Monday, December 19, 2011


And so it came to pass, the Big test arrived (the latest Big Test), another moment for everyone to cry "they've got no balls!", a giant thermometre ritually inserted where there is little light but much air, to see if the volcanic temperatures prove that Manchester City are boiling over. They just can't hack it, you see, those mercenaries that play for themselves instead of the team, break curfews and shoot fireworks through their shower curtains.

Barry: critics running for cover
That incredible unbeaten league run, which lasted until Stamford Bridge last Monday (12th December. Does anybody remember the last time City went unbeaten until ten days before Christmas? I can't even remember City being unbeaten during the ten days before Christmas....) had come to an end in a hail of flashing legs and a shower of biblical rain. Having run the dark blues ragged for twenty minutes, the Weather Gods had teamed up with the Football Gods and decreed that enough was enough. And quite right too. This sudden imperiousness will bring on a coronary otherwise amongst those of us more used to wiping the shame and embarrassment from our brows.

For people with large football brains (LFB) this meant a juicy moment of truth against Arsenal, the form team, carrying with them in to a cold barren Manchester afternoon the form player in Robin van Persie. The obituaries were already being written. Ian Wright fizzed electrically about balls and asses, mental strength and baby orangutan. The Nevilles prepared themselves for lift-off. Piers Morgan called City fans "oil-suckers". It was all going to go off big time. The nation held its breath long and hard, daring that harrumphing sound to come out right on time.

Millwall, Cardiff, Bury. Jamie Pollock´s greasy forehead.

And when the game of football started, what did the people with LFB witness? A rip-roaring match in which Arsenal did indeed bring their crisp confident form to town. And were beaten. Beaten by a powerful, willful, committed and elegant Manchester City side playing the open, one-touch slide rule football that has had many sky blue devotees rubbing their eyes in disbelief for most of the season so far. Chicken tikka-taka writ large, served with raita and popadoms, chappatis and chutney. Let us not forget (how the hell could we) that if this season's lights went out now, immediately, irredeemably, 2011 would be remembered for the rest of our lives as the year that contained not a single home defeat, an FA Cup win, entry into the Champions League, a 5-1 win at Spurs, a 6-1 win at Old Trafford and a cup win at Arsenal. If they carted us all off to the Maine Road in the sky now, there would be no kicking and screaming. If they put me back on the Brian Horton Elephant Pills tomorrow, I wouldn't squeal for a single second.

Macclesfield, Stockport, Northampton, Lincoln. Walking aggressively at Walsall. Feeling ill at York. Etcetera.

Telegraph readers stunned by marks out of ten
Arsenal at least did themselves justice, playing with a verve and vigour that many visitors to the Etihad these days seem too feeble or frightened to attempt. Hats and beret's off to them for that, despite the wall of bleating and neighing from the ranks of their supporters. "Cash v Class" being one of the more oft-repeated ineptitudes. They contributed fully to a vibrant, swashbuckling spectacle, which will have had many more than just the committed watching agog for the entire pulsating ninety-four minutes. The match hardly stopped for breath, yet, within this typical British breathlessness, were alarmingly few of the skewed passes, hurried clearances into Row J, Keystone cops defending, rugby stadium finishing. Only when the lumbering Mertesacker hove into view (curiously, he is a German) did the ball hit buttocks and head for the cameras. This was a high tempo match full of neat intricate passing, razor sharp through balls, excellent goalkeeping and high endeavour. Silva, Nasri, Arteta and even big Yaya stood out for their ability to thread, prod and link. Gareth Barry, that poor man's implement, did yet again what he has done all season: plugging gaps, linking team-mates, spreading play, carving routes through to Aguero and Balotelli further forward. Pace of a tugboat maybe, but just feel the quality of the work he puts in in that unnoticed zone: the clear-up patch.

It will no doubt have disappointed a few to witness certain solid pillars of truth and reason that are handy to grab onto in a pub argument had just vanished into thin air: Here are the things that will not have made it within 40 miles of Mark Ogden's Telegraph piece today:

  • Balotelli can be relied upon. He can contribute a hard shift of running and chasing without tangible reward; he doesn't always rush down the tunnel in a huff because he has been subbed against his will; 
  • Zabaleta is more than capable of putting an international speed merchant like Theo Walcott in a small box marked "done and dusted" and clasping it shut with masking tape; 
  • Gareth Barry can bestride a midfield containing Silva; Nasri and Yaya and still show up as peerless; 
  • Superstars like Aguero can put in a blood and thunder performance despite squandering their side's best two chances and still have his head clear enough to place it (his head) alongside Vermaelen's swinging boot and set up the winning goal with bravery and elan; 
  • Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany can stand up and accept the loud applause for being best of breed in their positions this season; 
  • Kolo Touré can still hack it with the best when he diverts his thoughts from "does my bum look big in this home kit?".

Nevertheless and these wonderful discoveries notwithstanding, we can still find in a national daily newspaper of all places the following:

Vincent Kompany: 6 - Not the usual assured performance from the City captain, perhaps a side-effect of the unexpected change of defensive partner, with Joleon Lescott making way for Kolo Toure. 
Pablo Zabaleta: 6 - Not a natural left-back, but the Argentine rarely lets City down and he did well in place of the suspended Gael Clichy and injured Aleksandar Kolarov. Hit the post with a second-half strike.
Yaya Toure: 6 - Never as effective in a defensive midfield role as he is when playing in a more advanced position, but the Ivorian anchored well in tandem with Gareth Barry, despite his inclination to break forward.
Gareth Barry: 6 - Rightfully booked for a dangerous first-half challenge on Mikel Arteta, but the England midfielder otherwise did his usual steady job in front of the back four for City.
Per Mertesacker: 7 - When the German’s lack of pace is not exposed, he marshals the Arsenal defence well. Commanding in the air and his presence appears to be calming one for Szczesny.
Andrei Arshavin: On for Walcott, 69, 6/10, Marouane Chamakh: On for Mertesacker, 82, 6/10

Crack journalist begins another City match report
It is a particularly fruitless experience reading any match report involving Manchester City that is written by the Telegraph's Northern football correspondent, but this effort surely deserves highlighting. Whilst Touré and Barry conducted a spirited and eye-catching midfield battle against Arteta and Song, plugging gaps, delivering passes, squeezing and tackling like there was no tomorrow, Kompany and Zabaleta not only employed the powers of a titan to keep Gervinho, Walcott and Van Persie out, but also found the time and energy to take full part in various forays upfield, one of which culminated in the excellent Zabaleta rattling a post from way outside the box. For this 90-minute long display of guts and guile, they are awarded the same mark as Arsenal's two subs, Abbott and Costello, who provided the best display of ineptitude since the piano on the stairs gig back in 1947. Quite what has gone into Arshavin's tea since Euro 2008 is unclear, but, whatever it was, it would have put a shire horse to sleep for an entire winter.

To top the lot off, Mertesacker, a stumbling flour-sack of a defender, is awarded a higher score than any of them. The mind truly tingles with the expert opinions of the great and good. Maybe it was a Christmas joke, sent by the well-meaning to warm us all up on these cold pre-festive days. If so, it certainly got my blood circulating speedily, but not nearly as quickly and fluently as the sight of six-out-of-ten Vincent Kompany, the best central defender in the Premier League, striding out from the City area and charging past opponent after opponent on his way upfield. What a grand sight that was. What a grand old game it was too. What a shame some people cannot see the quality for wool before their eyes.

1 comment:

  1. 6/10 for that post, mate.... That is, an Ogden-style FabPabZab 6/10!


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