Friday, 24 October 2014

Poor and frustrating – how WILL we react?

A quiet shake of the head and a sigh was all I could muster as the final whistle echoed around an almost empty CSKA Moscow stadium on a cold Tuesday night. The lack of any more effort from me to show my displeasure in front of the television was MORE than matched, it has to be said, by the player’s own second half…“exertions”.


Picking through the pieces…

After the Spurs game I included a “positives” & “negatives” section when reviewing the game - for this one I feel that I need to include what was and what wasn’t within our power that could have influenced the game and, possibly, the outcome.
What wasn’t within our control was the frustrating lack of support from our own, most-innocent fans. It was absolutely outrageous of UEFA to include our fans in a ‘stadium ban’. If they - or any Russian officials - had any safety fears that the ‘locals’ may take exception to the presence of away fans then surely they had enough confidence that their own, local Russian police could protect any travelling support.
Then, to make even more mockery of the farcical situation, there was a notable 500 or so home support that had been labelled as, “delegates”, who…what, then apparently and suddenly had decided to purchase & wear CSKA Moscow gear and pledge their support for the home side during game? Huh…CSKA didn't even try to hide their dodgy tactics, did they?
Then there was the ‘deciding penalty’. For me – and having NOT since seen it – it was certainly “soft” but also falls in the category of “I have seen them [previously] given”. Not quite the resounding protests of the City players and officials but, as I say, for me it was soft rather then outright dodgy.
The weather. I’m being really, REALLY kind to our players here but…as it’s been SO very mild at the back end of Summer / beginning of Autumn in the UK then I suppose I say that it might have been a factor in favour of the home side. As one post-match, newspaper report put it (something like this anyway), ‘…the cold Russian night air certainly appeared to get to the bones of the Canary Island-born David Silva (to name just one City player who appeared to be affected).
And then I suppose we had a lack of Champions League experience & influence in the shape of Frank Lampard and, perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, we still had no Samir Nasri available to us.
But that’s about it for the "excuses"…
What was within our control was the fact that, despite knowing the full task in hand in order to salvage this Champions League campaign, we started off so flippin’ slowly and just didn’t turn up for the second half, for the most part.
I kept reading, in some quarters of the press at least, how well we had played in the first half. Really? I personally recall sitting there watching a City side with no urgency or impetus in large parts of the first half and against a home side that was sitting deep with a 5-4-1 formation; a visiting side which looked like they simply had to turn up and hope that the home side were simply going to give up and roll over for us.
When CSKA didn’t ‘play ball’ and then, in fact, had a couple of decent chances themselves; we decided to FINALLY wake up and began to show something like a Premier League performance. The result of our awakening? We found ourselves 2-0 up at the interval!
So what the ‘eck was that second half performance all about?!
Well…I have little idea to be honest. I can’t actually put my foot on it other than to mention a few of the more obvious observations.
  1. Without wishing to appear to jump on any recent bandwagons Yaya Toure was very poor again. You look to the likes of those kind of big players to ‘step up’ and make a difference. Simply put…he didn’t.
  1. Silva’s passing. Again you look to your game-changers and, before I go a bit negative on him, David has been a jewel not just ‘in general’ for Manchester City but he’s been my player of the [very short] season so far. But, as I noted against Tottenham last Saturday, his passing was off again on Tuesday night. Perhaps it’s BECAUSE he’s often the best player ‘in there’ orchestrating things in the middle that I’ve singled him out but…there you go. And so, leading on from that…
  1. …the passing in general from the rest of ‘em was truly, truly appalling for the most part. And I think once that fairly simply task [of passing to a teammate] leaves you then you are, basically, in trouble. Amongst other small issues we need to sort that out fast Mr Pellegrini
  1. The tactics. Okay, so 4-4-2 seemed to work once we’d snapped out of our initial cold-induced coma and, in fact, Edin Dzeko seem to thrive in the chilled air – he had a fairly decent game ‘up top’ with Sergio Aguero. But it needed to be changed once we were 2-0 up. That, to me at least, was obvious and it concerns me that Pellegrini seems to have a Champions League ‘mental block’. It’ll concern the owners even more though I’m sure…


What was notable for me was the reaction from ‘the camp’ after the game. Our ‘skip’ was quite vocal in his frustrations; particularly, and most understandably, about the UEFA so-called 'fan ban’. He was making no excuses for the performance, which, quite rightly, he pointed out was not acceptable. But I’ve never seen him so annoyed otherwise.
Joe Hart is rarely one to shy away from telling it as it is following a poor performance either but he too appeared more ‘irked’ than usual.
But then we have our Manager’s reaction. Cool as a ‘long green salad thingy’ he more-often-than-not is but, occasionally, the post-game, red-eyed, irritable one comes out to play too. On Tuesday night this side of his character was playing out with ‘bells attached’.
Not only did he appear irritated at the performance; to me, when being interviewed, he seemed slightly embarrassed at the result too. And, I wondered at the time and still do to some degree, how much our Engineer was fearing some boardroom backlash about this seasons expectations in this particular competition.
‘Our man Zaba’ has also since vented some anguish and irritation at the performance & result and when you collate all of those personalities that have to, surely, be given a lot of credence; then it leaves me with a twang of nerves about what might be happening in the camp.

Want some salt in the wound?

Well in addition to Ahmed Musa’s pre-match claim that CSKA could exploit our defence we then had, and I have to say quite rightly too, Glenn Hoddle & Co. on Sky Sports scratching their heads as to why we can’t come close to reproducing our league form in Europe.
But in addition to that lot we now we have our next opponent's Managers, Big Sam, telling us how he thinks that our players lack the attitude to want to push on from winning the league last season.
Now usually I’d take these kind of observations with a pinch of salt; particularly with the guy we now have in charge of our players oozing a general calmness and a 'positive order' to things.
However, it doesn’t pass me by that we still have a large chunk of the same players who did the very same thing under Roberto Mancini; whereby, back then, they won the league and then, somehow and for some strange reason, decided to, in comparison to the previous season at least, almost have a season’s rest; allowing Manyoo to walk away with the title.
Albeit a tiny one, a small alarm bell is definitely sounding in my head regarding this and if there IS indeed some kind of internal issue going on in the dressing room, it needs sorting…and sorting pretty damn quickly!


I’ve seen a level of frustration and irritation from all the afore mentioned players since our trip to Russia to believe that even a brilliant performance and win against West Ham United might not be enough to completely banish the Champions League demons from Tuesday night. However, for me a whole-hearted-team, crackin’ performance we must have at Upton Park - although of course I’d still take a ‘papering over the cracks’ win / not-so-good performance for now at least…
However, what I REALLY want to see starting against this weekend’s opponents is this…
It’s been obvious that with the acquisition of Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando that the intent, this season, was to build a solid base in order to ‘sure up’ the back and, therefore, allow our more adventurous players to ‘do their stuff’ and damage the opposition as much as possible. And, okay, I’ll get our Manager’s excuses out of the way for him.
-        Willy has never played in England before
-        Pablo Zabaleta had a long, long season last time out followed by a hard and long, long World Cup campaign
-        Bacary Sagan too had a long World Cup and didn’t start back domestically until very late on
-        Similar Eliaquim Mangala; who both started very late with us and who, like Willy, has never played in this difficult, English top division before
-        Then we have Fernando who, just as we were starting to see why he was brought to the club, then got injured
All very annoying issues indeed and have, most certainly, hindered our plans.
But they’re all fit now and, most certainly should be, starting to 'fire' - we need them to start clicking soon so that this season’s ‘master plan’ can begin to take fruition.
On Saturday (and beyond) I want to see a solid defensive unit being [additionally] protected by our ‘Octopus’ in the middle. And given that solid foundation I want to then see Yaya, Fernandinho, David, Samir (when fit again), Frank, Jesus, James, Edin, Stevan and Sergio tearing teams apart with barely a seconds thought for what’s going on behind them.
You look at the quality of those players at the back that I have already mentioned and with the addition of Hart, Clichy, Kolarov, Kompany & Demichelis and, well...crikey; we have one hell of a potentially envious defence there! If we get that sorted then we’ll take apart all in our way…well, domestically at least.
Forget the panic shouts for Ross Barkley or Mesut Ozil to be brought into the club in January and, most certainly, forget those who are already shouting for several of our players to be ‘shipped out’ in an almost frenzied, mid-season re-build of our side; both of which I’ve read about in recent days and hours.
Of course, yes, it certainly is irritating and quite often bewildering to see that with all of our potential we do seem to flounder at times.

But I say with no naivety nor bias whatsoever; in both Pellegrini and these players we can trust and, in particular, with the likes of Hart, Kompany, Zabaleta and Lampard in the dressing room it won’t be long before we see things starting to ‘click’ once again.

It could be FAR worse, lest we forget; we could be Liverpool with Mario Balotelli in the camp…
Let’s just hope, then, that it clicks tomorrow against West Ham but, just as important, let us not 'flap' if it doesn’t.

 This is how I think we’ll react in tomorrow’s early (12:45pm BST) afternoon KO.

v West Ham United 

Subs: Caballero, Kolarov, Sagna, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Jovetic, Dzeko
That, for me, is Pellegrini’s strongest defence. Although, of course, he will rotate the defensive flanks throughout the season more than the central pairing; this back 4 (and keeper) provides the most solid base. I know Zaba played on Tuesday and, of this, our manager may go with Sagna instead; but I’m gonna plump for this as a back line.
Fernando to ‘hold’ 'n' 'break up' - we need him to establish himself and make this position his own.
And I’m going for our boss to go for, what I’m calling a ‘solid’ diamond formation, with David in the heart of a ‘5‘, Fernando at the bottom end, Yaya at the top not far behind the striker and Milner / Navas on the flanks. Equally David & Yaya could well swap places.
Aguero to lead.
A strong bench, particularly with 2 strikers if / when needed.
Result? Pre-season I put in a “W” next to this one without much thought. Post-CSKA – and particularly after seeing the almost shocked reaction of the players – yesterday I almost went for a “D” [for a draw] in East London.
However, although I think we’ll look nervous in the opening 20 minutes or so and that The Hammers will almost certainly be sensing that anxiousness within us – perhaps even taking the lead and forcing even more pressure and doubt upon us for a time – similar to the Tottenham game; I’m going for us to eventually 'rally' and really take these to town in the end.
It’ll be a tense and passionate affair without much doubt…and it’ll be an away win too.

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