Monday, November 30, 2015


Manchester City’s major failing so far this season has been an inability to keep key defenders fit. The lack of stability and consistency at the centre of the defence has been the overriding factor in the team making a stumbling half-success of their title quest so far.

It is easy to criticize anything that moves these days and City at the top of the table and already through to the knock-out stage of the Champions League is, of course, a qualified success. However, the loss to Juventus and defeats to West Ham and in particular Spurs and Liverpool, where Pellegrini’s side was casually undressed one garment at a time, have set alarm bells ringing in some quarters.

City could and perhaps should be clear at the top of the Premier League and about to proceed in Europe as the top club in Group D. Given the paucity of proper challengers at the top of the Premier League, it is an indictment of City’s somewhat frail challenge so far that they are merely "in among the runners and riders" with a frisky but limited Leicester, a wholly uninspiring Manchester United and an Arsenal side unable to shake off any of its traditional ailments. Even Tottenham, annual deception artists, appear to be in with a shout in a season that has not yet thrown up an outstanding side.

Much of City’s problems can be put down to defensive frailties and the constant chopping and changing of personnel in this vital part of the team. 
Up to now, twenty games into the season, City have had five different centre back partnerships already. It is no coincidence that any that have featured Vincent Kompany also feature good results, but it must be said that contrary to popular belief Eliaquim Mangala’s stats are also pretty persuasive.

City’s five game opening streak, where they managed consecutive wins and conceded no goals, saw Kompany paired with Mangala. Whilst the Frenchman has spent much of his City career being heavily criticized, his darting, muscular approach actually dovetails pretty well alongside the calmer, more domineering Kompany. It is by far the best partnership City have tried out so far this season. In fact it even remained unbeaten in the sixth game, at home to Juventus, as the score was still 1-1 when the pairing was broken up by Kompany’s 75th minute injury.

City's most successful centre back pairing
Kompany’s partnership with new boy Otamendi has also showed promise, with three games played: the tight draw at Old Trafford, the superb win in Seville and the laboured home defeat of Norwich. 
On paper it looks like Otamendi has also produced the goods in partnership with Mangala: but of the three games, two wins were the thrashings of Newcastle and Bournemouth, hardly taxing for the defence, and four goals were conceded. In the four games shared by Kompany and Otamendi, only two goals were conceded. Plus the Otamendi-Mangala duo also have a bizarrely out of synch first half against West Ham to their names.The real problems arise when the lumbering shadow of Martin Demichelis appears. A lot has been said about the Argentinean’s loss of form, speed and awareness after his sterling efforts over the last two seasons. Whether he has been kept on a season too long or not is open to discussion, but the figures are certainly not sympathetic. He has been paired with Mangala twice and Otamendi five times. The partnership with Mangala includes the debacle against Liverpool.

In his latest outing this weekend, Demichelis had coped reasonably well with the first half efforts of Southampton, but when they went for the jugular at the start of the second period, his game disintegrated towards the lethal moment when he could be seen actually stepping out of the way of the advancing Shane Long. It was a weird attempt at a dummy, but looked a little like a man getting out of the way of an approaching train.

On the other occasions he has been paired with the eager Otamendi, things look patchy, with eight goals conceded in the five games they have shared. This includes the desperate cave-in at White Hart Lane, where City's defence did a passable impersonation of Billy Smart's Christmas Circus when the hooter announces the arrival of the guys in the oversized shoes.

The only combination not yet foisted on Manuel Pellegrini by the God of Hamstrings is Demichelis-Kompany.

Taking City’s worst results so far this season, the two four goal beatings by Spurs and
No circus this Christmas
Liverpool, have both occurred on Demichelis's watch. Strangely there is another link that might also be relevant: Fernando was also picked in defensive midfield in both those games. Clearly, the work done right in front of the back four is essential to its proper functioning too. City have dabbled with a Fernandinho-Fernando axis with Yaya Toure pushed forward and the more frequently seen Fernandinho-Toure pairing with only creative players beyond.

Question marks remain about Touré's continued ability to charge up and down the field as in the days of yore. he attempted two such runs at the weekend and made a mess of both. Fabian Delph's surprisingly sprightly performance alongside Fernandinho against Southampton brought fresh possibility to this area. When Fernando arrived and Tadic took control for Southampton, Delph's energetic presence was immediately missed.

Perhaps what Pellegrini might have learned as we near the half way period is this: City need Kompany back as quickly as possible. Whether he is paired with Otamendi or Mangala, might be less of an issue than the importance of persevering with Fernandinho and Delph as a really combative shield for the defence.

With Silva and Aguero back in the fold to galvanise City's forward options, the Chilean might not be too far away from finding his best team for the busy Christmas period.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Come on in, the door's open
Could it be that we are beginning to see a Phase Three Manchester City emerging?

Since the takeover by Sheikh Mansour in September 2008, City have been moving along like something strapped firmly to the side of a medium sized rocket. The impatient climb and the thirsty lust for silverware have already reaped their rich harvest, with an FA Cup, a League Cup, a Community Shield and two Premier League titles in the brief and exhilarating seven years that have ensued. 

A couple of Community Shield duds and a failed FA Cup final with Wigan can also be added to the list, as City fans have been deposited in aland of milk and honey that has necer tasted so sweet.

Clearly, given the investment, there is more to come. Just as clearly, more, much more, is expected too and City’s dreadful cave-in against Liverpool will have started a number of sizeable alarm bells ringing in the marble corridors Chez Mansour.

Manuel Pellegrini, it would seem, has been unlucky enough to have his hand on the tiller just as the good ship Manchester City sailed into a new and perhaps époque-defining era.

If Phase One of Mansour’s City was the beginning, the construction, the grand projet, the breakthrough to the edge of the Champions League and the excited baptism, trophy-wise, of the noisy infant, Roberto Mancini can think himself fortunate that it coincided with his stay on watch.
"Mancini, the man who got City up and running. The man who made us all believe. The man who delivered at a club where non-deliverance had become religion."
With expectations only moderate to good, owing to the 40 years of chaos and ridicule that City had produced before, Mancini’s efforts were always likely to be seen in a positive light. That they conjured a magical FA Cup victory over Stoke (that included an even more defining moment in knocking United out at the semi-final stage) and the most sensational league title win in English club history, cemented the Italian’s place in City folklore forever. The recriminations from a coach more than happy to show huge displeasure with his playing staff in public have faded to leave the mythology firmly in place: Mancini, the man who got City up and running. The man who made us all believe. The man who delivered at a club where non-deliverance had become religion. Mancini, the man who sent us all a love letter when he left, for God's sake, just in case anyone was in any doubt.

This tumultuous first phase was represented, then, by massive outlay, huge turnover in playing staff to begin the empire building and the biblical tornado of actually winning things. As a result City have affected a great many changes, among them an enlarged Etihad Stadium, the sumptuous football campus, a burgeoning youth academy and the regeneration  of large swathes of east central Manchester. Nothing more incredible, though, than a complete and successful overhaul of fans' traditional hangdog mentality.

Pellegrini’s arrival coincided roughly with a new, second phase, in which expectations now ran very high, as did confidence, spending and rhetoric. City were not just joining the elite, but they were rocking it enthusiastically from side to side. They were not just rubbing shoulders with the likes of United, they were rubbing their noses in the dust. Mancini had produced the shock and awe of the 6-1. It was for Pellegrini to remove the shock element from beating United and make it commonplace.

Saturday felt like most of the 70s and 80s felt against Liverpool: absolutely rank.
The Chilean’s era was signed and sealed with a 5 trophies in 5 years mantra. This really defined Phase Two at Mansour’s City: a self-assured, up-front acknowledgment that City were now big players with the squad to prove it. European participation had become a yearly staple, rather than an odd and irregular quirk. Winning trophies and being there at the culmination of all big tournaments was now more than a distinct possibility, more than a distant desire, it was a prerequisite if you wanted to keep your job.

And Pellegrini has delivered. To a point. This, his third, season will be absolutely critical. He will either maintain the target or fall below it for the first time. He won himself time and breathing space with the Premier League title and League Cup double in his first season (2013-14), which was just as well, as last season nose-dived. Either circumstances helped save him (the managers City were interested in weren’t available) or he had amassed just enough brownie points to maintain a reasonable grip on the rough edges at the top of the cliff.
"It is the one area where continual belly flops remind us of a cold and bleak past inhabited by balloon-induced defeats at Sheffield United and eight goal Sven-farewells at Middlesbrough."
Now things have changed again. We are entering what might logically be termed Phase Three, the End Phase. With the Liverpool performance still fresh in the mind and the team selection of the Chilean widely blamed for the unusually heavy home defeat (worst ever Etihad collapse and only the second time a visiting side has hit four), one line of thought has it that the Champions League has now taken priority over everything else. And why not? For Sheikh Mansour, there are probably a finite number of four goal thrutchings over Norwich and Aston Villa before it all becomes a little… you know, run of the mill.

What now looks exotic, enticing and perhaps even mildly realistic is a good tilt at the Champions League. It is after all the one place City still tread like Bambi rather than the self-assured beast we are now used to in England. It is the one area where continual belly flops remind us of a cold and bleak past inhabited by balloon-induced defeats at Sheffield United and eight goal Sven-farewells at Middlesbrough. We could of course travel further back to Cock-up County, but there is no need. City were still doing stand-up ten short years ago.

Phase Three, then, is underway and it is characterized by risk. Huge fees were again used to bolster the squad and make it fit for purpose. Fit for purpose in Phase Three looks increasingly like fit to win the Champions League. Why else would Sheikh Mansour once again produce the big bucks for Raheem Sterling , Kevin de Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi? Why else would Manuel Pellegrini rest important players for a game against Liverpool?

Another one.
Since when did City have the arrogance or desperation to put out a below strength side against Liverpool, the one team above all in the history of English football to rejoice in pushing City’s heads continually underwater? The countless four and five-goal drubbings in the 70s and 80s; the 4-0 and 6-0 defeats within four days under Alan Ball in 1995; relegation at their hands under the hapless Ball the same year, when Liverpool – actively trying not to win – couldn’t help themselves and beat City almost by mistake to send them down. The Liverpool against whom City have a masterful 26% win rate over the history of the fixture, the absolute worst of all their opponents.

This then smacked of an intensifying pressure on Pellegrini to land top spot in Champions League group D. Having started badly, yet again, with home defeat to Juventus, City have turned things around dramatically in a tricky group. For the first time the club is beginning to carry itself with a degree of upright confidence in this parade of monarchs. Finishing above Juventus, who City meet this Wednesday to fight for first place, will ensure no more Barcelonas at the last 16 stage. It might mean PSV Eindhoven instead of Bayern Munich. It could mean Phase Three is being realized and bedded in with some success.

What it evidently means for Mr Pellegrini is the unenviable pressure to bring in trophies this season whilst also making proper progress on the continent. On Saturday, City fans paid the price for this as the manager took his eye off the ball just long enough to receive a massive bloody nose. Liverpool shredded City’s half-hearted plan. With no Kompany and Otamendi at the back, the manager produced a rickety central defensive pair that played like Abbot and Costello. In apparently also resting City’s player of the season so far, Fernandinho, he exacerbated the problem of playing facing a team set up by Jurgen Klopp (perhaps wise to expect speed, ferocious pressing and an unremittingly energetic approach?), leaving City's midfield utterly overwhelmed and the flimsy Demichelis-Mangala Show open to all sorts of possibilities from Liverpool's mobile attack.

Was this the first sign of a serious transfer of eggs into the European basket? It would seem so. Phase Three is marked then by risk-taking, either calculated or gung-ho, that City’s squad can compete on both major fronts. In a way, the manager is right. This squad can do that and probably will, but what it cannot do is survive against a feisty and well-drilled title rival (because Liverpool on this form will surely join those vying for top spot) with three pillars of the side missing and its creative force also out injured. Klopp, jovial and relaxed before the match, will have scarcely been able to believe what his eyes were telling him. He was quickly joined by 54,000 others in this respect.

The pressure of Phase Three at City now means, for this oversight to be forgiven by the masses, City must prevail in Turin, at the home of last year’s Serie A winners and Champions League runners-up. Then at least a flawed plan would have been seen to be partially effective. There has never been pressure quite like this at City and Manuel Pellegrini has only succeeded in ramping it up an extra notch or two with his feeble team selection at the weekend. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


"Officer Hart did WHAAAT?"
This was a game put together like an ill-conceived chase scene from a silent movie: it began going after its own tale and only stopped to allow the main protagonist, an over-muscled man of Ivorian descent, to occasionally stand on a misplaced rake. A clunking soundtrack of tuts and sighs followed our hapless hero's every move until, suddenly tiring of going around in ever-slower circles, the whole show exploded in our faces with twenty men running after each other at top speed. 

For Mr Wilfried Bony, it must have felt like he had played the whole game with a grand piano parked on his big toe. 

A dull match illuminated by ten extravagantly ridiculous minutes right at the end.

And so things were at the Etihad. What should have been a gentle picnic ended up giving everybody indigestion. Norwich's garishly-coloured  blanket kept them comfortable and warm, while City tugged at its edges with varying degrees of failure, until the whole thing finally blew off in a fully fledged hurricane right at the end. 

With Yaya chugging in midfield and a front two unable to deal with Norwich’s extra numbers at the back (five at all times, ably abetted by four more that were midfielders by name only), it was down to what creativity City had at their disposal to break the green and yellow barrier down. Unfortunate then that this comprised a slightly below-par Kevin de Bruyne and a speedy and eager Jesus Navas. The former contributed the corner from which Nicolas Otamendi, the game’s outstanding player, thumped an imperious header, the latter a series of runs down the outside, delivering crosses that a big, fast, intelligent centre forward would have dined out on.

Unfortunately for City, not only did they not have one of those on the pitch, they don’t possess one in the squad. Thoughts wandered idly to Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo, feeding on a stream of such lofted balls in Rome and Valencia respectively. Instead we were treated to the Wilfried Bony Show, an epic catalogue of trying too hard, leathering decent chances like he was trying to hit a far off planet and running head-down-headlong like a man trying to escape from a padlocked barn. 

By the end, with a looking-at-the-floor run that ignored two colleagues well placed in open space, it and he had become a parody of himself. When an argument broke out right at the end as to who would take City’s second penalty in Yaya Toure’s absence, you closed your eyes and hoped the ball didn’t end up in his fellow Ivorian's hands, because – on a day like this, in a season like this, in fact – he would have taken some poor punter’s head clean off somewhere towards the back of the second tier of the North Stand.

Instead it was left to Aleksandar Kolarov to offer the final slapstick image of a last ten minutes that had copied the script of The Keystone Cops in Love, Loot and Crash starring the Bangville Police and a heavily sweating Fatty Arbuckle, when the Serbian swiped City's second penalty of the match casually wide. It was the hilarious culmination to a late period in the game, where everything had melted like the middle of Delia's chocolate drizzle cake.   

With City sauntering to an ill-gained one-nil win, Joe Hart took it upon himself to drop Brady’s speculative left foot cross onto the knee of a deeply surprised Cameron Jerome. The big striker didn’t know whether to laugh or do the hopscotch, but the chance to score could not have been easier if Hart had produced a silver tray and rolled the ball onto a well folded napkin.

City were duly asked to show some mettle and – bless their socks – they did just that, with Sterling, who had
The penalty went that way. After it.
rejuvenated the attack when replacing Iheanacho, playing his part in a desperate late onslaught. Still it took another goalkeeping howler to put City back in front, Ruddy fumbling a cross out to the edge of the box, where Sterling's goal-bound shot was shouldered away by Martin. A red card and penalty brought us the climactic end to the hair-brained chase.

Touré, an increasingly peripheral figure as the game had gone on, hit a lovely penalty low into the corner and all seemed well again. Still there was time for a ridiculously elastic stop from Hart as a deflected shot almost zipped past him and for Sterling’s late trickery in the box to end with a second penalty when he was dumped on his stomach by O'Neill.

By then we had all been thoroughly scorched by the contents of the game’s last 10 minutes . City’s Cake of Many Layers had done for us once again. Cue credits and fast music.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Allison: darling of the Stretford End
Not in my lifetime, noisy neighbours, welcome to Manchester, why always me

The heavily nuanced, insult-filled, low-respect Manchester Derby is back at the top of the bill, frothing at the mouth and swaggering like a top heavy drunk on his way out of Yates Wine Lodge.

This one reaches  us, as usual, with plenty coming to the boil, a full mother load of reputations at stake and the recognisable blustery faces telling us it is bound to be all red or all blue at the end of the day.

In the last five years Manchester has witnessed such a sea change that even that old sage Alex Ferguson has been caught on the hop. What was not supposed to happen in his lifetime, not only did just that but happened on his watch. Much of what we now see of Manchester United, a club scampering to pick up lost ground on their neighbours, is a result of the slack final chapters under Ferguson’s stewardship. United may have wrested the title away from City one final time before the Scot faded into retirement, but what has come since cannot all be blamed on the Glazers, on the incapacity of David Moyes and on the Ed Woodward Show.  

City are busy empire building. Whilst having Far East coconut drink partners smacks of a rampant commercialisation that City fans thought and hoped would never come their way, it is part of a new Manchester City unafraid to grasp opportunities and benefit from how modern football works. And, whisper it gently, they are making a pretty good fist of it all.

                Daniel Taylor’s Guardian report on youth teams' progress highlights a sea change in                       Manchester youth football
                Swiss Ramble’s financial report is proof of incredible progress off the pitch 

Football, dynamic , unpredictable and quixotic beast that it is, has sucked us all in and thrown us out the other side in somebody else's trousers. 

Current Manchester Status actually has the record league champions portrayed as upstart challengers, down on their luck despite spending a fortune to avert the decline and desperately clawing their way towards the light in a belly-scraping operation along the Chester Road. 

City, the feathered beauties, all shine and gloss, are Kings of the North with their two titles in three years (Reds will tell you it’s also two in 46 years, but never let the small print hold you down) and a slew of other baubles and trophies that have been collected since the desert sandstorm blew in over Moss Side.

And yet. Football's delicious ability to trip up the arrogant, to dispose with the cock-sure and put leeches in the bed of he who carps too long and too loud, means the first Manchester Derby of season 2015-16 brings together two sides well capable of doing damage to each other. United, diminished and devoid of the old swagger, can still grind out the wins. Louis van Gaal has dragged them up the table with a string of uncomplicated and unfettered victories that have been big on percentages and starved of style. The United power of the last two decades has faded now but the old beast can still throw a punch or two. City, with their tails up, step out in search of their 50th Derby win. That United already wait for their 70th tells the story of two and a half decades of unchallenged hegemony. 

City's enter the fray without Sergio Aguero and David Silva and with Vincent Kompany unsure whether it is his brittle hamstrings or his manager’s hurt feelings that have been keeping him away from first team action. These absences represent United’s best chance, for City with the Spanish-speaking pair would surely be too strong for their neighbours. As it stands, summer additions like Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are hardly much of a drop in quality, while Kompany is likely to be given the nod over the slash-happy Otamendi.

Brightwell: welly
The Blues may have followed up a scintillating start to the season with a dreary defeat to West ham and an inexplicably leaky performance at White Hart Lane, but the signs since then have been pointing back towards the positive. In beating their last two opponents 6-1 and 5-1, City have hardly needed to break into a sweat.  That will almost certainly not be the case at Old Trafford, in a game where traditionally nothing is gained without serious toil being involved. Given that in the past even that was often not nearly good enough, City must up their game and their mental approach considerably on the last feeble effort when United rolled them over far more easily than was expected.

United remain in front in the Derby stakes thanks to a period between 1983 and 2003 where City hardly had a look in. Andy Hinchcliffe, Ian Brightwell and a select few lightened the burden briefly, but the rest was dull, dark and dense. 

City’s recent years have mainly been spent shattering perceptions of them put in place by Giggs and Butt and Scholes over a painful drawn-out period of bruises and black eyes: The FA Cup victory over Stoke after waiting to replicate the feeling of 1969, a first League Cup win since 1976, a league title after 44 years twiddling thumbs and wringing hands. Not since the Malcolm Allison-inspired days of bravado in the late 60s when the coach would stride up to the heaving Stretford End before the start of the game and raise the number of fingers that he thought City would win by have City had such a clear upper hand.

Yet still the memories of André Kanchelskis whipping  in three goals in a truly horrible 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford in 1994 cling to us. Still the pictures of Hughes and Ince and Bruce waving their fists in the air haunt our dreams. Samir nasri’s casually raised leg and last season’s shambolic no-show have added more recent layers to the technicolour nightmare that losing to United represents.

Time, though, stands still for no one and the next chapter is about to commence.  Maybe it is no longer so clear who the noisy neighbours are and who let the football do the talking for them. Maybe it is no longer so evident who the title big-shots are and who are tagging along in their limelight. Things have changed quickly on the Manchester football scene, too quickly for some, more rapidly than even the wiliest old souls predicted, but you get the distinct feeling that the trend of the last five years that has brought the Blues to parity with the Reds and carried them quickly beyond, has not yet run its fascinating course.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


City take a walk into near-virgin territory this week with the first of two games against Sevilla in the Champions League. Although the clubs have met before (a 5-1 win for Sevilla in a 1951-52 friendly), City have never played in this part of the world in a competitive fixture.

In recent years, the club has begun building up an unenviable record against some of Spain's more high profile clubs, being unlucky enough to bump straight into Barcelona in the last 16 for the past two seasons of disappointing Champions League combat. As well as the four games against the Catalans (which threw up a monotone four straight defeats), City have also played Real Madrid with little noticeable success and were also pitched against Villareal twice in the group stages of their inaugural Champions League season in 2011-12.

The Madrid games proved a chastening experience, with City extremely unfortunate at the Bernabeu, having a 2-1 lead turned into defeat in the final minutes of the match. Still, a defeat's a defeat and the Blues only have the solitary home point from a 1-1 draw at the Etihad to show for their games with Real so far. For the fans, who travelled to the Spanish capital, there were the usual squeaks along the way before the seemingly inevitable fate befell us.

The Villareal experience proved a considerably more positive. In a similar situation to now, City played the Spaniards home then away in consecutive Group A games after playing Italian and German opponents in the shape of Napoli and Bayern Munich. As with this week's fixture, Villareal also offered an opportunity to get qualification properly on track after a stuttering start, which had seen City draw their first ever Champions League game with Napoli and then lose in controversial circumstances in Bavaria, on the night Carlos Tevez got his ego caught up in his tracksuit bottoms.

City won the home game by the skin of their teeth, a last minute Sergio Aguero goal (actually timed at the soon-to-be magic 93 minute mark) finally turning a match around that had swung Villareal's way as early as the 4th minute. The second game is still fondly remembered as one of City's best away showings in the competition so far, a 3-0 win hinting at what Roberto Mancini's side might be capable of later in a season that ended in the most dramatic domestic title win in living memory.

A critical defeat in Naples meant both City and Villareal would ultimately miss out on qualification from a difficult group, so the two wins against the Spaniards had not been enough. Two wins against Sevilla almost certainly will suffice this time around.

City's recent record against Spanish sides in the Champions League looks like this then:

P 8 W 2 D 1 L 5
2011-12 CITY 2 Villareal 1  /  Villareal 0 CITY 3
2012-13 Real Madrid 3 CITY 2  /  CITY 1 Real Madrid 1
2013-14 CITY 0 Barcelona 2  /  Barcelona 2 CITY 1
2014-15 CITY 1 Barcelona 2  /  Barcelona 1 CITY 0 
In the only other competitive fixture with a Spanish side in the modern era of regular European qualification, City were placed in a wildly unbalanced looking Europa League group in 2008-09 which would look overburdened with quality if drawn out today. Not the slightest sign of anything from Azerbaijan or Finland here : it featured Schalke, Paris St Germain, FC Twente and Racing Santander. Even back then City were pulling out the plum draws.

The group's uneven format meant City played certain teams at home only and others away only,
Darius Vassell makes vague contact in Santander
leading to another memorable trip for travelling Blues to the northern port of Santander. Sadly the trip will be best remembered for the beach-side hostelries than the football, which City managed to lose with a whimper, the only goal coming from substitute Felipe Caicedo in the 92nd minute.

Caicedo's strike, a thing of some rarity and very little beauty, ended the night's rendition of "he comes from Ecuador, he'll never fucking score" and also put an end to any hopes the locals had had of exiting the group, as PSG's win over Twente the same night put paid to that.

To complete the distinct feelings of imbalance on a strange evening, City's attack was occupied by Robinho and Ched Evans, one of the least likely strike partnerships to grace European football, whilst further back Micah Richards and Tal Ben Haim provided the Keystone Cops defending:
2008-09 Racing Santander 3 CITY 1
To find City's other competitive opponents from Spain in European competition, we have to head back to the only other time the club was considered a major player domestically and abroad. On the way to lifting the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup in Vienna, City beat Athletic Bilbao in the first round. Bilbao, with future West Brom manager Ronnie Allen in charge, were backed by a noisy 45,000 Basque crowd for the first leg. Malcolm Allison, still smarting from the previous season's inglorious exit to Fenerbahçe, after the coach's threats that his City side would run riot across the continent, played seven of the team beaten by the Turks. Only Joe Corrigan, in for Ken Mulhearn, captain Tony Book - who had been injured the previous year - Tommy Booth and Ian Bowyer (replacing Tony Coleman) were new.

With City trailing 0-2 after a quarter of an hour, Neil Young managed to peg one back before half time, only for the home side to reopen a two-goal lead in the 2nd half. Back came City again, with goals from Booth and Luis Etcheberria in his own net to gain a creditable 3-3 draw. Allison was as forthright as usual after the game, saying, "The boys have the needle tonight, because we didn't win. Just wait until we get them to Maine Road. We'll give these Spaniards a roasting..."

Allison's boastful prophesy was to be proved right on this occasion, City running out easy 3-0 winners in a second leg watched by nearly 50,000 at Maine Road, with Colin Bell, Alan Oakes and Ian Bowyer notching the goals. City would go on to beat Lierse, Académica de Coimbra, Schalke 04 and Gornik to lift their only European trophy to date.
1969-70 Athletic Bilbao 3 CITY 3  /  CITY 3 Athletic Bilbao 0
Alan Oakes' shot hits the Bilbao net at Maine Road
Three seasons later saw City's only other competitive game with a Spanish side, this time Valencia in the UEFA Cup. After a 2-2 draw at Maine Road in the first leg, City travelled to the Mestalla. Amongst the intrepid Blues fans was Graham Corless who later wrote in Dave Wallace's book "Us and Them" in the ground we joined a small but very loud band of City supporters who cheered all through the match. I remember Valencia attacking from the off (as they had done at Maine Road in the first leg) with the old Real legend Alfredo di Stefano in charge. They came through 2-1 winners. Rodney Marsh gave us hope but Valencia's pace upfront caused us too many problems...

This was the day that club president Albert Alexander died, providing a sad backdrop to City's early exit from the competition.

1972-73 CITY 2 Valencia 2  /  Valencia 2 CITY 1
There have been a few friendlies against Spanish opposition, listed below, but on the whole, City have managed to avoid this part of the Iberian peninsular with some success. When they did make it to Spain, it was almost always to return with their tales between their legs. Of particular interest on this front was the brutal Christmas friendly with Real in 1979 when City received few presents bar the five goals and two red cards dished in their direction. More recently, Real also took City to the cleaners in the last pre-season, when a scratch City side faced the all-whites (in off grey) in a match that turned into a Cristiano Ronaldo exhibition match, straight legged goal look at me celebrations and all.

Friendly results against Spanish opposition: 
1951-52 Sevilla  a 1 5
Barcelona  a 1 5
Real Zaragoza a 3 1
1956-57 Lloret de Mar a 9 0
Barcelona  a 2 3
1974-75 Barcelona a a 2 3
1976-77 Real Betis  a 1 1
1979-80 Real Madrid  a 2 5
1980-81  Real Betis  a 1 3
1986-87 Malaga a 3 0 Tourneio Int. Costa del Sol
Real Betis  a 0 0 Tourneio Int. Costa del Sol
Valencia a 0 2
Huelva a 2 2 Colombino Tourneio
Barcelona a 1 1 Colombino Tourneio
1990-91  Real Sociedad a 1 1 Tourneio Int. Real Sociedad
2002-03  Barcelona  h 2 1 Inaugural City of Manchester Stadium match
2007-08 Valencia h 0 1 Thomas Cook Trophy
2009-10 Barcelona  a 1 0 Juan Gamper Trophy
2010-11 Valencia h 2 0 Thomas Cook Trophy

2015-16   Real Madrid        Aus          1    4
 * full record and description of all games v Barcelona can be read here 
** full story of the controversial game with Real Madrid in 1979 can be accessed here

The view from the visitors' section at the Bernabeu 2012-13

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Otamendi prepares to clear his lines
Saturday 17th October 2015
Manchester City 5 Bournemouth 1

City lose five goal Sergio Aguero and replace him with 5-goal Wilfried Bony and Raheem Sterling. Jesus Navas refuses to use his left foot, probably keeping it dry for his old pals from Seville. Meanwhile, further back, Mangala again forgets to close down an opponent who is shaping to shoot, with predictable consequences. Alongside him Nicolas Otamendi is still shanking his clearances like an amateur golfer with a heavy slice problem. The matchday programme includes a drawing of the Argentinean that reduces kids to tears, whilst his majestic diagonal passes into the stands have the same effect on their parents.

City follow 6 with 5 and lead the table, although 2nd and 3rd place are occupied by 3-0 away winners, with the top three having a Top Three look about it already.

For the second home rout on the trot, manager Pellegrini removes his big hitters with half an hour still to go, Paranoid about injuries? You bet and with good cause. As each one leaves, the crowd looks intensely for the signs of a limp. But City aren’t limping, they’re breaking into a gallop.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living, the rest of us wait for the horse to go lame, because habits of a lifetime die hard.

Friday, October 16, 2015


Eddie tries a slick one-liner on John Benson v Luton Town
Most clubs, who come up against Bournemouth in the Premier League this season will be doing so comfortable in the knowledge that this is an opponent that has seldom, possibly never, crossed their paths in league competition. 

For City, however, the sight of the South Coast team will take them back to a recent past when the club’s fate appeared attached to a sizeable breezeblock.

City's infamous draw at Maine Road in the penultimate game of 1988-89, where a win would have seen the club promoted, became a benchmark for about as typical City as you could get. In true style, the team had been 3-0 up after 45 minutes and thus coasting to a fabulous sun-drenched promotion party. 

With the Kippax in full voice and the hostelries of central Manchester preparing themselves for a bumper evening, manager Mel Machin went down with a full and boisterous bout of Cityitis that some will say he never fully recovered from.

Calling sometime comic Eddie Large into the dressing room at half time, Machin sat back and allowed the rotund tv personality to administer the team talk for the second half. Paul Lake takes up the story in his autobiography, painting an interesting picture of a club preparing to go out for 45 minutes of football that - if successfully negotiated - would lift them back into the elite. You wonder what Don Revie or Joe Mercer would have done. 

"An assured first half performance was capped with a brace of goals from Paul Moulden and a poacher’s strike from Trevor Morley. Our promotion was almost within touching distance, and so buoyant was our mood that we almost danced a Highland fling up the tunnel at half-time. Adding to our glee was the fact that the club had promised us an immediate no-expense spared holiday abroad if we were to secure the three points and as such were prepared to field a second string side for what would be a meaningless final game of the season.
As we back slapped each other in the dressing room and mentally packed our suitcases, a typically low key Mel Machin expressed caution and warned us against complacency, but then a mischievous grin played across his face as he informed us that he’d arranged for one of his pals to give us a quick motivational pep talk. What do we need this for? We’re 3-0 up, for Chrissakes’ I remember thinking, wondering which former colleague of the gaffer’s was going to get wheeled out.
From the direction of Roy Bailey’s physio room toddled Eddie Large, the Mancunian funny man and City fanatic who, in those days was a huge primetime TV star with his weekly sidekick ‘supersonic’ Syd Little. What followed was the most surreal half time team talk I’ve ever experienced. Eddie wearing a shiny grey showbiz suit with rolled up sleeves, proceeded to dole out individual advice to each of the players using his well known repertoire of celebrity impersonations. So Deputy Dawg ordered me to keep tight in defence; Frank Carson told Nelly to use the width and pace of Whitey; Cliff Richard advised Trevor Morley to shoot on sight; Harold Wilson told Bob Brightwell to keep it simple and Benny from Crossroads told Andy Dibble to stay awake. If only the cat had heeded Benny’s advice. He conceded three goals in the 2nd half (no thanks to a defensive horror show in the final ten minutes, and a Bournemouth midfielder by the name of Ian Bishop running rings round us) and the sure fire win that we’d assumed at the interval finished up as a sorry score draw. Mel’s mystifying decision to take off in form Paul Moulden at the interval probably hadn’t help matters, but we were all to blame for a pathetic 2nd half display.
After the match we sat in the changing room dumbstruck, half expecting Eddie Large to com back in and do his Oliver Hardy Impression.“Well Boys, that’s another fine mess you’ve got yourselves into…?”

Bournemouth’s 95th minute penalty equalizer produced something less than belly laughs on an occasion that will stick in the minds of anybody, who was unlucky enough to witness City melt quicker than the ice creams on sale down Claremont Road.

Turn right here
The other Bournemouth memory that everyone will have had trouble shaking off over the last 15 years is of Kevin Horlock, walking slowly from the Dean Court pitch after being awarded the most ridiculous red card in football history. 

Mr Brian Coddington, for it was he, had already dismissed Jamie Pollock for “being slightly overweight”, when he yet again brought play to a halt so that he could play a brief tune on his whistle. Horlock exasperated and clearly inflamed by the off-key flautist, was immediately sent packing before he could even reach Mr Coddington with a suggestion of where to lodge his instrument. “Aggressive walking” was the infamous description given by the official, who later helped Michel Platini with some of his keynote speeches to UEFA congress.

Clearly City should be well aware that when Bournemouth hove into view, the planet tilts a little to one side. You have all been warned.

Poets and Lyricists