Wednesday, December 1, 2021

VILLAINS AND NICE GUYS

Season 1992-93, 18th April 1993, Vila Park, Birmingham. 

Aston Villa away, a different way.

After recent events between the two sides, when City's on-off purchase of Fabian Delph ended in the "on" position, a League Cup final brought unnecessary edge to the rivalry from some quarters and the record-breaking transfer of club icon Jack Grealish appeared to bring a communal breakdown upon the Aston Villa faithful, it is perhaps apt to cast our minds back almost exactly 30 years to the inaugural Premier League title race.

With just 4 games to go, challengers Blackburn and Norwich (yes, I know) had fallen by the wayside and only Villa stood between Manchester United and their first title in 26 years. The laughing had long stopped and Manchester was gripped with anxiety that the whole thing might end in tears and United might actually make it over the finishing line first.

As luck would have it 9th-placed City were set to travel to Villa Park for a match that would be essential if the home side wanted to keep pushing United for the title.

The travelling City fans left the locals in no doubt where their loyalties lied.



It is not clear whether the banner made it through the match or whether the notorious West Midlands constabulary had it removed for inciting a riot (they had some strange ideas about policing the football in the 80s and 90s. You could be arrested there for pointing at Tony Daley's hair), but the message was clear: go out and do it for us all.

Villa duly won this game 3-1, despite Niall Quinn not reading the script and putting City ahead, but the title was United's, in the end by an unnecessarily wide margin of 10 points as Villa fell away.

When the Villa fans roll out their expletives for Grealish and their inevitably irony-free songs of "where were you when you were shit", cast your minds back to the beautiful détente of 1993.
 
Niall Quinn makes things unnecessarily complicated, putting City ahead before half-time.
















Thursday, November 4, 2021

AND HERE COME THE BELGIANS


In a performance that started well, turned rocky for a short while but eventually evened itself out, City manoeuvred ahead of PSG to the top of Group A and onto the verge of a ninth consecutive group stage qualification. A far cry from the Groups of Death under Roberto Mancini when Madrids followed Bayerns like limousines pulling away from an environment conference.    

There were more titbits to take away from the game, however, than a simple wrapping up of the Belgian champions on a 9-2 aggregate score from the two ties. These days, watching Guardiola's men approach the challenge of group stage football in this cup of all cups is a nerveless affair. You sit safe in the knowledge that this is a club, with players, an attitude and a proven track record, which allows for hiccups along the way but lets little else derail them.

This new feel really kicked forward under the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, proven performers at the very highest levels, utterly unphased by the sorts of opponents the City of old would have dissolved in front of like an Angel Delight left out in a heavy downpour of acid rain. 

Back in the days of the groups of Death, certain players began to work on City's deathly mentality.

Here, a slapstick Bruges equaliser off John Stones' nose threatened briefly to make City look a little daft, after their undressing by Palace at the weekend. Where are the strikers, where are the goals coming from, we prepared to shriek at anyone who would listen. But goals did come, many of them assisted by the twinkling toes of Joao Cancelo, busy having another of his rollercoaster seasons that encompass the good, the bad and the perky. The Portuguese can be an infuriating watch, with his uncontrolled charges into the hinterland and flicks and tricks that would go nicely in the opposition box but look a little risky in our own. Nevertheless, he is a unique weapon in City's armoury, another Pep invention, an all-purpose right back playing on the left but actually being used as a marauding wide midfielder and false pivot. Here his three assists were bolstered by a shot onto the post to go with his goal in Belgium. The kid just doesn't know when to stop and that's probably a good thing.

Talking of falsity, people still ask the question. With every goalless shambles a la Palace there comes a new reckoning, a new wave of opprobrium for allowing a real live Champions League contender to come out of the new season blocks without a proper Number Nine.  

Sterling's faint whiff of a return to form against Palace was given more strength against Bruges, as the goalless striker finally popped one in, albeit from two yards out. Is his touch returning? Does he look slightly more ready for action? Can you notice slight changes in his control and confidence or is it just hope playing its feeble games with our eyesight?


Sterling finally finishes one off after going from February with just two goals (it's now November).

The question remains about this squad's ability to put more difficult games to bed. Against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge blanket control prevailed; at Anfield a similar hold only delivered a single point after Liverpool struggled free of the vice like grip they had been in; at the Parc des Princes similar control led to an albeit unlucky two-goal defeat. 

Eager eyes will watch City's efforts at the weekend to see if any patterns are actually emerging. While United have been mostly an uncoached shambles under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, their record against City is fine and Guardiola will not want that to continue in 2021-22, a season where City have stronger challengers in both the Premier League and the Champions League. 

In the meantime, bask in the knowledge that, from Roger Palmer through to Phil Foden, City's grip on Belgium's finest remains almost total. The stats tell the story of a ride worth taking.








 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

MIRROR IMAGE: CARNAGE AT HOME TO PALACE

MANCHESTER CITY 0-2 CRYSTAL PALACE  |  MANCHESTER CITY 1-3 CRYSTAL PALACE

Saturday 30th October 2021  |  Saturday 5th December 1987



✅💣 EXPLOSIVE RED CARD SINKS CITY'S CHANCES | In 1987, chasing a promotion place back to the elite, City's 12-match unbeaten run came to an end as goalkeeper Eric Nixon exploded into action with a double booking in separate incidents with Palace striker Mark Bright. Taking the law into his own hands, Nixon punched the Palace raider on the nose after a "collision" going for a through ball. Fast forward to 2021 and Aymeric Laporte also decided to police pacey Palace strikers according to his own personal rule book, disregarding the regulations of the game. In wrestling the slippery Wilfried Zaha to the ground, he too fell foul of a picky referee, this time the ineffable Andre Marriner, and was sent for the much-heralded early bath.

2-GOAL DEFICIT PROVES TOO MUCH TO CLAW BACK |  Nixon's 1987 theatrics completely torpedoed City's chances, as his red card also coincided with the award of a penalty that brought Palace level. From there, with a man extra and a bemused Steve Redmond deputising in goal, the visitors ran riot. Laporte also chose exactly the wrong moment to leave his team mates to it, as City were beginning to mount a concerted effort to get back on level terms after an early Palace breakthrough. Once he had departed, however, right on half time, when City could conceivably have had a chance to regroup and reorganise, City's chances were reduced to next-to-nothing.


✅🚨 PACEY PALACE ATTACKERS TIE CITY IN KNOTS |  For Mark Bright and Ian Wright, substitute modern day nemeses Wilfried Zaha and Odsonne Edouarde. On both occasions Palace arrived in Manchester with a pair of jet-heeled attackers that proceeded to make hay in the open spaces left by an opposing team trying to cover for having a man less. On both occasions the striker, who was embroiled in the red card scene was the one to wreak the goal havoc too, Zaha netting early on and Bright bagging two late goals in 1987.

✅😠 UPROAR IN THE STANDS  |  On both occasions the referee's actions brought lively scenes to the stands, with the 1987 match marked by referee John Deakin being hit on the head by a coin as he left the Maine Road pitch. In the modern reworking of A Palace Coup, Andre Marriner had to put up with a simple everyday barrage of abuse, questioning everything from his judgment to his parentage. With the home support in a state of advanced ferment in both matches, the players could not fail to be caught up in the lively atmosphere, leading to the inevitable...


✅🥊 ...MASS BRAWL AND PRETEND FISTICUFFS!!!  |  Ah, the wonderfully cathartic effect of a "seemingly unjust" red card. Seen through the rounded prism of the infamous home beer goggles, any of Andre Marriner's works can be viewed as skewed at the best of times, but there is nothing quite like a dubious, VAR-induced frenzy to get the juices flowing. With Zaha widening his eyes to a degree that would chasten a bull terrier, the home players saw fit to wade in. Similarly in '87, with Bright clearly aware of Nixon's earlier yellow card (he had been involved in the incident, after all), his calculated actions also brought the house down, on and off the pitch, with City's most combustible firebrands, Neil McNab and John Gidman, quick to whisper sweet nothings in the Palace man's ear hole. Both men were booked for their troubles, while the crowd got so worked up that one individual divested himself of his loose change in the direction of John Deakin's upright bonce.


The more things change, the more they stay the same....










Friday, October 22, 2021

86 GAMES


As
it states in Tim Rich’s excellent collaboration with Brian Horton, the ex-City manager and Brighton midfield terrier clocked up over 2,000 games in the English professional game, bettered only by Alex Ferguson and Graham Turner. It is quite a feat.

It is a true testament to the staying power of a player who was tenacious, skilled and perceptive for Port Vale, Luton and Brighton and a manager, who was imbued with all the best qualities of the British game.

Tasked with the unenviable job of picking up the pieces at City (a repetitive theme in the 80s and 90s), Horton was also saddled with expectation levels that would have flattened an ox.

The infamous Brian Who headline that met his eyes on Day One at Maine Road would have squashed lesser men, but Horton threw himself into the job with enthusiasm and passion, his performances in front of the press matching his team's energetic efforts out on the pitch.


Against the odds, he produced a swashbuckling side that, for a while at least, produced some of the best attacking football City fans can remember.

Often unafraid to play what looked like a front four, occasionally five when they got carried away, it brought unforgettable away days at QPR in the League Cup (4-3), title-chasing Blackburn Rovers (3-2) and a home game with Spurs (5-2), which the BBC’s John Motson christened “one of the best matches I have ever commentated on”.

That Ballet in the Rain will forever be remembered as the quintessential Brian Horton City match. The flow was non-stop, with both sides enjoying periods of flamboyant dominance. Spurs, led for the last time by Ozzie Ardiles, played their part, by attempting to take on City at their own expansive game. The result was a veritable feast of attacking football in an absolute downpour, which, thanks to the redevelopment of the Kippax, cost many people their clothing. 


The loss of a sodden pullover or a wrecked pair of trainers was small beer for the entertainment that was delivered in shovel-loads. It was a game where City's promise shone brightly and continued to flicker at Loftus Road the following midweek, when a League Cup tie refused to go quietly. It was all such heart-warming stuff and, to give it the compliment it is due, sits comfortably alongside some of the better efforts of Kevin Keegan, Manuel Pellegrini and even Pep Guardiola.

Horton's team lacked consistency, however, and when trouble arrived, City took off in the wrong direction. Within two games of the Spurs and QPR rollickings, City went down, unforgivably 0-5 at Old Trafford. The season drifted badly and was only saved from disaster by two more Hortonesque displays of cavalier football, a 2-1 Easter win over Liverpool at Maine Road, when Maurizio Gaudino skipped the light fantastic and the afore-mentioned win at Ewood, seemingly handing the title to United. 



  

Patience draws thin, however.

Horton’s time was soon up, with Alan Ball seen as a safer pair of hands for the Premier League struggles ahead. Within three years City were in the third division. 

Brian Horton had long gone by then, but the memories of some of the brightest matches of a truly dark decade in City’s history would stay with us until better times arrived.


Future City star Trevor Sinclair is one of the celebrating players as QPR win 3-2 in the last
game of the 94-95 season, Brian Horton's final game as manager of City













Sunday, August 29, 2021

MIRROR IMAGE: CITY 5-0 ARSENAL

MANCHESTER CITY 5-0 ARSENAL |  MANCHESTER CITY 1-5 ARSENAL

Saturday 28th August 2021 | Saturday 22nd February 2003



✅🗽 STATUES | On the day that the club unveiled brand new statues in memory of two players who were amongst those most responsible for dragging Manchester City kicking and screaming into the bright light of success, Arsenal's rearguard decided to mimmick the metalic leviathons standing motionless on the club's forecourt. 

In 2003 it was also a day for statues, featuring Steve Howey, David Sommeil and the irrepressible Jihai Sun, all of whom did their best impressions of pillars of cement as the light-footed Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires waltzed through time and again.

✅👱 DUMBSTRUCK BLONDES | Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno could not really be faulted for any of the goals but instead stood slack-jawed as his defenders defied the laws of gravity by falling over things that didn't exist, running into each other when there seemed space not to and using their muscly limbs to no effect whatsoever. Carlo Nash had watched with similar distaste in 2003 as his colleagues had melted into the weak February sunshine at the prospect of trying to defend against Thierry Henry.


✅💥 SHREDS/TATTERS | Whichever happens to be your go to phrase for ripping stuff up, there were mirror images here too, with the Manchester Evening News' Simon Stones going for "shreds" to describe the 2003 imbalance, while the Observer's Richard Jolly opted for "tatters" to describe yesterday's mismatch.

Clearly in both cases, the defences were not only in need of counselling afterwards, but also a visit from someone with a needle and thread.

ALGERIAN INFLUENCE | In 2003, City's midfield was composed of the not inconsiderable bulk of the late Marc Vivien Foe, the not inconsiderable skills of Eyal Berkovic plus Djamel Belmadi. Although the latter has resurfaced to great effect in recent times as his country's national coach, in 2003 his influence on this game was something just short of minimal. Even the introduction of another Algerian as subtitute in the form of crowd favourite Ali Benarbia made only a slight difference to the flow of play. Fast forward 18 years and City also brought on an Algerian subtitute yesterday in Riyad Mahrez. 


✅👏 STANDING OVATION | Arsenal's first half efforts in 2003 had brought them a four-goal lead after 19 minutes and, by half time, the home fans were beginning to indulge themselves in a large slice of Schadenfreude. A standing ovation awaited the Arsenal team as it left the Maine Road pitch at half time. Although the Arsenal fans could not quite manage a similarly selfless effort this time around, they could be seen celebrating City's third goal. The standing ovation on this occasion was reserved for the slight figure of Bernardo Silva, leaving the pitch whilst wiping a tear from his eye, a sure sign that his time at the club is running into its finals minutes.


The more things change, the more they stay the same....

   

Saturday, August 21, 2021

MIRROR IMAGE: CITY 5-0 NORWICH

MANCHESTER CITY 5-0 NORWICH CITY

(Saturday 26th July 2020 - Saturday 21st August 2021)


✅⚽ 5-0 - Two consecutive home games in the Premier League versus Daniel Farke's open and pliable Norwich City have returned identical results. Add to this the fact that City have hit a seven, a six, another five and a four in the last 11 Premier League fixtures between the two sides and you can easily see why Norwich are, both in Premier League terms and historically speaking, one of City's most welcome guests.

✅ 👀 Same scorers - Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling scored in both games, while Gabriel Jesus, scoring one two seasons ago, assisted two this time around.

2-0: In both games City went in at the break two goals up.

✅🎤: "I am a bit disapppointed with the scoreline." - Daniel Farke, Norwich manager, 26/7/20

             "I am a bit disappointed with the way we conceded our goals" - Daniel Farke, Norwich                             manager, 21/8/21



✅✈ - On both occasions the match, despite being the scene of an avalanche of goals, was dominated by thoughts of departures and arrivals. In the 2020 match v Norwich David Silva played his last-ever game at the Etihad and would become a Real Sociedad player later in the summer. Fast forward 14 months and the talk was of new signing Jack Grealish, making his first-ever Etihad appearance and scoring the second goal, to become the first City home debut scorer since Frank Lampard in 2014. 

The departure of perhaps City's greatest play-maker ever and the arrival of one who could eventually match his output.



✅🔑 - "Once Norwich go a goal down, they seem unable to respond - in the 27 games where they have fallen behind in the league this season, they have ended up losing all of them, and are the only team in Premier League history to fail to recover a single point from a losing position in an entire campaign...." stated the BBC website in 2020. Farke's men will do well to put an end to this tradition, if they want to avoid a similar fate (relegation) to that which met them after this ffixture in 2020.


✅👏 - On both occasions, spectators were in the news. With the Covid pandemic taking a hold, City's game in July 2020 had to be played behind closed doors. This time, a home crowd reappeared into the (half-) light to clap their heroes back onto the turf for the first time since March 2020. The emotions of playing in front of a crowd once again representing a welcome return to normal for players and fans alike.


 

5-PLUS - Since Pep Guardiola's arrival in the Premier League there have been 49 games won by 5-0 or above, 23 of these by City themselves (47%), including the last two against Norwich City via OptaJoe


✅⚽ - Raheem Sterling's goal in July 2020 meant that he was the first English player to net 20 goals for City in a season since Brian Kidd in 1976-77.

            - Raheem Sterling's goal in August 2021 meant that he became the 41st player to score for City in 7 different seasons.  


The more things change, the more they stay the same.... 








Thursday, August 19, 2021

LAUGHING AT ONESELF


In
1970 when decimilisation and Berni Inns were invented, for the good people of Britain, used as they were to dragging their tired bodies down to sooty pubs lying under dense banks of cigarette fog and paying for pints of mild with bits floating in them in shillings, the world probably seemed to be turning a little faster than they thought they could cope with. 

Things have changed a little since then, of course, and sports clothing firm Puma seem this week to be pedalling just that little bit harder than everyone else to recreate the feeling of dizzying speed our forbears must have been dazzled by in 1970.  

In time to come, historians will note that "City's astonishing 2021 third kit unveiling felt like one of those moments when society moved on and many people shouted hey, wait a sec, you're going too fast".

Puma are not going too fast. Their smartly trousered marketing executives will tell you they are going just fast enough to stay ahead of Bruder Adidas and the huge bad smell that is Nike. The immutable truth is that this is the next page of the adventure, whether old stick-in-the-muds like it or not. It was the same for everyone in 1970 when well-educated Mike Jagger (soon to rename himself Mick) started talking to tv hosts in a cockney accent that moved him quickly down the all-important social ladder. The world was moving fast, a little too fast and the rest of us were playing catch-up.

It has been quite a week at Manchester City, what with the announcement we will have edible coffee cups at the Etihad too, as well as transfer bids the size of banker's salaries being put in for any number of international-grade strikers, some of whom we have never heard of before and others who we wish we hadn't. It has been quite a wait for Harry Kane, but an even longer one for drinks recepticles that we can eat. Finally something is set to budge. 

In the 1985 close season, with City fans chomping at the tops of their Fanta tins after promotion the previous May in a match against Charlton Athletic that left many separated from friends and items of clothing by the end, the club's startling array of new recruits - including let it be said, nay shouted, Sammy McIlroy - appeared in frisky pre-season training mode wearing the previous season's away kit, plastered with a sticker announcing "Umbro Training". 

McIlroy's facial expression said it all. 

Sartorially inept in 1985 as well. 

This was how the late, great Peter Swales managed the budget. Fast forward four decades and still we are wearing strange clothes that others will see fit to laugh at. Feel free at this juncture to spare a kind thought too for our brothers and sisters at Fenerbahce, Valencia, Marseille, AC Milan and Monchengladbach, all of whom have also been left with their sartorial trousers around their ankles by the teenage design hotshots at PumaHouse.

Perhaps even more heart-warming than the club's evident willingness to hold on to their hard-won reputation for quirkiness is that, despite all the gales of propaganda about world class strikers, the opening day belly flop at Tottenham revealed the three-year wait for a proper left back to be an even more glaring hole in our pyjamas. With no striker to talk of and some other areas of the formation that hardly bore thinking about, it was a tear-inducing scene. The left side of defence in particular appeared to be laughing at us, rather than the more traditional other way around. There stood the by now indescribable Benjamin Mendy. To say the lad's display was erratic would have suggested there were also good things going on out there on his patch, but still, at least he was wearing a reasonably alright kit.

This led to some making an obvious link between the week's most eye-catching developments...

    

A bold move by Puma. Fair play. pic.twitter.com/IB02SnhRVI


With no space for, of all things, the club crest, it remains something of a masterstroke that Puma have managed to edge in their own logo top and centre, above everything else, a welcome reminder of what is important in these modern footballing times. Perhaps in times that come, we might mix the current thinking with some of City's previous Champions League change strips and create a kit that subscribes to none of the old rules at all and can be, at turns, a pyjama, an outfit for a night out in Morecambe or something to muck out the chickens in, if you are lucky enough to have any in these times of disease and instability. 

For a while, we were all beginning to take it, and by association, ourselves, a bit too seriously. So, thank you, City, and thank you, Puma, for reminding us what we are all really here for.  











 

VILLAINS AND NICE GUYS

Season 1992-93, 18th April 1993, Vila Park, Birmingham.   Aston Villa away, a different way. After recent events between the two sides, when...