Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Professional job done…marred by a defensive blow ahead of Black Cats test.

It was a game that could have slammed the breaks on our mini revival and recent momentum-building. Instead our trip and early KO on the South coast last Sunday saw us impressively impose ourselves on a high-flying Southampton side where, simply put, we stopped them playing their game and played ours so very well.

Shame we’ve taken a hammer blow with regards to Kompany’s injury and Mangala’s sending off.

Moon landing, JFK…“where were you” when Mike Jones made ‘THAT’ decision?

Okay, so it might not go down in history quite as memorable as ‘One small step for man’. But one ‘not-so small swipe’ from Jose Fonte’s leg that completely missed the ball and swiped, from under him, both of Sergio Aguero’s pegs inside the penalty area lead to ‘the’ worst referring decision that I can recall.

In case you missed it, here it is on 2:06 minutes.

A ‘nailed on’ penalty and so what happens next? No penalty, no action against the Southampton defender but, instead, a yellow card for our striker!

Of course the Argentinean was then subjected to about ½ hour or more of boos from the home fans who, without the advantage of seeing it in slow motion of course, simply believed the ref and then, of course, wanted to vent their annoyance at our...“cheat”.

Those who know me might know that I pay very little attention to the ref in a build-up to a game. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me just how many fans make a point of looking up a ref prior to a game and include it in their pre-match analysis of how they think the game will go. Personally I couldn’t care less who the central official will be and how his past decisions – good or bad, “for” City or otherwise – might play-out in the game.

But Mike Jones made a shocking decision and his day didn’t get any better either. Perhaps that terrible judgement on Sergio ‘set the tone’; as from that point onwards he made several gaffs only a couple, which, I have noted. And before I include them below, it’s worth noting that his next game in mid-week will be as a ‘forth official’. Not sure if that’s some kind of “punishment” – he’ll be back ‘in the middle’ again at the weekend I believe.

1st half

As I say, Mike Jones was full of errors after the Fonte / Aguero incident and there’s no way Mangala should have been booked for a perfectly good tackle not long afterwards. He was deemed to have gone through the back of a Southampton player in a failed attempt to get the ball. The replay clearly showed him getting the ball first - a free kick (for the behind, sliding-through follow up) at worst.

Then there was a moment when play was stopped as we broke (well) clear and although the decision to call off-side on Pelle as he came meandering back to his own half was, in a way, quite correct; the advantage should have been given to us. It was all going horribly wrong for the officials and, at the time, it felt like we were feeling the brunt of their ‘bad day at the office’.

But we rode the poor decisions and, sometimes, heavy tackles from a Southampton side who didn’t look as fluid as they have done in recent weeks and who appeared to be frustrated for it. Frustrated, in my opinion, because I thought we pressed them well and impressed our OWN game right from the very off.

Looking at the starting line-up before the game and, in particular, seeing 2 strikers and no Fernando…I feared that Manuel Pellegrini had erred. The Saints lined up in a kind of 4-3-2-1 / 4-3-3 / 4-5-1...whatever it was they had 3 midfielders to our 2. And with, in my opinion, Fernandinho often being a little lightweight ‘for the battle’ and Yaya not exactly being Mr Mobile nor very effective when crowded out in the centre of the park; a small feeling of pre-match dread wafted over me for a moment.

But my fears held no grounds whatsoever - our Engineer had set them up to dominate possession and defend in numbers when necessary and had also clearly put ‘passing accuracy’ high up of his list of training activities in the days leading up to the game. The improvement was noticeable…and it paid off.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for Stevan Jovetic looking a little lost in a slightly deeper role that seemed to confuse the Montenegrin for most of the first half - and had Jesus Navas got MUCH more involved in the attacking play than he did – refereeing decisions aside; we could have been home ‘n’ dry in the first, mostly-dominating half.

2nd half

However, it became obvious that Navas (and probably Samir Nasri too) had been told to provide some added protection to their flanking defenders behind them in the first half; a tactic that not only worked brilliantly but one, which, was relaxed a little in the 2nd half. It was instantly noticeable and not long after the break Navas was marauding down the right…just a shame his first cross in anger was flippin’ awful.

Perhaps Jovetic was also told to ‘dig in’ and help his midfielders in the first half – although I have to say that his efforts passed ME by at least. In the second half – and just like his right-wing colleague – he was much busier and far more involved in all things ‘attack’. In fact, Stevan played a vital role in our opening goal.

Growing and growing…

Navas, who was growing into the game by the minute, turned into (a very small version of) Superman for a time; not only playing ‘his game’ in attack but defending in his own 6 yard box at one stage mid-way through the second half!

Gael Clichy too blossomed as the game progressed and, much later of course, capped off his excellent 2nd half performance with a extraordinary run down the right and finished brilliantly…with his right!

And as flaky as I thought he looked at times in the first half; Fernandinho too had a much, MUCH better time of in the second half. If he was a ‘not bad’ 6/10 before the break then he was easily a very good 8/10 in the second. Not quite as much as Mr E. Nigma (Edin Dzeko if you needed to ask) but Fernandinho’s often inconsistent nature does frustrate and concern me at times  - although plenty of other City players, even the more usually-dependable ones, have been guilty of that too this season so far.


Then came the hammer blows. JUST as Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala were getting something LIKE a partnership going, Mangala made a silly challenge - not helped by a terrible pass and decision from Toure – and receive his second yellow / marching orders. Soon afterwards, Vinny’s ‘hammy’ then appeared to go.

Despite the fact that it should only have been the Frenchman’s first yellow of the day; his decision making, in general, still needs to improve a heck of a lot. And so, now, within the space of 20 minutes or so; we went from having a solid-looking base ready to face Sunderland on Wednesday night to an untried pairing of Martin Demichelis and (gulp) Dedryck Boyata!

With “defensive cover” well practiced by the wingers against Southampton it’s definitely a case of, “Same again please chaps”…

v Sunderland

With no pre-match press conference / no news to go off on the state of ‘our skip’ just yet (at time of posting), I think it’s safe to assume that Vinny WON’T be playing at the Stadium of Light. Neither, I’m guessing, will David Silva who, I think it is hoped, might be fit to play some part in our 5:30pm (GMT) KO game at home to Everton on Saturday.

And so WITHOUT knowledge of who might and might not be available, here’s my ‘best shot’ at predicting the line-up, subs and outcome.












Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Byrne, Fernandinho, Lampard, Nasri, Pozo

If there was a title to this prediction it would definitely be ‘Checks and balances’.

In front of Joe Hart…

…we’ve been saying this for weeks; had there have been an alternative to now-improving-once-again Gael Clichy then we most probably would have see some rotation here. But, once again, the French left-back to continue in his role.

On the other side, however, in order to give our-man-Zab some rest in readiness for a home game against Everton; I think there WOULD have been a change here in Bacary Sagna coming in for the Argentine. However, with the heart ripped out of the centre of our defence for this away trip to the North East, I’m guessing that with the solidity and clean sheet shown at the opposite end of the country just three days earlier; our manager will want to keep together, as much as is possible, the same back four.

There’s little choice in the other two. Had he NOT have been still suffering a seemingly long-term, muscular thigh injury; as much as I like Nastasic - despite him not showing much progression whenever fit and given the chance following his more-than-decent start to his City career - and as much as Boyata scares the hell out of me for the most part; the Chilean ‘man in charge’ seems to think the complete opposite.

It’s all academic anyway; there’s little choice but to go with the 34-year old (in a couple of weeks) and the 24-year old - I’ll be looking for the often dependable Demichelis to step up and be so once more for this one.

And on the 2nd half showing, at least, against Southampton, I would have gone for our manager to chose the longer-named version of the ‘Ferds’ for this one too. However, I’m guessing that he will, instead, stick Fernando in front of the back-two-pairing as extra "insurance" now that we’re without Kompany & Mangala.

Toure to continue HIS improvement ahead of ‘The Octopus’; Navas likewise with the same instruction to keep an eye on Zaba from time to time.

On the left however – and again to balance the fact that our defence might need a little more looking after than it did on Sunday – I’ve gone for our Manuel to pick James ahead of Samir. The ex-French international did nothing wrong at the weekend but the England man does give us more steel and energy. Nasri to be ‘the game changer’ if needed.

I can’t imagine Pellegrini not going with both Jovetic & Aguero once again. However, I’m betting that ahead of our home game against a gradual, ominously-improving Everton - and with a jam-packed fixture list coming up - he’ll be hoping for us to be out of sight early enough to give our Argentinean battleship some well-needed rest with 30 minutes to spare.

Joining EDS forward Pozo on the bench is basically a mass of midfielders. With the exception of 'Willy the keeper' and Sagan who CAN operate in the middle of defence should we need him to ‘fill in’; the rest all lie somewhere across the middle of the pitch.

Fernandinho, Lampard and Nasri we all know about…but I’ve gone for our manager to include another EDS player in the form of Republic of Ireland Youth International Jack Byrne, who operates as a defensive midfielder. A good ‘ball winner’ and passer by all accounts, which could come in very handy on Wednesday night.

Result? Well...this is a tuffy to predict.

Pitch our continued improvement, 3 wins in a row against tough ‘oppos’; where we scored 8 and conceded 3 (with 1 clean sheet) against no Kompany and no Mangala; away at a ground where we’ve had little success over the years (especially more recently), against a team who are unbeaten in 4 with a victory and 3 draws which included Chelsea at the weekend and what are we left with? Well that all points to a draw for me.

That’s why I’m going for a narrow City victory…

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