Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Best performance of the season?

Well that’s what I text fellow Blues last night after the Sevilla showing. Unless someone can remind me of a better team display in the last 3 months then that’s what I think.

It was most certainly the best, all-round-team Champions League performance I can ever recall - without wishing to sound like I’m getting carried away, which I’m most certainly not; it was a performance that said we’d finally learnt and may have finally ‘come of age’ in this competition.

Moving on though…

No, I’m not simply brushing over last night’s very fine triumph at all…but I just wanted to do a small ‘spotlight on’ piece on a short list of our players. And I’m going to try to keep it as brief as possible (people who know me you can stop laughing now) as I fully intend to do a ‘half term report’ on ALL of our players around the 19-game mark in the Premier League.

Starting from back to front…

Why selected for analysis? Well basically he’s been with us now for about a year ‘n’ 3 months and although he’s only made 3 appearances, something that I have to say surprised me considerably before doing this; having imagined that he’d stepped in for Joe around double that figure…but then again looking back, early exits from both domestic competitions last season did his cause NO favours whatsoever; he’s generally left City fans with a sense of uneasiness when ‘called upon’.

Is that fair? Are City fans’ fears more ‘being without Joe’ rather than ‘being with Willy’? It probably isn’t fair to be honest and, yes; there probably is an element of “Oh God there’s no Joe!” about it.

I think the reason why I thought he’d played more than just 3 [competitive] games is that I’ve watched a lot of pre-season games in 2014 & 2015 and have, therefore, seen a fair ol’ number of Willy Caballero performances; pre-season displays where I thought he generally did really quite well indeed. Added to that was my faith in Manuel Pellegrini and Willy’s 117 appearances for him when at Malaga.

It was all pointing to us-having a really good, experienced keeper as cover for our England ‘number 1’.

And in Willy’s defence it should be no different to every other position; in that players who don’t get many games should be given a little leeway in that ‘game time’ often equals continued improvement.

However – and not listening to my own defence case – his competitive-game performances have not been convincing (Sunderland recently was fine)…and the one against Spurs directly after that was SO shockingly poor that it’s had early “detractors” driving in the final nails into his coffin and waverers, such as me, moving into the first category.

So BAD was his performance at White Hart Lane on 26th September 2015 that I decided to look up both where and how often he’d played for other teams; and at [then] 33-years of age / now 34…I was left a little alarmed I have to say.

Willy started his career at Boca Juniors (okay, heard of them) where he played 15 times. After that, a whopping 186 games between the sticks for Elche. Who? Well, it turns out, a largely lower-league Spanish team who were very ‘up & down’ throughout Willy’s time.

Oh dear, I was beginning to think; why hadn’t I made myself aware of this when we signed him or sometime since?!

Other than that and before his move to Pellegrini’s Malaga, he had a 13-game loan spell for Arsenal…Arsenal de Sarandi in Argentina that is. No full international caps and just 2 for the Under-20 national side.

Yikes, I again thought; through a lack of research on my part I’d wrongly assumed that we’d signed a slightly more experienced back-up keeper in terms of the level of football he’d played at.

So with that information now in mind and having SEEN that awful display in September, I’m left firmly in the camp that says unless Eirik Johansen (23) and / or Angus Gunn (17) are good enough / ready to step up as Joe’s back-up; then we need a new keeper in the summer.

5/10 this season with no optimism for improvement.

Why selected for analysis? Well…he’s a new signing - not much more to it than that.

I was genuinely pleased that we’d spent ‘big money’ on another [this time very] experienced player for the centre of our defence; largely due to Vinny’s injury record, Martin’s advancing years and Eliaquim’s often-mistake-ridden performances (and with the club taking the decision to loan-out Jason Denayer to Galatasaray). This time I DID look up the Argentine’s previous employers; this time we were getting a player who’d played largely at a high level and with 28 full international caps, for one of the best international teams in the world.

Then I was genuinely a little shocked at his height when I saw him ‘run out’. Now I’m 6’ 0” (perhaps 0.5” taller) and, therefore, we’re virtually the same height…and I, generally, am considered quite tall by my family & friends.

So I suppose it’s just a ‘centre half expectancy’ that players in that position and at the ‘top level’ need to be at LEAST 6’ 2” and, preferably, 6’ 4”ish.

When asked by a bloke ‘down my local’ very recently how he (and Mangala) were doing – having spent so much money on the pair he added – on Nicolas I said at the time that, “…he looked okay; clearly had class but looked like he needed some more time to ‘bed in’ and get used to his new colleagues and league”. Not an unreasonable assessment, I don’t think, for ANY player having moved to an English team for the first ever time and having only been at the club [then] about 8 weeks.

The player himself, when first interviewed by MCFC following his signature on a 5-year contract, said that he was an “organiser”; he loved to contribute in that way and help solidify ‘the line’. You could clearly see that from the very start.

In addition, you can now also clearly see that he has intelligence, covers the ground tremendously well, loves players running at him, which he seems to smother / gobble up with ease a lot of the time and at just 6’ 0” has a right ol’ leap on him! After just 2-½ months, 6 appearances and one HELL of a headed goal…I like him.

7.5/10 this season so far and improving / settling-in fast game on game.

Why selected for analysis? Signed just a couple of month or there abouts before Willy Caballero; having been with us for a year and 5 months he’s made just 26 appearances in all competitions. Not many at all, really; even for a squad of our size & quality.

Injuries have plagued him terribly…and that’s why I could never fully grasp a slow but definite dislike of him from a growing number of City fans. Although frustrated like many of my fellow Blues by his seemingly endless injuries, which, I have to add, he admitted to playing through at times last season; I’ve stuck by him in a sort of, ‘jury’s still out’ approach, where I could see that he had it within him to ‘come good’ if only his body would allow.

Came to us with a nickname, which always adds a certain amount of excitement…and, which, can increase expectancy also in many cases.

Last season’s injures appeared, then, to be carrying on into this season a little but in recent weeks - along with MANY of his treatment-table colleagues – he’s coming out of the other end (for now at least). Result? Better and better and BETTER performances form the Brazilian where he is most certainly living up to his “Octopus” nickname; with telescoping-leg-type tackles. ‘Sits in’ and covers intelligently too.

Worth the [almost bargain-like price these days] £12M paid? Well…

…7.5/10 this short season so far [even shorter for him of course] and, injuries / appearances permitting, I can see that being sustained by a player who COULD, potentially, be our deep-lying destroyer for a few years to come.

Why selected for analysis? No beating about the bush here – this player is in today’s piece because I personally have had – and have openly admitted to having – doubts over.

Signed 2 years and 5 months; at 28-years of age and for a player who had only ever played at club level in his home country of Brazil and later Russia; paying a whopping £34M ‘all in’ had me both saying, “Who?” and “How much?!”

Then, largely, I found him flaky and inconsistent to say the very least – a really good performance one week; perhaps a second following-on if you were lucky…but then 2 or 3 decidedly average-to-quite-poor performances from the slight-of-framed midfielder.

Last season still fresh in my mind today; he was pretty dire in comparison to a ‘fairly average’ first season (from memory of his debut season) in sky blue.

I then got quite irritated whenever I heard that last season’s performances were being blamed NOT on the fact that he had lasted until the very end of a long, hot World Cup tournament in his own country and, therefore, was exhausted (fully understandable of course); but RATHER that it was the devastating 7-1 drubbing by eventual winners, Germany (and perhaps even the 3-0 home defeat to Holland in the 3rd-place play-offs?), that had mentally kicked him in the teeth.

Yep…all of my own “Who?” and “How much?!” words were still very much echoing in my head. And his worse trait to add a sour cherry on the top? His flippin’ clumsy and persistent tendency for rash, ill-timed challenges; often in danger areas not far from our box.

This season? 15 appearances, 3 goals, 2 assists and, more importantly, SUCH an improved level of consistent performances both in defending and attack. At [now] 30 and 6 months of age, he’s like a new and [now] valuable player!

He can still ‘throw that leg out’ unnecessarily but all-in-all…

…a solid 8/10 this season so far. Long may it continue.

Why selected for analysis? No brainer – the incredible scrutiny by the WORLD, it seemed; City fans included of course and, which, continues today second by second. It actually brings the meaning of the phrase ‘under the microscope’ to a new level…

Nailing my colours to the flag? I wanted him; think he can only get better & better but, yes, at £49M we paid about £14M too much – but that’s the “English player ransom” for you of course…

15 appearances, 6 goals and 3 assists in all competitions for the winger / forward / playmaker who was cruelly, in some quarters, being labelled as an ‘average at best’ "striker". He’s not a striker people.

I’m not completely blind / blinkered in-having ‘nailed my colours’ – his finishing can be much improved for a player who often creates his own chances as well as that of others AND he can run into blind allies more often than I would like him to.

His performances can often be a little ‘Fernandinho [of old?] like’ too in terms of being a little, frustratingly inconsistent. And that’s why, despite an impressive-sounding 15 appearances, 6 goals and 3 assists, he gets a slightly mismatch-looking and “only”

…7.5/10. That's still very good indeed so far of course and, as I say, I have faith in-him becoming a real force over the coming years; surrounded by the increasing quality coming into MCFC season on season.

Why selected for analysis? Do I need to answer that? Wilfried is almost under the same scrutiny as Raheem and, I believe, only the lower price tag of £25M to an eventual £28M is keeping the microscope at a fairly ‘low-mag’ setting.

I’m gonna do it – as unfair on both players and as unscientific as it might be; I’m going to do an Edin Dzeko / Wilfried Bony comparison.

Attribute                        Edin Dzeko                Wilfried Bony
Aerial ability                             1                                  0
Attitude                                    0                                  1
Balance                                   0                                  1
Ball control                              0                                  1
Determination                          0                                  1
Pace                                        0                                  1
Passing                                    0                                  1
Positioning in front of goal       1                                  0
Power                                      0                                  1
Running off the ball                 0                                  1
Shooting accuracy                   1                                  0
Shooting power                        0                                  1
Strength on the ball                  0                                  1
Teamwork                                 0                                  1

Total score                             3                                  11

I…think my feelings have come through on that one. I’ll even take it one stage further by saying that Dzeko is only winning the “Shooting accuracy” category at the moment and that, in my humble, it’ll change soon enough.

Wilfried has suffered ‘the’ most horrendous run of injuries and illness. Signed for us on 14th January 2015 but was at the African Cup of Nations at the time; came back to us with a niggly injury and, I’m sure, a little fatigue, having got to and won the final. He, therefore, didn’t make his debut until 21st February 2015 (just 8-½ months ago).

Since then he’s had illness, a muscle injury or two and a large cut to his shin at the very least. All that…and he’s only been with us for 9-½ months (including a summer break)!

-       In the very brief 2014/15 season he had with us, he played 12 games (including part-games) scoring twice (unknown number of assists).

-       In the current season so far he’s managed 13 games in all competitions (again including part-games), scoring 5 goals and assisting with 3. Is that really bad?

I think what makes it appear “really bad” in some people’s eyes is that his tremendous work rate, like Raheem, often puts himself into plenty of goal-scoring positions and that, at the moment, he seems to need 4 chances to score just 1 goal (now that also sounds like a certain Mr Dzeko I’ll admit). He’s missing some really good, fairly-easy-looking opportunities I’ll admit also.

He’s snapping at changes - BLASTING at goal a lot of the time with a purpose and certain desperation to rip the net open in dramatic style; whereas as I’m sure all top, ex-professional strikers would tell him to try to relax and do the “simple thing”.

With regards to those Blues who have already ‘written him off’ and those who are losing faith at varying rates; I think he’s also suffering the same kind of scenario as Willy Caballero. It’s not just that Wilfried is “on the pitch”…he’s often “on the pitch for missing hero, Sergio Aguero”.

I’m right on his side and am convinced that he’ll ‘come good’ for us. It could be argued that Sparta Prague & Vitesse aren’t the VERY top level of football…but they are both in their respective country’s top divisions, where the Ivorian scored 22 from 59 and then 46 from 65 appearances respectively.

Swansea City were also (still are of course) in the English top division when he came to our shores and, where, he bagged 25 from 54 games. He was, in fact, the 2014 calendar top Premier League scorer.

Goals will come more fluently and with greater frequency for us, I’m convinced of it. In the mean time we have a powerhouse of a player who does keep defences busy and who DOES contribute a lot to the side both in terms of intelligent running and passing-interplay. And for that, despite his obvious on-the-pitch anxiety-driven urgency in front of goal, he gets a…

...solid 6.5/10 from me so far this season; with a ‘will do’ better rather than a ‘must do’.

Well that’s it really. Huh…no pre-Sevilla blog-posting and then all of that! That’s just how it’s going for me at the moment with personal stuff to contend with…

As I say, I’ll do a shorter, more bullet-pointed, half-term player rating on ALL of our players on or around the 19-league game, which’ll be about the end of December 2015 / beginning of January 2016.

Thank you, as always, for ‘taking the time’…

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