Is Jesus Navas City’s Plan B? – CDZ003

The England keeper remains under close examination in the national media

The England keeper remains under close examination in the national media

Welcome to Corazon De Zaba, the third edition. The season is underway and we’re taking a look at our opening trio of fixtures, two of them against promoted sides. Joe Hart’s come under close scrutiny, despite keeping two clean sheets at home. We’ve also had good look at three of the five new signings; Fernandinho, Negredo and Jesus Navas; the latter we focus on in the second part of the edition.

First of all though, we cast our minds back to early August, when the start of the season seemed an age away, but alas came City Live.

It was the summer the sun shone, the summer it rained. The summer we won the Ashes, for those who cared to watch or use what sport they could to distract us from a break with no senior international football tournament, just Balegate, Fabregasgate, Rooneygate etc. City settled their business early, and watching Sky Sports News has at times been as mundane and repetitive as, well….watching Sky Sports News.

What we needed was a party, something to lighten the mood. Something to tease you that the season was weeks, in fact days away and you just had to endure it that little bit longer. Enter City Live, the club’s pre-season launch party held earlier last month (August 8th) at Manchester Central. It’s never been done before, and it’s unlikely such an event will be bettered by another club.

The line-up was stellar and there was no room for Hew Ferris at the anchor although Fanzone Danny Jackson and Natalie Pike somehow managed to breach security. Besides that, the event had everything – humour provided by Jason Manford; a sense of inclusiveness and equality with a mention of the women’s side (recently taken on officially by the club); a message of origin and routes portrayed in montages the envy of any sports broadcaster and a tip of the hat to City’s (hopefully) emerging youth programme, spearheaded by Patrick Vieira.

Fundamentally, it was a family orientated event warmed up with a soundtrack of Manchester band anthems, but no-one came prepared for the opening section of the show; a tribute to the late Bert Trautmann and the inauguration of an annual award in his honour, given posthumously to the man himself. The VT rolled, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few tears didn’t also, down the cheeks of old and young within the crowd. It was a level of emotion few would have anticipated, but the fun that followed was soaked up from thereon in.

Pablo Zabaleta scooped player of the season, and Matija Nastasic the young player gong. Claudio Reyna made a cameo, via a video message on the project Stateside (which we covered in Corazon 001) and appears to have Reyna at full tilt. Jason Manford managed to sneak on stage with the Ladies’ outfit before retreating, then returning to deliver gags old and new ahead of the interval too.

Jason Manford brought the funnies to the first City Live

I’ve seen Manford live before, and he is good – telling the “you’re never more than three feet from a United fan, they’re like rats” joke as well as poking fun at former City fan Carlos Tevez and his audacity at complaining Mancini treated him like a dog. Manford was quite right too, at £200,000 a week, chasing a ball around a field of a Saturday afternoon isn’t too shabby “and you see how quickly he became bored of playing golf every day” to come back and do so.

The second half saw Kevin Parker (head of the City Supporters Club) take the stage, the Alan Partridge of City fans, as well as a four way quiz for a fan to win a trip to Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium. Naturally the sponsors were always going to feature. BT’s Jake Humphreys hosted the evening and forced in a  mention of BAM Construction also, concealing the hand up the back of his shirt as best he could. BAM were a partner of the event “without whom the evening wouldn’t be possible” – and this is where City fans are lucky. Nothing is free, not even your clubs pre-season warm up party, but the event would’ve been largely subsidised by the club and the loose change down the back of Sheik Mansour’s sofa with some support from the likes of BAM.

Disappointingly though, the club weren’t satisfied with a full house and e-mailed fans to question their absence from Manchester Central. It’s not the first time the club have fallen out of synch with fans, proposing the Forever Blue scheme allowing non-season ticket holders to purchase a seat in the stadium and potentially usurp you from the position you were in when you saw for instance, Aguero strike the league winning goal, or Mancini doing the pogo stick dance after beating Villareal in the Champions League to keep hopes of progression to the knock out phase alive. And let’s not even mention when the ground ran out of chips at home to Norwich last year!

By and large the club are massively consultative of fans, but certain hair brain schemes don’t cover ‘those’ upstairs in glory. They are mere black marks though, on what is a best in class report when it comes to fan engagement from a football club. City were pioneers in revamping their website and interacting with fans through twitter.

City Square, a section of the surrounding grounds at the Etihad, has been popular for hosting pre-match interviews and music as well as mini Christmas markets.

Right from the moment your season ticket lands in the post (with accompanying gifts) to the last kick of the season, the club endeavour to make it an enjoyable, unique, unrivalled experience. It’s not on offer anywhere else – they are trying to bring through not just the team of the future, but the fans of the future too. If young football fans ask what’s different about us, the club have tried to give the answers.

City Live gave an insight in to how the team will play with words from the manager, and all of the new signings – Fernandinho in particular endearing himself to the fans. With the Ukraine winters behind him, he shared a joke about getting through the cold season with barbecues in his garage. I’m sure a few manc’s have attempted this at one time or another.

Being a City fan doesn’t lack variety, and in summary, neither did City Live. It had a good balance of football, a touch of the corporate, comedy and finally music as Miles Kane drew the curtain down on the event. Around a quarter of the crowd stayed on to watch, and it was a good performance. Manchester Central hasn’t been the easiest venue to sing live in, but those that stayed got their money’s worth.

It was just enough to keep fans going until the season started, and attentions will soon turn to Europe following the draw for the group stage at the end of August and the campaign is well underway. The questions is, despite the ready availability of Champions League football on the box, with the club giving so much more (than others do at least) why aren’t attendances higher in Europe?

If fans don’t want launch parties, season card gifts, pre-match entertainment AND Champions League football, what do they want?

The first two home games of the season have been played and City Square, or BT City Square I should add, was thriving. I arrived around 7pm at home to Newcastle, largely to catch the Bert Trautmann tributes and it was heaving. Pre match entertainment included Bob Wilson paying tribute to his idol, along with Paul Dickov, Shaun Goater, Paolo Wanchope and Uwe Rosler.

In addition to this, City’s food has had a makeover, with top chef and working class nemesis Jamie Oliver coming on board to oversee the catering facilities, and it has to be said it smelt as scintillating good as the football itself was.

In future editions we are going to look at the stadium expansion (there is currently a mini exhibition in place at the ground for fans to find out more information on this) but with a lack of attendance in the Champions League it’s a problem the club need to address, but will find it hard too as City fans have it so good on match days already.

But here’s to the rest of the season, and the return of City Live next year.

Former Rascals frontman closes City Live
Former Rascals frontman closes City Live

The new season is underway and the Blues have made sure August has been closed out with them at the right end of the table. The Etihad remains a fortress, whilst being caught out on the road.

The diagram shows Navas hugging the touchline, his undertaking of defensive duties and an eye for switching the play.
The diagram shows Navas hugging the touchline, his undertaking of defensive duties and an eye for switching the play.

City kicked off their campaign just as any of us would have hoped for. There was flair, goals and impenetrable defence of Joe Hart’s goal as City beat Newcastle 4-0 and broke the record for consecutive Premier League games with at least one goal scored a run now at 53 matches following the later, 3-2 defeat of newly promoted Cardiff and visit of Hull.

The largest contrast between the two opening matches was City’s aerial frailty, but with City playing much of the home win in the Magpies half, defending corners wasn’t too much of a concern. Worryingly, Cardiff managed to breach City twice in the air as they failed to adapt to man on man marking – a controversial debate amongst many City fans over the last couple of years, as previous manager Roberto Mancini always opted for the zonal style and enjoyed the best defensive record in the league over the majority of his tenure.

Edin Dzeko has come under some scrutiny from Manuel Pellegrini despite leading the line like a striker reborn against Newcastle, and hitting a wonder strike in South Wales. I think I’m yet to break away from Mancini’s approach to selections, or rather how the last game affected the next. Although a lot of choices I disagreed with (certainly his substitutions) what he was good at was keeping players guessing, certainly when the team had played so well. After dismantling Newcastle, Mancini would’ve dropped anyone who didn’t have a 7.5 out of 10 game. (Equally, he’d chop and change a side in a poor run of form, rather than pick and stick with an XI to instil some stability).

Pellegrini looks to operate differently. There was only one change for the trip to the Welsh capital, a forced one at that, with Javi Garcia replacing Vincent Kompany, who could be on the sidelines still when we host United in September. It was disappointing that Pellegrini maintained the side, to such a poor response from the team, and the new system may need tweaking for its trips on the road. Similarly against Hull, Nastasic returned to the side, with an additional change at left back; Aleks Kolorov coming in for Gael Clichy.

The irony with Garcia is whilst he is good in the air, on the ground he is too slow and the ball over the top removes his aerial abilty from the equation when it comes to defending the long ball.

But it’s Jesus Navas we turn our attention to, the Newcastle game in particular, hopefully an indication of what is to come, certainly at home. Navas hugged the touchline for 90 minutes, and made 37 passes overall. The team had a pass success rate of just over 90%, whereas Navas managed 75% – but you have to consider he delivered 15 crosses of varying depth, height etc as opposed to say, the defenders passing the ball comfortably amongst themselves when Newcastle allowed them too.

The pictured diagram is illustration of the Spaniard’s activity, showing a busy evening on the wing. It was something that Mancini steered City away from, whilst United enjoyed two Premier League crowns during his City tenure, the Italian saw to the exits of Martin Petrov, and to a lesser extent, but a promising talent nonetheless, Vladimir Weiss.

City, with Navas, looked a two plan team (which works much better when you can defend your set pieces). Although Clichy and Zabaleta supported in advanced areas, Navas was the main outlet when City struggled through the middle whenever Newcastle (and Hull) attempted to crowd the centre. Granted, City still looked to play down the middle with the Aguero goal against the Magpies case in point.

But it’s beginning to rub off on the whole side. In the first half against Hull, City struggled to keep the ball, and when they did they found themselves up against a regrouped defence, with most of the Hull midfield behind the ball also. Eventually City broke the deadlock and although it wasn’t the Spaniard who supplied the cross, he was heavily involved in the one touch build up to Pablo Zabaleta’s first time delivery, which Alvaro Negredo headed home. Negredo should have been doubling his tally after moments earlier he nodded wide from arguably a better cross, courtesy of his countryman, and former Seville team mate; Navas.

With the addition of Negredo, it’s easier to play the wide game knowing there will be a player hell bent on getting in to the box. City’s next outing is away to Stoke, followed by Pellegrini’s bow in the Champions League as City manager. To complete the week, will be the visit of, hopefully, the outgoing champions, Manchester United. It will be intriguing to see, after stalling in south Wales, if Pellegrini will stick with Navas, and to a point Silva, or start to consider, for example, James Milner in similar fixtures.

To close August third, and two points ahead of United isn’t the worst start. City are perhaps teething with a new style, certainly where set pieces are concerned. But the promising thing is, in the main, the new players are settling, certainly in the case of the blue eyed boy.

New signing Jesus Navas provides City with a new style of play

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