Tuesday, August 27, 2013

MARKING THIN AIR

Much warm air has already wafted over the nation's best equipped key boards about City's switch to unsuccessful defending (elsewhere known as man-for-man-marking) in their second game of the season at Cardiff at the weekend. It is not altogether clear whether City had been employing this rigid tactic against Newcastle in the opening game of the season too, as that particular opponent deigned not to provide the kind of attacks that required any kind of recognisable marking at all.

At Cardiff, however, things were different. The home side appeared to start with mere feisty attitude as their formation and developed it as they progressed. From a first half dominated by City's gently suffocating possession game to an upswell of energy both on and off the pitch after City had gone one ahead, The Blues were perhaps surprised - as Pellegrini himself has stated - that it did not become easier after going one up. This is where new managers and players have something to learn about the indomitable spirit of some of the so-called underdgos in the domestic English game. Whilst one or two will lie down and have their tummies tickled, others just get more into your face and try harder. Cardiff had the impressive scrapper Gary Medel doing the progressive dirty work in midfield, harrying Silva and snapping at Touré and Fernandinho. A fellow Chilean, Pellegrini will have been well aware of the
Ready for battle
diminutive midfielders energetic qualities and, whilst Cardiff's hold of the ball was minimal in these areas, El Pitbull's industry kept City's dangermen isolated from their food supply.

Although City's possession stats were high, down on the pitch things were tighter than a t-shirt bought from a gypsy. The willing running out of defence from Bo-Kyung Kim and Craig Bellamy also played a part in lessening the heavy burden put on Cardiff's defensive lines from the start.  

Medel broke up play, whilst the midfielders around him provided a sideways outball to launch quick diagonal passes forward to the willing running of Fraizer Campbell. His success did not come from this tactic, although there were constant glimmers of hope from his muscular comings-together with the befuddled Lescott and tardy Garcia, but from successive second half corners where City's man-marking went to pot completely. Clubs already know that set pieces offer an excellent chance to score in games that are either tightly contested or where they are unlikely to get more than a small handful of chances owing to the superiority of the opposition. This is what Cardiff exploited gamely on Sunday.

++++

That it was ultimately Pablo Zabaleta wearing the culprit's sack-cloth and ashes was not really the point, as Garcia had also managed to completely lose his man's run (Campbell again) during the prelude to the equalising goal, scored by Gunnarsson on the rebound from Campbell's close-in effort, parried by Joe Hart. Hart himself came in for criticism afterwards. He clearly decided to stay on his line for both the second and third goal, a mistake for the former and excusable for the latter, as the ball in was deeper, further away from him and continuing on its outswinging curve.

Gentile: a big fan of close marking at set pieces
A year or more ago, Roberto Mancini had been quoted as saying that he did not feel his defenders were strong enough for man-to-man marking and deputy David Platt also placed a question mark against Hart's name and reputation, saying they had decided to get rid this summer and replace him with Begovic of Stoke City. Whilst the young keeper has a raft of off-field arrangements to take care of, he remains an excellent shot-stopper and England's undisputed national team goalkeeper. The change to a new defensive system at corners and free-kicks will effect the entire defence until it begins to click and when it misfires will tend to make them all look sloppy and lacking in concentration.

It must be said, however, that, despite the high possession figures in City's favour, the final ball from Yaya Touré was often overhit and Navas was successfully crowded out of his danger area and shepherded back into the midfield quagmire whenever he received the ball wide. he had little opportunity to attack down the flank and cross from there. instead cutting in onto his left foot, where the obvious ball became a pass inside to Silva or Fernandinho. This showed that Malkay Mackay's seemingly prehistoric tactics had more subtlety and thought attached to them than might at first have met the eye. In the end it came down to the sharpness of Campbell, who had an excellent game, and the failings of City's new system at the back. At 3-1 the score did not reflect the match that we were watching, but Cardiff's bravery and endeavour merited some kind of reward. That ultimately that reward was all three points was a reminder to City that any lowering of concentration levels can be punished by even the least potent of Premiership foes.
 


Sunday, August 25, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ: Cardiff away

tan trousers rising
Sunday 25th August 2013
Cardiff 3 Manchester City 2
Goodison, Bloody Fraser Campbell (2) - Dzeko Wallop, Negredo Bang
Att: a little over 27,000 squawking, hooting maniacs

________________________________

THE BEGINNING: Season 2013-2014's first away test. Into the Valley for the first time since 1993. Memories of Nathan Blake's curler, barbed wire fences and huge chunks of airborne Welsh masonry. 

Paul Simpson and Kenny Clements in a threadbare 2-2 draw in 1985 at Maine Road on the autobahn (hard shoulder) to promotion. Bobby Mac and Tricky Trev getting the goals in the FA Cup in1982. 

THE MIDDLE: Gary Medel v David Silva. Toblerone Headed Killer versus Tufty the Rabbit. How to play Manchester City when the central defence comprises J Lescott and J Garcia. Nine behind the ball and, when suddenly and fortuitously, in possession, lamp it upfield to quicksilver Fraser Campbell. Wait for ten seconds to allow to set before eating. 

City's possession qualifies them for ownership of the ball when the game is over. Dzeko and Negrdeo net beautiful goals. Silva shimmies like Scarlet O'Hara to Gary Medel's Hound of the Baskervilles. Cardiff cunningly win the game. 

THE END: A single spotlight falls on, consecutively, Joe Hart, who is doing his hair with an anti-dandruff comb, Javi Garcia, who is still trying to catch Campbell to shake his hand, and Vincent Tan, who is pulling his pants just another centimetre higher than they were before. Eyes begin to water, but pants hang on gamely to Vince's Peking duck midriff.


Blake House
THE STAT: City 637 passes/ 561 of which reached their target - 88% Cardiff 264 passes/191 - 72%. Just what does this mean? It could be Sanskrit, but I'm not sure..

THE QUOTE: "And the Premier League's most expensive team undone by little Cardiff...." - Alan Parry passes gate 3016 as he continues down the boreothon giant slalom.

"Where were you when you were shit...?" - Cardiff crowd with the unintended double-whammy backward irony song. 

THE LIST: On The Skids in the Valleys

Into the valley
Betrothed and divine
Realisations no virtue
But who can define
Why soldiers go marching
Those masses a line
This disease is catching
From victory to stone
Ahoy! ahoy! land, sea and sky
Ahoy! ahoy! boy, man and soldier
Ahoy! ahoy! deceived and then punctured
Ahoy! ahoy! long may they die
Out of concealment
Blank and stark eyed
Why so uncertain
This culture deceives
Prophesised, brainwashed
Tomorrow's demise
All systems failing
The placards unroll
Ahoy! ahoy! land, sea and sky
Ahoy! ahoy! boy, man and soldier
Ahoy! ahoy! deceived and then punctured
Ahoy! ahoy! long may they die
Time for the audit
The gathering trial
A collector's dilemma
Repositioned and filed

Monday, August 19, 2013

APPLY HOPE NOW

Season 2013-2014 in three words



1) MANCHESTER CITY: Holistic to ballistic

2) CHELSEA: Relentless Mister Mourinho

3) MANCHESTER UNITED: Year zero begins

4) TOTTENHAM: Big (Bale) breakthrough

5) EVERTON: School of craft

6) ARSENAL: Nil by mouth

7) LIVERPOOL: Last bus home

8) SOUTHAMPTON: Launch Pochettino battleships

9) ASTON VILLA: Doing Lambert Walk

10) SWANSEA: Laudrup's last waltz

11) NORWICH: Ricky van Wolfswinkel

12) WEST HAM: Forever playing percentages

13) WEST BROM: No Lukaku, Anelka

14) SUNDERLAND: Luck not judgement

15) CARDIFF: Hark thou hear

16) NEWCASTLE: Cirque sans soleil

17) FULHAM: Moonwalk in gumboots

18) STOKE: Managerial superiority complex

19) HULL: Streets of San-Francisco

20) CRYSTAL PALACE: Holloway’s hollow hologram







Sunday, August 11, 2013

A FRESH START

30 years ago, Manchester City were embarking on a pre-season tour with a smart new
manager and shiny new members of staff in place, bright new kit, exotic new players arriving from far-off locations (well, Morton) and a sizeable new challenge staring them square in the chops. The story of 83-84 mirrors the beginnings of Manuel Pellegrini's reign at the Etihad more closely than one might expect with its alluring uncertainties and its feel of the Big New Beginning. 

PART TWO: Goals, Drinks on the Prom and Cambridge United

In 1983 Manchester City was a totally different beast to the one that parades trophies in the rain in Hong Kong and throws something to the tune of 86 million pounds at its summer purchases. Despite this, there are some spectacular parallels to be drawn between the pre-season that faced then-new manager Billy McNeill and his squad with that of Manuel Pellegrini in 2013 and none of them involve jokes about Jimmy Frizzell.

City warm up for the second division
City were preparing for life in the 2nd division, with early season opponents Crystal Palace, Barnsley and Cardiff  the initial barriers to leap over in a brave new world of low budgets and even lower expectations. After a dreadful 1982-3 season and a laughable exit from the top division at the hands of Luton Town, supporters and club officials alike were shell-shocked to be down with the massed might of the Uniteds Cambridge and Carlisle.

Despite a threadbare budget and a newly installed management team, expectations were that City might just be capable of providing some sort of a meagre challenge to the big guns of the division: Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United and Chelsea.

City's pre-season took in a picturesque tour of the quaintest teams in German amateur football. Whether this had been designed with confidence-boosting run-away wins in mind or not, the effect was just that. new signings Derek Parlane, Jim Tolmie and Neil McNab were given their debuts and the Blues embarked on a magical, goal-strewn lap of the Vaterland.




City would manage to score four goals, something missing from the previous campaign almost completely, on each occasion they took to the field, including a tally of six to round off the German part of the tour against a then lowly Wolfsburg side.

To keep things looking tidy, four were also scored when the Blues crossed the border into Holland to finish the tour against Willem II in Tilburg. As well as boosting confidence, this continental goal fest cemented the faith of Jim Tolmie in his own ability, helped Parlane realise that he was not on the soccer scrapheap and re-launched McNab's career as a useful ball-winning midfielder. All three would start the season in fine form back in England and McNab would go on to represent City for six years, making 266 appearances.





By the time City returned home, the season was almost upon them. There was just enough time for an ill-fated trip to the seaside where they lost their unbeaten summer run in Blackpool and lost Bobby McDonald and Peter Bodak to a late night session on the Golden Mile, the first of several headaches for Billy McNeill in that first season down in Division Two.



City would eventually finish the season in a limp 4th position, scraping home just ahead of Grimsby and Carlisle United and well behind the afrore-mentioned big three, but would be promoted on a wave of adrenaline the following year against Charlton in a never-to-be-forgotten final game of the 84-85 season at Maine Road.

McNeill's tenure was short but eventful. Whilst Manuel Pellegrini's pre-season with City has seen fewer wins than 30 years ago, it represents a similar starting point to that encountered by the Scotsman thirty years ago.

The Chilean with the Italian background will at the very least hope to be associated with Billy McNeill's long-time nickname from his imperial years as Celtic's skipper and serial trophy wielder: maybe after 30 years of false dawns and fits and starts, it is time for a new Caesar to build his empire on the banks of the River Irwell.

Other Tedious Stuff

Poets and Lyricists