a phenomenal performance against Lithuania in Euro Qualifying, capping it all with an amazing headed goal considering the diminutive figure he casts.

Blackpool

It was always going to be billed a David vs. Goliath contest. Whichever way the media framed the result, we were always going to be loser. A win, and it would be business as usual, nothing special, almost an after thought. Lose, and we would be a slain giant. This is the way it is going to be for many of our games this season. In terms of the respective structures of both clubs, the David/Goliath comparison certainly worked. But on the pitch, it was Blackpool that appeared to be closest to that Goliath.

It was a strange encounter. Blackpool wanted it more than us and their pressure on us when we had the ball made them formidable. We couldn’t get going and almost paid the price when DJ Campbell went through on Hart, only to miss the goal by inches.

It was into this supposed mis-match that David Silva stepped. It turned out to be an inspired substitution by Roberto Mancini. We were an altogether different threat with the Spaniard on the field and, perhaps understandably, Holloway’s men couldn’t handle him. Silva immediately produced the cross for Tevez to nick in – the finish itself an excellent piece of skill even if the goal looked slightly offside.

Then of course came the moment (much like Robinho’s stunning chip against Arsenal) that I will always feel was the moment David Silva arrived at Manchester City. Receiving the ball in the area, the tricky Spaniard’s double feint took two Blackpool defenders out of the game, with his curling shot elegantly finding the back of the Tangerine net. Sublime stuff that would’ve gone down a storm had it happened at Eastlands.

Posnan

Starting against Polish outfit Lech Posnan in the Europa League, in an attacking sense Silva was at the centre of everything good that we did. He linked the midfield with the attack superbly, and provided crosses for two of Emmanuel Adebayor’s three goals – allowing the Togo forward the record of the first City player to score a hat trick in Europe. What struck me here was how the Spaniard was a cut above from the rest of his team mates. The likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips benefited greatly from Silva’s slick passing, but yet could not reward that passing with a good end product, such as a quality cross or goal.

Arsenal

Silva was the best thing about what turned into a frustrating encounter with Arsene Wenger’s men. It was always going to be hard for us after Dedryck Boyata was sent from the field of play for taking out Marouane Chamakh, but even at 0-2 I still felt we had a great chance to get something out of the game. As a City fan this feeling is something that has been alien to me ever since I supported the club. Usually it’s the other way around – you fear that the team might throw away what looks like an unassailable lead, but its players like David Silva that are changing this mentality.

Once again, the Spaniard was at the centre of all our quality attacking play. In the opening minutes a deft Silva back heel from a Tevez cross almost secured us the lead only for the alert Lukasz Fabianski to deny us. Then at 1-0 down the Spaniard almost changed the outlook of the game with a twisting and turning run into the Arsenal penalty area, only for Fabianski to be equal once again. You certainly felt at 1-1 we could even go on and win the game, but in the end it was not to be and the Gunners efficiently closed the game out.

Even though he is known on the world stage, English teams are still getting to grips with the threat of David Silva. But the Spaniard has now had his ‘Robinho moment’, and the key will be to see how he reacts once teams start to get a handle on him. Will the Spaniard thrive where the Brazilian so spectacularly failed? The answer to this question will have a major bearing on whether or not City fans will look back at the 2010/11 campaign as a success.

Friday, 15 October 2010

A fine line: the City career of Malcolm Allison

Former City coach and manager Malcolm Allison has sadly passed away. If there is a fine line between madness and genius, Allison certainly crossed it during his involvement with the Blues. But far from casting a shadow on his City career, I think this paradox will only serve to reinforce his status at the club. The man will always go down as a City legend.

The genius

During the club’s most successful period during the late 1960s to early 1970s. Allison played a pivotal role. Brought to the club as the first team coach by manager Joe Mercer - the manager for the majority of these glory years – Allison soon proved to be the perfect foil to Mercer’s figurehead, the Y to Mercer’s X. Theirs was a symbiotic relationship, formidable when they worked together, but fallible when they were at odds.

Together, the duo took City to heights of which the club has never experienced either before or since. Clinching promotion to the First Division in 1966, winning the First Division in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969, and then the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970. From the Second Division to European glory in five years was the stuff of dreams. This couldn’t have been achieved without Allison.

Key to this success was Allison’s relationship with the players and his motivational techniques, creating a fantastic team spirit that allowed players to believe in themselves. This ability to get into the heads of players was complemented by his visionary training methods. In the words of another City legend of this era, Mike Summerbee, Allison was “the forerunner of fitness and tactics way beyond his time.” Indeed, according to another City great, the Allison approach appeared to border on the scientific, through studying the physiology of the squad.

And whilst on the subject of former City player greats, we should acknowledge Allison’s role in bringing a fair few to the club. ‘Big Mal’, as he came to be known, was vital to securing the services of Colin Bell, Francis Lee, and Tony Book – names that are now etched into the very soul of the Club forever, as is his own.

The madness

In his fictional account of the Mercer-Allison relationship, 'The Worst of Friends', Colin Shindler indicates that these men let greatness slip through their fingers. He could well be right. Everything seemed in place: the right managerial set up, the right tactics, the right team spirit, the right players who were beginning to win things. All that was left was the objective of sustained success.

But in the end this did not materialise, and it is not exactly clear why. The club of course will say that the Allison-Mercer relationship remained strong through their tenure, but I fear the reality was different. The prolific City Author Gary James has indicated that relations became strained when both men supported different sides during the club's early 1970s takeover battle. Allison supported the winning side and eventually became manager whilst Mercer was gradually forced out of the club. For Shindler, Allison’s ambition to step out of his manager’s shadow, and Mercer’s refusal to let go of the controls, was the root of the problem. The truth is probably a combination of both scenarios.

The result soon became clear. With Allison at the helm, City missed out on the League title by a point and won the Charity Shield the following season, but never again did they hit the heights of the late 1960s and Allison resigned in 1973. A fine line between success and failure indeed.

But ‘Big Mal’ was reinstalled at Maine Road in 1979 with the dubious title of ‘coaching overlord’. It was during this period that the madness of Allison really set in. In his book ‘Lows, Highs and Balti Pies: Manchester City Ruined my Diet’, Steve Mingle captures the eccentricities of Allison’s second spell in charge. Perhaps guilty of believing too much in his own judgement and ability, Allison set about dismantling what was potentially another City side capable of great success. The likes of Asa Hartford, Gary Owen (then England under 21 captain), flying winger Peter Barnes, and probably the best defender ever to grace Maine Road in a Blue shirt – Dave Watson, were all jettisoned. In their places came players of inferior quality, demonstrated most clearly with the now infamous £1.5m signing of Steve Daley. This was a horrendous gaffe - and an expensive one at that. Ten years earlier Allison had left a heroic legacy at the club, but his actions during this period threatened to undermine all his previous efforts – as Gary James quite rightly points out, these expensive replacements dogged City’s finances for the next decade.

With his judgement way off target, Allison’s once legendary motivational methods now seemed to border on the absurd. There’s a great example in Gary James’ recent ‘The Big Book of City’. In 1979, City had reached the fourth round of the UEFA Cup against Borussia Monchengladbach. In the previous round the Blues had dispatched AC Milan. Since that victory Allison had been installed and City went on to lose 4-2 to the Germans. Kenny Clements was a player on the sidelines at the time. He attributes the Blues' exit to the return of Allison, indicating that ‘Big Mal’ ruined everything during his second spell:

“I think he’d become too hung up on new ideas that he forgot about the basics. I remember he used to give us homework. He’d tell us to go home and write ‘I must win’ or ‘I will win’ a thousand times, then the next day he’d ask us if we’d done it. I always used to say ‘yeah’ but some of the younger, more impressionable lads would produce their lists and some would even write out twice as many lines! He insisted we drank coffee before a game to keep us alert, and brought in lots of motivational people. It didn’t motivate me I’m afraid!”

The legend

Clearly the motivational methods went a bit too far, but in the end this just adds to the Malcolm Allison aura. We must not forget of course that Allison went on to manage around the world and delivered real success in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon by winning a league and cup double in 1982.

But somehow I feel Allison’s heart will always be at City. Of course he was flawed. Of course he eccentric, over-confident and greedy. He wanted the plaudits of the Mercer years all for himself. But City fans will allow these excesses because they recognise that he was a foundation to the Club's glory years. Hopefully, we are going back to that place soon.

As Gary James shows, perhaps Blues will also allow Big Mal his shortcomings because he understood what it meant to be a City fan, and what it meant to beat United:

“In December 1970 he walked up to the Stretford End prior to a League derby match and held up four fingers to indicate how many goals he expected City to score against the Reds. Understandably, the United fans hurled abuse at him, but by the end of the match the confident Allison was laughing as City won 4-1.”

I can’t find a more fitting tribute to Malcolm Allison than that.

_______________________________________________

References

I’ve relied on some fantastic City authors to write this article. I’d highly recommend all of the books below, each of which provide a unique angle on the Club.

Gary James, Manchester City: the complete record (2006)

Gary James, The Big Book of City (2009)

Steve Mingle, Lows, Highs and Balti Pies: Manchester City ruined my diet (2008)

Colin Shindler, The Worst of Friends: the betrayal of Joe Mercer (2010)

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The first quarter

With another international break now over and the Premiership ready to begin, it’s a good time to reflect on how the first quarter of the season has panned out. Firstly, a word on our two encounters with the black and white shirts of Juventus and Newcastle.

Life in the Old Lady yet

They may not be the force of old but I was mightily impressed with Juventus. For me they were probably the best team to arrive at Eastlands so far this season and this encounter was probably the most interesting game to grace the pitch since the 2010/11 campaign began.

Juventus seemed well up for the game and pressured us on the ball at every opportunity. We couldn’t seem to get a grip on the game at first but gradually came into proceedings. Although Juventus seemed to have more control in the first half, it was still a surprise when Vincenzo Iaquinta powered them into the lead with a blistering effort from some way outside the area. I believe the shot was slightly deflected off Kolo Toure’s head, but nevertheless Hart was at fault here. England’s number one should not be letting in these kinds of speculative efforts. To be fair to him though, Jerome Boateng was the real culprit, standing off Iaquinta and allowing him sight of goal for that split second. In retrospect, the warning signs were there when the Italian striker had a powerful shot from a difficult angle saved by Hart in the opening minutes.

Our other dependable Argentinean Pablo Zabaleta, later injured with hamstring trouble, simply could not deal with Milos Krasic. The Serbian winger rampaged down the right wing for the entire first half. Although he was eventually booked for diving in the area (the referee could’ve easily caved in here) he was easily the most dangerous player I have seen at Eastlands this season. Mancini must take the credit for gradually nullifying the Krasnic threat, switching Boateng over to left back in the second half to keep the Serbian quiet.

Flashes of the potential brilliance of our attacking play shone through with Adam Johnson’s goal. An excellent through ball from Yaya Toure connected perfectly with Johnson veering run, and the winger took his goal fantastically well.

In the second half we had our chances but as the game approached 60 minutes Juventus had already decided upon their strategy. Playing against a bank of four and five is hard at the best of times, but it was made even harder against the defensive discipline of Luigi del Neri.

And then of course came the biggest let off of the night. Alessandro Del Piero is a player who needs no introduction, and whilst he is far from the player he was, he was a central element of Juve’s strategy at Eastlands – defend to the hilt, counter attack when possible and if the opportunity presents itself, draw fouls around the edge of the penalty area – then give the ball to Del Piero. So it was that this scenario played out in the dying embers of the game, with Del Piero’s resulting free kick smashing against the bar and crashing onto Joe Hart’s line in the style of Geoff Hurst 1966. Replays confirmed that the ref had got it right. Looking at the game as a whole, we had certainly got away with a point.

Newcastle

We didn’t really perform well against the Geordies either. Early on, after Tevez had once again stepped up to the plate by converting a penalty, it had looked like Newcastle were going to be on the end of a hammering. But credit must go to the Tynesiders in the way they fought themselves back into the contention and levelled the score line with a strike from Jonas Gutierrez. Defensively I felt we were looking a bit like we did in the Hughes days, when the team was unbalanced and schizophrenic.

With a forward quartet of Tevez, Silva, Milner and the supporting Yaya Toure, we lacked ideas. At this stage in the season I can only put this down to lack of understanding, with Yaya had a particular off day. I have written previously of my concern that we don’t have enough versatility up front and that a quality target man might give us this. But still, with the quality of that forward four we should be doing better against a team like Newcastle.

It was left to our boy wonder of the moment, Adam Johnson, to provide the answer. Benched after the Juventus game, he came from the sidelines into the limelight seconds after being introduced by Mancini, driving a low shot from the right into the corner of Newcastle’s goal, giving us the victory we required to build on the Chelsea win.

Adam Johnson

Mancini may well focus on Adam Johnson’s shortcomings, but the Italian must also admit that the winger has saved our blushes on a number of occasions this season. After Tevez, and in the absence of a second striker, Johnson represents our next best goal threat. And although his crossing is not yet the best, his trickery often unsettles teams and ups the tempo of our play. The crowd also love him. And given his recent 1st half England performance against Montengro, the nation is growing to love him as well. All players need to improve but we should be careful not to dim the glow of Johnson’s start to the season

‘Winning ugly’

When all is said and done, we cannot complain too much about Mancini either. Seven games into the season and we are a clear second in the league, having already played Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea. I know a lot of City fans grow frustrated with the Italian’s approach. You can hear the frustration in the post match phone ins and I do agree with some of it. I agree with the charge that we should be going for it a bit more at home. Sometimes we’ve too many defensive minded players in midfield clogging up our play, sometimes we’re not able to give enough support to Carlos Tevez.

Mancini’s caution may well be because of injuries, and with Kolarov, Boateng and Balotelli firing on all cylinders we could see a more adventurous approach. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that as we turn our attention to facing Blackpool, we are second only to Chelsea in the league – a much better return than at this point last season. Brian Kidd talked of ‘winning ugly’ against Newcastle. Whilst this may not be the traditional City way, it is something we may have to do for a bit longer in order to keep in touch with the leaders – at least until personnel return from injury and the team begins to gel.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

On the radio

This week 'Without a Dream in our Hearts' made a brief guest appearance on BBC Manchester's weekly Manchester City show - Blue Tuesday. Click here to check out this week's show, which features the legendary Paul Lake, Ian Cheeseman and an interview with former City player and Chief Executive Colin Barlow. A very big thanks to all the team at Blue Tuesday for the invitation to the show.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A very productive weekend

After the midweek despair at having exited the League Cup, this weekend has provided a much needed restorative tonic. It certainly feels like we are back on track now. In truth, in league competition we were probably never really that far off it.

From one extreme to the other

Mancini will probably have breathed the biggest sigh of relief. He may well argue that injuries forced him into fielding the young, inexperienced side that failed at West Brom. But this is a results business, and whichever way you look at it, it was a shocking result in a competition where we had an excellent chance of getting to final, a chance that would’ve been all the more realistic by the fact that Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham also crashed out. To add to this, the team did include some experienced names: Given, Adam Johnson, Vieira, Santa Cruz and Jo. It wasn’t a bunch of kids playing out there, and we capitulated.

Defeat to Chelsea this weekend and I think there may have been murmurings of discontent amongst some elements of the fanbase. All the more important then, that we deliver the performance and the result. And I have to hand it to the lads, they delivered both with flying colours.

Carlos Tevez

When this era is over, I wonder how Carlos Tevez will be looked upon. Is he a City legend in the making? His contribution since donning the Blue shirt of Manchester certainly points towards this eventuality. And of course, Tevez’s contribution is made up of endeavour and goals – coupled with the ability to do it when it really matters. Against Chelsea he proved this yet again, with an excellently taken goal as City countered Chelsea’s attack.

Yet our strongest asset highlights an emerging vulnerability: a lack of versatility up front. Our attack is highly mobile, but it is small, which means we can only realistically go forward one way – on the deck. Adebayor is not the striker we need and he seems unable to challenge in the air. I don’t see what he offers the team that is different / better to what we already have. Santa Cruz is much more of a target man but yet his performances so far – combined with his injuries – suggest that his future lies elsewhere.

I’m not sure whether this lack of versatility is something the January transfer window can right, but its clear we need further options. If nothing else the home draw against Blackburn lends weight to this view. Teams that attempt to suffocate us will always stand a chance.

Keep calm and carry on

The other massive positive in performance terms was the way we defended. We look solid at the back, much more so than last season. This is something Mancini must take the credit for. This runs against what I am used to watching City, but for the moment at least we do not seem to be panicking when we take the lead and we do not look like conceding. Kompany continues to massively impress, but also Boyata deserves a mention for the way he dealt with the likes of the marauding Ashley Cole and awkward figure of Didier Drogba. He may well have been lucky to stay on the pitch, perhaps you could say the same of Pablo Zabaleta who also dramatically mistimed a couple of tackles, but our aggression was part of the reason why we emerged victorious. There’s not many teams that strong arm Chelsea into defeat, but we certainly did that on Saturday. And of course we did all this without - for the most part - our new defensive signings, with Kolarov still out of action and Boateng finally making his debut late in the game as a substitute for Boyata.

Having not panicked, we must continue to remain calm and pick up maximum points. This weekend was productive not only in our performance but also in terms of other teams’ performances. With Spurs and Arsenal both losing, and United and Liverpool both drawing, the top four seems to be taking shape (we hope). But we need to keep on winning. Extract 6 points from our next two games against Newcastle (home) and Stoke (away), and we will be consolidating our position. And that is where we need to be because otherwise, great victories of the kind we witnessed this weekend will only feel hollow.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

New film documents City's rise

The recent rise in the fortunes of Manchester City have been captured in a new docu-film that is due for release this week.

'Blue Moon Rising' promises to be a unique insight into the club, charting the progress of the team during the 09/10 campaign through the eyes of a group of diehard City fans - all of whom also happen to be friends. There's also commentary from key changing room and boardroom personalities.

The doc-film has been produced by production company Endemol. A short trailer can be viewed by clicking here. Check the club's website for further details on where and when to see the full version.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Arabian eyes are smiling

If City really are on the cusp of a new winning era, then when the history books are written tonight’s game against Liverpool will surely go down as an early sign of that epoch’s birth. Tonight the Blues were irrepressible, winning 3-0 as Liverpool were driven into the floor.

Dominant City

This was the most convincing win I’ve seen at Eastlands in memory. We bossed the game and dominated for large periods. Soon after kick off, our patterns of play showed positive thinking and a willingness to go forward at every opportunity.

And not only were we positive in an attacking sense, but we did the job defensively too. When we lost possession, we were quicker, sharper and more tenacious in the tackle than our opponents. As we increased our tally we gradually sapped the fight out of a Liverpool side that certainly were no pushovers – and this makes the victory even sweeter.

The central reason for this victory was our utter endeavour and commitment, and these attributes flowed from an unbelievably strong team core. At the back, Vincent Kompany was particularly imperious, executing numerous tackles to perfection. His partner and former captain Kolo Toure was very solid and added to the calmness that seemed to engulf the team when it was called upon to defend. In midfield, Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry in particular were equally commanding as they fought tool and nail to break down Liverpool’s patterns of play. The distribution of De Jong and Barry was also particularly impressive – nothing flashy, just winning the ball and then getting rid of it efficiently.

The strength of our core enabled us to go forward with more confidence, and this we did. Deploying Adam Johnson and new signing James Milner on the wings, Mancini opted to play Captain Carlos Tevez alone upfront. Yaya Toure was the joker in the pack, the link up man between midfield and attack – essentially the position that Stephen Ireland coveted. Perhaps this will be a pattern in Mancini’s team selections. Assuming Yaya is in favour, at home he can be played in advanced positions whilst away he can drop back into a defensive midfield comprising of De Jong, Barry and James Milner.

And what of our new signing? There’s no two ways about it – James Milner impressed magnificently. I believe Stephen Ireland will be a good servant to Aston Villa, they certainly got a good deal. But so did City. Above all things, the strength, determination and cunning nature of Milner makes me think he is going to be a great asset to this Manchester City squad. He certainly made a great start, setting up the first goal for former Villa team mate Gareth Barry to place past Pepe Reina.

Tevez and Adam Johnson continued to impress. The Argentinean once again proved his mettle by scoring two goals, the first bundled in off a Micah Richards header, the second dispatched from the penalty spot after Adam Johnson was brought down.

Chances not taken

Hodgson’s men will surely rue a five minute period just after half time when they should have produced the equaliser were it not for the excellence of Joe Hart. Gerard, Ngog and Torres all went extremely close, produced two saves in quick succession from the new England No 1. I felt the game really turned on this sequence of play, and having missed the chance to level, soon the game was out of Liverpool’s reach.

A performance fit for a Sheikh

City fans were finally treated to their first glimpse of Sheikh Mansour in person. The Sheikh, who had temporarily jettisoned his Arabian garb for a Westernised suit and tie, sat in between the other two cogs of the club’s power axis – Khaldoon and Cook. Whilst Mansour may have been mightily impressed with what he saw, the latter two must have breathed a sigh of relief that this evening’s Merseyside opponents failed to spoil the Sheikh’s big introduction.

On the pitch though, the early signs are good, but at present I want to keep on looking at them as early signs. Nevertheless, it is hard to be negative. For this was a victory achieved without the likes of David Silva, Mario Balotelli, Emanuel Adebayor and Shay Given. The depth of the squad is now formidable, and so was the nature of this performance.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Does Balotelli’s promise outweigh his risk?

In what has been dubbed the greatest gamble in football history, City last week signed 20 year old Mario Balotelli from Inter Milan. At £24m the Italian does not come cheap, especially for one so young. But whilst the Club can afford to gamble financially, Mancini certainly cannot afford to gamble in terms of performances on the pitch.


Dangerous for all the wrong reasons

By now surely, we all know that the forward comes to Manchester with a controversial reputation in tow. He clearly has problems with his temperament and attitude. It is rather worrying that the great man manager himself Jose Mourinho couldn’t figure out a suitable way to deal with the troubled Italian. Whilst at Inter, Balotelli apparently reacted very badly to being criticised by Mourinho and was dropped from the squad as a result, only being reinstated after making a public apology to his manager.

The relationship with Inter fans and players seems to have been equally turbulent. He made angry gestures during last season’s Champions League tie with Barcelona, throwing his shirt down in disgust. Apparently, Marco Materazzi attacked Balotelli in the tunnel afterwards. Then there was that interesting scenario where the Italian chose to wear an AC Milan shirt on a TV show.

The forward has shown immaturity in his personal life. He appears to have had disagreements with the authorities on more than one occasion, one of the most notable being caught along with three of his friends for fooling around with a toy gun in the centre of Milan.

Aside from Balotelli’s volatility, another problem will be fitting him into the attack. The media are all over this at the moment, especially with the departures of Ireland and Bellamy underlining the fact that we are getting rid of good quality players who have spoken of their loyalty to the club in the past. They will be on the lookout for any cracks appearing within our forward line.

So where will Balotelli fit in? I’ve never been convinced about Adebayor, and with Santa-Cruz looking like he is on the way out, we certainly need a target man to accompany Tevez up front. Whether Balotelli is that player I am not sure. I see him as more of a forward than an out and out striker, perhaps supporting a target man, or attacking from wide positions – similar to Tevez now I come to think of it. In fact the more our attack shapes up, the more it seems that we are destined to play without a target man.

So how to accommodate the likes of Tevez, Silva, Adebayor, Adam Johnson and now Mario Balotelli? This is a conundrum for Mancini to solve and it has the potential to be a volatile situation. Given Balotelli’s combustible personality, how will he react when he does not play every game, and is not first choice?

‘Crazy’ abilities

Aside from the well publicised controversial elements to Balotelli’s game, there seems to be a consensus already built that the Italian could be brilliant in the English Premier League. Carlo Ancelotti has gone on record as saying that the forward is a ‘crazy’ talent and that City will challenge for the title with Balotelli, not just simply forth place.

For Balotelli’s talent is said to be explosive. Quick, exciting from dead ball situations, technically gifted, and at 6 ft 3”, seemingly built for the rigours of a physical league. On the surface an excellent signing for all Premier League sides, but for his unpredictable temperament.

Mancini’s wild card

Balotelli could be brilliant, that much is clear. And perhaps Manchester City were always going to be the only club for him join, both in a financial and psychological sense. Roberto Mancini credits himself with giving the Italian his first big chance in football. Like Balotelli, Mancini was at one time a huge, underachieving talent, so perhaps there is some sense of mutual understanding there – it is well documented that the two supposedly have a strong relationship.

Initial reports are encouraging. Balotelli’s 57th minute introduction during last night’s first leg tie against Romanian minnows Timisoara turned things in City’s favour, with the Italian himself marking his debut with the winning goal.

But only Roberto Mancini can know whether the odds of the Balotelli ‘gamble’ are stacked in his favour. If Balotelli is as good as they say he is, and if Mancini can stabilise him in the way he says he can, then the fortunes of City’s season, and indeed of Mancini himself, could begin to look very positive.

For all things Mario Balotelli be sure to check out fan site www.mariobalotelli.co.uk.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The darker side of progress

Its been coming for a while but now, as the spending really begins to take affect, we are seeing traditional club heroes – and good players - being forced out of the club. Why? For the sole reason that we can buy better players who can do more things, more consistently and to a higher quality. Like the laws of nature, at Eastlands these days we increasingly see a situation where only the strong can survive and the weak must fall by the way side. This is the price fans must pay if they want to challenge for the Premiership title.

The imminent departure of Stephen Ireland

It now looks increasingly likely that Academy product Stephen Ireland will leave the club as part of a cash plus player deal for Aston Villa’s James Milner. For the sentimental fans amongst us, the departure of Ireland will be a sad loss. Ireland was voted player of year for the 2008-09 campaign, impressing in the League and in City’s UEFA Cup run to the Quarter Finals. After emerging from the Academy, Ireland broke into the first team but always seemed prone to acting unusually, for the most part off the field of play and sometimes on it. But he grew up and learned to banish that side of his game, becoming the accomplished player we all hoped he would be, providing the link from midfield to attack, providing the creation and guile from central midfield positions. Fans labelled him ‘Superman’ because of his performances. The club placed a banner over the dugouts to show this appreciation. And I wrote of his great talent, determination and new mental toughness. We all hoped he would push on from there and become a top class midfielder.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Mark Hughes, who I think got the best out of the Irishman – was sacked. Ireland has argued otherwise, saying that Hughes played him out of position, and speaking indirectly to his manager’s preference for Carlos Tevez in the attacking midfielder / deep lying forward role.

After Hughes’ sacking came injuries and more loss of form, resulting in time on the substitutes bench. The appointment of Roberto Mancini tightened the screws on Ireland’s City career. The Italian proved to be much more cautious than Hughes, preferring two – and at some times – three defensive midfielders as opposed to an attacking mindset in the engine room. Once again, threats from central positions tended to emanate from Tevez. And so when Ireland was called upon, he continued to play out of position, exacerbating his loss of form and probably sending his morale to lower depths.

In truth, Ireland’s central weakness was that he did not have enough tools in his locker. Of course he was good, and he proved this by linking well with exceptional players such as Robinho. But perhaps he was never good enough to the level where Mancini would allow him the freedom to play the central role that he wanted. And then, he was never flexible enough to warrant selection in other positions, such as holding midfield, left wing, right wing. We now have the De Jong’s, Silva’s and Adam Johnson’s of this world to do those jobs for us.

This I feel was the real nail in Ireland’s coffin, the simple fact that he could not do it all. Mancini has looked at the midfielder, asked whether he is good enough for where we are headed, and has answered in the negative

It is a sign of the club’s sheer ambition that, even for all the Irishman’s talent, for all his endeavour, and for all of his unquestionable commitment to the Blue shirt of Manchester down the years, he has – in effect – ended up being used as bait. This is ruthless, but this is where we are at Eastlands now. Holding out for a £2m payout will ensure that the Irishman is not remembered fondly, but the Club does not want the player, and so the player will do all he can to get the best deal for himself. Moreover, this is far from the point, but £2m is a drop in the ocean for the Club. He and his agent both know that.

Sadly, this is the detritus of a once fruitful relationship, and for the latter I thank Stephen Ireland. He gave us some great memories and I wish him the very best for his future.

No room left for Craig Bellamy

The flying Welsh winger, who last season enjoyed probably the best campaign of his career, is also on the verge of an exit. Personally, I have always thought Bellamy’s future to be welded to that of his fellow compatriot, Mark Hughes. When Hughes left the club the winger’s days were always going to be numbered no matter what he did on the pitch.

And on the pitch, I felt Bellamy’s form dipped slightly towards the end of last season, but not by much. He was still playing at a relatively high level, but he started the season on such a rich vein of form that there was only ever going to be one way to go.

But form is not the problem nor the issue. Bellamy’s enemies are now age, injury proneness and personality - the latter of which we found out a little bit more about this week. We all know that it hasn’t been plain sailing between manager and player. Screaming rows over the treatment of Bellamy’s knee, the player’s refusal to train, an internal investigation over comments Bellamy allegedly made in support of David Moyes after Everton’s defeat of City at Eastlands, and most recently, claiming that Mancini hadn’t spoken to him since February and doesn’t speak to Carlos Tevez.

Wherever the blame lies for Bellamy’s disgruntlement, a stream of discontent has trickled – and sometimes flowed – throughout his career. At City it now appears to have caught up with him again. This Wednesday he was left out of Mancini’s 25 man Europa League squad.

Much like Ireland, despite his excellent performances and stated commitment to City, Bellamy is another gifted player that appears to have been cut away from the hull of a club where competition for places is now fast on the increase.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Hart drags City through the opening day

Tottenham Hotspur were always going to provide stiff opening day opposition for Mancini’s men and they didn’t fail to disappoint, but somehow the Blues managed to come through unscathed to produce a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane. They owe it all to their keeper.

Joe Hart steps up to the plate

One of the most pressing pre-season questions has been who Mancini would opt for on the opening day of the season. Would he go for the experience of Shay Given or the youthful promise of England’s new no.1? Hart got the nod and was called into action perhaps a lot sooner than he would have liked as Spurs laid siege to the City penalty area in the first 20 minutes of the match. The likes of Defoe, Assou-Ekotto and in spectacular fashion Huddlestone all had a go but were denied by the City keeper. Bale finally managed to beat Hart but was denied by the far post, with Defoe unable to force home the rebound. With a mixture of luck and skill, we weathered the storm of the first quarter and made sure we got into half time all square. Centre back pairing Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure were particularly impressive. Kompany was imperious in some of his tackles, but I think Kolo had one of his best games for us so far. Perhaps stripping him of the captaincy has been a good thing.

The roots of Spurs’ siege

We did not help ourselves. Micah Richards in particular had a woeful opening game, ripped to shreds by Gareth Bale every time the Spurs winger attacking. Not too long ago, Richards was harping on about how he had taken Mancini’s words to heart and accepted that he must improve his concentration levels if he is to warrant a place in the starting eleven. He may be able to talk a good game but there was zilch evidence of his improved concentration at White Hart Lane today. Richards also had no answers when it came to dealing with Peter Crouch, our nemesis of recent times. To compound matters, he gave away the ball far too much.

It would be unfair to just slate Richards with giving away the ball when this right through the team, meaning that we had little time to develop the composure in order to build attacks. Shaun Wright-Phillips was once again wasteful in possession, but Yaya Toure and David Silva and even Carlos Tevez were guilty of aimless balls.

Of all the new signings, I thought Alexsandar Kolarov had the most solid debut, dealing well with Aeron Lennon and getting forward himself, only to be nullified by the England winger. An injury to Kolarov during the first half saw him substituted at half time.

Second half revival

Things couldn’t get any worse after the break, and they didn’t as we came back into the game. I completely back Mancini’s decision to give Carlos Tevez the captaincy. Whilst the Argentinean’s English may not be the best, he leads by example on the pitch. He is still our best player, still at the centre of most of our attacking play. He was much more able to effect our game in the second half, coming deep to find the ball, buzzing around the edges of the area, drifting to wide positions. He was our all action hero and a constant menace to Spurs.

No matter how much of a battering you take in these kinds of games, if you can keep things all square, there will always be something that falls to you. That chance fell to SWP just after the restart, with Yaya dropping a perfectly flighted ball behind the Spurs defence to set up Shaunie one on one with Gomes. Unfortunately though, the little winger wanted too much time and the defender managed to get back into position and clear the lines.

Taking the positives

A special mention for Yaya Toure, who I think could well become a unique player for us. On the surface he is a defensive midfielder, but underneath this exterior there is a wealth of attacking potential. We saw elements of this against Valencia. In a midfield that will sometimes be packed with holding players, he is the dark horse that could be much more destructive than teams think. He is Vieira – with legs. I just hope that this does not stunt the development of Michael Johnson, who is another box to box player that has the tools to the whole job.

But for their wastefulness and Hart’s brilliance, Spurs should’ve been at least 2-0 up at half time. Prior to the game I had defensive concerns – particularly Kolo and Richards – but in the end our resilience enabled us to hold off Redknapp’s men, something we could not do last season. Whilst we didn’t look at sharp as our opponents, we kept on going. We gave away possession too much and were too often second to the ball, but this sharpness will come with more games.

I also had concerns over communication and team cohesion. David Silva started slowly and was caught in possession on occasion, but by the second half he looked far more comfortable and the signs of a good understanding with Tevez were there. The Spaniard has a fantastic touch.

We looked like half a team and half a group of talented individuals, but the fact that we kept Spurs out showed that we fought well. In the long run, I think this draw will serve us well.

This was a better point for us than it was for them.