Monday, September 29, 2014

AS THE RAIN FALLS HARD ON A HUMDRUM TOWN



Roma’s talented and fine-tuned players, stretching their muscles in the queue for customs at Ringway Airport, might have swapped the sun-drenched hubbub of the Italian capital for the red brick and drizzle of post-industrial Manchester, but they will be aware that they are about to play their most crucial game in this season’s Champions League.

This is a fixture that has never before been played in earnest, the pre-season plastic pitch of 1980 Giants Stadium in New York being the only (semi-)competitive game ever played between the sides. On that occasion the City goals were scored with graceful aplomb by Kaziu Deyna and Steve Daley with "Paul Sugroe", practically unknown to American tv commentators hitting the third and a chunky Carlo Ancelotti weighing in with one of Roma’s goals in a 2-3 defeat for the Italians.

In the 34 years that have followed, City have studiously avoided the need for eye contact with AS Roma. In fact, barring the occasional confrontation with Italian clubs over the years, City’s history in this part of the world is sparse to say the least. Only two UEFA Cup/Europa League double headers with Juventus (1976-7 and 2010-11) and one each with AC Milan (1978-79 UEFA Cup) and –more recently- Napoli (2011-12) in the Champions League have occurred in nearly 45 years. 



OLD LADIES FIRST

Here are the line-ups from the initial meetings with the great Juventus side of the mid seventies, one that furnished the Italian national team for the World Cup in Argentina in 1978 with no fewer than eight players.

Sep 15th 1976 Manchester City 1 Juventus 0 (Kidd)
Corrigan; Docherty, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Conway, Barnes (Power), Kidd, Royle, Hartford, Tueart. Att 36,955

Sep 29th 1976 Juventus 2 Manchester City 0 
Corrigan, Docherty, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Booth, Keegan (Lester), Kidd, Royle, Hartford, Tueart  Att 55,000 
City, with a team full of international pedigree, drawn to play Juventus in the first round of the UEFA Cup, an unlucky quirk of the draw in the days before seeding and money interest kept glamour games away from the early stages. On a raw Manchester night, City did the raucous Maine Road crowd proud. With the Kippax belting out the slightly unusual chant of "We all hate spaghetti" and following it up with a thumping, partisan rendition of "Fish and chips, fish and chips, fish and chips", not only was the electric atmosphere giddy with that famous Maine Road mix of gallows humour and northern slapstick, but the men from Turin were in danger of being rocked out of their composed stride.

FALLING INTO IL TRAP

New England manager Don Revie sat expectantly under a tartan rug in the Main Stand with a notepad marked "Tueart, Royle, Kidd, Barnes, Doyle, Watson, Corrigan...", the new England pretenders, while Juventus coach Giovanni Trappatoni, embarking on what would stretch to a ten year stint in charge, strode around the muddy edges of the Maine Road pitch with a small piece of paper marked with a single vital word - "catenaccio". If foreign tongues were anathema to the mean streets of Moss Side in those days of chips and gravy, we would soon enough understand what this bit of Italian signified.

Tony Book would later admit that this was a well-laid but hardly unforeseeable trap that the Blues had marched straight into. With the Kippax heaving and City leading through Brian Kidd's soaring header, a win was considered well worth celebrating. It was not every day, after all, that Manchester City dealt a blow to the pride of a team so swollen with international names of repute. City had practically beaten the Italian national side for heaven's sake! The nagging doubt remained, however, that having Juve on the ropes on your own patch, with the Kippax baying for more, might just be seen as a missed opportunity rather than a heroic episode in what we somewhat laughingly hoped would be a thick volume of similarly outstanding European nights out.




THE OLD ONE-TWO

Well-steeped in European two leg tactics, Juventus knew full well that a 1-0 deficit could easily be turned around in the boiling bear pit of the Stadio Communale in Turin. And so it transpired, with City unable to steel themselves, unprepared for the iron-clad defensive shut-out that was necessary, instead attempting to give the striped Juventini a game, playing a brand of open expansive football, which the home side quickly picked off. With the score at 2-0 in a rainy Turin, City had no answer and the Italians played out the rest of the remaining minutes with their familiar defensive aplomb. Book had been right to say beforehand that the winners of this tie could go on to lift the trophy, but it was Juventus who would do so and not City.

"They were just too experienced for us," he said later. "We were 16 months together and only knew one way to play. We did not adapt to the needs of the European game, the slow build up, cautious patient passing game." Another abrupt end had been reached, another harsh lesson had been dealt out. A small consolation presented itself in the next round when United showed they had learnt nothing from City's approach and they too were dumped out by Juventus. The Old Lady shimmied all the way to the final and yet another glorious trophy win, whilst Manchester's blues began an inexorable slump that would end up with us all face down in the mud at at Macclesfield.

THE KIPPAX EXPERIENCE
To stand on the Kippax in the 70s and watch a night match in European competition, you were transported to a unique place in life. Bursting with wit and spontaneity, danger and uncertainty, the great terrace grasped you, shook you and embraced you, until that trembling old place cast you back out into the wet streets of Rusholme to fend for yourself. The rain -if not the town- could drag you down.
Between those mid-to-late 70's of Brian Kidd and Dennis Tueart and the 2003 UEFA Cup match with Total Network Solutions of Wales, there was not a sausage, bratwurst or chorizo worth its name for City fans to savour. The European drought has long since ended, however, and these days the likes of Milan, Roma and Juventus look at Manchester City in a totally different light.  
Whilst the Old Lady represents, even in her modern low budget blouses and sensible shoes, much of what City are not - old Europe, old money, trophy-heavy, aristocratic elite from the parched south of Europe, Roma’s record in Europe is not so burdensome. A mid-eighties peak of losing ignominiously to Liverpool in their own heaving Stadio Olympico was the zenith of their achievements and modern times have brought more modest targets.

"Call me morbid, call me pale, but we've spent 34 long years on your trail..."

TIME LORDS

Images of the track-suited Nils Liedholm flash across the mind, the upright gods of Falcão, Graziani, Boniek, Collovati, Giannini, Prohaska, Ancelotti and the little devil Bruno Conte come easily to the mind's eye, draped in history, glory and the honeyed fog of all those unforgettable European nights. These names form part of the rich history of not just the fabric of Roma but also of Italian football.

City play out a delayed 2-2 draw at the San Siro in 1978
When the two sides met in New York in 1980, City’s business with the likes of Roma and Juventus was coming to an end. A scintillating defeat of AC Milan in the previous season’s UEFA Cup brought the club a quarter-final with Borussia Monchengladbach, where defeat ended City’s participation in continental competition until TNS in 2003. Twenty-four years had passed by in the meantime, with the Blues contenting themselves with a close-up view of their belly button fluff.

HISTORY BECKONS

Whilst City lost at Halifax Town in the FA Cup and introduced themselves repeatedly to the denizons of the old second division, Roma were embarking on something of a golden era, that would bring them eventually to today’s total of 213 European games (City have played just 92). Reaching the European Cup Final of 83-84 and the UEFA Cup final of 90-91, both lost respectively to Liverpool and Inter, things would never be quite so good again. Modern times have seen intermittent participation in the Champions League but have also brought the club’s biggest ever continental defeat, shipping seven at Old Trafford in 2007. A visit to Manchester should not, therefore, be taken to lightly by the Italians, especially so when you realise that seven is exactly the number of goals City managed in their last home game..

Tommy Booth (l) and Brian Kidd (r) head goals in the 3-0 City demolition of AC Milan at Maine Road
Roma arrive in grand form and will be backed by support as lusty as that seen from Napoli when the Partenopea visited for City’s first ever Champions league home fixture on 14th September 2011. From the Blues side that played that night, only the departed Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry cannot play, although Samir Nasri’s injury also excludes him. Of the others, eight (Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Kompany, Dzeko, Aguero, Silva and Touré) should all play, great testament to the growing stability at a club often derided for its knee-jerk spending.

Napoli exhibited a verve and togetherness that took the home side by surprise that night, gaining a 1-1 draw that would be instrumental in keeping them above City in the final group table. City have grown into this competition since then and will draw on the experience of four consecutive seasons pitting their wits against the very best Europe has to offer, plus Viktoria Plzen.

If the club’s history of combat with Italian sides is a little on the thin side, it is not without triumph. The spirit of Brian Kidd and Asa Hartford may long have been extinguished on the football pitch, but City’s class of 2014 has the guile and the heart to out-manoeuvre the very best that Roman organisation can put in its way, emulating the class of 1980.



Friday, September 26, 2014

AMBER ALERT

Hull City and Manchester City have studiously ignored each other for some fifty years, meeting only sporadically for a brief flirtation here and there, when few were looking and even fewer gave much of a damn. Then nothing. For years. A strangely neglected fixture that has always served up something worth having when it has been allowed to happen.

The sky blue and the amber, then, have a short but graceful story to tell. And here it is.  



ABOVE 1985-86 The Full Members' Cup, an unloved little corner of 80s football, supposedly foisted on us in order to fill the void left by England's European sabbatical, a little break from club combat after a little too much open warfare from the supporters. A dreadfully forlorn competition, played out in front of sparse disinterested crowds, it meant little until one suddenly got the scent of Wembley in one's collective nostrils, after struggling to stay awake in the early rounds. Then, as you sat up and took notice, the crowd swelled and the noise told you that something worthwhile was happening at last. Northern Area Final it was. Hull City. An unknown opponent not played since the 1970 edition of the FA Cup.

Unbelievably, to eek out the agony a little further, it was deemed necessary not only to have an "area final" but to make it two legged. Wembley faded in and out of view like a hospital patient drifting in and out of consciousness. Away from home in the first leg, manager Billy McNeill wisely opted to stay at home with a heavy bout of flu. Those of us with no excuses, watched this, a weak and fumbling 2-1 defeat, orchestrated by the great padded philosopher that was Jimmy Frizzell. "Not good enough," said Jim, "We will not tolerate this at Luton in the league." And neither should he have done.





The second leg at Maine Road, dragging some 10,000 or so out of their slumbers to the roomy terraces of the Kippax, brought City to the edge of Wembley. A 24th minute diving header from first leg scorer David Phillips and a last minute scuffed toe poke from Jim Melrose (see photo above for proof of how close it was to a complete air shot) put City through by the very skin of their teeth, The final, played against Chelsea, would give the tournament an incongruously glorious finish, 5-4 to the Londoners.
 

An FA Cup meeting in 1970, won 1-0 by cup holders City with a piece of balletic impudence from Neil Young was all that went before in three decades of emptiness.


BELOW The City programme welcomes Eddie Gray's side to Maine Road for a division two clash in 1988-89. It was only the sixth season of league combat between the two sides.



Wayne Biggins wheels away after scoring one of the four that sailed into Hull's net that afternoon. Newly signed Gary Megson and prolific striker Paul Moulden celebrate the feat. A brace for Biggins in a 4-1 win gave the City faithful plenty to applaud as the club picked up momentum towards a second placed finish and a return to the top flight behind Chelsea.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

WEDNESDAY IS CUP DAY

Robinson slashes wide against Wednesday
CORRIGAN ON THE SPOT

"I've made three or four penalty saves in my career, but I suppose that has to go down as one of the best." By the time City had edged past third division Sheffield Wednesday after a huge scare, this run of the mill 1979-80 2nd round League Cup tie had managed to throw up a slightly strange penalty legacy.

This was the start of Malcolm Allison's first full season back at the helm, the Great Messiah's second coming, a huge rumbling freight train destined to jump the tracks a little further down the line. Having cleared away practically every recognisable star from Tony Book's more than capable late mid-seventies side, Allison's summer purchases had included Michael "Mick" Robinson and Bobby "Missed Again" Shinton from Preston North End and Wrexham respectively.

Allison had started the season with the likes of Dragoslav Stepanovic and Colin Viljoen alongside the 17 year old debutant Tommy Caton and Polish World Cup captain Kaziu Deyna.
It was heady mixture of untried second tier pros, Mal's teeny boppers, exotic imports and a smattering of leftovers from the good times. Tommy Booth and Willie Donachie and --of course -- Joe Corrigan were the names to have survived the coach's mighty talent cull.

Whilst City were about to be swamped by Allison's over-complicated tactics and desperate desire to start from scratch, Wednesday were making the slow climb back into the limelight which would carry them up into the first division by 1984, ironically at City's expense. (City finished 4th in the famous three horse promotion race that year).

The many Wives of Mal
Still at this point a Division Three outfit, Wednesday came into this tie on the back of a less than impressive 0-3 home reverse to Blackburn Rovers, both of whom would end the season in promotion berths behind champions Grimsby Town.
 

City had started their first division campaign in typically unpredictable style, drawing on the opening day with Terry Venables' highly acclaimed Crystal Palace side (the so-called team of the 80s, that would be relegated within two years), getting thrashed at Middlesbrough and squeaking a 3-2 home win over Brighton.

KING HENRY I OF RUSHOLME

Colin Viljoen is congratulated after opening the scoring
Corrigan's penalty heroics in the first game, drawn 1-1, would be matched in the second leg, where, amazingly, he saved again, from the same player. That player was ex-Arsenal midfielder Bryan Hornsby, who saw a firm spot kick saved by a flying City 'keeper in the initial game and -- when presented with the big chance just nine minutes from the end of an as yet scoreless Maine Road return -- stuttered in his run up, only for the huge frame of Corrigan to parry that attempt too.

Referee Colin Seal did not approve of Hornsby's run up, however, and ordered the kick to be retaken. With Hornsby wisely opting out of tempting fate further, Mark Smith stepped up to bury the second chance and put Wednesday close to a famous upset.

The tie was saved --for once -- by Malcom Allison's irresistible urge to tinker. Mike Channon had played in the initial game but was about to be added to the vast conveyor belt of talent leaving the club with a move back to Southampton the following day. This meant that long-term reserve Tony Henry (a midfielder) found himself in attack and he duly obliged with an unlikely 88th minute equaliser and followed that up with a 90th minute winner.





To a seasoned tightrope walker like Allison, this will have been food and drink, but for the 24,074 breathless fans inside Maine Road, it had been quite an escape. Within days, Big Mal had paid Wolves £1.5 million for Steve Daley and Stockport County £80,000 for Stuart Lee. City were changing rapidly. Into what nobody seemed to know.

The Blues went out to second division Sunderland in the next round of the League Cup and would be playing Sheffield Wednesday in the 2nd division three years hence. Allison, needless to say, would not be there to witness it, long since dispatched by the trigger happy Peter Swales.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CITY AND CHELSEA: A LONG HISTORY OF MEDIOCRITY

 
 

 


This photograph, perhaps above all others involving City and Chelsea down the years, illustrates best where the two clubs have come from in a relatively short space of time. The season is 1995-96. Chelsea are emerging from a slumber which has lasted since their days of yore in 1970 and are beginnng to build up a head of steam with a side bank-rolled to the tune of £26m by supporter Mathew Harding, after a public call for investment by unpredictable chairman Ken Bates. City too have found a kind of sugar daddy in ex-player Francis Lee, but are about to descend two divisions in three years to the third level of English professional football, thanks in this case to the catastrophic management of Alan Ball. Ball it is who has brought in "future tem million pound player" Buster Phillips, a stripling of a left winger from Exeter City, who will play a grand total of 15 poorly constructed games for the Blues, Ronnie Ekelund and Gerry Creaney. Creaney, seen here closing down Dimitri Kharine in the Chelsea goal, would become an easily definable image of the decay that was setting in under Ball. Bought from Portsmouth for an incredible £750,000 plus Paul Walsh (just read that again, if you think it might have slipped your full attention), the deal was said to have valued the ex-Portsmouth and Celtic striker at £1.5 million. Overweight and way off the pace, he would last at City until 1998-9, by which time City's opponents had changed from Chelsea to Chesterfield. He was loaned out to Oldham, Ipswich, Burnley and, ironically, Chesterfield, before finally securing a move to St Mirren. His absence would not stop City supporters from having dystopian nightmares every time his name was (or indeed is) mentioned.

Two seasons before, both sides had played out a stultifying 0-0 draw before just 10,128 paying customers at Stamford Bridge. This was the beginning of the Premier League that today supplies us with vivid colour, unremitting fervour and the weekly vista of happy clappy full houses. City would finish 16th to Chelsea's 14th that season, neither club revealing the slightest signs of taking the new league structure by storm. Both clubs had spent more seasons in the 80s out of the top flight than in it and Chelsea had managed to misspend much of the 70s doing the same thing. Whilst the Londoners would gradually build towards The Days of Empire that have brought league titles and Champions League success, City still had a long and painful journey in front of them, before they too would enter into the blinding white light of top drawer domestic and continental football. .
 
 


Thursday, September 18, 2014

BAVARIAN WURST




Close to the giant fluorescent rubber dinghy

IF...
 
Michel Platini and his squadron of auditor-chieftains are genuine in their pursuit of revamping the Champions League seeding operation, then one small detail needs to be adjusted immediately: keep Bayern Munich as far away from Manchester City as it is physically possible to do. We want nothing more to do with Karlheinz Rummenigge’s stiffly manicured smirks, nor those giant glasses of frothing Paulaner. Enough, most absolutely, is enough.



Four seasons City have now gained entry to this Parthenon of Champions, Runners-up and 3rd and 4th placed teams. Three times the quixotic little draw balls have insisted on Manchester’s finest packing their knapsacks for the great wooded south, the Bavarian hinterland, the land of chesty barmaids and luminescent BMWs.



City’s very debut in the competition came here. On a fine sunny day in September 2011, standing around in any of Munich’s pristine central squares and squinting up at the light blue bunting, the ornate clock fronts and the dreaming spires and steeples, made one wonder whether we would ever really fit in to this glorious symmetry. Manchester City, the most assymmetrical bunch of Rusholme ragamuffins to set forth along the Konigsallee, going toe to toe with the Kaiser’s best boys? Imagine that.



Would scuffed trainers and our bedraggled northern soul boy raincoats look ok alongside the flying dirndls and brown-suede elbow patches, the devastating Teutonic beards and the glass fronted pretzel houses? Well, -- as we have been finding out ever since -- not really, not completely.



"Does this look ok here?"
As we peered down from the top deck of the giant illuminated rubber dinghy that is the Allianz Arena (head straight out of town, keep going until there is absolutely no Munich left and it’s over there by the two motorway intersections), a row was brewing down amongst the City substitutes.



Micah Richard’s two good shouts for penalties were immediately forgotten in a heavy mist of expletives about Carlos Tevez and his refusal to warm up. With a mahogany skinned Roberto Mancini fizzing and popping on the sidelines, the little Argentinian from Fuerte Apache wore the look of the man, who has just found a Lorenzo Cana cravate lying submerged in his evening Carbonada.



Two years later City were back, looking for an improbable victory to seal top place in the group and therefore the likelihood of avoiding, for example, Barcelona, in the draw for the knockouts. Victory we got, 3-2 in a rip-roaring comeback from an early two goal Bayern lead. Amongst the dizzy patrons from Moston and Davyhulme, one could see inebriated men busying themselves pinching each other. Again disaster struck as nobody had told the ashen faced Manuel Pellegrini  that one more goal might squeeze the Blues through on goal difference to the top of the group, ahead of Bayern.



We settled for 3 and drew Barcelona in the next round.



The 2014-15 edition again paired City with their leather-shorted blood brothers. This time a different strategy came to our attention, one featuring patience, resilience and a masterclass of acrobatic goalkeeping from Joe Hart. It was a little like watching the Liverpool of Bob Paisley, who would grind out their away results on dubious European soil and then haul them back to Anfield to be dismembered in front of the braying Kop. They even did this with Bruce Grobelaar in goals, so fair do's to them.



City prodded and puffed, created a chance or two themselves and kept out a tepid and timid looking Bayern side, until the very last seconds, when ex-City loafer Jerome Boateng slapped one past Hart in the most unlikely fashion. City fans who knew only the slow moving, stumble-and-fall-merchant of season 2010-11vintage, woke up to a bright pastiche of new attributes, one of which seemed to be the shooting power of Karim Benzema.

Carlitos ups the ante in Munich Part One


After Tevez and Pellegrini, the slathering masses needed another scapegoat and their gaze fell on the lumbering form of Yaya Touré, having a joke and a mutual patting session with Bayern chief Guardiola at the game’s end. Possibly City’s best player over the last three years, Touré has enjoyed a slow start to a season that needed a quick start, to run off all those carbohydrate-heavy patisserie jokes. But three years of sterling service count for nothing after Cakegate and – now that he had completed an average-to-ok performance out on the Allianz pitch, he appeared to be enjoying bumping into old buddy Pep. Yaya it was then. A bedazzled audience had its third consecutive Munich scapegoat.



Not crying? Not crumpled on the pitch hiding his face? Not even lumbering slope-shouldered to the away fans to try to throw his sweat-stained (sweat-stained?) shirt 80 feet up in the air? Yaya would do. Our third pantomime villain in three outings to the banks of the great Titisee.



There can be only one thing left to cover in this miserable tale of bad tidings, negative omens and dread angst. If City are drawn against Bayern again next year, which is practically certain to happen, we can presume in some degree of comfort that the storyline will throw up a bad-un for us all to boo at. 

Bacary Sagna, you have been warned.

  






Monday, September 15, 2014

DU SCHON WIEDER ...?

And so it came to pass that Manchester City did make it to the honeyed land of the UEFA Champions League and did continue to make it for four years one after the other, or consecutively, as some will call it. And so it also came to pass that the great red shirted Bayern of Munich were their chosen foes, not once, not twice, but three times out of four. How exceedingly warm the UEFA balls had had to be to produce that little coincidence! 

Beckenbauer, Book, Breitner, Beer, Booth and Bell would have graced this fixture 40 years ago, but what of today's crop?

Any Bayern Munchen versus Manchester City match represents an obvious opportunity to jump onto the sofa with the delectable Susie Schaaf, raconteur, writer, barmaid, wit, philosopher queen and -- for the purposes of this particular moment in the football calendar -- expert on every single thing to do with Die Roten. DTKS asked her a question or two.

DTKS       Guardiola’s status with the Bayern fans. Can he do no wrong or are there still doubters?  SC - There are still many, many doubters in Germany— and perhaps to a lesser degree outside of the country.  It’s strange that last year’s domestic double for Bayern could be considered a disappointment, but to many, it is.  The home loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final was an embarrassment, nation-wide.

In the beginning of his tenure he insisted that he’d coach to his players’ strengths but has done anything but. That, coupled with the influx of Spanish players-- leading German newspaper TZ took to calling them “Espanyol Bayern” recently-- has tarnished the image of the man “that can do no wrong”.

Tommy Booth in European action in Germany. v. Schalke 1970
DTKS       Bayern’s targets this year: domestic or a renewed assault on the top of the Champions league?   
SC - Domestic titles will probably come as they do (and that sounds so obnoxious, doesn’t it?) but Bayern—if they do win the Bundesliga—certainly won’t do it by 25, or 19, points this season.  Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund will challenge greatly.  That being said, the onus is on Guardiola to get to the Champions League final.  While I don’t think Bayern would fire him, I’m inclined to think he would opt out of his contract if that doesn’t happen.
 
DTKS      How is the club coping without the guiding hand of Uli Hoeness?  
SCI think the club is such an engine now that losing Hoeness is not the be-all-end-all.  That being said, loyalists miss him dearly (myself included) and we all secretly hope he can manage the prison team to at least the 3. Bundesliga by the time he’s released.  And that he gets to eat ice cream.

I don’t know, however, with Hoeness on board, that the Toni Kroos to Real Madrid deal would have gone through. In the end, though, looking at Xabi Alonso to Munich?  Bayern might have gotten the better end of the deal.
 
Both City and Bayern have left their old homes behind to move into modern, slightly soulless stadia. Does anybody still miss the Olympiastadion and how do folk consider this era of dominance in contrast to other periods of supremacy in the past?  The Olympiastadion, to me, is even more soulless than the Allianz Arena—with seats acres away from the pitch and exposed fully to the elements. And although the Allianz is massive—and kind of a pain in the butt to get to—regardless of where you’re at, you feel like you’re right on top of the action.
  
This incarnation of Bayern is definitely on par with the mid 70’s one, but not quite there in the minds of many. That 70’s squad, with three successive Champions League titles, plus a World Cup just pips the current Bayern—but a great show in this season’s Champions League competition would go a long way to changing minds.

Bayern’s reaction to drawing City yet again. We were new acquaintances in European football four years ago. Now we are sick of the sight of each other!  Funny, huh? A collective groan was heard around the world when Bayern drew Manchester City once again. It even got worse as CSKA Moscow ended up in the group. You could make a valid statement that UEFA should allow teams from the same country to be drawn together and then perhaps the groups might end up differently. But, with the seeding the way it is? All I can say is, “Hello, again!”
 
Is there a feeling that City are becoming more dangerous or will Bayern be confident of topping the group?  There’s definitely a feeling that City are more dangerous this season than before. And that-- along with a nasty away trip to Russia and Pot 4’s toughest member, AS Roma—means Bayern can’t be wholly confident in topping the group. Although, I’d agree with the punters and say both the Sky Blues and the Reds go through.
 

Which current players would get in the great Bayern side of Beckenbauer and Muller?  Huh. Great question! For an example, I’ll take the starting XI of Bayern-Leeds United in 1975’s Championship match. I’ll keep Sepp Maier in goal only because Manuel Neuer would be superfluous with Franz Beckenbauer as sweeper. I’d swap out Bjorn Andersson on the right for Jerome Boateng, leave Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck in the middle, and take out Bernd Durnberger for David Alaba in defense.

In midfield, Franz Roth and Rainer Zobel would make way for Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, respectively, while Jupp Kapellmann would keep his place on the left. And the attack would comprise of Arjen Robben for Conny Torstensson on the right, Franck Ribery for Uli Hoeness on the left, and no one can ever replace Gerd Mueller. EVER.
 
Bayern’s summer purchases – your view?  Bayern were extremely lucky to get Robert Lewandowski and Sebastain Rode for free. Lewandowski, arguably one of the top strikers in world, especially. But in Rode, Bayern also receives a more than capable holding midfielder that has mightily impressed so far this season—much to the surprise of many.

Juan Bernat from Valencia has continued to grow, while Mehdi Benatia is set to make his debut against Manchester City now that Holger Badstuber is injured once again.

I admit to being puzzled over Pepe Reina’s transfer from Liverpool, as I don’t think he’ll see much time between the sticks—but I’m inclined to think that he was brought in to spice up Neuer’s competitive edge more than anything else. But, hey! Bayern has a great back-up should one be necessary.

I was surprised over the Xabi Alonso switch from Real Madrid, and was of the mind that Guardiola should maybe have concentrated on promoting youth and letting the kids play. But, two matches have completely turned me around from that train of thought. Alonso hadn’t been with the club for 24 hours before Guardiola asked him to start against Schalke—and only getting one practice in with the team—he was one of the few positives to take away from the eventual draw. This weekend saw him start, again, against Stuttgart where he had the most touches and ran the farthest of any Bayern player on the pitch. With Toni Kroos’ play at Real Madrid so far this season? I believe that Alonso was a steal.
 
City won rather surprisingly at the Allianz last season and were one goal away from putting Bayern into runners-up spot. Prediction this time?  3-1 to Bayern. And Pellegrini learns his maths.
 
Final group placings and your tip for eventual winners?  Bayern needs this win at home as much as City needs theirs in the return. The CSKA matches are a wash, but Roma might be able to sneak in front of either Bayern or City if the pair are not careful.

Hmmmm…  I’m going to go with Bayern winning the group (dependent on the aforementioned matches) with City going through, as well. Roma in third (not for valiant efforts) and Moscow goes home.

Last question. The big one. As an absolute expert in all things frothy and amber, what should City fans be drinking in Munich? Augustiner!


 ***

So there you have it. Thanks, Susie, for your time and let's hope for a repeat of last year. Naturally enough you can follow Susie on Twitter

Friday, September 12, 2014

A STRIKING DEBUT

As we wait with bated breath to see whether Danny Welbeck will make his debut for Arsenal against City this weekend, the match between the sides at Maine Road in March 1980 marked another striking debut, that of Kevin Reeves, a mobile young striker just capped by England, arriving from Norwich City for the then princely sum of *£1.25m.

Reeves was to save Malcolm Allison's skin, as his second spell in charge was beginning to look a little like a slightly miserable car crash. As with many things around this time, the plan did not go according to the author's will. The signing briefly made City the first side to have two million pound players (Steve Daley the other), but Reeves' debut proved to be a disaster, Arsenal running out easy three-nil winners, catapulting City into a desperate fight against relegation, which would only be resolved two weekends before the season's culmination with a 3-1 win over Bristol City. Ironically, one of the goals in this comfortable win would be scored by Michael Robinson, the very epitome of Allison's profligate second spell in charge.Allison would survive through to December of the following season without any discernible improvement, before making way for John Bond.

The City programme for the Arsenal match sets the scene, whilst the following week's programme v Bolton carries photographs from Kevin Reeves' debut. Allison's musings that "this will be the last one million pound transfer in this country for a very long time" did not come true. Within a short time the likes of Ray Wilkins, Andy Gray, Justin Fashanu and Bryan Robson would join a growing trend.

*City part-funded the purchase with a £175,000 sale of misfit Bobby Shinton to Newcastle United. The previous week, Allison had also brought back Dennis Tueart from New York Cosmos for a second spell with the club.






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Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; bitter, confused and maladjusted. Watching City since 1974 with fluctuating amounts of disbelief.

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