Friday, 8 April 2011

City 5 - 0 Sunderland

  • Late again, I know. But this was a particularly enjoyable victory, and its impression remains fresh. This was the best attacking performance of the season. The best of 2011, certainly. The best since Fulham or West Ham away. And, crucially, a confident re-framing after two weeks off for international football. The Chelsea defeat was so dispiriting that I feared an April collapse; no tempo, no rhythm and failure on both remaining fronts.
  • What we had instead was a display with a fluency and confidence we had not seen this season. For once, Roberto Mancini decided against combining Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry in midfield, resting the latter in exchange for an extra forward. The swap was vindicated: attacking options were increased, the midfield bottle-neck was loosened, with Adam Johnson, the pitch was wider. Sunderland were abject but the goals flowed naturally, and without need for the sweaty forcing that so often characterises the goal hunt at Eastlands.
  • Of course, there is a frustration that this was not done sooner. But what a relief that it was done at all. It's now how I imagine we will set up at Wembley, and rightly so. Barry will play, as might James Milner if he does not trust Mario Balotelli. (If he does not trust Balotelli in a semi-final at Wembley then one wonders what the point was from the start, though). Liverpool on Monday will provide fresh data.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Send Matt home

Just a quick request:

As part of the ‘Coming Home' promotion, Etihad Airways, Official Sponsor of Manchester City, is offering fans the chance to fly to Manchester to see City play Tottenham, as we blow the chance of Champions League qualification for the second successive season.

Friends of TLDORC, Matt Coleman and his partner-in-crime Gav, are in the final eight of the competition, and we're hoping to get them over from Sydney for the match.

Through their work with the Sydney Blues, they try to make supporting City as proactive an experience as they can, even though they're on the other side of the globe.

To send them home, please click on the following link, and selecting Matt Coleman.

Friday, 18 March 2011

City 1 - 0 Dynamo

  • And our chance of winning a trophy this year has halved, at least. The prospect of a Manchester United-free knock-out competition was bounteously exciting. We were, I think, the strongest remaining side in the competition yesterday and, had we overturned Dynamo Kyiv, the favourites for the crown. But it wasn't to be. Rather, it was just a smaller scale Hamburg: for smaller stakes, in front of fewer people, with less emboldening crackle in the air. But it was still a good performance, brave in the circumstances, and enough to win most ties.
  • For all the expectation that Roberto Mancini might trade off our chances in this match against Sunday's game at Stamford Bridge, the strongest side was picked. Carlos Tévez was flanked by David Silva and Mario Balotelli, and we started the game with more enthusiasm and focus than I thought we might. Both full-backs got forward and despite Dynamo's organisation we created chances, more than we have often done in home games this season. David Silva and Mario Balotelli both nearly scored, and there was a strong sense that the task might a fair bit more superable than we first thought.
  • But, Mario Balotelli's homage to Nigel de Jong puts us out of it. Winning 3-0 at home, or 2-0 over 120 minutes is just too difficult against a team as technical as Dynamo. Much like the Arsenal defeat in the autumn, the 10 remaining players were brave and intelligent and, in their own way, successful. But their task was too vast. Aleksandar Kolarov scored a characteristic goal, and the chances continued. Edin Džeko nearly made it 2-0 but the longer the tie went on, the less of the ball we saw and the more running the players had to do to win it back. Even with James Milner and Adam Johnson back on the pitch it was beyond them.
  • Like the Arsenal 3-0 defeat, or that 2-1 win over Hamburg in 2009, this was at least a display of good, resolute football in difficult circumstances - even if it did not produce the desired result. Were it not for Balotelli's malicious stupidity in the first half I think we probably would have been in this morning's draw. But we paid £24m for the only ticket to the Mario Balotelli lottery, in full knowledge of its rules, and we have certainly enjoyed its bounty at times this year. He'll be fresh for his first ever derby on 16 April, and who knows what he has planned for us then.

Monday, 14 March 2011

City 1 - 0 Reading

  • After a series of difficult and disjointed home 1-0 wins, here was a 1-0 win to revel in. They didn't play brilliantly although, given recent exertions and performances, they played better than I thought they might. And, crucially, we have avoided immersion in the dreadpool of a cup final against Manchester United. Forgive me my cowardice, but the only way to think as a City fan is by identifying the worst possible outcome, and then navigating ways of avoiding it. We are not going to lose a final to United this year, and that is a relief.
  • Not nearly as much of a relief, though, as Micah Richards' goal. I don't think I've ever experienced as much of a collective nerve release as when Richards headed in David Silva's corner yesterday. The longer the game went on goalless the worse the potential outcomes seemed; the stoppage-time loss, the penalties loss. We made half-chances but Reading defended well, Mario Balotelli was thrown on for Patrick Vieira to make something happen. He didn't score, but he did win the corner from which Richards scored; his most important goal for the club since another late bullet header from a corner in the cup.
  • Before then the performance had been acceptable (which is noteworthy), without ever reaching the levels some would hope for. Reading were physical, compact and well-organised. They had an aerial threat and offered us nothing in their third. Chances were limited; most came from the excellence of David Silva, although the final third movement and sharpness was not always good enough to take advantage of his play. The Reading centre-backs forced our players wide when they did get through on goal, and their keeper was good enough to block anything hit at him. With a spine of the side restored, in Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong, the players were less flustered than they might have been.
  • And so it's Wembley one month from now. Of course, semi-finals should not be played there, because it devalues the final. The practical point that there will be more than 60,000 plus Mancunians on the same transport links is actually secondary to the moral point about what Wembley is meant to mean. But I don't want to sound churlish. It's another symbol of post-takeover progress; one step beyond our League Cup semi-final of last year, and, given the opposition, a chance to avenge that 4-3 aggregate defeat. There's no point in my offering a prediction, as you all know what I think. But it's good and important to be there. And we know now they can't beat us in the final.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Dynamo 2 - 0 City

  • Our first meaningful test of the season, and, well, it's like the Peter Crouch game was only yesterday. I know we're in the quarter-final of the FA Cup, and only in the last 16 here, but given the relative quality of the opposition this is at least as good a chance of winning a trophy. And, lest we forget, winning a trophy is what all this money was thrown at.
  • By many measures, this was not our worst performance of the season. I've seen us defend worse, I think, and look likely to score a goal. I'm sure we have kept the ball less well than we did this evening. But as a failure of nerve this was of a standard that they'd been concealing from us since last May. Kyiv were good, certainly the best team we have faced in the Europa League so far and better than most in the Premier League.
  • The overall play was poor, but the goals were just pathetic. The first started with David Silva - usually defensively diligent - allowing a cross to come in from the left. Aleksandar Kolarov and Joleon Lescott left Andrei Shevchenko to each other, and he darted ahead of Joe Hart and scored. We've scored too many soft near post goals this season and this was the worst of them. The second, with 13 minutes left, was even worse. Vincent Kompany got half a header on a cross, and the ball sailed up to Oleh Gusev, who was politely permitted by Micah Richards to volley the ball into the net.
  • Only Joe Hart's legs stopped it from going to 3-0 in the final minutes. Which would have been almost insurmountable. As it is, 2-0 is a horrible score-line - worse than the 3-1 we came back from Hamburg with two years ago. Dynamo are quite clearly an intelligent counter-attacking side, and will quite plausibly score at Eastlands. Should they do so, we would need four goals to progress. And we know how effective we are against well-regimented defences.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

City 3 - 0 Villa

  • Not one of the great FA Cup fifth-round matches, but warmingly satisfying given recent events. This was probably our best performance in 2011, although evaluations are skewed by Aston Villa's apathy. Their selection and performance last night made their showing in the 4-0 late Christmas present look like some embodiment of dogged resistance. No Ashley Young, no Stewart Downing but no pressure, fight or anything befitting the occasion.
  • Villa's poverty was such that our midfield base of Patrick Vieira and Gareth Barry - usually so susceptible to pressure and pace - were comfortable and really rather successful. They were able to keep the ball and dictate play with more ease than in any other game this season; the pair of them completed 145 from 164 attempted passes. Our control was sufficient to give a territorial advantage, and the first goal came quickly and comfortably. A corner was flicked on and Yaya Touré whipped it into the net from four yards out.
  • From there it was simple enough. The second goal came when Yaya Touré, under no pressure in midfield, clipped a perfect through ball to Mario Balotelli. With Carlos Tévez and Edin Dzeko on the bench, Balotelli led the line (as he did last time when hosted Villa), and while his work-rate was negligible he was sufficient quality to make up for it. Here, he waited for the ball to drop over his shoulder before clipping it into the top corner. It was one of the best finishes this season, harder than it looked, and supportive evidence for the claims of some MCFC coaches that he is the most natural finisher at the club.
  • Villa had some good spells, particularly when they isolated Gabriel Agbonlahor against Micah Richards. But other than one Joe Hart save it was easy for City. The third goal came half-way through the second half, as David Silva controlled a looping cross and struck the ball sweetly into the bottom corner. A technically perfect goal, unsurprisingly. From then it was easy. Not easy enough to bring on Michael Johnson, which was a shame. But the win was easy, deserved, and never in doubt, which is more than we could say about much of our football in recent months.

TLDORC February Awards

It's David Silva.

I'll explain why later.

Though of course you already know.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

City 1 - 1 Fulham

  • Oh, the annual second-half surrender at home to Fulham in the league. How I've missed you. You are the truest reminder that while some things change other things do not; as much of a reassurance that City are still City as the colour of the shirts or the songs in the stands. This is four years on the run, now, that we have gone ahead in this fixture and failed to win.
  • As it goes, it was the least painful iteration yet. As with stoppage time derby defeats, or losing to Spurs, or losing to Everton, the repetition lessens the pain by robbing its surprise. The 3-2 under Eriksson stole my soul for a good week, even outweighing my thrills at the Sun/Ball/Corluka/Elano back four. The 3-1 in April 2009 was just pathetic, the 2-2 last year was better. As I said, predictability is a strong antidote.
  • Of course, dropping two points is a problem. Finishing fourth is important, even if it's not as important as finishing first in one of the cups. That said, given we've still got Spurs at home and Chelsea away things are still in our own hands. More worrying than the result is the performance. Our reliance on David Silva was made clear by a display that was barren of any wit, pace or imagination. I could write for a while about how Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré don't set a good enough tempo, or how our two new full-backs aren't as quick as they ought to be, but you've seen it for yourselves before this season.
  • Still, some big performances in the big games and we'll still get fourth. A nice distraction from the league this week, with an FA Cup fifth round game with Aston Villa.

City 3 - 0 Aris

  • Didn't watch much of this game, so this is a fairly vague placeholder. As this season progresses, my emotional energy is increasingly poured into the two cups, at the expense of the Premier League. I've always been more excited by the prospect of winning something rather than finishing fourth in something else. Last year, I was more upset by the League Cup exit than by the failure to finish fourth. Now, with us still in the last sixteen of the Europa League and of the FA Cup, I'm enjoying an array of excitements that are entirely novel as a City fan.
  • The game was notable for Roberto Mancini's continued European expansionism. For all his domestic austerity, Mancini has been cavalier so far in the Europa League. I think it's probably to do with wanting to try new options, to give games to our forwards, but he has played variants of 4-2-4 much of the time, even in Turin when we needed a draw to win the group. On Thursday it looked like a 4-2-1-3, with David Silva behind the Carlos Tévez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Džeko supergroup. It worked, as Džeko scored twice (he's a cup specialist, you see), and could have had a third. Of course, the best player was David Silva but that barely needs to be said.
  • And so: Dinamo Kiev. I don't know much about them. I wanted Beşiktaş because I wanted to see Guti and Quaresma at Eastlands. But Kiev have got Andriy Shevchenko and he used to be fairly good. Whether the team are up to much I've got no idea. I've never seen them play, but they are 12 points off the lead in the Ukrainian Premier League. Shakhtar Donetsk are top, though, and they're a very good side so I guess it's understandable. Anyway: we're getting closer.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

NoCo player ratings

Hart One or two poor decisions from crosses but played well once he had settled. Made more saves than he might have wanted to. 6

Richards Another powerful performance, including one of his best ever crosses as a City player - which Edin Džeko headed straight at the keeper. Scored with an athletic volley when the game was won, but he has deserved it with recent performances. 7

Kolo Touré Not as commanding as he might have been. Our defence without Vincent Kompany just isn't the same. 6

Lescott Like Kolo, he's (just) good enough with Kompany but not good enough without him. This was not nearly as smooth as it ought to have been, and while this is largely the midfield's fault it is not entirely so. 5

Zabaleta I think that he is limited when Aleksandar Kolarov plays in front of him. They're both fairly predictable and not very quick and so Zabaleta has the space in front of him closed off. He did ok here, defended well enough but with little forward incision. 6

Yaya Touré Should have been much brisker, given the occasion. He was playing alongside Patrick Vieira in a midfield two, and he left his colleague in the field more than he should have done. 6

Vieira Don't be fooled by the two goals (good as they were). He was woefully off the pace for the first thirty minutes. So slow he was practically third to every loose ball, and, unable even to keep the ball properly. 5

Silva As usual, the best footballer on the pitch. There were fewer special moments than usual but it was still just one long exercise in movement and touch. His corner led to one of Vieira's goals, too, as it happens. 7

Balotelli Lively and bright, playing off Džeko. Some good movement and technique but was frustrated when he picked up a silly booking, and was even more disappointed when he came off with a head injury. Needs a goal. 6

Kolarov Some good things - good feet, covered well, strong - one of his corner kicks was headed in my Vieira. But any hopes that he's our Gareth Bale fall down on the fact that he just doesn't have the pace. 6

Dzeko Looked a bit clumsy at first, but he improved when Tevez came on and set him up with perhaps the best bit of play in his time in blue so far. Was rewarded at the end when Tevez gave him a cross in return, which he headed in. Two in two (against Notts County). 6


Tevez Improved our energy and our penetration when he came on, scoring one and setting up another. 7

Barry Two important passes in the build up to goals. 7

Jo Too late to mark n/a