Thursday, 26 January 2012

Why Can't We All Just Enjoy The Good Times?

Five years ago to the day, we were preparing for an FA Cup tie against Southampton, the previous weekend we had slumped to a 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Blackburn Rovers in front of just 36,950 fans at what was then The City of Manchester Stadium.  The drubbing left the club 13th in the Premier League and a run of bad form saw us slipping down towards the relegation battle at the bottom of the league.  Our team that day was Weaver, Trabelsi, Distin, Dunne, Richards, Dabo, Ireland, Sinclair, Jordan, Vassell and Corradi with Beasley, Samaras and Miller coming on from the substitutes bench.  We finished that season just 4 points from safety, and the difference between survival and what would have been oblivion at the time was some vital goals provided by Belgian free agent Emile M'Penza.  If we rewind the clock ten years from this week, we weren't even in the Premier League.

Back to the present, we are preparing for a tricky away game at Everton where a win would keep us at least three points clear on top of the Premier League, we are doing this on the back of a 2-2 draw at Anfield which saw us eliminated from the League Cup in the Semi-Final.  The other 36,949 people sat around me enduring the tonking we suffered at the hands of Blackburn 5 years ago would not believe the present day scenario that I have just detailed, it would seem unbelievable.  Drawing at Anfield? Making the semi-final of a cup competition? Being 3 points clear at the top of the league in January? If they knew the previous season we had won the FA Cup beating United at Wembley en-route their heads would have exploded.

If we take all of this into account, why are we seemingly finding it so hard to enjoy where we are?  As someone that has seen City plummet up and down the leagues I find it genuinely difficult to get angry about the 'new' City.  Clearly I get disappointed when things don't go right and we lose a game, but general my mood is one of positivity.  As a youngster and into my teenage years I genuinely felt that I would never see the club win a trophy, I mean seriously, could you ever have imagined it when we were struggling with the likes of Gerrard Wiekens and Kevin Horlock, absolute legends to me but I wouldn't have them back now!

Now we play the blame game, "the ref had a shocker", "that was never a penalty", "he's utter rubbish, why do we play him" and perhaps most incredibly "what is Mancini doing, what an idiot!".  I don't exclude myself from this mindset, well the last one I do, but the others we have all muttered over recent weeks I am sure of it.  The thing is though that these things never change, football fans will always have grievances, but why can't we enjoy ourselves?  We have all paid our dues and been through the really bad times, so why can't we enjoy where we are now?  Some sections of our support spend hours if not days after a defeat flooding the Internet with messages apportioning blame, desperately trying to find someone or something that can be held responsible for the loss.  Isn't it a fact though that sometimes in all sports, you just lose when someone plays better than you?  Sure refereeing decisions may hinder, and players may not perform to the tops of their game, but, no team has a divine right to win every game.

I am not the sort of person to criticise these supporters, I wouldn't wish to single out fans of this club, I think generally we have one of the best sets of followers in the country, but I do admit to finding it strange how some people seem to not enjoy supporting City.  No one likes to lose and it can ruin a perfectly good weekend, but all things considered at this moment in our clubs history, things are pretty incredible, we should be enjoying ourselves, not getting stressed and disenchanted over a draw at Anfield in the Semi-Final of a cup competition.

The only plea I will make is to give some of our players a break, some of the criticism hurled at Stefan Savic, a 21 year old defender who has been thrust into the deep end is totally unfair, as is criticism of Edin Dzeko, a striker who has scored 15 goals this season.  In years gone by we had players struggle to score 5 goals, and now some sections of our support are giving stick to someone scoring 15? At times in the past we have had some really shocking players, but generally we have got behind them, just because we have better players now this should not change, try to support your club, and most of all, try to enjoy it!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Should Roberto Mancini Backtrack on this Defender?

The loss of Vincent Kompany has made things difficult this month, but I think we have coped pretty well without him.  Youngster Stefan Savic has come into the team and before yesterday was generally doing OK, he had a torrid time against Wigan but kept a clean sheet,  he did give away the penalty against Liverpool but had a decent game otherwise.   Throughout the first half yesterday his confidence seemed to be growing even more, but then, in the 2nd half his frailties were sadly exposed and I fear it could have a pretty big effect on the Montenegrin.  

His woefully misjudged header that allowed Jermaine Defoe to half the arrears at Eastlands seemed to break the man, from that moment he was all over the place and looked like an accident waiting to happen.  That accident nearly did happen right at the death as his dwelling on the ball let in Bale who's cross should really have been turned in by Defoe.

This leaves Mancini with somewhat of a quandary.  At the time of writing we are waiting for a decision on Joleon Lescott's ridiculous forearm smash into the face of Younes Kaboul, but even if the Englishman is cleared of any wrong doing, would it be wise to go into the vital League Cup semifinal second leg against Liverpool with Savic at the heart of the defence?

Many have said all along that the ideal solution would have been switching Richards into the centre, and personally that is what I would have done, but it looks as if this is something Mancini isn't prepared to do, there is someone however that could fill the gap well, that man is Nedum Onuoha.

Clearly the academy graduate has never been flavour of the month with the Italian boss, their relationship deteriorated further when he spoke out against his manager on Soccer AM a couple of years ago.  He spent last year on loan at Sunderland where he performed really well and it would appear City tried their best to find a buyer for him this Summer only to come up short, that fact could now be a real blessing.

It appeared towards the back end of last week that he was on the verge of signing for QPR, this never came to fruition though despite everything appearing to be in place.  There has been suggestions that the player would prefer to stay in the North West with murmurings that Everton could be showing interest.  What of the 3rd option however, the defender has been on the bench for our last 2 outings and he got a few minutes playing time at the end of the Wigan game.

Obviously one reason for that could be a lack of any other options, however we do have youngsters to cover that position Reece Wabara and Karim Rekik for example could do an adequate job if they had to be called upon.  Onuoha's presence must suggest that he is doing something right in training, as well as a slight thawing in the relationship between manager and player.

The ultimate question is this, would you rather see Savic on Wednesday night or Neds?  I am not saying Savic is a poor player, I genuinely believe he has the potential to be a really good defender but at the moment his confidence looks somewhat shot and even during his better performances I have not been entirely comfortable with him in there, there was always the feeling that there was a big mistake just around the corner.  

I personally would love to see Onuoha brought in for a few games just to see if he could do us a job until the end of the season.  Granted this could all be irrelevant as he could be an Everton or QPR player at any time, but if Mancini was willing to back down, I for one would be happy with that decision.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

3 Points Can't Always Be Pretty

It is fair to say that the brand of football we are playing at the moment is not in the same league as the stuff we were playing for the first few months of the season, but the question I pose today is, why do we care as long as we keep winning?

In my memory very few teams have been able to play an exciting and expansive style throughout an entire season, really the only club to manage it was Arsenal in their heyday and look what has happened to them. Even our near neighbours have made a habit of grinding out wins when things are getting difficult, so why should we worry?

Last night against Wigan there was an attitude from some that we could just turn up and roll them over 3 or 4 nil, I admire that confidence and obviously that would have been fantastic, but in reality that was never a foregone conclusion.  In recent weeks the Lancashire side have been in a pretty dire run of form, and they haven't won at home for quite some time now.  In the middle of this poor patch though, they have drawn at home with both Liverpool and Chelsea, teams that have given us problems over recent weeks, they may be rooted to the bottom of the table, but they do know how to spoil the party.  Top against bottom matches don't always end in the mauling that many think they will.

On the pitch somethings were excellent, Edin Dzeko was superb and I thought once he scored what was a really nice goal you could see the confidence flowing through him again, he must start on Sunday.  He held the ball up superbly, won everything in the air and put in a real shift to help out his team mates, if it weren't for a greedy finish to a superb run by Aguero in the second half he would have had a 2nd.  He was also unlucky with a delicate curling effort that was superbly saved by Al-Habsi.  

It was also great to see Silva back in the team, he may not have been at his glittering best but he offers so much, we are really not the same team without him.  I also felt it was a much more improved performance from Samir Nasri, he again was neat and tidy with the ball, he hardly ever gave it away and used the ball effectively.  At times he slowed the game down a bit too much but I am sure that with time that will improve, he may be experienced in the Premier League but that doesn't mean he doesn't need time to adapt to a new team.

The downside for me was the back line, or to be precise the centrebacks.  Generally Zabs and Clichy did a good job in the full back areas but Lescott and Savic really struggled and to be quite honest we need our captain back as soon as possible.  It isn't that either of them are bad players, Savic has bags of potential and for me Lescott has been superb this season, I just feel they need a calming influence and a communicator alongside them, without Kompany in the backline there is no real organisation.  Victor Moses gave us problems all night long, neither of the centrebacks seemed to know how to deal with him and they continually dropped off, this invited a lot of pressure.  It may be time for a rethink on Sunday against Spurs, granted they won't have Adebayor, but it might be time for Richards to switch to centre back with Zabaleta retaining his place at full back.

What of the bigger picture though? I have always said that January was going to be a particularly difficult month, Yaya Toure is clearly a massive loss and his influence is lacking in the midfield, as well as Milner and Barry are playing they don't offer us what the big Ivorian did.  The loss of Kolo hitting harder than expected too with the loss of Vincent Kompany.  I always said that there was a big chance we would fall behind United in January, I felt that if we could stay no more than 3 points behind them we had a great chance of crossing the line in first place, well so far things are much better than that.  We have 1 more league game this month (and Everton on the 1st) and we lead by 3 points with a far superior goal difference, yes it was a shame being knocked out of the FA Cup and we still may exit the League Cup, but in terms of league performance things are looking good.

It is vital I think that we don't panic over what is a clearly dip in performance levels, we are without 3 of our most influential players, something that any time would struggle to overcome and for the Liverpool game it was 4!  Spurs is clearly a huge challenge on Sunday, and we will have to improve if we are going to win that game, I am sure we will raise ourselves but it could still go either way, a win and everything looks fantastic, a defeat would mean United could close the gap again, but do not underestimate their trip to the Emirates they are not guaranteed anything there, if we can win at half 1, the pressure on them will be immense when they kick off at 4.

Granted we aren't hitting the high levels of the first few months, but if we win games does it really matter? Very few teams would be capable of hitting those heights throughout the entire campaign, if this is our 'bad patch' i'll definitely take it!

Monday, 9 January 2012

City Winners Despite Defeat...

Clearly losing a game of football is never an enjoyable experience, and as time passes it is a feeling that we are experiencing less and less of, especially at home.  When it does come though, it is a hollow feeling, and for me personally it takes me back, right back to the dark years of constant relegation when losing was such a regular occurrence.  The FA Cup Derby though was different, there was no hollow feeling yesterday as I walked away from Eastlands through the wind and rain, instead I felt buoyant and almost happy, I certainly was not tempted to dive straight under the bed covers when I got home and not come out until Monday morning which is my usual reaction to losing to United.  The interesting thing however, is that I think many of us felt the same yesterday, sure we had lost, and the red lot progressed, but in some ways we were winners and there was a massive amount to be proud of.

There is clearly a danger of slipping into the mindset of dishing out 'ifs and buts' and so I am instead going to deal with the facts, I am not going to get into discussing whether Kompany deserved to be sent off or not, because frankly that argument could and probably will go on for days yet.  Before Vinnie was dismissed we managed to dominate the game, and even after Wayne Rooney scored what we must acknowledge as being an excellent goal I genuinely believed we would run out victorious.  

After the red card things changed, we lost our shape and I don't think Mancini played the situation quite right, he should instantly have made the changes that he made at half time, with some excellent football United gave themselves a commending lead.  I suppose the highlight of the first half after the initial 10 minutes was a superb strike by Aguero that was somehow kept out by Lindegaard.

At half time and 3-0 down the atmosphere was clearly one of depression and misery, it had gone beyond anger, and there seemed a genuine air of disbelief, at that moment our season could have gone either way.  Discussions up and down the concourses featured lines such as 'this could be 6 or 7' or 'now it's just a case of damage limitation'.  Roberto Mancini and the players in the dressing room had a different idea, and the second 45minutes of football made me so proud to be blue, when Kolarov drove home his sublime free kick there was a flickering dream, and when Aguero made it two, 46000 believed.  We came so close to forcing a replay at the end, another Kolarov free kick well saved, a possible penalty shout, and that Richards over head kick that would have blown the roof off Eastlands.

The second period was a demonstration to everyone that City are a team, what was once a collection of talented individuals has been turned into a unit that will all fight for one another,  they battled and they put everything on the line.  At the fore front of this was James Milner and Sergio Aguero who showed the passion of someone who is totally sold on the 'project' and a player that understood what this great football club is about.  The fight lifted the supporters too, who created a din that I have not heard at Eastlands for a long time, possibly surpassing that night against Hamburg.

OK, so what about the result, we lost, but the manner of the defeat was fantastic to behold, our great rivals shipped six goals and were humiliated after playing 30 mins with 10 men, we played 80 mins with 10 and came incredible close to stealing what would have been a miraculous replay.  I think the players sum it up perfectly, many of you will already have read the comments that filled twitter after the game, but I feel they sum up feelings, and they give me the reason for writing this post:

Sergio Aguero: "Despite losing, I believe we leave the field strengthened. We almost equalised against all odds. With this attitude, anything is possible" and " I want to thank the fans of MCFC who inspired us today. If we stand together, both fans and players, we can achieve important feats."

Vincent Kompany: "The fans, the players and every single person involved with Man City FC were incredible today. Definitely the moral winners of this game".

Micah Richards: "We lost today but in our heads we won! Out team spirit is inspirational! The fans kept us going for 90 mins! Thank u. Ctid"

Pablo Zabaleta: "Hello everyone! Disappointed for the result today but very proud for the team,we showed fighting spirit.Thanks to the fans for your support!"

Nigel De Jong: "We might lost the game, but we won more respect among each other, for working that extra yard. Thanks 2 our fans for their support. Heads up"

Samir Nasri: "Thank you so much to the MCFC fans today you were amazing"

Adam Johnson: "Great effort today!! so unlucky.. fans and everyone involved were excellent!"

Joan Angel Roman: "With 10 men and 3-0 down..we should be proud of this team! Its a shame we didnt win but always looking ahead! C'mon City!!!"

Alex Nimely: "Proud to be part of MCFC"

Reece Wabara: "Damn.. Great attempted comeback from the boys though with 10 men aswell.."

Devante Cole: "I can handle that loss very good performance from us in the end :)"

Finally this is a text I received from a friend after the game, sums up my feelings perfectly:

"Today we showed a character, determination & sense of purpose which has hitherto been alien to our great football club. It is those ingredients that will serve us exceptionally well as we strive to lift the Premiership & now, more than ever before I believe we will achieve that goal. God help Liverpool on Wednesday-our Boy's will come out fighting. In the face of adversity our response was simply magnificent-a team reacting in the idiom of there Manager. A mild setback but oh how we have so much to look forward to-and oh how woeful United were in exploiting a remarkable opportunity. Privately, it is they who will know that they are simply not good enough. THIS IS OUR TIME"

Friday, 6 January 2012

January Preview

Firstly I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year, and I hope you had a good Christmas.  Things have been quiet on here, mostly because the run up to the festive period was ridiculously busy for me, and then I returned to my parents for the holiday season so didn't really have much opportunity to update the blog, now that things are back to normal, it will be a lot more regular again.

I think the best place to start is by previewing the coming month.  The importance of January can not be underestimated, we are essentially playing every 3 days for the foreseeable future.  In comparison our title rivals have a much easier month, their schedule has been freed up massively after they were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Crystal Palace, they play 4 games between now and February, compared to our 5, it may only be one game, but it could make the world of difference.  The title is often won and lost in this month and I think this year could be the same.  As we all know United still have to play many of the bigger teams away from home, whereas we only have a trip to the Emirates left, if we can end this month on top or trailing by no more than 4 points, I think we can and probably will take the title.

In terms of league competition we will meet Wigan away, where you would expect us to take 3 points with a weakened team, and then old rivals Tottenham visit Eastlands, Spurs will be a really difficult challenge as always and should they provide an upset they will be even more embroiled in the title race than they already are!

Off the field January is also highly important as well, the transfer window opened on the early hours of New Years Day and will remain that way until the end of the month, this time however things are a bit different, with FFP looming larger than ever we have to be even more responsible than windows gone by.  On that very subject there seems to be an element of tension between Roberto Mancini and the powers that be in Abu Dhabi.  The suggestions in the newspapers in the last few days seem to indicate that the Italian wanted to bring in a midfielder and a winger over the Summer but was not authorised to do so.  It wouldn't take a genius to work out that those 2 targets were probably Daniele De Rossi and Italian winger Alessio Cerci, one of those is seemingly a target for this January.

The impending departure of Yaya Toure is going to make what is already a challenging month even more difficult, and De Rossi could really make it a lot more straight forward.  The belief was originally that the club had to sell some players to buy, and it is thought that whilst not all of the incoming money would be made available for new players, some of it would be.  As far as I can see if we do manage to finally move on a certain moody Argentine striker, we will have an extra £250,000 a week in the wage budget and around £20million in the transfer pot.  Not enough to bring in rafts of new players but potentially enough for De Rossi.

It is not just big names that will be on the way, it would appear that Nedum Onuoha will finally move on for around £2.5million, Wayne Bridge could be removed from the wage bill as well, these departures would also free up some important finances.

It would be a dream to end January in both domestic cup competitions, still 3 or more points clear on top of the table, and it would be even more special if we had secured De Rossi and offloaded Tevez.  If that dream is going to become reality we will need to work incredibly hard and obviously some players will have to step up to the plate, Edin Dzeko needs to re find his form and confidence, and Samir Nasri, who personally I think has performed pretty well overall, needs to continue to develop his game and find his exact role in the team.

Things are undeniably going swimmingly, but this month could really make or break the rest of our season, so lets all get behind the team and try to make sure that the dream becomes reality!