Monday, 24 October 2016

Guardiola's honeymoon over

The problem now for the City management is Guardiola's unflinching demand for total obedience to both him and his system. Of course, it's too early for judgements and despite two successive home draws, too early to cast doubts on his  system of playing eleven men football from the back. However the City fans are not being fooled; the possession figures look good on paper but they can see that what this means in reality is that City are playing and making mistakes for huge tracts of the match in their own half.
They are also aware that as part of his plan, personnel need to change but since he's in charge they'll put up with exiling one of the world's best keepers, Hart, whilst bringing in a thirty-four year old has been, Bravo. He knows what he's doing, doesn't he? What they won't put up with, however, is the systematic disruption of team coherence or morale by arbitrary bloody mindedness under the guise of 'tactics'. You do not drop your greatest goalscorer for a match at Barcelona. How does Guardiola imagine that Aguero feels when he's told he's dropped for a game against one of the world's best teams. Full of team spirit? You bet! He's thoroughly pissed off because he lives for these games.
Most City fans, I'm sure, will give Guardiola more time but the honeymoon period is over. What they won't put up with, however, is a manager who thinks he's greater than the Club; who thinks that he can test his theory to the team's destruction.

That Mourinho-Conte chat in full

Mourinho: You shouldn't celebrate like that when you win four nil. It's disrespectful.

Conte: But Jose, you taught me everything I know.

Mourinho: Never mind that; we'll get even at the return match.

Conte: You won't be there for the return match, Jose.

Monday, 3 October 2016

First defeat of the season

Well! it had to happen. City's trip to White Hart Lane was always going to be tough against an unbeaten Spurs side fizzing with confidence. Apart from the inclusion of Stones, the side picked had a Pellegrini look but without Toure, still excluded from the side pending an apology from his unrepentant agent. Kompany and de Bruyne are still side-lined with injury.
I suppose we knew what was coming within 60 seconds when Silva failed to connect with a perfect cross, one foot from the open home goal mouth. From then on it was Spurs pressing, harrying running, giving City no time or space. Errors crept in, no more so than at the back when Guardiola's flawed plan came under intense scrutiny. Korolov in particular was uncomfortable and our hero Zabaleta looked short of pace and patience with the new order. Time and again the Spurs forwards pressed whilst the back two or three shuffled the ball backwards and forwards looking for the killer pass forward. Something had to give and it was the hapless Kolarov who scored in his own goal after miscuing a harmless cross. It was more effing about at the back which led to the second, a missed pass allowing the aware Spurs players to quickly move the ball goalwards and score.
This eleven man football might work in Patagonia or Mongolia but I'm not convinced in the high pressure environment of the Premier League. Think about it; the opposition commit two or three men to chase high up the field leaving just seven or eight outfielders available to defend. Why not kick deep and pressurise these fewer players. Regaining possession, if lost, should be easier with all the team rushing away from their own goal.
after the break Gundogan came on Fernando and the City midfield started to function. Although City survived an obvious penalty, Bravo saving well, chances started to come for the attack with Iheanacho and Aguero missing clear chances, one shot hitting a post.
City pressed to the end but the damage was done. They still stay top but they must learn to beat the other top teams if they are to do well, especially with the Barcelona games looming. It's early days yet but let's kick this defensive build up into touch now.

City starting eleven
Kolarove, Ottomendi, Stones, Zabaleta,
Fernando (Gundogan) Fernandhino
Navas (Sane), Silva, Sterling

Monday, 15 August 2016

New Season

Well, it's here; the much awaited start of the new season and the Pep Guardiola era.
It didn't start well with poor pre-season involving few games and therefore opportunities to put the new coach's ideas into practice. There have been some new faces, Gundigon, bought with a dislocated kneecap, Nolito who to my mind had a poor Euro Championship, Stones, likewise and a couple of youngsters. Of the old order, Hart has been dropped and Toure not even considered for the bench against Sunderland. Nasri has been humiliated, Fernando ignored whilst Sterling has been singled out for endorsement. At least Zabaletta has been assured that he has a future at the club. This may be because the full backs have had their role redefined.
As was pointed out by all the weekend pundits, the City full backs now play in front of the centre backs, swamping the midfield with players to deny the opposition the ball. Against Sunderland City had 77% possession. The keeper must now act as his own sweeper. Despite this overwhelming possession, City's paltry two goals came from a penalty and an own goal. Poor pickings but we must be grateful for a confidence boosting win ahead of the Steaua Bucharest game on Tuesday.
With such a poor pre-season, one must give the side time to find a new pattern of play. However, it was clear to see that some of last season's problems still persist; notably the last pass. Navas and Sterling produced excellent moves but couldn't deliver the telling pass unlike Liverpool against Arsenal. Nolito and fellow countryman, Silva seemed to have good rapport on the left.
With the midfield packed, possession denied to the opposition it should be plain sailing for the two centre-backs and the keeper and Stones had a satisfactory first game but was badly caught out for the Sunderland goal.

Too early to say how well we'll do this season. Liverpool looked good and Arsenal will be there at the end. Chelsea play tonight but I wouldn't be surprised to see them held by West Ham. Tottenham looked good at Everton although only drawing. Winning the premiership will be tough with so many good teams but if City can win the big games, something they didn't do last year, then why not?

Come on City!

That Hart-Guardiola chat

Tell me Pep, why have I been dropped? Surely you need me as one of your home-grown players and for many seasons I have been regarded as the best in the Premier League.

I don't dispute that but to be honest your not so good with your feet.

Is that it! I'm a keeper; I keep shots out; I save. I'm not a bloody outfielder.

OK; do you know what proportion of your game, on average, is taken up with 'saves' compared with playing back passes from your colleagues?

Hart: Fifty-fifty?

Actually more like 65-35, in favour of back passes. You must be able to clear these balls to your team mates without f...-ups.

Why not tell the outfielders to stop playing the ball backwards. We got rid of the master of the back pass, de-Jong, years ago.

I want an eleven man team. A keeper that is inactive for large parts of the game is not part of the scheme. Adapt, Joe, or leave. Now get out there and practice your clearances. I can't and therefore you can't rely on sentiment or past glories. Football can be brutal and we both want one thing-that Manchester City become the greatest team in world football.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Pellegrini's farewell

I liked Pellegrini. He took over a dressing room in some disarray after the Mancini problem, exacerbated by the Tevez problem. In his three years he delivered a Premiership and two League Cups whilst reaching a FA Cup final and the semi-finals of the Champions League. City's goalscoring prowess, at that time, led many to claim they were the best team in the world. That many City fans are disgruntled with this record suggests they do not remember what iit was like before Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan's  tenure.
That said, City's 'decline' has led to accusations that 'Pellers', as well as being a 'lame-duck' manager, was too old and incapable of adopting his game plans. Certainly his style of play had become too predictable, too slow with it's painstaking build-ups, making it easy for the opposition to counter and overcome. This season, performances at home have failed to deliver a fortress like image of the Etihad; nobody fears City in the way they did when they scored over 150 goals in a season.
It wasn't the best moment in City's history when, in February, it was announced that Guardiola was to take over as Head Coach for the next season, leaving most players to question their futures. Many such as Toure and Bony will have thought their City days were numbered, no doubt, despite their professionalism, losing interest in the Club. Certainly results from that time have deteriorated, leaving City almost certainly losing 4th place to the enemy. To some extent, we can point to Pellegrini and say he failed to motivate his players; failed to introduce enough young, City loving players.
But I liked Pellegrini; he was polite gentleman who has moved City on despite recent reversals and am disappointed that so many fans left the stadium ahead of his official farewell from the Etihad.
I am certain that there will be widespread changes to the playing staff next season, especially in the defence. Possibly the skipper will stop playing and take up an ambassadorial role for the Club, an offer unlikely to be made to Toure and his mischievous agent.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Rise of Leicester & Spurs

The rise of Leicester and Spurs is evidence of the success, on the pitch, of the Barcelona system of play. Press high, deny the opposition room to play fluid football, snatch possession and counter. The system requires superfit midfielders to chase, harry, recover possession and clinical forward play with a predatory eye for goal, strikers like Kane and Vardy. Other teams that are beginning to follow this style with success are Liverpool and Man Utd whilst teams that have suffered are Arsenal and Man City.
The question is; if all teams adopt this method of play, will the game suffer; become less of a spectacle as flowing football is squeezed out of the game. Man City's decision to change manager at the end of the season is a symptom of this trend as Bayern Munich's dominance in the Bundesliga under Guardiola owes much to this new style of play. It must be recalled that City's directors of football are ex-Barcelona men.
Unfortunately, with the rise of superteams, backed by huge amounts of money, the less well off clubs who cannot afford the inflated price and wages of the more gifted players MUST resort to a style of play that negates the natural talent available to the biggest Clubs.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Thirteen games to go

One is fearful that with a combination of injuries and the news of the departure of Pellegrini, City's season might peter out. However, with thirteen Premier League matches to go, City are still in all four competitions including the final of the Capital One Cup against Liverpool. Not bad, I would suggest, for a 'lame duck' manager, but there have been signs that he has run out of ideas; that he he cannot adapt his team to play against different opposition. One can argue that with better luck some of the bad results may have been different but the same argument also holds for the other teams.
There is also no doubt that the team want to play and do well for their Manager, a man well respected on and off the pitch. So where do we stand in the coming few months. Clearly, beating Liverpool in the Capital One Cup is a big priority, with possibly De Bruyne being fit enough to play a small part. Winning one trophy will take the pressure off the team to deliver.
The away game at Kiev in the Champions League last sixteen will also mark a pivotal stage especially as Kompany, crucial for the defence, may come back from long term injury. The defence this year has been poor; the forwards, especially against the top teams, have not been able to score more than the team has conceded, sometimes not at all. I believe that the back four lack stature, see how Huth for Leicester dominated physically, especially in the air. City did bring in Mangala but he has proved to be tactically naive. All season we have struggled at corners at both ends of the pitch because although domination of possession leads to many corners they have produced poor results. There is no doubt that Aguero, when fit, is our best striker; Bony has disappointed and so latterly has Iheanacho although both have their plus points, sadly neither has the 'killer' instinct.
In the FA Cup, City face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and if pressed I must admit this is the one most likely to slip away. Although Chelsea have had a poor season to date they are still capable of rising to the occasion and the opportunity to advance to round six at City's expense will fire Hiddink's team. Meanwhile Pellegrini will concentrate on the Premier and Champions Leagues. I think that many of the team will see this years Champions League as their last chance to win it. Toure, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Sagna, Clichy come to mind and they will be keen to go as far as possible. Much may depend on a return to fitness of De Bruyne, Navas, Kompany and Nasri but it may ultimately be that Pellegrini's legacy will be that the Club now feels it belongs in the higher echelons of European football.
Finally, the Premier League. This season has been so unpredictable and so, anything can happen. I'm almost at the stage where as long as City thump United I don't care about the rest; after all there is, these days, no threat of relegation. I'd hoped for better against Leicester and if Fernandhino's header had gone in, who knows, but now we are six points behind knowing that the Foxes have only lost two matches. Maybe it is time for a change. I like Pellegrini but perhaps he is only a one trick pony. The ride has been fun; the team is established amongst the elite but maybe the time has come to move on; to a time when the biggest game in any season, around the globe, is Barcelona (or Real Madrid) versus City.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

4 games in

It's the first international break and City have won their first four games, scoring ten and conceding none against, West Brom (a), Chelsea (h), Everton (a) and Watford (h). They have also extended their winning sequence of league games to ten breaking a hundred and three year old record.
Key to City's good start is the arrival of Sterling whose pace and skill is attracting defenders thereby giving Silva more room to manoevre. At the other end, the defence, well protected by Fernandhino and supported by Hart have performed well with Sagna and Kolarov receiving rave reviews for their start to the season. Mangala and rejuvenated Kompany in central defence are easing themselves into a good partnership.
Navas, too, has started the season well but against Watford he was dreadful; failing too often to pass defenders his passing was woeful. At half time he was replaced by Nasri with immediate results, Silva moving to the right with Sterling going to the centre just behind Aguero. When Delph came on to replace Silva he looked completely at home and will prove to be  good signing in a busy season. Having said 'goodbye' to Lopes, Milner and Dzeko, City fans will be looking forward to the new £50m signing from Wolfsberg, de Bruyne, described as an attacking midfielder although nobody seems to know where he'll fit in. Could we see the end of Navas in the January transfer window?

In the Champions League, City will face, Seville, Monchengladbach and Juventus, an admittedly tough group but one they will hope to dominate.

Friday, 24 July 2015

City 1 - 4 Real Madrid. International Cup

From the evidence of this match, City are still firmly entrenched in the second tier of European quality Clubs. Sure, there were youngsters in the team but that makes no difference when the core strategy is lacking. Why did City lose? Because their build-up was too slow and they had no aerial defence or attack; same old City. The Spaniards' first two goals were all about getting forward quickly and the third came from a Ramos unopposed header at a corner.
It's no good saying it was a friendly; City were still playing for a trophy and they were two weeks ahead of Real in terms of readiness and therefore fitness. Again, Nasri and Silva wanted too much time in attack, close quarter interchanges always came to nothing and this coupled with poor finishing meant that opportunities went begging. Having seen this match I doubt if Pogba or de Bruyne will want to join City playing like this.
I fear that unless Pellegrini changes his style, both Chelsea and Arsenal will be too good for us this year. Were there any good points? Yes, new boys Delph and Sterling acquitted themselves well but the curse of injury struck again when the former went off after just eighteen minutes with a hamstring injury. That'll be two months out.