Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE ART OF TIMING

Chelsea and Roma may well like to take note. A significant corner has been turned in season 14-15.

Manchester City, in this majestic form, are building up a head of steam just when it is most needed. Roma away will decide who goes through with Bayern to the knockout stages of the Champions League and the December league fixtures stretch out in front of us in a string of approachable, winnable games leading all the way to 2015.

Looking at this sumptuous performance on the ground of City's greatest nemesis of recent years, the powers that be at the Italian giants will be scrurrying back to revise their gameplan in double quick time. What looked like a highly promising opportunity to progress now appears like a grim challenge laced with poison for the Italians.

For all those saying tonight was a watershed, that important point was clearly reached during the dying minutes of the Champions League match at home to Bayern, when City - having been outplayed by the ten men of the Germans - somehow managed to pull a positive result out of the hat. The relief could be felt immediately. Elation and relief. But do not get the two mixed up. It may have felt a little like the Aguero moment against QPR all over again, but this was a moment of cold realisation for all around, that Manchester City had not lost any of their powers and were about to remind all those doubters what they had to offer.

So quick are we to jump on the slightest sign and portray it as the death of an empire that some were heralding Chelsea as champions elect without even letting the 2014-15 season drop into a decent rhythm. Foolish as they may look this evening, it is safe to say that City are now hard on the Londoners' coat tails, with much of the old swagger back on show, the old dash and panache to the fore and with half a team still to return from injury.

How quickly the tide can turn.

Post Bayern (and this will surely be seen as some sort of magical marker in this 14-15 season) we have seen two majestic away wins at grounds traditionally rendering little or nothing for City. Moreover, a 3-0 win at St Mary's and a 4-1 stroll at the Stadium of light do not simply represent a change of fortune, but a tidal wave of confident, lazer fast one touch passing through the side to an individual at the pointy end of the operation, who is outdoing himself on a weekly basis.

Stand up and take several bows, Sergio Aguero.

The little man has received the plaudits from all directions of late, but - from a City point of view - we are surely watching the best striker ever to don the sky blue shirt in the long and illustrious history of this great club. I go back a fair way, less than some, more than many, and have enjoyed many years of watching City strikers carry out their difficult job as best they could. From the sharp finishing of Denis Law, the inimitable goal-poaching of Franny Lee, the elegant left foot finishes of Neil Young and the eloquent extravagance of Rodney Marsh, the dash and panache of striker on the wing Dennis Tueart, the goals from all angles and heights of beanpole Niall Quin and the score with any part of the body available Shaun Goater, a good many have passed before our eyes, but none with the combination of power, balance, acceleration, touch, control, awareness and deadly finishing that Sergio Aguero possesses.

To watch the little man from Buenos Aires carry the game single handedly to a visibily petrified defence is quite something to behold. His touch, his assuredness, his need for no time at all are from another dimension. For a young man who grew up with the sound of gunfire backing his efforts on the dry dust football fields of his parched youth, it is those that try to bar his way to goal that are now worried about being taken out by sniper fire.

With nineteen goals dispatched already, Aguero is on target to complete his best ever season in the Premier League. Steer clear of injury and surely the awards will come at season end for a player on the very unplayable apex of his abilities. Before being removed from the field of play at The Stadium of Light this evening, Aguero was enjoying an average evening (for him) having sent the City equaliser into the net with such ferocity and assuredness of touch that Costel Pantilimon looked like he had been bolted to the turf with a staple gun. The net would surely have sailed away had it not been well fixed to the North East turf.

His part in the second goal was an exquisite one touch flick under pressure to get the ball as quickly as was humanly possible to the waiting Stevan Jovetic, who smacked it with aplomb into the Sunderland net.

His third magic moment came after 70 minutes, turning James Milner's cross into the net with a piece of impudent, clinical, ultra-accurate finishing that we are perhaps sadly beginning to take for granted. Do not take anything he does for granted. Do not look upon his actions and think quietly to yourself, here goes the little fella again, because his is the art of an athlete at the very pinnacle of his powers, a low slung one man battering ram with the gentle caress of a fine artist. The fourth and final City goal
was no ordinary finish but the work of a man in the absolute peak of condition. That he was spared further loss of sweat shortly afterwards was understandable with Everton arriving in Manchester at the weekend and the all important trip to Italy coming up next midweek.

In the meantime, we had witnessed another startling break forward end with right back Pablo Zabaleta lifting the ball over Pantilimon with the deft touch of Lionel Messi, a sturdy night's work from an initially perturbing centre back partnership of Boyata and Demichelis, the continuing lively improvemetn of Yaya Touré and Fernandinho's seasons, a rocket-heeled display of the full back's art from Gael Clichy, the first signs of real cohesion from Stevan Jovetic and an all round team performance which augurs more than well for the next few weeks.

Manchester City are returning to the kind of exhilirating form that has brought them two league titles in the last three seasons and countless unforgettable scenes that we will take with us to the grave. It might just be that Sergio Kun Aguero -in this kind of form- is set to outdo anything we may have witnessed so far.

WEARSIDERS TO ACT ON INSIDE INFORMATION




Dashing Southern hemipsheric Sunderland manager Gus Poyet has explained to the Guardian that he is utterly bewildered by the North East side’s recent record v Manchester City (he is not alone in this), telling the Guardian “It’s incredible, it’s unique, it’s a thing of rare and fragile beauty. I cannot and should not explain it, I don’t know how and I don’t know why and I don’t even know who, but I would take a fifth 1-0 at home without very much persuasion at all. That would be perfect. Absolutely perfect and quite lovely.

Poyet’s Sunderland, almost wholly unspectacular unless fighting against relegation, can count three ex-City players and two ex-United players in their ranks. This, says the manager, can work in their favour.

Jack Rodwell, Costel Pantilimon and Adam Johnson have been spending the week telling their new team mates about how the visitors will play, but a slightly frustrated Lee Cattermole told the Sunderland Evening Bugle this afternoon, “It’s all very well like, but I’m not too bothered what kind of runs John Guidetti makes, nor do I want to listen to Adam telling me about all the potshots he beat Richard Wright with when the first team was off on Champions League duty in Amsterdam. Costel keeps telling us about Karim Rekik’s penchant for going in early on players attacking from the right side, but I couldn’t care less if you pulled me shorts up really high.

Poyet, overhearing the pronouncements of his lead midfielder, said. “I think Lee is wrong to dismiss this. It’s what we call insider information. They know about City and I don't. They know things that we can only guess at. They have seen things not fit for our eyes. We talk about these things when the sun goes down and strange shadows play across the squares but it is so much easier when you can have it confirmed from the horse's mouth that Wright has –how you say - buttery fingers, Bruno Zuculini has a big temper if you pull his hair and Matija Nastasic is a bit on the quiet side when it comes to singing songs in the bath. All of this can help us get the upper hand once again and make it possible to weave yet another night of stunning colours and strangely intriguing patterns.”

Rodwell – who left City for Sunderland in the summer – played a total of 16 games in two years, but says he can remember every minute of it. “And what’s more,” he said, “I know full well that, if Yaya and Fernandinho are playing, that it is partly down to them that I have this smashing new career here at Sunderland.”

"I think it's fair to say these players have had the same view of Sergio Aguero as I have sitting halfway up the Colin Bell Stand," said a man with a flat cap and a red nose standing outside the Stonemason's Arms in Timperley. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL


1) THE RETURN OF THE MIDFIELD Looking at the broad grin playing across the face of Fernandinho at the edge of the pitch immediately after the 3-0 win at St Mary's, the casual onlooker would promptly have been reminded of the perfect image of relaxed happiness. For it to be Fernandinho's face that was shining like one of Santa's little helpers, told its own story.

The wiry little Brazilian has had a torrid few months off the back of the World Cup, where his country's 7-1 thrashing by Germany sent many into a spiral of serious self doubt. With the masses turning on Fernandinho (along with the log shaped Fred) as one of the main scapegoats, it is hardly surprising that he has been in subdued form so far this season for City.

The Southampton game saw something of a resurrection of the Fernandinho that played such a marked role in the second half of City's title winning season. The spring is back in his step, those little blocks and dinks and runs into space are suddenly coming naturally without the need to look, to think and to empty the lead weights from inside his boots.

The case of Yaya Touré has been an altogether more complicated one. Last season's goal machine has been replaced by a sometimes waddling, sometimes grazing Ivorian, looking not a shadow of the previous years of rumbustious attacking football, where he sometimes resembled a runaway bus with its passengers grimly trying to hang on at the back. But Touré too is waking up, with the goals beginning to go in and those encouraging signs of energy returning. The Blues may only have him for another month before the African Nations starts up, but his forceful presence can make a significant difference throughout a December packed with tricky but distinctly winnable games.

2) THE PLAYER OF THE YEAR UPFRONT The amount of words devoted to Sergio Aguero in the last three weeks is beginning to look like a government white paper. There has been a never-ending flow of high praise and plaudits from all strata of the British media and beyond. For once everyone seems to be in agreement about his worth to City and his ability in general. With Suarez gone, City can rightly claim to have the best player currently performing on the Premier League stage.

3) PELLEGRINI LOOKING FRESH That dreadful hang dog look has lifted. Has he had a hair cut too? Something has risen from the shoulders of the City manager and, whilst he will never be a man with a creace-free face, he looks fresher and more optimistic for the first time in weeks. He can see, like we can see, like everyone can see, that things are picking up, that form is coming back and that progress towards that top spot can now be resumed. With David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov all due back shortly, he knows that his suddenly sprightly looking side is about to be augmented by three more than useful players.

4) DANGER FREE DECEMBER The month leading up to Christmas is always one of the busiest sections of the season, where the chaff is separated from the wheat. City's schedule - already freed of Capital One Cup commitments and in grave danger of having Champions League time go the same way - is a relatively comfortable one right through to the end of the year. Chelsea's itinerary looks to be marginally more difficult, but few are the opponents for either side who carry the look of possible pitfalls. By the arrival of the New year, we may see the Londoners' comfortable six point lead cut back further.

5) MAGICIAN'S SUDDEN COMEBACK Take David Silva out of the equation and City can look more than a little toothless at times. Whilst they are far from a one man team, Silva's unique brand of midfield prompting is hard to replicate. Samir Nasri, easing his way back from injury himself, reached levels of brilliance last season that dovetailed beautifully with his Spanish midfield partner, but so far has not hit the same heights, as he seeks proper match fitness. Silva sees passes others don't, he threads the ball through holes that look to be closed or closing; he twists and turns until his markers get motion sickness. With the little magician back in the side, a City team beginning to pick up pace, will become stronger still.

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