Manchester City win 2012 Community Shield

Manchester City came from behind and withheld late pressure from Chelsea as they claimed their first silverware of the 2012/13 season thanks to goals from Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri.

Chelsea had taken the lead through Fernando Torres just before half-time but a blistering second half blew them away, a late Ryan Bertrand goal merely a consolation in an enthralling start to the new football season.  Continue reading

The eventual English comprehension of Mario Balotelli

On Sunday evening Manchester City faced Arsenal in a game that, pretty much, could see their title chances either fade away or give hope of a possible resurgence.
With rivals United drifting to a 2-0 win over QPR earlier, victory at the Emirates was needed.  A Mikel Arteta strike soon put paid to that, though, leaving City eight points behind United with six games to go. Mathematically possible, sure, but – in reality – it is hard to see City putting in a convincing performance at the minute, never mind United slipping up at this late stage.
The fluidity and sheer power seen in the first half of the season has completely evaporated for City. And the man that has, slowly but surely, taken most of the flak for this demise is the man who was so revered just months ago, the ‘character’ of the Premier League, the ‘enigma’.
English football, it seems, has finally turned on Mario Balotelli.
It’s been coming. As stupid hats and toilet trips turned into car crashes and hookers, Balotelli’s actions became less innocent, more idiotic. All of a sudden, Balotelli wasn’t the lovable rogue – he’s disruptive, a trouble-maker. He’s the problem.

 

Of course, he’s not the problem at Manchester City, just one of many. There were players who put in worse performances against Arsenal, but some dangerous tackles, petulant play and a general futility up front are all more high-profile than the complete ineffectiveness of James Milner, or a clearly-exhausted performance from Sergio Aguero.
The second-half collapse of City’s season is down to many, many things but Balotelli is the easy target. When winning, a maverick’s fun; when losing, he’s a detriment to the side.
Of course, Balotelli has had poor stages of his Manchester City career and that will impact on his team, but the way in which he’s being used as a scapegoat seems a little harsh on the young Italian.
Yet, the 21-year-old has been playing football long enough now to know that going into a tackle with studs showing is stupid and doing it in a vital game such as Sunday’s is certainly that, to an almost infuriating level. It is hardly surprising, then, that Mancini feels he can’t trust Balotelli, and now seems ready to cut ties with the man he has placed so much faith in both in Manchester and Milan.
The dangerous tackles are nothing new and the free-kick blusters and common on-pitch arrogance (or ‘swagga’ as it’s called when you’re winning) seem to have all taken their toll now. Surely the negatives largely outweigh the positives for Balotelli now, given that the positives seem so intermittent in occurring? 
Even the things that originally gave Balotelli cult-hero status have been dismissed as silly rumours. In the BBC interview with Mario, it turned out that the media – whomever their sources may be – fed the nation false stories on their latest headline-commanding Premier League footballer, while Balotelli came across as reserved and, really, rather shy.
And that’s the thing, in interviews Balotelli seems like a nice, affable chap. Entirely innocent although obviously with a cheeky side and an expert in not giving a fuck. Hardly arrogant, anyway.
 

He talks of working towards being the best rather than already being there, he’s reluctant to talk about his youth and, let’s not forget, this is a man just out of his teens who’s forced to live his life under the spotlight of country that expects the very best of the celebrity youth. He’s immediately likeable, then.
But then we get to the business end of the season. Football likes its mavericks but they have to turn it on when needed. They have to be professional when it really matters. You mess about on our terms, basically.
Interruptions of Inter Milan press conferences are as bizarre as they are bewildering and one wonders whether Balotelli misses home, and the continual assertion that he’s at Manchester City because of Mancini rather than any great affiliation with the club hints at a possible exit in the summer if Mancini has had enough, or even if Mancini departs Eastlands.
Will the Premier League miss Balotelli? The striker does bring the odd chuckle, a smile to the face of fans bored by banal footballers who make up a game that is meant to be entertaining.
But a man who infuriates his own manager and fans will not last long, no matter how many titters he delivers on a weekly basis.
At the start he was loved because it was promised that he would come good, that there was good in there. Now, with the discipline continually slipping and the form so erratic, the English seem to have finally worked out Mario Balotelli. And they, overall, don’t like what they see.

Manchester City and Mancini: two years on

Today marks Manchester City and 
Roberto Mancini’s two year anniversary.
Just hours after a Roque Santa Cruz double helped Manchester City to a 4-3 win over Sunderland in mid-December 2009, Sheikh Mansour and the City board issued a statement confirming that manager Mark Hughes had been sacked.

 

City had failed to win 41 of the 77 games Hughes took charge of. Despite spending close to £200 million during his City reign, the Welshman left City in 6thin the Premier League after eight draws in his last 11 games.
Sheikh Mansour and the City board decided that change was needed. They had already raised expectations themselves through vast investment, but they wanted to raise them even further. They required a manager who could not only believe in Manchester City’s potential, but achieve it also. Watching from the stands during the thrilling victory over Sunderland was one Roberto Mancini.
And despite the nature of the sacking – it was undoubtedly poorly done– it would be hard to argue that the change of manager was wrong.
The modern Manchester City are a club familiar with transition: passion and achievement with Kevin Keegan; potential but continuous disappointment with Stuart Pearce; promise but limited improvement with Sven Goran Eriksson; excitement but difficult boardroom goings-on and blind signings with Hughes.
And now high expectations – which have arguably been with the club since the Thaksin Shinawatra takeover in 2007 – are now being met under Mancini’s relentless rule.
The Italian is all about the small details. A self-confessed and proud perfectionist, Mancini gets his team to train as they would play, with strength, energy and passion. Not the meaningless kind of passion, though – the will to win, the desperation to play for the team and cement a place in the side.
The mentality of the players is important to Mancini. It was clear from the start of his tenure that he wanted to change the culture of the club; a squad that was used to second best. Out went Martin Petrov, Javier Garrido and Elano – in came, eventually, Kolo and Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, amongst many others.
It is a valid point to say that Mancini is incredibly fortunate to have a bottomless pit of money and so can go out and build his team; his Galacticos. However, as the much-used saying goes, you can have all the best individuals in the world – they won’t necessarily make a good team. To bring them together, to put the vision into practise and to turn them into a formidable team – and a well-utilised squad – requires an intuitive and astute manager.
Mancini’s style of play has been heavily criticised; the ‘defence first’, pragmatic approach draws easy criticism and hasty generalisations. The cautious play from City last season, though, has turned into – mostly – free-flowing football this term. A fantastically creative team and purveyors of possession football, City are now seen as one of the strongest sides in Europe (even despite their early Champions League exit) just three years after finishing 10th in the League after a massively mediocre season packed full with promises but delivering on few.
Of course, such an unyielding want for perfection and a willingness to change doesn’t work for everyone. While the majority of players will respond positively to Mancini’s philosophy of ‘work hard and show me why you deserve a place in the team’, it can sometimes translate as showing a lack of respect to certain players. But they are the players that Mancini has rid the club of – the players with the wrong mentality. The players who don’t want to fight for their place every week. The losers.
The public nature in which Mancini has discussed the Carlos Tevez Affair™ hasn’t exactly divided opinion because most will agree that Tevez is solely in the wrong. But players in the past have complained of treatment from Mancini – Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy notably – and it is here where the fine line between cutting through the cack to find a fearsome squad, all willing to work hard for the cause, and alienating players is seen.
Mancini was charged with helping Manchester City make their dreams become a reality; not an easy task even with the obscene investment from above. He guided them to their first major trophy since 1976 in the shape of The FA Cup, while the emphatic 6-1 victory over Manchester United earlier this season must surely go down as one of the greatest victories in the club’s history.
Manchester City’s project began some years ago and Mancini appears to be the right man to lead the club forward. Whether he will bring instant, complete success is doubtful but that would be no fun for Mancini anyway. He likes a challenge: “If we are successful, we change the history of this club and we change it for life”. Mancini’s project is two years old now but this really is only the beginning.
Photo from Serigrapher on Flickr.

Man City rule Manchester, but do they rule the Premier League?

It is the shift of power that was always going to happen. Manchester United and Chelsea continued to ignore the flaws in their respective sides. Manchester City were always going to power through with their deep pockets and reach the very top.

The Manchester derby scoreline was surprising but the result was not a shock. A cynic would suggest that City should be at the top given how much money they have spent;. A general view of opposition fans is that City are buying there way to the Premier League title.

But that doesn’t take away the fact that Roberto Mancini has the strongest squad in the top tier. A sad reflection on the state of world football that in football, the team with the most money – as long as they are run and managed well – will win. It is barely a relevant criticism to say City are buying the League and therefore devaluing the competition. This has been the case with various teams since 1992, and City are utilising this method to great effect – both on and off the pitch.
Last season the main disparagement with Mancini’s side was that they were too defensive, that they refused to release the handbrake. This season, City have kept the defensive resoluteness but added full-throttle attack.
Sergio Aguero (10 goals this season), Edin Dzeko (9) and Mario Balotelli (6) are strikers who would fit into any of the top sides in Europe on their day. Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson are players deserving of more recognition than a spot on the bench. Indeed, Man City have the best player in the Premier League: David Silva. An average of 3.6 goals per game this season doesn’t even tell half of the story; when Manchester City attack, they look like they’re going to score every single time.
An all-guns-blazing attacking force would usually result in weaknesses at the back. But this is a Mancini side. When City defend, they defend as a unit – and this is a unit that has been built over a short period of time, despite the fact that all defensive components look comfortable with one-another as they if they have been playing together for years.
Joe Hart must now be seen as one of the top goalkeepers in the world. The way in which he can command his area, distribute early and cleanly – not to mention his excellent shot-stopping – which is majestic at times.
In Micah Richards and Gael Clichy Man City have wonderful attacking full-backs who can defend as competently as well. While in the middle the supreme Vincent Kompany keeps them all in line, while the ever-improving yet always-mocked Joleon Lescott looks a lot more comfortable than he has done in recent years.
It is easy to laugh at Gareth Barry. But the defensive midfielder’s ability to play an unspectacular role is sometimes confused with ineffectiveness; the England man is vital to City’s efforts.
Yaya Toure was restricted to a more subdued role on Sunday to sure up the defence further, while James Milner appears to have converted himself into a first-class central midfielder. Both must be seen as two of the most in-form midfielders in the world right now.
Sunday’s derby was hardly a thrashing in the traditional sense, though. 3-1 would have been a fair reflection on the game but, nevertheless, a fantastic last few minutes from City and an appalling showing from United meant that three more goals were scored.
There is not a gulf between the two Manchester clubs. But there is sizeable gap between the two.
United need a creator in the middle; Tom Cleverley could be the man to fill this role but it is simply not possible to rely on such a young and inexperienced player, nor is it logical to depend upon the inconsistent Wayne Rooney to ignite a spark into any match. Patrice Evra has endured some torrid form for quite a while now, while Rio Ferdinand seems to edge closer towards the MLS with every passing minute. No empire is permanent. It seems as if the domination of Manchester United is coming to an end, either through fault of their own accord or the sheer relentlessness of their closest rivals.
City’s other main challenger has major problems too. Chelsea’s defence is weak, with John Terry and Ashley Cole struggling more as age catches up with them, while David Luiz still shows signs of rawness. Strikers Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba still aren’t the deadly forwards that they once used to be.
Whatever one’s views on the way in which City have reached their current position, their effectiveness and, at times, glorious football is undeniably brilliant. They score team goals that would fit into any end-of-season highlight packages but they also have the individual brilliance that every top team needs.
Manchester City are Premier League title favourites. At this early stage, that may seem a little hasty, especially when City had a similarly impressive start to the season last term. But this season looks to be different, even if it is just on paper. This season, City are not just a team of incredibly talented individuals – they are a ferocious, stunning team.

Manchester City aspire to end the repetitive cycle that has seen only three teams crowned Premier League champions since 1995.
This article originally appeared on The Football Front.

City frustrated as Villa revival begins

Darren Bent scores on his Aston Villa debut as Manchester City drop vital points in the Premier League. 

Bent celebrates his debut goal
(Picture courtesy of Sky Sports)

When the January transfer window is in full-swing, it is sometimes possible to forget that matches are actually played in the first month of the new year. Darren Bent’s transfer from high-flying Sunderland to relegation battling Aston Villa mystified many but mainly angered Black Cats boss Steve Bruce, yet it was the striker who scored the only goal of the game at Villa Park.
Manager Gerard Houllier didn’t waste any time in testing out his new acquisition, putting Bent up front on his own, although Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton were all quick to support when needed.


The build-up to the game had largely involved the comparison of Bent and Manchester City new-boy Edin Dzeko as both have been signed for fees of potentially £20 million upwards and both have superb scoring records in their respective leagues. The game, though, was not a match for attacking play. Villa were resolute and determined at the back and broke away on the counter-attack well, while City, by and large, struggled to create clear-cut chances and, when they did, they were wasted by a rather off-colour Carlos Tevez as well as lacklustre attacking options.

Villa, though, deserve a lot of credit. The central defensive partnership of Richard Dunne and James Collins seemed unbreakable for large parts of the game while, on either side of the defence, Carlos Cuellar and Ciaran Clark were solid defensively and useful going forward.

Roberto Mancini’s side’s defence, in comparison, has looked very frail in recent weeks, conceding seven goals in their last three games and the defence was again at fault for the opening goal. A misunderstanding inside City’s half meant that Young could pounce on the loose ball and, after his low shot was well saved by Joe Hart, Bent, in true poacher fashion, tapped home from four yards as the Villans welcomed a new hero.

City needed a response and they almost got one through centre-back Vincent Kompany, but the Belgian’s header was well dealt with by ‘keeper Brad Friedel who calmly tipped the ball over the bar. The chance had come from an Aleksander Kolarov corner and it was his set-pieces that were causing the most havoc inside the Villa penalty area, although Gareth Barry went close with a header just before the break in a first half lacking in chances.

City’s passing (see chalkboard below) was much better than Villa’s in the first half (85% pass completion for the Blues and 65% for Houllier’s side) but the team struggling at the bottom of the table very much frustrated the title-challenging club in the first half. Mancini’s side were successful in their passing in the middle of the pitch but, because of Villa’s set-up, they struggled to get into the final third and, when they did, the final ball wasn’t good enough.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

At the start of the second half, City attempted to get the ball forward a lot quicker with Tevez volleying hopelessly wide just a minute after the break after Nigel De Jong’s simple ball over the top.

Manchester City have been described as one-dimensional this season and, with their centralised set-up clearly failing, Mancini decided to haul Gareth Barry off for winger Adam Johnson, much to the delight of Villa fans who gave their former captain a lot of stick throughout the match. The substitution meant that City were slightly uneven in their formation, with Johnson operating mainly out on the right wing while David Silva and Yaya Toure pushed up through the middle. De Jong did a fine job in sitting as a defensive midfielder in what was his first meeting with referee Howard Webb after the infamous World Cup final (which saw the Dutchman sent off by Webb) but, with Kolarov unable to break forward quite as often and quickly as he would have liked, Dzeko was pulled out wide, leaving Tevez on his own up front.

The difference was that Villa had two hard-working wingers and two competent full-backs. Both Albrighton and Agbonlahor were happy to defend as well as push forward on the counter-attack, while Clark and Cuellar made for very difficult opposition for any player on the City wings.

Young continued in his central role at home for Villa and it was from this position that he nearly scored after sixty-five minutes. After getting away from De Jong twenty-five-year-old fired a shot towards the bottom corner of Hart’s goal, only for the England number one to thwart his international teammate with a fine stop.

While Villa were resilient defensively, they were not so radiant going forward especially in-so-far as the final ball. Albrighton (see chalkboard below) was particularly poor at times, getting into decent positions only to waste it by putting in a disappointing cross, the worst one coming with twenty minutes to go, firing over everyone in the box with Bent in a good goalscoring position.
The game seemed to dwindle out after the seventieth minute, although a De Jong effort from 20 yards would have crept into the bottom corner had it not been for the fortunate Clark. It was Villa, though, who had the final chance of the match, Young going close from three yards after good build-up play.

The win means that Villa are now three points above the relegation zone and, with Wigan, Blackpool and Blackburn all three of the four upcoming fixtures for Houllier, it looks as if the turn-around could be in full-swing in a few weeks time. City now lie third in the table, now three points behind local rivals Manchester United who have a game in hand, the first of which is Blackpool on Tuesday.

The result doesn’t mean that Villa’s problems are over, but a strong defensive performance against a good attacking side such as Manchester City is certainly promising and, if Houllier can hold on to players such as Young, Downing and Agbonlahor and get them all back to top-form, Villa could have a ferocious front-line, spearheaded by the eighteen million pound man – Darren Bent.

Aston Villa 1 – 0 Manchester City
Bent (18)

City power past Leicester in the FA Cup

Manchester City hit four past Leicester City in FA Cup thriller.

Picture courtesy of Sky Sports

Manchester City finally overcame Leicester in a six-goal spectacular after the poor showing against Sven Goran Eriksson’s side last week.

Goals from Carlos Tevez, Patrick Viera, Adam Johnson and Aleksander Kolarov sent City through to the next round, although a penalty from Paul Gallagher and a late Lloyd Dyer strike, as well as a Tevez penalty miss, did worry the blue side of Manchester for a few brief moments.
City made a clear statement with their starting line-up, with Roberto Mancini putting out a strong first eleven including captain Tevez, playing his second game in four days, with David Silva and Adam Johnson on the wings. Leicester, without new loan signing but ineligible Yakubu, played with Steve Howard as a lone striker.
Leicester started the better side and, after a cross seemed to cause confusion in the Manchester City defence, midfielder Andy King’s shot went over after the bar after good work from Howard, while centre-back Sol Bamba had a effort saved by Joe Hart just seconds later after the resulting corner. It was City, though, who had the best chance of the first five minutes –Johnson wasting the perfect opportunity to put Mancini’s side in front after he was put through on goal by Tevez. The former-Middlesbrough midfielder’s weak strike went straight at Leicester ‘keeper Chris Weale although Johnson seemed to be slipping as he steadied himself to shoot.
It wasn’t long though before City started to get a foothold in the game and, after a Jerome Boateng throw-in seemed to evade anyone in a yellow shirt, Tevez darted in and out between two Foxes defenders and fired into the far corner, past a helpless Weale.
A response was needed from Eriksson’s side, and a response is what came.  After Patrick Viera brought down Lloyd Dyer in the penalty area referee Mark Halsey didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot, allowing Gallagher to thump the ball into the back of the net from the spot.
The game seemed to quieten down for a while but, as half-time approached, two goals in seventy-seven seconds soon got Eastlands rocking once again. First Viera tapped home after a David Silva shot was saved by Weale to make up for his earlier mistake, and then Johnson performed his special move, drifting in from the wings, ghosting behind the opposition defence and slotting home to give City a comfortable lead at the break and give City fans the chance to perform the now famous Poznan celebration.
With City comfortably winning, both sides seemed to become tighter in midfielder but, after a rare lapse of concentration from former Liverpool defender Jack Hobbs, Tevez had the chance to double his tally for the game and effectively put the game to bed. Hobbs took Tevez’ legs away from him after a turn inside the area from the Argentinean but, after much delay, Tevez, who was easily the best player on the pitch, lazily fired the ball straight down the middle at Weale, giving Leicester some hope at least. 
With very little happening in the game, City seemed to be in control and looked to be cruising to an emphatic victory but, with under ten minutes to go, Dyer managed to escape the offside trap and, with Hart bearing down on him, slipped the ball into the back of the net to make sure that the last few minutes of the game would be nervous ones for Mancini and his side.
Nervous they were, but costly they were not. A fine strike from left-back Kolarov from just outside the box guided City into the next round, where they will face League One side Notts County at Meadow Lane in a competition which is certainly winnable from a Manchester City point of view.
     Man City
4-2
Leicester
Tevez 15
Vieira 37
Johnson 38
Kolarov 90
  Gallagher (pen) 19
  Dyer 83