Monday, September 17, 2018

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 4


Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis

Liverpool 5 out of 5; City Strolling plus Merseyside Police With Smoke in their Eyes:
 
Watchful Eye: Everything very much under control

17th September 2018 – I do that Soccer Saturday Super 6 thing. You know the one - predict six scores correctly from six designated Saturday games that kick-off at 3pm and you could win a bundle of cash. It’s practically impossible to get right but also free to enter so, you know, might as well.

Manchester City versus Fulham was one of the six games on offer the Saturday just gone. I decided in 0.00000000000000001 seconds that City were going to win; all that was open to debate was by how many. Would it be six? Would it be seven? Could it be 10? In the end I went for 4-0 and absolutely fucking trust Pep’s boys to let me down.

3-0. Is that it? You lot serious? Frankly I don’t think you are?!

In all seriousness, this was the stroll most of us thought it was going to be and the only surprise was the margin of the triumph. Fulham arrived at the Etihad Stadium having conceded nine goals in their previous four games and no fewer than two in each of those. In other words, they’re not very good at defending and, as such, I expected City to well and truly put them to the sword. To rack up a hammering.

That appeared well and truly on when Leroy Sane scored after only two minutes, and while City continued to dominate they only scored two more, from David Silva and Raheem Sterling. “It could have been more than three goals,” Guardiola said afterwards - yes mate, it could have been four.

More than anything, Saturday’s win emphasised the depth of quality in City’s squad. Sane was making his first start of the season and simply picked up from where he left off last season while Bernardo Silva was magnificent, showing he absolutely has what it

takes to be David Silva’s long-term successor in east Manchester. The fact John Stones was able to have the afternoon off and Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus could come on for second-half cameos, stretching their legs but not having to exert themselves  too much ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League opener against Lyon, told its own story.

It’s all going very nicely for City and it was certainly a nice touch making life-long fans Vera Cohen and Olga Halon mascots for the day. Aged 102 and 97 respectively they more than most appreciate just what a golden age this is for the club.

Vera and Olga will also know what a Liverpool title win looks like and, having been at Wembley on Saturday to see Jurgen’s boys make it five wins out of five with a commanding performance against Tottenham, I’m starting, for the first time this season, to believe. As Barney Ronay put it in the Guardian: “Get ready. It looks as though, this time, the Reds really are coming up the hill.” 


God I hope so. 

Sachin Nakrani



14th September 2018 – Well, it took them a little while, but Mirror Sport in conjunction with Andrew Robertson have explained to us all how Liverpool can win the Premier League and Champions League this season. I'd been waiting for that. More on this shortly. 

It took Merseyside Police a while too (really this time) but they have finally made their report on the disturbances before last spring’s Champions League quarter final at Anfield. As expected, It’s not exactly Wuthering Heights, but it does make for an intriguing read.

Liverpool Football Club will be relieved, if not wholly surprised, to find they have escaped further punishment. This on the grounds that the police were sadly unable - owing to the scarcity and poor quality of the mobile phone footage of the “event”, which lasted some 20 minutes, took place all along the length of the approach road to the ground and involved at its height a baying mob throwing bottles from a variety of prime positions, the best of which appeared to be the roof of several police vehicles – to glean clean footage of exactly what happened.

That is, there were youths throwing dangerous weapons at City’s bus from the roof of a police vehicle and they were neither apprehended, nor can they now be apprehended, for reasons outlined above.

What a relief it will be to the good people of Liverpool that they have no obvious reasons to start assuming they are living in a city that is open to complete anarchy and the perpetrators of said chaos can run off scot free into the woods, or any such similar growth that still exists between Widnes and the great rolling beyond that is the Irish Sea. 

No, they can rest peacefully. Merseyside police were and are able to do their job to a satisfactory level. Only a month or so ago, to illustrate the point, the apprehension of no fewer than nine Italians, believed to be supporters of Roma, who caused affray in the first leg of the semi-final at the same venue, took place without fuss.

The Liverpool Echo brought us the good news thus: “Merseyside Police said the arrests were made in relation to various alleged offences - including attempted murder, affray, Section 47 assault, possession of offensive weapons, possession of a controlled drug, criminal damage and being drunk and disorderly”.

Atmosphere, la-la-la

Perhaps they had been issued with heat-seeking binoculars on this occasion.

Pep Guardiola, seen exiting the bus on the big night and thanking Liverpool stewards and staff for their protection (the police were perhaps otherwise occupied trying to regain possession of their vehicles at the time), weighed in with his opinion, saying, “I’m not the police. The cameras were not good there”.

To put an end to an unseemly affair, there was a good deal of smoke wafting around Anfield on the aforementioned evening, making it very difficult to make out the difference between the real thing and tasteless cavorting about which, in its own way, is an apt enough metaphor for modern football itself. Take away the smoke, the mirrors and the hot words and sometimes what you have left is a shrivelled sausage and a slim-fit replica shirt.  

Meanwhile, we were back to the action that matters after countless days of international friendlies and the unfathomable Nations League scrunching tediously into gear. Liverpool’s fifth consecutive win was only the third time in history they have managed such a feat from the Big Kick-off. Spurs, looking stretched, parched and short on ideas, were well beaten by Jurgen Klopp’s well organised side.

It is fair to say – and has already been said several times – that they look the real deal this season. How Liverpool square this excellent start with the fact it sees them only 2nd in the table is not clear. Take a look: New-look, vigorous Chelsea are top. City meanwhile are up to 3rd and strolling around like the season’s proper business is yet to begin.

It begins this week, in fact, with Champions League games beginning to clog up the fixture lists of the top sides. Liverpool face Paris St Germain, then, in four of the next five, Chelsea twice, Napoli and City. As Barney Ronay remarked enthusiastically in the Guardian “It looks as though, this time, the Reds really are coming up the hill. It was not that Liverpool played irresistibly well. This was not a performance to drive the imagination or a whirl of red pain for Tottenham. Instead this felt like something better”. Better even than red pain?

After the next five games, we will know for sure whether the Reds are coming up the hill or merely meandering over the bumps and troughs of yet another challenging Premier League campaign. In the same run of games, City will pit their wits against Lyon, Oxford, Cardiff, Brighton and Hoffenheim. When the two sides meet on Sunday 7th October, Liverpool may well be nursing one or two bruises from a very testing schedule, but Andrew Robertson will still be taking each game as it comes.

  Simon Curtis




Friday, September 7, 2018

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 3



Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis


3) INTERNATIONAL BREAK
 

5th September 2018 – We have not yet got to that stage of the season where commentators reporting on Liverpool’s progress assume a pitch and velocity that suggest imminent combustion, but it can’t be too far away. The international break has put a slight dampener on things, but we'll soon be up and running again. 

Summer has come and gone, long and gentle though it was and the first chills of autumn suggest it is time to take a tight rein on our optimism. We are, after all, only four games in, so far in this nascent 2018-19 season.

Already, though, the signs are there, like clouds sitting atop volcanoes on a clear September morning, that Liverpool are made of stern enough stuff this year to stick around longer than last season. A title challenge is what it's being called. That challenge will – almost certainly – be levelled mainly at Manchester City, the title holders and most obvious obstacle to Liverpool’s ballooning ambitions.

International breaks are loathsome things for club managers and the first one of the season, coming just a matter of weeks after a start has been made, is particularly hard to bear.

Liverpool, at least, can take their early breather looking down on everyone else. Whether the fact that Chelsea and Watford form some kind of thin as mist buffer between them and City at this point is anything other than false security remains to be seen. Certainly two points is neither here nor there; the dropped points at Molyneux nothing to carp about and City’s early season form nothing to get your hopes up too high about either.

In short, there’s a heap of work to be done and nothing of note has happened yet anyway. Or has it? A certain Thomas Gronnemark might like us to think differently to start with.

Gronnemark, in case you had been trekking the most wifi-unfriendly outer reaches of the Faroe Islands for the last fortnight, is Liverpoool’s throw-in coach. Yes, football has moved on to this. We have been through speech therapists, used up the worldly wisdom and sharp elbows of press officers and heaped praise on goalkeeping coaches, so now it is high time the throw in got some attention.

Roy Delap may have brought the act of restarting play a certain amount of limelight, when he hurled a few game changers into the box on Stoke’s behalf a decade ago, but this, we are reliably informed, is different. This, we are confidently told, is about more possession, better possession, winning possession, dangerous possession. Already at the repeated mention of the magical word, you would assume, Pep Guardiola is cocking his head to get a better listen.

"I saw Joe Gomez take some really good throws for Liverpool that I had not seen him do before, he was fizzing it in there," said Ian Wright, using a tone that suggested this excited him more perhaps than it should have done.

Liverpool, in defeating Leicester City last time out, had 54 throw-ins. Sounds a lot? It is a lot. And Mr Gronnemark is insisting on Liverpool’s players using them properly. No Benjamin Mendy larking about here, just good solid, sensible throw-ins.

If this is one tiny crumb of evidence that Liverpool are leaving no stone unturned this season in their efforts to close the huge gap that separated the two sides in May last season (look away now, it was twenty-five (25) points), then – however tempting it is to ridicule – City must prepare themselves for a challenge that is being prepared in every meticulous detail. Scrupulous to the nth degree, Herr Klopp is leaving nothing to chance in his battle royale with Señor Guardiola.

May the most painstaking planner prevail.  Simon Curtis



5th September 2018I found myself thinking about Watford on Monday.

Not a usual occurrence but they had beaten Tottenham the day before to make it four wins out of four – a remarkable run and one which, going into the international break, makes them one of four teams to have a 100% record in the Premier League, alongside Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Oh wait, City don’t have a 100% record. They drew one of their games ... with Wolves.

Now before you starting posting death threats through my letterbox, City fans - I’m not taking the piss. Quite the opposite, actually. Because in that moment I genuinely thought City had begun this season in typically serene fashion, swatting aside all-comers with their brand of intoxicating and ruthless football. That they haven’t remains a source of surprise.

As it is, three wins and a draw remains an excellent start for City, especially considering they have scored 11 goals in the process and conceded just three. Pep’s boys have also won away at Arsenal and will not be the only team to come unstuck against Wolves this year. Oh, and they hammered Huddersfield to within an inch of their life, while putting Newcastle in their place thanks to an absolute howitzer from Kyle Walker. I see he’s scoring goals now as well. Great.

The issue is that, by their own standards, not winning four out of  four games feels like a small failure on City’s part. Maybe they won’t be as great as they were last season? Maybe us Liverpool fans can hope for glory, after all?

I remain unsure - City still look strong and have players to come into the mix who have so far been conspicuous by their relative absence, most notably Leroy Sane. The 22-year-old has made only one start this season, and that was in the Community Shield. Quite frankly I’m terrified what he’ll do, and what he’ll give City, when he comes back into the side properly, which I assume will be sooner rather than later.

So City have stumbled but by no means have they fallen going into the current break from domestic battle. Pep will hope his troops return from their respective international games in one piece ahead of the first real intense stage of the season; fixtures in midweek as well as at the weekend, including in the Champions League and er ... against Oxford United in the Carabao Cup.

Nothing has dissuaded me from the belief that, come May, City will be champions again.
Well, it’ll either be them or Watford. - Sachin Nakrani




Thursday, August 30, 2018

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 2

In the second of a series of season-long articles on aspects of the race for the 2018-19 title, Liverpool fan and Guardian writer Sachin Nakrani and City fan and ESPN writer Simon Curtis offer their own views on aspects of each other's teams. Honest, partisan, thought-provoking opinion on the other side by the other side. 


Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy.

2) 
SOFT PRESS, 
HARD PRESS, 
GEGENPRESS





30th August 2018 - It was on Sunday night that my co-writer messaged me with instructions for the next instalment of Dispatches From The Other Side

With Liverpool 100% and City faltering at Wolves, how about a piece on how the media report on our respective clubs next?” he wrote. I immediately messaged back in agreement and didn’t think too much about the assignment given I had more pressing things on my mind, namely what I should have for dinner.

It was the following morning that I properly took on board Simon’s instructions and, not for the first time, pondered the curious place City supporters find themselves in during this golden era for the club.

It should be joy and fun but instead, from the outside at least, there appears to be paranoia and unease at every turn.

It’s possible that at this stage of this article Simon has hit delete through a combination of fury and disgust, but on the basis he hasn’t, let me explain: 

Ever since City started getting good the supporters I know have appeared to be rarely satisfied with the coverage the team gets and focus on it near-endlessly.

Thousands upon thousands of words have been written about how brilliant Pep Guardiola is, how brilliant Kevin de Bruyne is, how brilliant the brilliant football is  ... heck, how brilliant Benjamin Mendy’s social media posts are, but yet there remain complaints and scepticism from the blue half of Manchester. Why is Jose Mourinho never criticised? (he is). Why is Jurgen Klopp always praised? (he’s not), and woe betide anyone who suggests City’s success may have something to do with the Abu Dhabi takeover, the 10-year anniversary of which falls this week.

I don’t want to tarnish all City fans with the paranoia brush but the ones I know definitely appear to be in a state of unease, and my best stab at why is because a decade on from becoming rich and relevant, you haven’t fully come to terms with what that means, namely scrutiny.



DAYS OF OUR LIVES

Being a Liverpool supporter of almost 30 years, I’ve grown up with this to the point of barely noticing. We’re spoken about, written about, criticised and praised; it’s part of the dance of being a big club and far better that then not being written about much at all (hello Evertonians). You need to get used to this, too, City fans because that’s what you are now - a big club. Gone are the days when everyone patted you on the head and said well done for managing to put your socks over your shinpads; now double-page spread and eight-part documentaries are dedicated to you. And you should drink it in because, truly, these are the days of your lives.

And what of the media reporting on City and Liverpool following their respective results

against Wolves and Brighton? Well there hasn’t been much given the focus since the weekend has largely been on the hilarious shit-show taking place at Old Trafford, but what there has been rather backs up my point.

Take Ian Ladyman’s report on the 1-1 draw at Molineux that appeared in Monday’s Daily Mail which, if you were paranoid, could be viewed as another example of a journalist revelling in a City mishap in a way he or she wouldn’t do if they were writing on Liverpool. Yes, there is an undeniably celebratory tone to the reporting, but look closely at the language used. The headline talks of a promoted team reminding us “that City are human”, while Ladyman writes about how, prior to Saturday’s contest, “a game of football had started to require a new definition when brilliant, untouchable City were in town.”

See City fans, the media loves you. 


So chill out and don’t fret about how you are perceived; on your own terms and in comparison to Liverpool. It’s generally positive, generally well meaning, and even if it gets a little negative, remember one thing – it could be worse, you could support United.Sachin Nakrani



30TH August 2018 – There can be little doubt that, while the standards of football writing in some areas have deteriorated markedly, the scope, depth and quality of what is on offer to read in general has exploded. Websites, blogs and podcasts have managed to create a reservoir of information and lively writing that has asked questions of some of the traditional mainstream sources for the average fan’s feed of news, entertainment and opinion about their club.

Alyson Rudd hits the g-spot in The Times
Different arms of the press have reacted in different ways to the challenge.

The tabloids, married at least in their grim online versions to the modern horror of clickbait, have in recent years started producing content that is more and more partisan and less and less balanced. It can be difficult taking some of it seriously. Objective reporting has become the realm of the serious press and even then, not always.

City and Liverpool are interesting cases in point.

While City’s emergence as a modern power in the game has been reluctantly accepted by some in the light of Pep Guardiola’s tactical revolution at the Etihad, the club has been through the wringer to get where it is now. Many writers had a field day (and some continue to snipe at the drop of a hat) as the money poured in aiding City to follow the only possible logical route towards football’s elite in the modern game.

Liverpool, bastions of a 70s and 80s hegemony that has produced an international fanbase perhaps only matched by Manchester United, are a totally different kettle of fish. Propped up by the warm glow of two decades of rubbing everyone’s noses in the dirt, their recent reappearance as a proper challenger has been greeted favourably from all sides.

For those like me, who remember well the Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish dynasties of Toshack and Keegan, Souness and Kennedy, Rush and Barnes and Beardsley, some of the clatter is understandable. Liverpool was a machine that almost never foundered. They were horrifically efficient and devastatingly successful. For twenty years.

HAREM REVOLUTION

While all of this will understandably engender some awe in the coverage of the club, it does not fully explain the sun-drenched prose that is often heaped on Liverpool for doing some things that a year earlier brought only ridicule on City.

The arrival of Alisson Becker in goal is a case in point. Hailed as “a goalkeeping revolution” by the Mirror last week (the poor fellow is saddled with the middle name Ramses, which might be a badly spelled throwback to the third Egyptian Pharaoh of said name who found himself supplanted by a harem revolution set up by his conniving wife at a busy picnic in Medinet Habu), it was simply the tardy and eye-wateringly expensive purchase of what the club had blatantly been missing for three seasons: a vaguely competent goalkeeper.

Compare with City’s purchase of Ederson the year before, when great slices of the tabloid press were up in arms at the extravagant price being paid (as it turned out some €30m less than Liverpool’s recent shopping spree in Rome) for their own “revolutionary” goalkeeper, and you begin to see some important discrepancies. 

Factor in the general horror at the prices paid for City’s two wingbacks, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy – despite being absolutely essential elements to Guardiola’s playing style – and you had a relative shit-storm. Try to ignore the fact that the Mirror got so excited about the price that they included wages, an unusual move when reporting on transfer fees.

Some fans have their ideas where this all stems from (see below), but there seems an unmistakeable buzz in the air as soon Klopp and co hit the airwaves. His occasionally tetchy media appearances are shrugged off in a way Jose Mourinho can only dream of.      

It may well be seasonal, fashionable, cyclical; a feathery breeze prone to occasional idiosyncratic influences that brings these changes. Over time perhaps all clubs get whitewashed and all clubs benefit from the little kisses to the back of the neck that Liverpool are experiencing right now. Perhaps it is  – as the modern day pharaoh Richard Scudamore would have it –  the Premier League’s urgent need for a knight in shining armour to come and give City a proper game that is fuelling support for Liverpool's challenge. The Premier League’s head honcho is painfully aware of the value of his product and equally conscious of how he wants it to keep making millions. 

It may also be the broad army of ex-Liverpool players thronging the corridors of media outlets, ready to thrust bons mots at us at the drop of a hat. Richard Dunne and Paul Dickov are there too of course but that kind of proves the point.  

While City’s treatment has improved of late, thanks to a great extent to the undeniable beauty of Guardiola’s stunning football, this feeling of relative positivity may also have been exacerbated by Mourinho’s stuttering Manchester United vintage just across the border in Hazard County. The Mirror in particular have got their teeth into United and seem to have relinquished their death grip on City at the same time.

Or maybe it’s all cyclical and these things come with the territory. Reach the top of the Big Tree and you gain the attention of everyone and his/her dog, for good or for bad. History shows us that, even Liverpool at the height of their powers in 1981, having disposed of Real Madrid to win their third European Cup in Paris, were not exempt from criticism, as Leslie Vernon proved in World Soccer magazine.

The Reds are enjoying an obvious renaissance under a widely appreciated coach who has kept good attacking traditions to the forefront. Hardly a surprise that there is general approval in the press, even if some have swallowed slightly too many happy pills and others put a gloss on stories that don't require buffing up.  Simon Curtis












Thursday, August 23, 2018

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE

This is the first of a unique series of season-long articles on aspects of the race for the 2018-19 title. With the struggle hotly tipped to feature Liverpool and City as major protagonists, Liverpool fan and Guardian writer Sachin Nakrani will cover City's progress and City fan and ESPN writer Simon Curtis will reciprocate with his view on all things Liverpool. Honest, partisan, thought-provoking opinion on the other side by the other side.

Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. 
Writing with the enemy:

1) Starting Out



23rd August 2018 - After just two games there can be very little doubt that the majority forecast of a strong Liverpool bid for the title this season is already looking sound.

For a side that had already seemed able to size City’s threat up last season, winning twice at Anfield and once at the Etihad in four fixtures between the teams, Liverpool now seem even better equipped to deal with all the other petty disturbances that uprooted their progress last season.

Despite those three wins, the Reds were undressed in the Etihad league fixture and – even accepting the fact that everyone and his dog knew where the weaknesses lay – steadfastly refused to address those problems until it was manifestly too late.

Virgil van Dijk’s eye-wateringly expensive switch from the familiar Southampton hatcheries began to shore up a central defence that had never carried the air of complete competence, but Liverpool supporters had to wait until the Summer to see the other holes patched up.

Now, along with Van Dijk, there is a quality goalkeeper (also costing an arm, a leg and a couple of toes) and serious, rugged reinforcement of a midfield, which too often provided scant resistance when properly leant upon last season. The energetic input down the flanks from Robertson and Alexander-Arnold has given the side a completely different feel too.

Liverpool’s start has pumped Anfield full of that glorious bluster that often carries them further than they might have expected. Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham sent flying and the customary win at Crystal Palace secured with a little more sweat spent.

Already, the two title favourites snuggle together at the top of the Premier League, a table which is not supposed to iron itself out until after eight-to-ten fixtures. You would not, however, bet against these two teams still occupying the same rungs come next May. 

The burning question for the hordes at Anfield and the Etihad, is exactly in what order the two giants will finish.  Simon Curtis



23rd August 2018 - Supporters are never more optimistic than at the start of a new season. Hope springs eternal that their own side will be better than they were the previous year and that their opponents will be a little bit worse. 

Then the first game kicks-off and you realise some things are exactly as they were, specifically Manchester City being really, really good at football. 


Two games played by Pep Guardiola’s side and two wins secured in terrifying style. Arsenal were swept aside like a piece of litter stuck to the bottom of Bernardo Silva’s shoe, before Huddersfield were blown away at the Etihad Stadium in a manner that bordered on the murderous.

City’s victory over David Wagner’s side was even more impressive for the fact Kevin de Bruyne did not feature having begun his long rehabilitation from a knee injury, while Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling remained on the bench throughout. The depth of Guardiola’s squad is absurd, but I guess that’s what happens when a club that  was average for ages gets taken over by an Arab sugar daddy (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Nobody of note left during the summer while Riyad Mahrez arrived, meaning City are stronger than during their record-breaking run to the title. The loss of De Bruyne is a blow but the champions have the resources to cope without the Belgian for three months and, as they showed in their opening two games, their style of football remains beautiful and devastating in equal measure. 

The boys in blue have simply picked up from where they left off and, with fixtures against Wolves, Newcastle, Fulham, Cardiff and Brighton to come before they face Liverpool at the start of October, it’s hard to see City not building up an almighty head of steam prior to travelling to Merseyside.

It’s August so I’m optimistic, especially having seen Liverpool win their opening two games in impressive style, showing swaggering ruthlessness against West Ham and rugged determination at Crystal Palace. Jurgen Klopp’s men appear to have everything necessary to mount a serious title challenge, but have they got enough to catch City? I’m not that optimistic. Sachin Nakrani








Monday, August 13, 2018

DOWN BY THE BANKS OF THE RUVUBU


An abridged version of this article first appeared on the pages of the Irish Examiner on Monday 13th August 2018.


The sleeves of Arsenal’s pristine new shirts implore any reader with powerful enough vision to “Visit Rwanda”, yet everyone was at the Emirates Stadium in dusty, busy old London town, the sound of strangled traffic chugging sedately past outside, watching such lofty spaces open up on the Arsenal left that we might have been basking gently in the sunlit uplands of the Akergera National Park itself.

There might not have been any nodding herds of giraffes or nervously grazing gazelles, no golden moneys making a nuisance of themselves and no (or few) gorillas rubbing their armpits, but the Arsenal defence were trying their best to look a little like Eastern Black Rhinos. The great gnarled beasts are – thanks to poachers - critically endangered and, if Unai Emery maintains this level of tactical openness, he may well be joining them by Christmas in the giant Premier League stock pot.

Emery’s pre-match words included the phrase “above all passion and energy” when asked what Arsenal fans could expect from his new-look side. Not elements easily twinned with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners vintage, but perhaps a neat change of direction, we all thought. Arsenal with grit, Ozil, perhaps, with sliding tackles, Ramsey with a leaning towards fisticuffs.

By half-time, his side had deflated, the stadium had sighed its last hurrah and City were passing their way quietly to yet another win over Arsenal. Ramsey had disappeared up his own shadow, Ozil had been made busy by a falling lock of well-coiffed hair that kept drooping in front of his eyes and the new manager was already throwing shapes on the touchline that would fill the morning’s papers: hands through well-groomed hair; double arms towards the sky; double arms towards the ground; grimace with teeth reveal; grimace with hands in front of teeth; slowly shaking head; aggressive pointing; all that was missing was the Joachim Löw bum scratch.

For the Arsenal any flirtation with passion had swiftly ended with a Mancunian smack in the chops.

In the 15 painful years between 1991 and 2006, not a single City victory was registered over Arsenal. To say the Gunners had become a bogey team was to greatly underestimate the power of the word bogey.

Last season three victories were notched at Arsenal’s expense, not so remarkable when you consider a more or less similar fate befell practically all of City’s opponents, but still relatively new ground for City’s supporters to stroll through.

The slick despatching of the Gunners at Wembley in the League Cup final and – even more spectacularly – three days later in a first half blitz at the Emirates, bore reasonable resemblance to what we were seeing again here.

Pre-match opinion had informed us with spectacularly predictable prose that Emery was “gunning for City” and that the affable Spaniard was “aiming to out-fire Pep”, but his gun had a Spanish cork in the end and the Arsenal cannon was pointing at Unai himself. Any “structure” that the Spaniard had been expected to infuse his new side with quickly began to look like bits of his home town Honderrabia’s most famous buildings after the Battle of Fuenterrabia had reduced them to dust and splinters in the oft-recalled year of 1521.

1521. Take the first two numbers and you get the score between these two sides at Maine Road in 2003. Those that remember that humiliating dismantling by Arsene Wenger’s side, will recall a match so one-sided that City were 4-down after just 19 minutes, staring bleakly at a complete and utter pulverising.

The match remains one of the outstanding performances by a visiting side to Manchester City over the last 30 years. These days the boot is on the other foot. It is perhaps too early in the season to expect opposing fans to break into spontaneous applause for City’s pristine efforts, but there were at least lengthy spells of silent respect in London.

The Big Question of the summer has been “what to expect from City in 2018-19?” Can they emulate United and Chelsea and win the Premier League title two years running or will the lure of European combat take away their concentration?

With 60 minutes gone, Ryad Mahrez – busy making an early name for himself for crossing impeccably into player-less space and running himself offside – took a little too long to leave the pitch. Were City turning from magical ball smugglers to time-wasting cynics? Was all that goodwill built up going to go up in flames because Aguero and Sterling were faffing around?

Within seconds we had the answers, all the answers.

Michael Oliver whispered to captain Fernandinho that his side should expect some time added on for their antics, pointing left right and centre as if to give specific geography to the unexpected City malpractice.

The reaction was swift and deadly as a Rwandan Black Mamba.

30 seconds later Sergio Aguero failed to square to Kevin de Bruyne to kill the game dead. A further few blinks and City had buried their hosts, Bernardo Silva hooking a sumptuous left footer past Peter Cech from Mendy’s bendy ball in.

City produced a string of records in a bewilderingly powerful season in 2017-18. The early word out on the plains is that the Big Beasts are already on the move again.     
Rwandan art by Augustin Hakiziman





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