Sunday, 15 September 2013

Disappointment tinged with relief

Looking at the personnel chosen to face Stoke City yesterday, I went from a confident feeling of a fairly comfortable win to a foreboding feeling of a Cardiff City repeat. Even the best teams with the strongest depth in quality can struggle when you change SIX players for an away game in the Premier League.

Why so many changes?

When I saw the line-up I text a few Blues and said, “Yikes! Kolarov & Garcia in the defence; Jovetic & Negredo start up front. That’s 4-3 to us then…” (I said somewhat confidently AND jittery at the same time). How wrong was I as it ended up 0-0?

We looked AWFUL at the back and how Stoke didn’t win it only they-themselves will know. They must be kicking themselves as they missed the bulk of the chances. We had ours…but not many.

Regular readers will know that my two least favourite players are Garcia & Kolarov and I felt fully justified yesterday in my lack of admiration of these two. Both were terrible at the Britannia Stadium; our left-side of the defence was virtually non-existent. Kolarov’s afternoon wasn’t helped with the lack of (decent) cover that he got from Samir Nasri. In fairness the Frenchman did track back quite often but proved totally ineffective in doing so, as time and time again we were exposed down the left.

I’ve said it before and I’ll bemoan it time and time again I’m sure; when Clichy is out (even allowing for no Vinny to organise the rest at the back) we are gonna get destroyed down that flank…and we were only playing Stoke yesterday! We simply failed to strengthen in the summer in what was CLEARLY an area of concern. Simply put, Clichy has no competition behind him whatsoever; we may as well stick a training cone at left-back when Clichy is being rested.

So was Pellegrini resting so many with the Viktoria Plzen just 72 hours later? I for one hope not. I’ve said before that we’ve not yet arrived as a Club; where we’ve achieved enough domestically to be casting one eye on European competition when competing in a Premier League game. Crack things domestically on a consistent basis and THEN start to seriously challenge in Europe. I’ve heard that Pellegrini wants to challenge hard all 4 competitions. Well that’s very ambitious and admirable but, I think, a little silly for our stage in development.

But in guessing the Manager’s reasoning for weakening the team yesterday perhaps I have it wrong. I have to remind myself that most of these players have just come back from international games (the price of a squad full of top talent); some of them played 90 minutes for their country and some travelled a very long way to do so. Perhaps some of them WERE jaded and/or were carrying a few niggles.

All of a sudden with that theory, a 0-0 draw at a ground where we often lose – and with a Champions League away game and a derby looming - doesn’t feel that bad. But, as I say, a (fortunately) good display from Hart aside; we were lucky to get away with a clean sheet yesterday.

Up front

Our own threat up front wasn’t up to much yesterday either. As I expected, Dzeko was indeed dropped to the bench and Negredo didn’t start with Aguero. Apart from one excellent pass from Negredo to Jovetic resulting in a spectacular volley over the bar from Steven (and a late Jovetic header just wide), the Spaniard and Montenegrin looked, well…like they’d never played together before.

With the mostly-defensive Rodwell getting his first start of the season and with the sometimes frustratingly inconsistent Toure sitting deep too; the middle of the park was never going to provide much creative spark. And with no Navas and an equally inconsistent Nasri keeping one eye on the much-lacking left back position; our attacking prowess was doing a fine impression of the invisible man for most of yesterday.

0-0, as I say, is starting to look more & more “pleasing” a result…

Elsewhere in the Prem…

The good news is that Chelsea suffered a shock defeat away at Everton. Perhaps I’m being a little unkind on The Toffees but I suspect most fancied Chelsea to grab all 3 points…or at least a draw. So despite drawing at Stoke, Chelsea sit behind us in the table at this early stage of proceedings.

So do Manyoo…sorry I’ll say that again. So do cheating Manyoo, despite a lucky win at home to Crystal Palace yesterday. Yes they (predictably) dominated their home game against the newly promoted Londoners but not without the help of the diving Ashley Young. Not for the first time have we seen the largely disappointing winger fling himself to the ground in (OR NEAR) the penalty area and he did so twice yesterday.

And those didn't even include the dive outside the penalty area yesterday that won them a penalty and a Crystal Palace player sending off just before half time!

Despite taking serious flack from most of the press and a certain TalkSPORT Presenter for not strengthening in the summer; it’s Arsenal who sit at the top after 4 games!

And they sit on the same wins, draws, loses, goal difference and points as they local rivals Tottenham. Spurs, I’ve said before, are a worry for me. They have a really good squad and, like us, haven’t found top gear yet…

Liverpool sit in 3rd with an impressive 3 wins from 3 and face an away trip to Swansea City on Monday night.

Position                                  P         W         D         L        GD      PTS
     1st             Arsenal              4          3          0          1          3          9
     2nd                   Tottenham           4          3          0          1          3          9
     3rd             Liverpool           3          3          0          0          3          9
     4th             Man City            4          2          1          1          5          7
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
     5th             Manyoo             4          2          1          1          4          7
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
     6th             Chelsea             4          2          1          1          2          7

Rested, recovered and regrouped

Being as totally unfit as I am, I’m really suffering with a sore back and incredibly aching thighs on this grey, Sunday morning. This is from simply bending down and wood-treating several fence panels yesterday morning / early afternoon! With Saturday being the only dry day from last Tuesday to this coming Tuesday – and bracing myself for some 50-Mph winds and lashing rain for most of today - I just had to while I could (I’d been putting it off for weeks).

A little hung over too, I now intend to sit in and rest my aching limbs and muscles; have a bowl of homemade soup in the afternoon and watch the rain batter down on the windows whilst watching whatever footy might be on the telly. That’s what Sundays are for aren’t they?

Considerably fitter than me; I hope that the majority of the City lads are well recovered too. I hope Pellegrini’s decisions pays off and that they’ll put a tricky tie in the Czech Republic to bed on Tuesday night.

Feeling rested and regrouped, we then really need to start to show our quality in the Premier League; starting with a certain game at home to Manyoo. A quality Premier League performance is something we’ve, somewhat worryingly, not seen since the opening game against Newcastle United; a fine memory of a very fine performance but one, which, is starting to rapidly disappear in the fogs of time…

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