Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A NATALIE PORTMAN MOMENT

Will the real Manchester City please stand up. As chameleon clubs go, City have got it off pat. Earlier in the season it was one week scintillating, the next drab and listless. One day soon it will stop (and the signs are it could be worryingly close) but then City might as well not be City anymore.In the meantime we jump the Poznan, shout for Nellie Young and watch Rafael and Wayne blow off in front of United's ex-favourite referee Mike Dean and afford ourselves a wry little smile.

Fulham 1 City 4: Blaugrana becomes albiceleste
As poor grey-haired Sparky Hughes trudged across the pitch after City's thrashing of Fulham in late November, he must have had half an ear on the visiting supporters packed into the Putney End, who were busying themselves shouting their heads off for his successor Mancini. Half an ear, because his gaze was averted. His team, laboured and utterly predictable, had just done what he must have pleaded them not to do. City, a team still bearing resemblance to Hughes' original phase of tinkering, studiously packed with half of his own purchases, had been allowed to entirely dictate the game on their terms. How they gelled on this cold London afternoon to weave their delicate one-touch patterns all across the green baize of Craven Cottage. How much possession? How many passes? You had to blink and rub your eyes to make sure that it was indeed City out there, with their Mancunian chicken tiki taka a sight for sore eyes. Had it been Pep's Barcelona, one might even have reported in the next day's press just how many passes led to Big Touré's sumptuous goal (24?, 25? 26?).

How he kept himself from screaming I'll never know. Here had been an excellent opportunity to rub a few noses in the dirt, whilst winning some breathing space for himself. Instead, a nightmare unravelled before his watering eyes, as City's players, previously notoriously frugal with the lighter moments of the game, such as forward passes, committing serious numbers forward and, that deperate old chestnut, scoring the odd goal or two, went for bust. Well, here the flood gates just swayed open and the water started to pour in like the Thames itself. And instead, at game's end, poor Hughes had to weave his way through celebrating City players, offering a hand here, receiving the odd unwelcome bear hug there.

By the time he had reached the relative sanctuary of the tunnel, he must have felt as flat as Prestatyn promenade.

Let the slapstick begin
City had delivered, big time. For a side who had been frugal in scoring only 15 goals in the previous 13, this was party time, laced with intricate one-touch moves, which proved that, when it works, this City game of patience can be utterly devastating. "The best 45 minutes by any team in the Premier league this season", chirrupped one well-known pundit in the Monday press whose identity must be kept secret. The more recent visit to Arsenal offered a different perspective on Mancini's young pretenders. Playing as if their shoe laces had been tied together with a double knot, City's bus hove into view and trundled gently into place in front of Joe Hart's goal, which proceeded to be peppered and salted by the young bucks of Arsenal. Post was hit, bar was slapped, as were Arsenal thighs, as the frustration mounted. City were berated for spending so much money and having so little ambition, but was this not the very same place that multi-millionaires Chelsea had been wiped away like a dirty stain weeks previously?

Ah yes but in fact no, it still won't do. As Cesc Fabregas is keen to say whenever anyone is prepared to listen to him "Arsenal's way is the saintly way". Well, judging by City's 4-3 pantomime win over Wolves last week, attempting to "open up the game" when you are not Arsenal results in near death experiences against the likes of Wolves. Just ask Liverpool, the small fry of the premier league these days like nothing better than to bite a big lump out of the whales. City's solid, unspectacular and lucky performance at the Emirates contrasts nicely with their slapstick, slipshod but nonetheless exhilirating second half against Wolves. Ask the packed ranks and they will say dull draws at Arsenal are a big step up from the last 25 years or so down there and 4-3s at home we'll take gratefully too, even if the near prospect of 4-4 gives us palpitations.

The good old days
The short and long of it is that, if you are Manchester City through and through, you will be used to it all by now. Damned whichever way you go. Too much money, no class, not enough humility, lacking goals, too short, wrong colour contact lenses, you'll never win a thing again. Well, if we never win a thing again, most of us will not bat an eyelid. If you have stood in the rain at York and in the sleet at Sincill Bank, thrown up at Notts County and had some one pee on your foot at Wrexham, seen Mansfield come away form Maine Road with a win and shouted yourself hoarse after a late clincher against Macclesfield, 2nd top in the league with Arsenal and United's criticism ringing in your ears, sounds a little like Verdi's 4th, otherwise known as "The Silva Slipper".

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