Early Fall – How City stuttered through September – CDZ004

Negredo comes under pressure during the tough trip to Stoke, just past
Negredo comes under pressure during the tough trip to Stoke, just past

Welcome back, and to the fourth edition of Corazon De Zeaba, The Heart of Zabaleta. The main man didn’t have the best of games at Stoke, but then again neither did most of the side. Mark Hughes men couldn’t decide whether to revert to type, or try to play and football, but in both departments, they looked the stronger side, which isn’t encouraging.

September sees the return of domestic football following the international break. Joe Hart kept two clean sheets for England, whilst James Milner featured as a substitute at Wembley and was a starter in Ukraine. Alvaro Negredo was on target for Spain, whilst fellow countryman David Silva is now a doubt for the trip to Plzen and the Derby at the weekend. Come to think of it, David Silva seems to be injured ahead of every Derby – then plays. In other interesting news, Yaya Toure has been promoting the conservation of African elephants whist on international duty, a concern which seems to be plaguing him still, if his display against Stoke is anything to go by.

Hopefully the visit of United on Sunday is all the motivation City need to raise their game. United have been mediocre at best this term. Dubious decisions at the weekend saw them beat Crystal Palace, courtesy of a spot kick (where Ashley Young was upended outside the box) and a poorly constructed wall for a Wayne Rooney freekick. All in all, they are far from inspiring themselves.

However, we’ll turn our attentions to the Derby shortly. Firstly, we look at the recent Champions League draw, and tonight’s trip to Plzen as well as the coefficient system. We ask the question, when will City get out of Pot 3?

Whilst we recap on the league form of the month, there’s an obituary to Gareth Barry. I know he’s not dead (just down the A580) but it hurts oh so bad doesn’t it.

Enjoy this month’s edition, and see you in October when Liverpool have won the title.

Welcome Back To The Champions League

City being their Champions League journey at The Doosan, Plzen
City being their Champions League journey at The Doosan, Plzen

Feels too long doesn’t it, since we played a European game. I was at the Dortmund game in December last year, in fact I think I’m still hungover from it now. Cold. Very cold. But the Champions League. (It’s been back a while in fairness, for super seed Arsenal, who still had to qualify).

The drawer has been significantly kinder to City this year, following consecutive groups of death including Bayer, Napoli and Villareal; Real Madrid, Borrusia Dortmund and Ajax respectively. This time out City will meet best team on the planet Bayern Munich once more, but will fancies their chances much of following them to the other side of Christmas, if they can overcome the Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzen and Russia’s CSKA Moscow. Roberto Mancini will most likely be sat at home ruing the draw.

Unfortunately it’s not the best group for the travelling fans, as less than a thousand will travel to Plzen, some paying €75 for the privilege. City’s first opponents, an hour west of Prague, won/drew/lost their game this weekend. Plzen are a homegrown outfit, with just two players in their 25 man squad from outside the Czech Republic.

But many sat by the TV or Radio in late August awaiting another group of death in what is always a complex draw that brings controversy over the seeding system and draw process. For instance, Arsenal are a Pot 1 side, despite having to qualify for the tournament. This year City needed for four teams above them in the rankings to slip in qualifying to progress to pot 2, including Arsenal, Lyon, AC Milan, Shalke, Zenit to name but a few.

So how are these teams climbing UEFA’s ladder at a faster rate than City? This may come as a surprise, but Tottenham have a better coefficient than City, because of their performance in the Europa League.

The answer is the coefficient system. There are three main drivers behind a clubs points. First of all, the nation is taken in to consideration and their performance on the international stage. Now this is reviewed on a bi-annual basis, following nations qualification, or non-qualification for major tournaments (so there could be some changes in November once we know whether or not England will be travelling to Brazil next summer). This is what stops a team dominating a poor league from being in pot 1 each year. However, there is an argument to relax this.

Consider, if someone wanted to invest in a team, they would ignore a club in Latvia, Finland, even Celtic in Scotland, despite the history and size of the club, because the nation’s coefficient holds it back, when it comes to European domestic qualification. (You can see now how City, and other English clubs, are an attractive proposition now with England usually in the FIFA top 10). With this removed, teams could emerge from around Europe, who could improve infrastructure and youth development all over the continent.

Then there is the performance of the nation’s clubs within the competition. To a degree, City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal are all helping each other out, or holding each other back as the case is following last year’s poor efforts in Europe – and this is where City benefit as newcomers to the Champions League, heading straight in to pot three, rather than four. Despite Celtic managing to beat Barcelona, they are fighting it out on their own and remaining in pot 4.

Then of course, there is the performance of the team itself, the part the club sole control of, and for the last two years, City have been found wanting. Last year’s omission from the Europa League cost City points too and in hindsight a run in Europe’s secondary competition wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, given we failed to retain the league.

City’s long term aim is to win the Champions League, and being in a higher pot isn’t necessary to this, but it helps along the way. Come Christmas, we may well be nearing a step up to pot 2, but for now, let’s just hope we are still in the competition come then.

The first hurdle to overcome will be Vic Plzen, located an hour so west of the Czech capital; Prague. On paper, it is the ideal fixture to open up a Champions League campaign with; Plzen have won their domestic league, dominated by Sparta, just once. Their ground, as many City fans will have discovered to their dismay, holds just 11,700 – so although the home crowd might make some noise, it’s by no means a cauldron.

So far in the Czech top flight, Plzen have done well. They sit top of their league following x in the table, having beaten Sigma a couple of weeks. The Czech outfit haven’t played since the 1st of the month, so we could be in for a tough game, if they have used the time to prepare well and rest amply.

Enjoy the game.

Stuttering September

Wayne Rooney and Vincent Kompany will be the key battle in the Manchester Derby

Dare I do it. Dare I write off Manchester United ahead of what will be an intriguing derby, mostly because both teams have new chiefs at the helm. It’s lost an edge though I’m sad to say. It was always a nervy affair, the fear of losing to Manchester United, but the thrill of beating a Fergie side. Actually, I’m going to write City off straight away. Far be it from us to beat any David Moyes side.

What Manchester United have is what City don’t. They’ve got pacey wingmen who play on the right sides of the pitch. They’ve got home grown talent all over the pitch. They’ve got a midfield that will absolutely pass us to death. All we have is Jesus Navas, Joe Hart, Yaya Toure and David Silva. We don’t stand a chance this fine derby day. Forget it. Go for a Sunday roast at the in-laws. You’ll earn massive brownie point. When I say massive, I mean ‘City neon-sign’ massive.

By now you should have worked out that I’m joking. If not, support Arsenal or some other cub with no sense of humour. I can point you in the direction of a good blog if I must – thefinsburygunner.com or something like that. It will feel like a City blog, discussing marque signings, with the faint hint of a Liverpool blog. This really will be their year.

But of course if your happy being a City fan, I’ll see you at the Etihad on Sunday, as United park the bus, systematically destroy David Silva’s knees and nick a 1-0 win courtesy of Wayne Rooney, antichrist and hero, all rolled in to one. He’ll nod in a bouncing cross in front of the South Stand, and someone will probably throw a coin at him thinking no-one will know there’s any difference to that daft gash on his head, and get us in the press for all the wrong reasons. Cheers.

On a serious note; I think it’s early days to assess the full strengths of either manager’s new look sides (neither team will be satisfied with their displays against Stoke and Palace at the weekend respectively), but I’m convinced in another four weeks’ time (when no-one remembers the 403 La Liga midfielders United tried to sign on deadline day) City will still look the better side. I’m convinced this season, there is more pressure on them, than us, to win this game. This is the first test, post Champions League both clubs face. City’s other games following their away legs are Chelsea and Arsenal. Anyone would thing the fixtures had been rigged, David. There’s no questioning September is a big month; I’d love to see City win the League Cup, and a replay of last year’s FA Cup Final, a home tie to Wigan stands in their way of progression to the next round. We’ve looked at the visit to Plzen in the previous piece and City need a 100% record in September, to set them up for the run in to Christmas at least. A point on the board from Stoke isn’t the worst result, but the manner in which it was attained is concerning.

The key player for me this month, is Alvaro Negredo. Against Stoke he was vastly anonymous, as were most of the side but It’s clear he’s dangerous when he can see the midfield firing. The team needed the injection of Jesus Navas pace much sooner, as Cameron was more than happy to battle with James Milner for most part of the afternoon.

I think he (Negredo) will feature in the Czech Republic and again at the weekend with Sergio Aguero. Negredo has demonstrated an aerial prowess, great movement and physical attributes so far, and he is knocking on Manny’s door after scopping September’s player of the month gong. His battle with the United defensive pairing will be key.  If the midfield can retain possession well enough, territorially City will be a threat, and so will Negredo.

City’s concern isn’t at the front. It’s at the back. With Vincent Kompany to miss the whole of the month, City are vulnerable. Javi Garcia isn’t a viable option and Dedryck Boyata needs blooding in once more, but many believe he deserves another chance – that red card against Arsenal seems to haunt the young Belgian. To boot, Martin Dimechelis is sidelined. Signed on deadline day in what’s known as a ‘Hamann signing’, the Argentine hasn’t yet kicked a ball in a City match yet.

City’s concerns haven’t been at the front, they’ve been at the back. The build up, for City will be in the boost of the captain’s return. It’s Kompany’s job to avoid Wayne Rooney grabbing the headlines in the aftermath.

Although last year’s meeting at the Etihad will be remembered for Van Persie’s freekick, Rooney was superb in the first half and United will feel they have edge with him returning to the side. Although we’ll look the stronger when the two sides would be expected to have settled, perhaps mid-October, this is a game that tells you, you can’t rely purely on reputation in the Premier League.

You’re Still The One For Me

This is going to read like an obituary. Which it’s not, but I loved the man, and I miss him already. It was time to move him on a lot of people will feel, just not purely for the sake of Javi Garica’s career. Gareth Barry was a sought after talent in 2008 when Liverpool were interested in him. The price tag hung round his neck by Martin O’Neill was around £18m, as Aston Villa chased Champions League football whilst the Liverpool’s brief omission from Europe’s top table was becoming something more serious, permanent even.

Mark Hughes brought him to Eastlands a summer later, for a reduced £12m and its hard to contest that we’ve had a steal. Over time, it’s what endeared Barry to City fans; his longevity, and foresight to join City, in the ascendency before we appointed Serie A three time winner Roberto Mancini as manager in late 2009. Barry appeared to fall out of favour under the Italian, but with City fans having seen his performances previously, it was only a matter of time until he returned to the side

Barry was, and remains a fan favourite. The stats always show him as top performer in terms of ground covered during games, and he has weighed in with assists and a few rare, but important goals – last season’s late header at home to Reading on a drab Manchester Saturday afternoon springs to mind.

However, teams need to evolve and from how the team played last year it seemed apparent Barry was suspect number one to leave City in the summer. He divides opinion between fans who watch games on TV, and those who go to the ground and see the effect he has on the team. Defensively, City were superb again last term, but the midfield suffered criticism for its lack of goals, and Manuel Pellegrini sought to bring a more all-round replacement in the shape of Fernandinho.

I believe City could go another season with Barry and Yaya Toure, and I hope we aren’t less stable, more vulnerable for the loss of Barry as we were for the loss of Nigel De Jong. The question over Barry was, can we win the Champions League with him as a mainstay in the side? Perhaps not, but nor can we with Javi Garcia.

With a World Cup nine months away, Barry, who played for City 132 times, deserves the opportunity to play regular first team football and to add to his 53 caps for England. Roberto Martinez has made some shrewd signings on the last day of the window and a successful Everton could be just the catalyst to elevate Barry back in to Roy Hodgson’s thoughts.

During the international break, Leighton Baines learnt the City players shock at Barry’s departure from his England colleagues, and Hastings born stopper has already endeared himself to the Gwladys Road End, with a superb goal denying block to stop Sameul Eto grabbing a debut goal.

Although Barry has a year left on his current deal, it seems we’ve seen him play for City for the last time now. I believe it’s a shame Barry hasn’t been released just so we can give him a warm reception when Everton visit in October.

Good luck, Gareth. You’re the one for me still.

The midfield battler heads to Goodison for a year on loan, likely to be made permanent

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