Pablo, the Etihad Centurion – CDZ006

One of many goals for the signing of the summer
One of many goals for the signing of the summer

The Signing Of The Summer

Premier League clubs spent in excess of £630m this a summer, a British transfer record, with City accounting for around £90m of that. The English top flight has been better for it; with the additions of Mesut Ozil, Roberto Soldado and the semi-veteran Samuel Eto we are seeing the most exciting title race opening up before us.

There’s been some reinvention at clubs too; Fernando Torres is enjoying a new lease of life, as it Olivier Geroud in Arsenal’s new look 4-2-3-1. Luis Suarez is very much like having a new player in the ranks at Anfield, after missing the first six games of the season, and his relationship with Daniel Sturridge goes from strength to strength. The newly dubbed SAS are vying for the mantle of the league’s most potent pairing, alongside Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie but closer to home Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo.

Before we ask who is the best attacking pair in the league? Perhaps we should consider who is the best signing of the summer? City fans have been vastly impressed with the impact of Spanish forward Alvaro Negredo.

Considering a lot of Blues, myself included, were sceptical over the addition of ‘The Beast’, he’s ticked every box since arriving at City. Goals, check. Assists, check. Work ethic, check. Bringing players in to the game, check.

Previously linked with West Ham, there was a lingering doubt over Negredo being Champions League calibre, but he’s been every bit the part. Since signing for City from Seville in the summer Negredo has started 16 times for City and netted 9 goals. It’s a great return. Extrapolating Sergio Aguero’s record this season, people have ambitiously suggested he could score 50 goals. Alvaro Negredo is weighing in with his share though, and where he could end up makes for an interesting punt.

Last season it was a dry midfield and misfiring front line that cost City any silverware. The early signs suggest we don’t have the same concerns. Negredo allows City to have the plan B we craved last year. Oppositions would double up on the wings, flood midfields and force wayward crosses from Aleksander Kolorov. Now, there’s a true target. There’s Alvaro Negredo.

In an earlier edition we looked at the effect we expected Jesus Navas to have. None, if City don’t have the player to finish to chances. Negredo can play between two strikers or in conjunction with Aguero playing as the number ten, he can turn crosses to assists when City look to get in behind. He’s the purest example of a number 9 in the Premier League, no contest.

In comparison to The Beast, is Tottenham’s Roberto Soldado. He scored 59 times for Valencia, with just three of those strikes from outside the area. Although Spurs had a poacher in Jermaine Defoe, an upgraded replacement was extremely sought after at the Lane, in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure, a chasm of goals that needed filling was imminent. Soldado has scored eight goals in twelve Tottenham appearances, although four have come from the spot.

There’s a case to argue for Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, although Gunners fans have contested he’s upset the balance of a side where Jack Wilshere thrived. On the contrary, Aaron Ramsey has been exceptional. Arsenal have signed a player that has allowed them to hold the ball with calmness, patiently creating the space for a lethal midfield to exploit and take some of the weight off Giroud’s shoulders in terms of pressure to score the goals.

In 12 starts for Arsenal, Ozil has scored three times, and made four assists. Compare this though to David Silva’s stats. He’s started 12 games, with three goals and four assists. His 89% pass completion also trumps the German’s 84%.

What makes Alvaro Negredo the best signing, besides his goals and the added dimension he’s give City in attack, is his reviving effect on Sergio Aguero. Aguero himself has scored eight goals and created four in the Premier League alone, and is perhaps the most dangerous front man in Europe this season.

The Beast has the tenacity we were always going to miss in Carlos Tevez, with great positional awareness (his goals to become City’s first Champions League hat-trick scorer were evidence of this). Negredo knows how to bring other players in to the game, and with an injury to Aguero, City could perhaps try to play the way that Bayern did in dismantling us at home last month. With Dzeko or Balotelli, this was never a possibility as last year’s lack of goals from midfield proved.

Alvaro Negredo is establishing himself as a favourite amongst fans, with his own adaptation of the iconic ‘Feed The Goat’, a chant City fans will hope to sing for a long time to come.

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It’s the number of miles City travelled on their month of (mainly) away games, during October. As the month progressed, I thought every game was going to end 3-1. First City hosted a very easy to watch Bayern Munich. The wounds are somewhat healed from that schooling, following a stern display in Moscow a couple of weeks after, but it was a lesson from the upper school to the infants nonetheless. Bayern Munich’s movement on the night was superb, and players such as Arjen Robben and Frank Ribbery can’t be gifted the amount of space and time they were; but when the remaining five of the front six are Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philip Lahm and Mario Gotze, it’s difficult to stifle such a great side, on their way to further greatness. Pep Guadiola got his tactics spot on. He identified City like to play from the back, with Nastasic, Kompany and Yaya Toure patiently sharing possession, and pushed his front three between City’s back four, leaving Joe Hart with no option but to go long. City host Arsenal on December 14th, and that defeat should be a tactical taste of what to expect. By no means would I put Arsenal on the same pedestal as I would Bayern (who City will have faced in their last Champions League group game the Tuesday before the Gunners visit) but Arsenal, likely to still be league leaders, are very much being built as a Bavaria-Lite. Giroud is flourishing with the support of a stellar cast behind him.

Sergio Aguero, October player of the month
Sergio Aguero, October player of the month

Said score line was reversed the following Saturday. I’m growing more of a David Moyes fan each day. Not only is he hell bent on ruining United, but Everton might not be our bogey team anymore. The visit of the Toffees has proved to be the start of a purple patch for Sergio Aguero – he scored seven goals in October, and secured the League’s player of the month. On the contrary, it appears a month to forget for Joe Hart. City came from behind after Romelu Lukaku fired past Hart in what would have usually been a routine save. After a well below par display in Europe days before, Hart found himself under more pressure, as City faced four games on the road. Aguero turned the game around with a brace though, and City were back to winning ways. It was by no means a resounding victory, and the evening kick-off at the Boleyn Ground on the 19th left fans with a nervy doubt ahead of kick-off. That said, it’s very much the City mentality. At half time against Norwich, a fan behind me said we needed two more, just to be sure!

Aguero scores a rare header
Aguero scores a rare header

City came through, and it was Aguero again who scored a pair, including a well worked header in a decent team display. Arguably the biggest tests of the month were to follow as the run of 3-1’s ended and 2-1’s began. City again came from behind in Moscow but dropped more points on the road in the league at Stamford Bridge. City had to come from behind for the third time in as many games as Javi Garcia misjudged the flight of the ball and Tosic chipped it over the advancing Joe Hart. Who only knew what was days away? Again it was Aguero to City’s rescue, scoring with another header before completing his brace before half time. It would have been three had Alvaro Negredo’s goal not been disallowed for handball. But that was the least of City’s concerns having sealed the three points, but not without a dark undertone to their first visit to Russia in competitive football. Reports after the game suggested racial abuse was aimed at Yaya Toure whenever he was in possession of the ball. It’s soured what relations there were between the two clubs, fans and football associations, with the Russians claiming there is a smear campaign following their winning bid for the 2018 World Cup.

Yaya Toure pleads with the referee to action as the CSKA fans chant racicst taunts
Yaya Toure pleads with the referee to action as the CSKA fans chant racicst taunts

Yaya Toure and Fernandinho have threatened to boycott the tournament should Ivory Coast and Brazil qualify, but according to Sepp Blatter, that’s not the solution to a problem he, FIFA and UEFA don’t take seriously enough. Moscow, who’ve played at four different home venues this year due to weather affecting a sub standard pitch will only face a part closure. This coming in the Champions League will only benefit another visiting side to the Russian capital, and not City. Ejection from the competition, and results against CSKA ruled nul and void would perhaps secure City progression now. With 6 points amassed at the half way point, we’ve accrued more in prize money for two wins (€2m) than we managed from three draws last year (€1.5m), and of course twice as many points, with three games to go. For the visit to the Bridge, I wanted Pellegrini to go for the three points. Many will think that he played for the draw, and although the Engineer got his midfield tactics right, Chelsea were too strong to consider sacrificing one of City’s central trio to go all out for full points. Early on in the season, I could perhaps accept draws at Cardiff, Villa and later on Chelsea. With the two points dropped in Wales and Birmingham, City needed all three to seriously get back in the race, and put some daylight between ourselves and United, at least. One player who did surpass my expectations at Chelsea was Javi Garcia. Not convinced during the two previous games where he was relatively untested, he had one of his better City performances in West London, after being advanced from the back four to support Toure and Fernandinho.

Joe Hart costs City a valuable point at Chelsea
Joe Hart costs City a valuable point at Chelsea

A point at least was all but secured until a calamitous mix up between Matija Nastasic and Joe Hart in injury time. From then on in it was a bad week for the City and England number one. Hart was destroyed in the press for gifting Torres a goal, one he probably deserved for leading the line so well against City, but one that he should never had, period. During the following days comrades from the goalkeeping fraternity both castigated and comforted Hart. Joe Corrigan suggested he needed to be dropped, whereas Brad Friedel believed he needed the support of the manager and squad. Former coach Eric Steele concurred. But it was Friedel’s comments that drew my attention. That “Hart could react badly”. For the record, Joe Hart has demonstrated he is a top class goalkeeper, winning several Golden Gloves awards for his consistent displays beneath the crossbar. But the last 15 months have shown a definitive, identifiable deterioration to his confidence and decision making. So much so, it has comprised almost every part of his game, be it kicking or shot stopping. If Hart wants to react badly and leave, whose loss will it be? I’ll be the first to say I want to Joe Hart to remain at City for years to come. City have a fine heritage of goalkeepers; Swift, Trautmann, Corrigan. In recent years, it’s been the twilight era home for modern legends; Seaman, Schmeichel and Joe Hart is without doubt in that class. It’s a specialist position, and a change there means a lot more than a change at right back, or in attack but nonetheless, there has to be consideration to the squad and Costel Pantillimon. The Romanian is good number for City. He’s conceded one goal when selected, and then, that was a Wembley FA Cup Semi-Final. If you continue to back Joe Hart and Pantillimon leaves, then who would want to play for City, with the knowledge it would take nothing short of a miracle to see first team action?

And that decision didn’t quite become apparent in the midweek that followed when City overturned Newcastle in extra time to earn a League Cup quarter final at in form Leicester, but it did for City’s opening fixture of November as Pantillimon made his Premier League debut, forced in to just the one save from Antony Pilkinton, earning a clean sheet to boot. The 2-0 at Newcaslte was made hard work of. City laboured against an almost full strength side, granted, but with a line up strong enough to qualify for Europe ourselves. Edin Dzeko pleaded that the ‘second string’ be given more of a chance, and with patience they will get it. With Pantillimon though, there’s certainly a valid point, having been at the Etihad for two years and not playing in the League. He might have won the FA Cup before making a Premier League debut, had his comments on the even on last years Final not backfired. But the Romanian giant has his chance now, and it’s integral how Manuel Pellegrini handles what is very much a dropping, span as a resting. And what thought of it that way, it is a well needed, and in fairness a well earned rest for Hart. For not, Costel will have five or six games to really push Hart, and we should be confident he’ll come back firing. November sees City at home four times, twice in the League, twice in Europe, and that should be the platform to launch an attack on all fronts that sets us up well for Christmas. Zabalata grabs the winner at Stoke Pablo, The Etihad Centurion It’s only just that we pay homage to the man this blog is named after, Pablo Zabaleta, who clocked up 100 Etihad appearances during the 7-0 routing of Norwich at the start of November. We look at a quintet of great Zaba moments to conclude this month’s edition.

5. Pablo’s first goal. It took long enough didn’t it? City were buying anyone those days! It was an edge of the box pile driver, and it was enough to secure all three points at home to Wigan, at a time when Emile Heskey was reviving his international career and City were linked with a £17m for their own Wilson Palacios. The game is a great example of how versatile Zabaleta has been during his five plus years at City, often deployed as a holding midfielder. Zaba was off the mark!

4. The Lingo. Pablo’s so cool, he’s a hero of the less annoying half of the Gallagher brothers. When City signed their Latino contingent a few years back Zabaleta, Robinho and Elano undertook English lessons. Zaba’s still doing them today. He’s so immersed in Mancunian culture, he’s rumoured to eat fish and chips of a Friday night.

Playing through the pain barrier

3. The leadership. Pablo’s a lion, or he has the heart of one at least. Often he was Kompany’s deputy under Mancini and lead with tenacity in his absence. He took the armband off the injured Vincent Kompany in the Cup last year at Stoke, and ended up bagging the winner. Stalwart. As City vied for 3rd spot in 2011, after securing the FA Cup, Micah Richards pulled up in the warm-up at the Reebok, and in came Zaba, head bandaged up, nose broken, to deputise. That’s Manchester ‘hard’.

2. Getting Paul Scholes sent off. It’s not difficult to do that really. Paul Scholes is his own worst enemy when it comes to tackling, all Zaba had to do was stand his ground, and City saw out the 1-0 win at Wembley in a memorable FA Cup Semi-Final. Zaba picked up a medal when he was used as a late substitute in the Final a month  later. Zaba gets City on their way to the emphatic League win

1.  The one that got us one our way. Sort of. 13th May 2013 between 16:30 and 16:50 is one of the tensest periods of Manchester City history, but the ensuing minutes after the first whistle that day were a close second. City lead United on goal difference heading in to the last game of the season and it wasn’t until Pablo’s goal that City relaxed a little. (A little too much in fact) Always be yourself

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