Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Pluses & minuses…and a WELCOME break!

There weren’t too many in the ‘plus’ column in another underperforming display, this time at QPR’s Loftus Road. But I’ll take anything at the moment.

And regular readers might recall that, usually, I’m not too fond of international breaks; they're certainly required, of course, but there appears to be FAR too many of late. However on this occasion, I for one as a Manchester City supporter - and I’m sure I’m not alone - welcome this one with very open arms.

The pluses

These first two come under the, ‘Where would we be without them?’ category. Starting with Joe Hart, our England number 1 keeper is just (about) keeping us ‘in the game’ at the moment.

It could be argued in fact - and is being touted by various pundits and press sources - that Willy Caballero was City’s best summer signing (well the best signing(s) certainly haven't been the lads from Porto so far that’s for sure) because since Willy’s arrival there’s been a measured and most timely improvement from our Joe. Timely because, of course, the defence is looking anything LIKE its given name. Simply put, Joe has responded very well indeed to the threat that the Argentinean ‘stopper’ brought with him; namely that he was a favourite Manuel Pellegrini whilst at Malaga.

Aside from that weird moment at Loftus Road that had most of us, myself included, scratching our heads and reaching for the rule book; Joe pulled off some fine, close range shot stoppers.

Then, most notably and quite alarmingly, we have to travel to the other end of the pitch to continue the praise of any City player who is making a difference at the moment. With John Guidetti in Scotland and banging in the goals at ‘that level’ of football, Alvaro Negredo recovering and starting to play in Spain (Jordi Hiwula at Yeovil, Devante Cole at Barnsley) and Edin Dzeko out for at least 3 weeks; thank the Gods that Sergio Aguero is one of only two remaining fit strikers left at the club!

Our Argentinean battleship is playing so well at the moment that pundits are saying that he’s the most in-form striker in the Premier League at the moment; a plaudit that, yes, is perhaps stating the obvious…but a much deserved one to say the least.

Carry on you two – your team desperately needs you!

The only other thing in the ‘plus’ column is, for me, Pellegrini’s change of starting formation and tactics. And although, apart from the opening 10 minutes or so when it appeared to look good and was sort of working…and then stopped working for the most part; at least he’s now TRYING (perhaps out of desperation?) something new.

That was good to see. Keep experimenting our Chilean ‘Engineer’ - not that you’ve got much choice now with only having 2 recognised strikers left to play around with…

The (many) minuses

ANOTHER poor showing from Gael Clichy…and another opportunity for me to chew my knuckles in continued frustration that we didn’t sign a left-back in the summer.

ANOTHER nervy showing from our new £32M defender Eliaquim Mangala and average, at best, displays from both Martin Demichelis and Bacary Sagna in a unit that SOMETIMES looked like it had been practicing since the dreadful CSKA showing but at other times most certainly didn’t

Teams are just enjoying the (extended) moment in testing our flimsy back line at the moment; we’re actually breathing extra confidence into every, single opposition we come up against…perhaps even in teams where little belief was there to begin with! That needs to stop quickly.

But, for me, the problem lays not just in the defence; the opposing teams are happy to pepper our defence and goal at the moment because, like us City fans, they too can see that our midfield is not exactly cohesive at the moment and is certainly not the threat it was last season.

Not overly concerned about the threat from our midfield = Feel free to attack the fragile line that stands in front of Joe.

Like the defence at Loftus Road, there were TIMES where it looked half-decent…but only half decent.

Like his fellow Porto comrade behind him, Fernando is yet to find his feet (after a slightly promising start to his City career and before his injury)…and that’s being kind.

Again, there were moments where he swept up - making one VITAL near-goal block in the second half - and I recall a couple of decent passes from him too. But overall he seems to be struggling with early life in the Premier League and looking at our two signings from Portugal at the moment; I’m starting to think that if we are to bring in players from overseas in future then we should look at leagues that are at least, and in some ways, similar to the Premier League.

Not being an expert in other, foreign leagues by any stretch; the Bundesliga is entering my thoughts…

Samir Nasri continues to underperform and frustrate. The word “luxury” has been used to describe him of late; worrying for a player that’s just signed a new, 5-year contract.

And, on the other flank at the weekend…what has happened to Jesus Navas’ pre and early season form? I suppose the answer is that he, like most of the rest, seems to be suffering the same, incomprehensible ability & confidence loss. It has been muted before this season; for someone with his pace and, otherwise, ability he should be producing more of ‘the goods’; more of an ‘end product’ if you like.

I would have chosen James Milner ahead of the Spaniard for this one…

Back to the middle…and back to another player who seems to offer us very little for the most part. When we first signed Fernandinho from Russia I struggled to work out what he was in terms of what kind of midfielder he was and what, specifically, he was going to bring to the team. Actually if I’m being honest, the very first thing I thought was, ‘Who was he and shouldn’t I have heard of a player costing £28M?’

Last season he didn’t seem to have the build nor the technique to be a defensive midfielder and it was only as he settled in after a considerable time did we see that he was quite useful, instead, nipping forward and creating / scoring a few…although I seem to recall more high & wide, mishit shots than on-target ones.

So, we were told, this season we were going to see a much different and more effective Brazilian with Fernando ‘sitting in’ behind him. But to that I would ask, “When?”  For me he’s gone back to the “just signed” enigma of the 2013/2014 season. Will the real Fernandinho please step forward…

And finally, for the midfield that faced “The Hoops” last Saturday, Yaya Toure. Played in a more advanced role with the ‘Ferds’ guarding his rear I was really hoping that he’d tear up QPR. Well…he was a little bit more of a threat and rather than ripping into the opposition players he sure attempted to take the head off a child in the stand behind the goal, as his rasping shot flew just wide in the first half (glad she was okay and well done to Yaya for the kind acknowledgement).

But he was still nowhere near last season’s Yaya and we’re badly missing that. I’ll take ‘small improvement’ for now from the Ivorian and hope, in the absence of so many strikers, that we see him step up his form real soon.

So…the break – it’s all about the ‘R’ words.

What a timely period to reflect, re-group, repair and try to iron out the stubborn creases.

Sure…some, if not most of our players, will be away from the club and, therefore, we can’t exactly fix all of the issues whilst the players are representing their various national sides. But here’s what I think we can achieve in the fortnight between QPR away and Swansea City at home (Saturday 22nd November, 3:00pm KO GMT).

  1. Use the EDS (or ANY willing opposition really) to have some decent practice time on the training pitch with the likes of Samir Nasri, Frank Lampard, Yaya Toure and anyone else not joining their countrymen this week or next. We need them ‘sharpened up’ and re-booted (in the computer sense and not the footwear) before we take on the high-flying Welsh team; a team who have only 1 defeat in their last 6 as opposed to our 1 and only win in the last 6.

  1. I’m not suggesting for one moment that we rush these individuals back too soon but…we’ve been handed a great opportunity here to soak up some ‘recovery time’ in a fixture-free fortnight. Hydro tanks and oxygen tents on overdrive City; try an’ get the likes of Aleks Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Edin Dzeko as up to speed as humanly possible before a cram-packed end of November right through to early January and beyond!

  1. Rest and refresh. For the lads going away I’m hoping that a change [of environment] will be as good as a rest. As for the ‘stay homers’, if they can build in some enjoyable R&R in-between trying to sort out our many failings then this is very important also. Even at this stage of the season they appear, to me, to be showing signs of stress and mental fatigue already – all as a result of not enjoying the outcome of their varying efforts I’m sure. No-one likes a tough day (or few weeks) at the office…
The reason for the delay in 'posting' was an extended weekend holiday in Yorkshire. Good holiday, in the main, but I’m not sure what was worse – making hard work of a 2-2 draw in front of Leeds United fans (and a few cockneys for some reason) watching it in a pub, or having to endure an overly flatulent dog in a car for many-an-hour heading there, during and on our way home.

Typically, now that we’re not at close quarters, he’s stopped doing it now!

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