Gola gola gola!!!
Not the commentary of Ian Cheeseman on BBC Radio Manchester over this last month, but you could forgive him for being inspired by his Spanish counterparts after City returned to form at home after a mid-month blip in the North East, losing for the fourth consecutive time, 1-0, at Sunderland.
City scored 25 goals during November, winning all but one game. Costel Pantillimon has conceded just three in five as City still look frail at the back, awaiting the return of Vincent Kompany after a long layoff with injury.
October, and the defeat at Chelsea was erased from memory with a 7-0 routing of Norwich. Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero’s partnership seemed to elevate to an even higher level, running the Canaries defence riot.
Then City’s progression to the knock-out stages of the Champions League was secured with a 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow on Match Day 4, completing the double over the Russian outfit. Fortunately there didn’t seem to be the same racist chanting that marred City’s 2-1 win in the third round of fixtures. The most memorable part of the game was perhaps Negredo’s Frank Worthington effort, which sailed just inches above the bar, late on. Is there anything he can’t do (and given last month’s piece centred on him as the signing of the summer, he’s spared me a few blushes).
The black mark on the report for the month is of course the slender defeat at the Stadium of Light. It strengthens the case that although Manuel Pellegrini has mastered tactics the Etihad, fortress come torture chamber, on the road we’ve been found wanting – again. The team selection was questionable, three changes at the back facing a bogey side I don’t feel will be a decision Pellegrini remembers fondly. Javi Garcia couldn’t repeat the barely acceptable form he displayed at West Ham and Chelsea, although he wasn’t half as passive as the captain, Yaya Toure.
The disappointing thing about the defeat was, that with all our fire power, we couldn’t break down a defence with Wes Brown at its heart, who’s not featured for Sunderland in excess of a year.
But again, returning to familiar surroundings after the international break, City were firing in the goals again. Tottenham seemed to be over achieving early on this year after the departure of Gareth Bale, the influx of eight players was always going to be a challenge for Andre Villas Boas to gel them quickly in to a title chasing side. Their defeat at home to Newcastle gave me encouragement that their visit to Eastlands was going to be, perhaps easier, than previous visits. Paulinho was pickpocketed in midfield by Yohan Cabaye and it was all too easy for Loic Remy to break through the centre and slot the ball away.
But what ensued when the sides met in Manchester was unprecedented. It was no ballet on ice, as the November cold began to set in, more a slaughter in the woods. Jesus Navas, beginning to look settled in his right wing berth as he deputises for David Silva opened the scoring in a matter of seconds as he punched home Aguero’s rebounded effort, first pushed away by Hugo Lloris. Navas, who is staking a claim to keep his spot, set the record for the biggest gap between goals in the Premier League, as he rounded of City’s 6-0 demolition of Spurs, latching on to James Milner’s long ball. It was the embrace between the two, often competing for a place in the team, that was endearing. Pellegrini has restored the team ethic to the dressing room.
It was the shellacking in between Navas’ brace that destroyed Spurs though. They had over 15 chances in the game themselves, but the finishing from City was assassin like. Granted, the second was a little fortunate, an own goal that Negredo was refused, but his goal after the second half was one of the best I’ve seen as a City fan. Michael Dawson couldn’t handle the Beast all game, and the turn of the England defender was dazzling, not to mention the awareness of where to put the ball. It was nothing short of impressive.
Negredo’s goal made it five after Sergio Aguero’s brace, but the Argentine was denied a hat trick as he made way for the forlorn Edin Dzeko. Beauty and The Beast have scored 28 goals between them in all competitions (as December started) and it’s no wonder the Bosnian can’t get a game.
Dzeko did however start in what was on paper a dead rubber, for the visit of Victoria Plzen on match day five of the Champions League. That said, they don’t really exist in the world City currently play in. From the first whistle it didn’t appear Dzeko’s night, his touch was what is accepted now as characteristically poor, and eventually found himself trying too hard, whilst appearing to not actually try at all!
He spent most of the night doing his best to earn a sponsorship deal from a leading walking boot brand, whilst Negredo, within minutes of coming off the bench was adding to his tally. Despite losing patience and faith with Dzeko, I was pleased for him to get a well taken goal. Not forgetting this is a player that scored two in the Old Trafford 6-1, demolished Spurs at White Hart Lane, and scored an important equaliser as City vied to keep their League winning hopes alive. Fundamentally, it looks like Edin Dzeko’s days in Manchester are numbered.
The win over Plzen was another game that seemed to throw the defence under the microscope, but a labouring Yaya Toure again put the back four under pressure. The Martin Demichellis/Joleon Lescott pairing looks to be gaining stability, despite Vincent Kompany due back imminently, but for us to have a top squad, it’s taken too many games to arrive at this point.
In a month that sees City score 22 goals in five games, the spoils we’ve become accustomed to will see many fans attentions turn to the backline. But it was perhaps the biggest positive for me as City opened the month with a 3-0 win over Swansea. Pablo Zabaleta put in his best display of the campaign to date; the distribution from the back and positioning of the line against a side playing a false nine was as much we could ask for. But the day, and the month went to Samir Nasri a player who has flourished with and without David Silva in the side.
And fair play to the little Frenchman, December’s been just as exquisite.