Friday, 24 February 2012

The Importance of the Ivorian...

Just a short one today, but something that has been playing on my mind for a couple of weeks.  We all knew that January was going to be a difficult month.  We played a lot of games against good opposition, 4 of these were without captain Vincent Kompany, and many of them were without our midfield general Yaya Toure.  

Clearly this was going to be a big loss (we also missed his brother somewhat as well with the absence of Kompany) and I felt that if we could come through January still on top of the pile then we were doing pretty well.  We achieved that aim and ground out a few important victories, success over Tottenham for example was vital, on the downside however we crashed out of two cup competitions, something that none of us were particularly pleased about.

So if we isolate the league form, what was the effect of being without Toure?  Well, we played 5 league games and we only lost of them (the annual away day defeat at Goodison), of the rest there were two scratchy 1-0 victories away at Wigan and Aston Villa, the thrilling victory over Spurs and the quite straight forward 3-0 defeat of Fulham.  Now our home form has been superb throughout the season, and even without Toure we have looked pretty strong, granted the win over Tottenham was a bit shaky but that was more down to some lapses in defence as opposed to missing something in the midfield.  Performances away from home though were a bit shakier...

The interesting thing to note however is that even before Yaya left in early January, our away form was already on the slide.  During the festive season a listless 0-0 draw at West Brom and that ridiculous 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light hardly demonstrated a solid team away from home.  Therefore blaming the absence of Toure for the uncertainty of victories at Villa and Wigan seems a little strange.  It is an undeniable fact though that despite what results may say, his absence has been really noticeable.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that we missed, but I think it was pretty well demonstrated in the first 19 seconds against Porto on Wednesday afternoon.  The incisiveness of the ball he played to release Aguero for our first goal was something that we have really missed.  Silva and Nasri are experts at those sorts of passes higher up the pitch, but as good as Barry, Milner, De Jong and co have all been, there was noone deeper that could take out the entire opposition midfield (and in this case defence) in just one pass.  Our game was more ponderous in his absence and even though all year round we have been a team who have worked the ball carefully, when he is in the team we do it with more purpose somehow.

It is not just his technical attributes that we have lacked.  His power and presence has also been sadly missing from our midfield, they are qualities that really aren't present in any of our other defensively minded midfield players and I wonder if that is something that Mancini may look at addressing.  It is a bit of a concern that should the 28 year old suffer a long term injury we don't really have a ready made replacement, and having seen how much his absence harms us, finding someone similar appears important.  It probably isn't as simple as that though, there are very few players in the world with his level of ability and professionals of that quality aren't going to be overly happy sitting on the bench and playing second fiddle to the Ivorian.

I do wonder if the the short term signing of David Pizarro is to bring that incisive passing into the team should Toure be absent, he has demonstrated already that he can be an excellent passer of a football but clearly he will not offer that physicality in the middle of the field.  

It seems crazy to me that at times last year some of us questioned Toure, some weren't exactly sure what he brought to the team, 12 months on and he is one of the first names on the team sheet, and even though our league form may have stayed roughly the same, it was clear for all to see how much we missed him, i'm sure my relief to have him back for the run-in is shared by City fans everywhere.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Rumour Mill: City To Swoop For Long Term United Target?

Right! It is time to move on from Carlos Tevez, lets just see what happens there and move onto newer more exciting things...some hot transfer rumours!

It is pretty clear by this point that the man Roberto Mancini wanted to bring in this January was Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, however convincing him to leave his boyhood club was always going to be difficult.  It would now appear that the Italian international will see out the rest of his career in the capital after he signed a new contract, effectively ending our interest.  Clearly this suggests that Bobby has identified a new midfielder as being crucial to the sides ongoing development and according to reports in recent days the club are now ready to put plan b into action.

The man they are apparently looking to is Spanish international and incredibly highly regarded Javi Martinez.  The Spaniard began his career at Osasuna but never appeared for their first team, he was snapped up by Athletic Bilbao for €6million in the Summer of 2006 at the age of just 17.  The defensive midfielder became a regular in the team from his debut season and has been more or less an ever present.  

The Sun (as well as numerous other media outlets) are claiming that we are ready to offer £25million for his services, now that might sound steep but when you consider that the 23 year old already has a World Cup winners medal and that he has been courted by the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United it begins to look a little more realistic.  

There are however a couple of stumbling blocks, there is the competition from other clubs, but it is thought that the presence of David Silva (an international colleague) could help persuade him to move to the blue side of Manchester.  The other issue is the price, it is said that the money men at Eastlands are unwilling to offer more than £25million despite Bilbao expecting a figure closer to £34million which is stated as the release clause in his contract, it remains to be seen whether there is any chance of meeting in the middle.

In footballing terms, Martinez would be a great addition, the box to box player would be able to take some of the strain off the shoulders of Yaya Toure and clearly he is of the very highest quality and for that reason, he would be a superb acquisition.  It is always interesting to note that this season the Spanish international has been deployed as a central defender on a fairly regular basis and that is another quality that should make him an attraction proposition.

In many ways I would prefer to have Martinez than De Rossi, he might not be as good as the Italian yet, but at 23 he has the vast majority of his career ahead of him and I believe he would have a better understanding of our style of play and for that reason I think he could be the ideal man to supplement our midfield.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tevez Is Back...Not Sure How To Take It...

I am in a pretty difficult position today.  As many of you that follow me on twitter will be well aware, I have moved on from Carlos Tevez, the guy burnt his bridges, embarrassed himself, and was massively disrespectful to both the club and most importantly in my eyes to the supporters.  I whole heartedly supported the line that Mancini took after that night in Munich saying he would never play for Manchester City again, but now 4 months on, that is looking like a very distinct possibility.

If you have been living under a rock you may be unsure as to what I am going on about; the bottom line appears to be that the Argentine is returning to Manchester tomorrow and has supposedly said that he wants to be part of the team and help them win the league title, it has also been suggested that in order to do this he will be dropping his appeal against his humongous fine.

So how do we feel about this? As many of you will already be aware from my comments on twitter I have always said that I never wanted to see the striker in a City shirt again, I felt that he disgraced the club I love and for me that is something that can't be taken back.  I would genuinely find it difficult to get behind the player after all that he has done and I am frankly uneasy about the whole situation, I can't help but feel this is a ploy from someone.

The other point of view, and it is a perfectly understandable one, is that if he does return and if he helps us win the league then we won't care about what happened in these past few months.  Clearly as we get ever closer to the business end of the season this is a viewpoint that is becoming more difficult to ignore.  If he was to return though there are a few things, that as a supporter I would expect.  

There must be an apology to not just the manager, but also his team mates that he has let down, and perhaps even more importantly to us supporters who pay his wages. It is a really difficult situation for me to get my head around, and I am no closer to working out exactly what I think is for the best.  The apologies though are a must in my eyes, and would it also be too much to ask for him to terminate his association with Kia Joorabchian, a man that I hold responsible for most of the players histrionics.

If though we move on from the morals of the situation and look at how it could affect the team, then it is all quite exciting.  We all know what a top talent Carlos Tevez is, and there have definitely been games over recent weeks where we have missed him, matches against West Brom, Sunderland and Everton were all crying out for the diminutive striker but he wasn't present.  So it would clearly be a boost to the playing staff, the ability to field 2 of Aguero, Dzeko, Balotelli or Tevez is incredibly exciting, and opposition teams will definitely be hoping that Carlos doesn't return to our ranks.

I suppose another big question mark hanging over the forward must be his fitness.  I don't think many people truly know whether he has been keeping himself in shape during his 'holiday'.  Claims from the players representative state that he has been keeping himself fit and that with minimal training he could be ready to come straight back into the team, this however must surely be taken with a pinch of salt.  It is believe that the club have a full medical arranged for the player on his return and they have different schedules in place depending on how fit he really is, this would suggest to me that they don't just see him returning to draw a wage, but they see him returning to play a part in the team.

Similarly to many of you I hold City so close to my heart and I can never truly forgive someone that would treat the club as badly and disrespectfully as Tevez has, if he helps us win the title though, how will I feel?  I won't have forgiven him for his actions but I doubt that will affect my mood.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of the players book, forgive and move on, that certainly seems to be the mindset being presented by one of our most passionate players in Pablo Zabaleta: "Tevez would be welcomed by the players. It was a difficult situation. Most important is that we are doing well as a team.", after-all isn't it the good of the team we need to worry about first and foremost?  I won't cheer him, and i'm not happy with him, but maybe I just need to think about whats best for City....

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Are We Short On Leaders?

There are a few big football stories dominating the back pages at the moment, the return of that odious cheat Luis Suarez, 'Arry and his mysterious tax bill and of course our 'brave English lion' John Terry, a man who I dislike almost as much as the aforementioned Liverpool striker.

The debate surrounding his removal as England captain got me thinking about City (in truth most things ultimately result in me thinking about City!).  Whether or not you believe it was right that he had his role taken from him before a judgement had been made on his legal problems, it has brought about an interesting debate.  I was listening to a piece on 5Live yesterday and the discussion had moved on from Terry and was now looking at whether in the modern game we need a captain at all.

It was being suggested that in this era there are no decisions left for the captain to make, the decision making part of the job no longer exists, so what is the role of the captain?  Well personally I believe leadership on the field is vital to a successful team.  It obviously can be argued that if you have a group of leaders then one specific captain is unnecessary, and I can definitely understand that point of view.  Whether it be one leader as captain or 3 or 4 leaders spread throughout the team it is vital that they do their best to organise and motivate their team mates.

To bring it back to City, I am beginning to wonder if this is something that we are short of.  Clearly Vincent Kompany was the best choice for club captain, he is vocal, intelligent and understands what is expected of him and the team.  When he was out serving his suspension, we were not the same side, we didn't look as organised and there was something missing, and I wonder if they can be put down to the lack of leadership on the field.  Last year Carlos Tevez may have worn the arm band, but we all new that it was Kompany who was rallying the troops.  

Someone else who may be less vocal, but has the same qualities is Yaya Toure, and with him missing as well we had a bit of a 'quiet' team through January.  As skilled as Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguero are, screaming instructions and lifting their team mates is never really going to be part of their make up.  It was Micah Richards who wore the armband for most of the month, and there is no one more deserving of that role, his work rate and drive are a fantastic example for the team, but does he really have what it takes to lead his men into battle? I am not so sure.

It is not just an issue of rallying the team, organisation comes into the art of leadership.  If we are honest, we beat Fulham quite easily on Saturday and if the truth be known we probably never really got out of first gear.  I still felt however that defensively there was something lacking, now obviously we missed the quality of Kompany in terms of his defensive ability (which team wouldn't?), but we also lacked that organisation at the back and at times our back line looked a bit all over the place.

What can we take from this therefore?  Well to return to my original point, it made me consider if perhaps we were short on leaders in our current squad.  We have a quiet team, and maybe we could do with one or two more capable of barking instructions.  Hopefully Kompany will be back on Sunday, and the return of Yaya is imminent and these additions will help massively, but we could always do with more.  De Rossi would definitely have helped with that, but that move is now dead in the water. 

I am not saying we need to go out and buy a load of other teams captains, but I think it is something that should possibly be considered as time passes, the role of the captain may be diminishing, but to be successful, good leadership is a must!

Friday, 3 February 2012

How Do We Relieve The Pressure?

Only 4 different teams have won the Premier League title, and one of those has only done it once.  Of the other 3, it is only Manchester United and Chelsea that have seemed likely contenders in recent years.  That is not to say it has been a closed shop, a few other clubs have gone close only to fall at the final hurdle, hopefully we won't be joining those failures as the season turns the final corner and enters the final straight.

It is tough looking back now to know what the expectations of most City supporters were at the start of the season, I was looking for an improvement on the previous excellent year, that was my minimum expectation.  Others talked of winning at least one trophy, some of making a good run for the Champions League, and a large proportion talked of winning the Premier League title.  I don't think however, even the most positive City fan could have predicted the form we demonstrated at the start of the season, we laid waste to everyone we came up against, and away days at White Hart Lane, Ewood Park and Old Trafford demonstrated that we were more than capable of going all the way.

We began December undefeated, and although our neighbours had also only slipped up once they couldn't compete with the football that we were playing, the ease of which we dismantled them Old Trafford suggested that the title race could be over by the turn of the year, I even received a text from one of my closest friends, who just happens to support the team from Salford, congratulating me on winning the title.  Now I expect that was just a knee jerk reaction to an unprecedented result, a result that as City fans we have had to deal with a few times over the years.  Of course I replied calmly stating that nothing was won in October and that was how I felt, a marker was laid down, but only a fool would have thought we could continue in that fashion throughout the season.

The first defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the middle of December was a turning point.  A good goal by Balo gave us the lead in the 2nd or 3rd minute as I remember, and for the first 30mins of that game we played the best football we had played all season and we should have been 3-0 up before the end of the 29th minute, Aguero missed a sitter and we had an absolute stone wall penalty turned down for the most obvious foul you could ever wish to see on maestro Silva.  The match turned on its head in the second half and Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners.  Since then we have continued to win, but the style and ease of those early season victories has diminished.

The problem as I see it, is that after the battering of United, expectations grew exponentially.  Not only were we now expected to win the league, we were expected to do it easily.  The media, City supporters, supporters of other clubs started saying things such as "If City don't win the league, i'd be astounded".  The pressure of these expectations I believe has began to weigh heavy on not just the shoulders of the players but of the management as well.

Normal Mr Cool, Bobby has been suffering of late.  He no longer comes off as the confident and affable man on the touchline, we've had imaginary card waving and various other outcries that we don't like to see.  On the pitch as well things have slowed, the freedom that was demonstrated in those initial months has disappeared, and whilst league victories still come they are ground out as opposed to be obtained with ease and delight.

So, how do we overcome this pressure?  Well quite simply we do it by winning games.  No doubt some will say I am being overly negative, but I believe I have pointed out nothing but facts.  We are still very much in the title race and we will be there of there abouts at the end of the campaign.  I also believe we can get back to playing with that freedom that we demonstrated in the opening months of the campaign, our next 4 games looks like this: Fulham (home), Aston Villa (away), Blackburn Rovers (home), Bolton (home).  In my mind that is 4 winnable games, especially the 3 at home where I fear no one.  If we start to string wins together again, the pressure will be relieved and the belief will return.

The Premier League title is in our own hands and obviously with that there is a degree of pressure and that has clearly been weighing heavy on the players throughout January, but with a nice little run of fixtures and the return of Yaya in a couple of weeks there is no reason that we can't get back to where we were in the first 4 months of the season.

Some have suggested that City could go the same way as Newcastle in the 90s and crack up like Keegan did, or in more recent years implode like Liverpool did under Benitez.  There are some differences, Newcastle and Liverpool blew far bigger leads than we have had, and that was their only shot really, as blues we know that if we don't do it this year, we will be coming back even stronger next time round, we aren't going anywhere, we are here to stay, and don't we just deserve it?