Tag Archives: Manchester City

The Manchester derby, part 1

Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic are challenged by Yaya Toure (Getty)

The hype machine went into overdrive for no real reason. The derby was built up to something it was never going to be: a back-and-forth game full of scoring chances and acrobatic saves.

Have any of these commentators seen Manchester City play this season? More importantly, do they know anything about Roberto Mancini?

The problem with the general assumption that the derby would be a cracking game is that neither team is really playing that well right now. Also, City spend all of its money on defensive midfielders rather than creativity (and the one creative winger they do have – Adam Johnson – played 8 minutes). On the other hand, Wayne Rooney was out and my opinions of United’s wingers are well known. Not only that, but Michael Carrick was starting, which is never a good thing.

I figured Sir Alex would match City’s formation and try to counter-attack given his squad’s status (pay no attention to the virus claims, David Hirshey; they’re called mind games). In fact, United dominated the second half, esp. in terms of possession. I figured City would come out more aggressive, but they didn’t, partly because they’re not built that way and partly because that’s not Mancini’s style. True to form, the game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Can we take any grand conclusions from this game? No, not even a little bit. Both teams played like any rational evaluator would have guessed. Neither looks like it will challenge Chelsea for the title this season because both are deeply, deeply flawed. City has delusions of grandeur, but Sir Alex knows he’s getting the most out of his players as (I hope) he looks for reinforcements.

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Nigel de Jong should be banished

And he should be banished for a long, long time. Perhaps, if there was fairness in life, as long as Hatem Ben Arfa is injured (which is expected to be six months).

De Jong is clearly a dirty player. He makes reckless challenges that injure people. First, there was the infamous kick in the World Cup final. He didn’t even try for the ball. Instead, he kung-fu kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest. Fortunately, the Spaniard didn’t suffer a serious injury, but, in what’s becoming a pattern, de Jong went unpunished.

Nigel de Jong's "tackle" on Xabi Alonso

Now, two days ago in Manchester City’s 2-1 victory over Newcastle, de Jong slid in on Hatem Ben Arfa and broke his leg in two places. Again, the Dutchman wasn’t punished. To make matters worse, the FA decided against taking action (updated on 11 October).

Nigel de Jong breaks Hatem Ben Arfa's leg in two places

Although I guess there is some justice in the fact that he was dropped from the Dutch national team.

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Transfer round-up

Rafael van der Vaart

In which I publish a list of notable transfers, in no particular order:

Rafael van der Vaart to Tottenham: For a measly £8 million, Spurs added an excellent player in Rafael van der Vaart. He’ll give the offense a bit of class and a lot of punch. I never understand why he didn’t feature prominently at Real Madrid, not do I understand why he doesn’t play more for the Dutch national team. And I don’t understand why Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t all over this move, especially at only £8 million. Their loss is Tottenham’s gain.

Robinho to AC Milan: For €18 million, AC Milan added a supremely talented striker and malcontent. He’s one of those guys who needs constant attention, which must be exhausting, to be honest. However, I think he’ll provide a good return on the money because he’s motivated and he’s wanted at Milan.

Asamoah Gyan to Sunderland: Ambitious Sunderland added World Cup hero Gyan in a bid to give the offense a boost. I, for one, think it will work out just swimmingly.

Javier Mascherano to Barcelona: A terrible move for both club and player. Mascherano doesn’t fit Barcelona’s system at all. This is a vanity signing, pure and simple. And it’s destined for failure.

Raul Meireles to Liverpool: A good move for Liverpool because Meireles is a gifted player (despite his comically bad tattoos). I think he’ll work out fine.

Mario Balotelli to Manchester City: And City add another player. And overpay for the privilege, too. Of course, that’s been the story of the last couple of years. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Ramires to Chelsea: A good move by Chelsea. And cheap-ish, too.

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Carlos Tévez might retire

carlos tevez (getty)

Captain Caveman looking particularly caveman-ish (Getty Images)

Or so he says, if Argentina win the World Cup (good news for him: they won in my Football Manager 09 game).

From Captain Caveman hizownself:

“It’s complicated, there’s my family, the desire to return to Boca Juniors, but I think about it. It crosses my mind to hang up my boots if we win the World Cup, although I have a contract (with Manchester City) until 2014. “I’m a bit tired of so much football, so much football. I want to enjoy my family a bit. I’m very keen to stop and get a bit of calm. I’ve already won a lot. Living for football has saturated me.”

I’m starting to think Tévez might be a bit needy. Like that girlfriend you had that asked, after you spent the day together, “Why don’t you pay attention to me?” You think that might be why he left United? Because Sir Alex didn’t cater to his need for attention?

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Premiership news wrap-up: City of Manchester edition

Martin Petrov (Getty Images)

Martin Petrov (Getty Images)

Martin Petrov is the early leader for quote of the year. When he scored against West Ham United to put Manchester City ahead, he ran to his bench and pointed at his name and jersey number. When asked if he was making a point to manager Mark Hughes, Petrov said, “No, I didn’t do it for him. I did it for my wife because she forgot my number.”

Two Manchester United stories…

FIFA and the English FA have given Manchester United the go ahead to register French teenager Paul Pogba. Apparently Le Havre president Jean-Pierre Louvel’s hysteria wasn’t enough to convince the judge that (a) Le Havre had the player signed to a contractand (b) United paid his parents to have him sign at Old Trafford. Go figure.

Second, Owen Hargreaves is “desperate” to rejoin the first team. That makes sense, given that he hasn’t played in about 5 years or so. However, I think he should really make sure he’s healthy and target a reserves return in November and a first team return in December/January. But that’s just me.

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Premiership Matchday 6: Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City

Michael Owen scores versus Manchester City on 20 September 2009

Michael Owen scores versus Manchester City on 20 September 2009

In perhaps the most anticipated Manchester derby in recent years, the two teams failed to disappoint. The match was marked by quick pace and possession; there was nary a negative play in sight, even in the last 5 minutes when prudence dictated that United turn to defensive tactics. But more on that in a second. I feel like I have to address the extra time issue first. Mark “Sparky” Hughes is certain to be angry, since 4 minutes were indicated and nearly 6 were actually played. But midway through the third minute, he was stalking the sideline and by the time the clock turned to 4 minutes, he was nearly as red in the face as Sir Alex. To be fair, Sparky may have a point, though 30 seconds were added for the substitute (Carrick for Anderson) and at least 30 second for Bellamy’s fantastic goal in the 90th minute. In short, the referee probably has a defensible position.

But the match. Oh, what a match! I thoroughly enjoyed it in its entirety. Hands up everyone who saw Darren Fletcher ever scoring two goals in one game, let alone two headers in one game. Put your hand down, you liar! And Craig Bellamy who, in one commentator’s words, plays best when he’s angry. And boy was he angry. He looked like he felt slighted for the entire game and put that to good use, embarrassing England’s best defender, Rio Ferdinand, in the 90th minute to tie the match at 3. My heart sank when that happened (while Ferdinand was beaten like a rented mule, Ben Foster should have made a better play for the ball, but I digress). And then little Mickey Owen came to the rescue.

I’ve been on board with the Owen signing from the beginning. I think he can do exactly what he did tonight: come on and bring a fresh burst of energy in the second half (that’s not to say he can’t start the odd game, I’m thinking mainly domestic cup matches and some Premiership matches). In today’s case, he burst down the left side and received a brilliant cross from the peerless Ryan Giggs and slotted home the winner 5 minutes into extra time. It was breathtakingly quick and ruthlessly efficient.

My fascination with Manchester City remains. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on there, though I do know that they missed Emmanuel Adebayor today. I also know that Craig Bellamy is remorselessly effective yet he’ll be stapled to the bench once Adebayor and Robinho return. Their mids – esp. Nigel de Jong – are impressive at all times and appeared to have the run of the place until Sparky changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. It is their backline which causes the problems. Micah Richards is a hothead and is frequently caught out of position (kind of like how Patrice Evra used to be). Square-headed Joleon Lescott was less than effective today and doesn’t seem to be worth the money City spent on him. Wayne Bridge was overmatched. Only Kolo Touré, who was basically a holding mid all match, looked like he belonged.

Nevertheless, this was a match for the ages. It was impressive all around and should whet everyone’s appetite for the return leg in a few weeks. This was a classic match with everything you want from soccer – speed, tackling, offensive play, and brilliant goals. I’m not sure what it means in the larger sense yet but I’ll figure that out. For now, I’m going to enjoy the victory.

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On baby farming

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager

Chelsea signed French striker Gael Kakuta. Manchester United signed French midfielder Paul Pogba. A few years further back, Arsenal signed Spanish midfielder Cesc Fàbregas from the Barcelona system. And then, yesterday, Manchester City signed two 14-year-olds from Leeds United in an act Leeds chairman Ken Bates called “baby farming.” Manchester City executive chairman Garry Cook said, “Everything to do with this is under the microscope, call it child trafficking, baby farming, whatever you like, it has opened up a Pandora’s Box, with everyone looking into that box, and clubs like ours are being unfairly pinpointed for all sorts of reasons.” And that’s exactly what it looks like: a non-denial denial. So what, if anything, should be done to prevent big clubs from signing talented youngsters from smaller clubs?

Of course, most of the big clubs have no come out in support of a ban on under-age signing but that smacks of covering their own asses. It’s now politically unacceptable to sign players who are under 18.

Arsène Wenger is one of the few to suggest that “baby farming” is an acceptable practice. “Look at the alternative. If you ban players from moving before the age of 18, you know what will happen? The player will be sold anyway,” he said. “To whom? To agents. At what age? At 13, 14. Where will they go? Not to top-level clubs with top-level education.” You know what? That makes sense to a certain degree, if only because it was Wenger who said it and he strikes me as believable.  But it only makes sense where there isn’t enough regulation.

I am thinking of South America, where third-parties are allowed to own economic rights, as a case on point. There, and in other places, FIFA needs to step in and police the domestic leagues. Oversight is necessary. FIFA needs to start earning the billions of dollars it takes in by ensuring that all those youngsters around the world who are trying to be professionals have some protection from unscrupulous agents.

The answer to this vexing problem lies, of course, at the intersection of competition and economics. At what point does competition trump economics? Or vice versa? When it comes to young players, the goal is to provide two things: soccer education and proper academic education. Perhaps the answer, in poorer nations, is FIFA-sponsored national academies, akin to the current projects in South Africa.

This is a prime opportunity for FIFA to step forward and be a leader. It should not be passed up.

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