…a completely different era.
Firstly, I can’t possibly move on without mentioning a certain game played at the Etihad last Tuesday night (apologies for the lack of time I had to do either a pre or post-game blog-posting).
There was a significant period in the first half where, for around 25 minutes, Barcelona were ‘doing their stuff’; knocking it around with apparent ease, working hard in general and both defending & attacking to very good effect. It subdued the home crowd considerably as I sat there myself thinking, ‘Oh God here we go again…”.
But…WOW! What a reaction! We somehow found 2 extra gears and played so very, very well indeed; that I’ll go as far as to say that, them-clattering-the-crossbar-aside, the 3-1 scoreline could - and perhaps should - have been 5 or 6 to City! One of the best games and City performances I’ve seen in 30+ years and once we got our equaliser, I have to say that the home fans were then terrific! Great atmosphere.
I didn’t realise just what a whingebag Lionel Messi was on the pitch [corridor incident aside]. He was grouchy & grumbly for most of the night and, in fact, made a challenge in the second half that easily deserved a yellow in my book (the ref was ‘BILLY BOBBINS’ by the way).
Still, as I posted online a couple of days later, I wouldn’t mind him whinging for us someday soon…
A defensive dilemma?
Before I move onto my various predictions, one area of the team it’ll be interesting to see what Pep does with – and one, therefore, perhaps hard to predict – is the defence.
Against a team in the ‘lower reaches’ of the Premier League at our last, home league game (Southampton); Pep went for an extra midfielder and played 3 at the back. Well…we’re about to play a team in the ‘lower reaches’ again this afternoon and, so, will our manager be tempted to do that again?
Well I thought the back 4 against Barcelona played very well indeed and so there’s a very good case for not changing that formation at least; even if a couple of players who endured a full 93 minutes+ on Tuesday need resting.
If Guardiola does revert to a back 3 for the visit of Boro, where does that leave Pablo Zabaleta? I single him out because I don’t necessarily see him fitting into a ‘trio defensive wall’ and in midweek he was awesome; the best of the ‘defensive group’ I thought! Fresh leg issues aside; you surely can’t leave him out today…
So…some thinking on that department to be done by our boss.
Predicted starting 11, subs and outcome.
Fluid 4-5-1 come 4-3-3 come 4-2-4:
Claudio to resume his starting duties in net, having served his European suspension on Tuesday night.
I’m going for him to stick with a back 4…
In comes Gael on the left in a rotation of that defensive flank and I’m going for Pablo to be rewarded for a superb midweek performance on the opposite side. John to keep his place but I think we’ll see Vinny come in alongside him and, therefore, take back the Captain’s armband from Zaba.
Fernando likely to step in for this one with his similar-named colleague subject to a late fitness test and ahead of ‘The Octopus’; ‘in form’ Ilkay and ‘often in form’ David. Kevin likely to start somewhere down the left-hand-side and improving again (apart from [still] last-second decisions in front of goal) Raheem on the opposite wing area.
All of those supporting ‘our man Serg’ up front.
Willy, who looked very assured against the Spanish giants, highly likely to resume his place on the side and, defensive-wise, is likely to be joined by Aleks & Nicholas. After that it’s a very attacking & pacey line-up to choose from; in Nolito, Jesus, Leroy (I think!) and Kelechi.
Notable absences: Bacary Sagna (injured / expected return date of around 19th November), Fabian Delph (injured and still no return date), Fernandinho (late fitness test / took a bit of a knock / possibly not risked today) and Yaya Toure (not selected despite him-now-having apologised to Pep / City…instead of his agent).
Do I agree with Pep’s (predicted) line-up?
I’m not necessarily a fan of seeing Kevin out of one of the flanks; I think he’s FAR less effective and, sometimes when there, almost ‘missing in action’! However, someone has to operate ‘in that area’…and I also don’t like [even more so] seeing David there for the very same reasons.
He can’t – and I’m damn-sure won’t – drop Ilkay today and, so, Kevin is likely to get that left-side-role.
Other than that, that’s good for me!
Result? Fans who have been following City as long – or longer – than me will understand today’s blog headline. I’ve seen various City teams from various eras come unstuck against our North-East-coast visitors.
More than unstuck in fact; I’ve seen these give us a right good ol’ thumping and, frustratingly, they’re the same in the cups as they have been in the league(s) with us; knocking us out of various competitions on numerous occasions.
All of this, by the way and for those who might not have experienced the ‘Boro factor’, is the same whether we play them away or at home!
Strange things seem to happen against this lot too – I’m thinking the disallowed goal that should NEVER have been at ‘their place’; when left-back Danny Tiatto took possession of the ball in OUR half and ran with it the whole way to slot the ball into Boro’s goal…only for it to be given off side!
And, if memory serves, the game at home where we needed to win to qualify for the UEFA Cup and one Robbie Fowler was about to take a penalty for us against ‘The Smoggies’.
A strange, unnerving atmosphere descended and spread around the ground; far more than any anxieties from a ‘normal penalty situation’. Sure enough those ‘vibes’ were passed onto the pitch; as the ex-Liverpool & England striker had his shot saved. Result? 1-1…and instead of us heading into Europe the following season, Middlesbrough took our place instead!
As I say, it’s weird when we play this lot…
But it’s a completely different era & situation now and, more recently, we’ve gone from a 6-game winless streak where we conceded 12 goals to a contrasting, P2, W2, D0, L0. F7, A1 (and we beat Barca in one of those two games, I’ll ‘name drop’ again).
I can’t say I’ve studied Boro a lot last season or this but I do keep hearing and reading about their manager and how well he has them playing for the most part. I believe they like to keep possession themselves; like to ‘play football’ (a strange phrase that often makes me smile) but, at the same time, are organised in defence and can be dangerous on the counter attack.
Expect ANOTHER possible tight game for long spells.
Midweek reaction from City? Well we could – and should - be absolutely BUZZING and, I don’t think, we’ll see any signs of fatigue; seeing as we played on Tuesday [and not Wednesday]. Could we be, perhaps, slightly overconfident and, therefore, make some ‘slip-ups’? I doubt it; even Pep said in his pre-match ‘presser’ that we’re not taking these lightly…and nor should we, despite their league position of 15th.
But after all that spiel, I’m going for us to take the last 2 games and ‘run with it’. It’s a home win for me.
Expected weather conditions during the game: It’s Autumn…but winter has arrived! 6F (max) will feel more like 2 or 3F in the forecasted 12 to 15MPH-steady, Northerly breeze. A fine day for footy though with crisp-blue, sunny skies all afternoon. It’s a case for layers, thick coats & shades, I would suggest…but that ‘funny lot’ from the North East will no-doubt be going topless. Hilarious…