Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What a difference a year makes

Well, well well.

After our last trip to White Hart Lane (last season’s opener) I wrote about how Joe Hart dragged us through toscrape a 0-0 draw after Spurs had absolutely taken us to the cleaners. But that was last year. This time around, Redknapp’s men found themselves facing a different proposition altogether. At the end of 90 minutes, they were on the end of a 5-1 hammering, destroyed amidst a display of attacking fluency from Mancini's men.
There will be those of course who emphasise the ‘what ifs’ of this game. Gareth Bale had a glorious chance to open the scoring when found unmarked in the area, only to slice his effort over the bar. And then after Dzeko’s opener, Bale found Peter Crouch with a magnificent cross, with Crouch’s effort swerving inches past the post. Big chances, but in truth they were rarities in match where the home side experienced the full force of City’s attacking prowess.

It makes you wonder whether Mancini has had a brain transplant over the summer. There certainly won’t be many sides that win 5-1 at White Hart Lane this season. It is a total credit to Mancini that we set out in the right frame of mind and with right players on the pitch to issue Spurs this defeat. Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and of course, Edin Dzeko all combined brilliantly to play football that the watching support must have been proud to witness in the flesh.

The switch from Arsenal to City appears to have been seamless for Nasri, with the Frenchman setting up Dzeko’s first two goals, and then exchanging a sweet one two with Aguero to allow the Argentinean to power past Matt Dawson and strike a goal of unbelievable drive and skill.

I wrote recently about how we might still need to add natural width in the attacking department. It was clear here though, that with Nasri and Silva adopting wide positions and Aguero dropping off Dzeko, we didn’t need it. Nasri provided two excellent crosses from wide for Dzeko to score his first two goals. We were going narrow and wide and were having success every time.

The afternoon belonged to the Bosnian, the scorer of four goals that will certainly do his confidence no harm. Dzeko’s goals finally demonstrated to the Premier League how he is a striker that can do it all. Two poacher-like tap ins, an exquisitely re-directed header that completely wrong footed Brad Friedel, and finally, the icing on the cake, a fantastic curling shot in open play, sailing into the top corner after a neat interchange of passes with Gareth Barry – surely the pick of all the goals scored last Sunday.

A mention must also go to Yaya Toure. The towering Ivorian is playing a deeper midfield role than last season but – to his and his manager’s credit – this role is not necessarily less attacking. Yaya made the vital initial pass to set off the blistering counter attack that led to the second goal. Almost acting as a makeshift wing back, the Ivorian also overlapped Nasri on the right flank, receiving a perfectly weighted pass from the Frenchman, and crossing for Dzeko to tap in.

Naturally the comparison will be made with the exploits of our neighbours, who if score lines are anything to go by issued an even more emphatic 8-2 defeat to Arsenal. To look solely at the scoreboard though misses the context that gives meaning to these two results. United are playing some scintillating stuff at the moment, but Arsenal are a team in disarray, many players injured or suspended, morale through the floor with the loss of Fabregas and Nasri. Spurs however have no such weakness – this was after all a team consisting of Dawson, Bale, Modric, Lennon, Van Der Vaart and Crouch. So which is the more resounding victory?

Time will tell, but I don’t think I’ve seen City play with as much attacking fluency since the days of Eyal Berkovic and Ali Bernarbia circa 2001-02. Back then of course, a lot of things were different – we were playing against the likes of Crewe Alexandra, Grimsby Town and Rotherham United. Last weekend, we were a proposition that Spurs simply could not handle.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Nasri joins the revolution

This week brought the news that Samir Nasri signed on the dotted line to become Roberto Mancini’s fifth signing of the summer. A protracted saga indeed, but what a player to land.

We now have so many options in attack that the mind boggles. Tevez, Dzeko, Balotelli, Aguero, Silva, Yaya, Adam Johnson and now Samir Nasri. In spite of this wealth, you can never have the complete attacking line up. I still think we are short a little bit in the width department. However, this shortage will only be highlighted if we run out of ideas going forward and start drawing too many games. I get the sense that Mancini is probably never going to be a fan of out and out wingers and will probably check their presence to Adam Johnson. Mancini probably thinks his current crop of forward thinking players have the ability to both – play through the middle and round the back of defences. I can’t argue with him. For me he has been an excellent manager for us on balance so far.

What we do have now going forward is intelligence and movement in abundance. I’ve not seen Aguero in the flesh but from what I hear he sounds like a player that operates several moves ahead of most. With Dzeko starting to fire on all cylinders, bringing more movement, and now with us adding Nasri to the likes of Silva in the creativity department, there is no doubt that we have on paper some of the finest attacking talent not just in the Premier League but in Europe.

We’ll need it if we are to navigate what must be the nearest thing to a ‘group of death’ in the Champions League. Bayern Munich, Villareal and Napoli all await as we launch ourselves into the promised land for the first time since 1968. I’m excited and gutted at the same time. We’ve been placed in such an action packed group with some quality teams and players: Ribery, Robben, Schweinsteiger, Senna, Rossi, Cavani, Pandev, Hamsik et al. Of course I’ll be missing the whole lot!

If nothing else, the Nasri and Aguero signings perhaps indicate that we are no longer in the throes of revolution. Rather Eastlands is now home to a full blown, established regime. FA Cup winners, third place Premier League finish, Champions League football and now attracting players on the cusp of entering their prime years (Aguero at 23 and Nasri at 24) – all these things show that players are coming here to win things now rather than solely for the money, as was the criticism during the Robinho, Adebayor and Lescott signings.

Contenders for the Premier League and somewhat of a wild card in the Champions League, Blues fans must ask – have we ever had it so good? Has there ever been a better time to be a City fan?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A day to forget

Well let’s put it this way, there’s certainly better ways to start a season.

It should have been a tale of how a young Spanish goalkeeper withered under the pressure of his first competitive match in English football. Instead what we had was a tale of City’s complete and utter Charity Shield capitulation to Manchester United. A hard and (given last season’s FA Semi final victory) strange pill to swallow. Two goals up at half time and we throw it away. Unbelievable.

It feels worse than the 4-3 loss at Old Trafford and the Carling Cup semi final defeat of a couple of seasons ago. Then, on both occasions we were always up against it. Here we had the foundations of control in our grasp but somehow could not hold on to that control. It’s incredibly frustrating.

This of course was not just another game, not just another run out to sharpen up the limbs before the Premier League kick off this weekend. This was a Manchester derby, played at times with frenetic pace and passion. The reactions on the players and managers faces at the end of the game told you all you needed to know.

What happened to City’s pre-season?

By all accounts the Blues have had a good pre-season on the pitch, no massive injuries to worry about, winning many games (if not all) and dispatching Inter Milan convincingly on the way. But at Wembley we just didn’t turn up. We weren’t in the game for large periods. Joleon Lescott took his header well, and as for Edin Dzeko’s freak goal, well I said at the time that we should’ve been testing De Gea more. We did, and we got our reward, but both goals came as surprises, against the run of play.

United, with the wind knocked from their sails, should have been put to the sword. We should have gone on and finished them, but instead showed none of the composure and defensive steel of the Mancini era to date. Instead we came out during the second half looking even less up for the battle than we did the first. Possession football – another mantra of Mancini – was thrown out with the bath water as we easily allowed United back into the game.

How not to play against United

You would have thought our current squad would by now have learnt its lesson. One thing you do not do against United is give them – freely – the incentive to attack. Without possession you must fight and press as a team to get ball. If you don’t it becomes a mental thing. They build up attack after attack, you find yourself retreating and then suddenly you’re thinking of how United have this ‘knack’ of retrieving even the most irretrievable of causes.

There’s a reason why United do this so many times and that because they have the courage of their conviction. They ask the question, and you must answer it.

Unfortunately last Saturday City didn’t come up with the answer. I do feel that this was a question of mentality, not a question of picking the wrong players, the wrong formation, using the wrong substitutes to freshen things up.

Replacing Balotelli with Barry was correct. The Italian was ineffectual and we weren’t seeing any of the ball, so I can understand why he was sacrificed for someone who was more adept at getting the ball back and giving it. The formation – again I think correct. It served us well last season, but here our two key individuals (Yaya Toure and De Jong) could not impose themselves on the game in an attacking / defensive sense respectively. In terms of line up we went with pretty much our stronger available. Aside from the Tevez circus, the only question marks for me were Kolarov over Clichy and Milner over Johnson. Kolarov did surprisingly well, and Milner will always give you more defensive cover than AJ. I thought it was a side well balanced, as you can’t go gung-ho against United.


With so many things appearing to be correct from the outset, the gaping deficiency was the way we went about our business, the way we allowed United to cut through us, almost at will in the second half. At times it was as if we were not up for the battle.

After we had conceded we did muster some resistance. Silva had a glorious opportunity to put someone (maybe Dzeko) clean through on goal, but his pass was snuffed out. Adam Johnson’s ferocious shot was saved by the unimpressive De Gea, and Micah Richards’ header, again forcing a save out of the young keeper, was judged to be a foul. In the end we have only ourselves to blame. I truly believe that in every other way we are now a squad that stands ready to win the league. Only the mentality – not any other football club – stands in our way now.

United will always be United but we are much better than the offering we gave here. Our detractors are having a field day of course – they love to cast us in the mould of expensive strangers, players driven by big wage packets and by the same coin, United as the purists, a team that places never say die team spirit above all else. But for City at least this is wide of the mark and fails to take into account all that was good about us last season. A team of expensive strangers would not have topped the league in December, would not have finished third, and would not have won the FA Cup, defeating United on the way.

Talk of us being taught a ‘footballing lesson is pure gamesmanship (I would like to hear how Mr Rooney describes his team's Champions League performance against Barcelona last May). The fact is that last season we were much closer to United than they would like to think, but still the glaring error of Vincent Kompany, our most assured defender of recent years, capped off a day to forget. Mancini must now ensure that this does not set the tone for the rest of the season.