Sunday, August 29, 2010

Carling Cup Third Round Draw

We've drawn West Bromich Albion away, with the tie to played around the date of 20/21 September. While it doesn't seem too difficult tie on paper, it should not be forgotten that the last time we travelled to the Hawthorns we suffered a 2-1 defeat in December 2008.

The match also falls at an awkward time in the fixture list for us. In the space of nine days, we play Red Bull Salzburg away, followed by Wigan Athletic away, then this Carling Cup match away at West Brom, and finally Chelsea at home. So we'll need to rely on all of our 25-man squad to get us through that period.

The rest of the draw is very interesting indeed. There are five other all Premier League ties, and the fact that either Tottenham or Arsenal will not be in the next round is a definite advantage.

Brentford v Everton
Portsmouth v Leicester City
Stoke City v Fulham
Chelsea v Newcastle United
Aston Villa v Blackburn Rovers
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
Millwall v Ipswich Town
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Notts County
Burnley v Bolton Wanderers
Birmingham City v MK Dons
Liverpool v Northampton Town
Scunthorpe United v Manchester United
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
Sunderland v West Ham United
Peterborough United v Swansea City
Wigan Athletic v Preston North End

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Europa League Fixtures Announced

The fixtures for the Europa League group stage have been announced, and appear below. They should also be televised on ESPN in Australia, but as always, check local guides.

Red Bull Salzburg v Manchester City
Thursday 16 September 7pm CET/ Friday 17 September 3am

Manchester City v Juventus
Friday 1 October 5am

Manchester City v Lech Poznan
Friday 22 October 6am

Lech Poznan v Manchester City
Friday 5 November 5am

Manchester City v Red Bull Salzburg
Friday 2 December 5am

Juventus v Manchester City
Friday 17 December 5am

There are a couple of things you want in a Europa League draw.

To minimise disruption, you want to be playing teams this side of the Iron Curtain. An away day to Germany or Italy seems a much easier prospect than travelling to some barren, bleak and windswept outpost on the edge of Europe to beat a mob of Ukrainian plumbers or Latvian milkmen.

Secondly, you want the big names. Not big names as in Borussia Monchengladbach, but names with a little bit of history. Teams that most people with a passing interest in football could identify. Unlike the Champions League, where almost every participant is a big club (Rangers and Tottenham being the obvious exceptions), the Europa League throws up some fairly "exotic" fixtures. There will understandably be a larger crowd and a better atmosphere when we host Juventus, than if we were to play say Karpaty Lviv, Levski Sofia, or Bronski Beat.

[UPDATES from Gav - A key attraction of European competition for fans has to be the opportunity to go and watch City play in somewhere more exotic than Grimsby, ideally after imbibing a healthy volume of hard-to-pronounce lager and struggling to decipher a menu resulting in you ordering 'pigs trotter with beetroot' for desert. If this sounds like your version of a European away day, you're in luck.]

Using this criteria, we have a somewhat favourable draw.

Red Bull Salzberg (or FC Salzberg as they're known in this competition) are not to be underestimated. They are the reigning champions of the Austrian Bundesliga, and drop down to Europa League after losing their Champions League qualifier to Hapoel Tel-Aviv. [They also have an artificial pitch to contend with - expect City to have a practice game at Woodley Sports beforehand, as the England squad did before playing on artificial pitches] We have to be careful of their wide play — I've heard they are good down the wings... you know, 'cos it gives you wings... is this thing on?

[Taxi for Crouchy! Salzberg is one of the best places to watch football. It's a great city, top nightlife, and the Red Bull Arena has an atmosphere not to be missed. At night games it more resembles a basketball stadium, with the lights dimmed, searchlights scanning the crowd and pitch, flashing lights and music pumping out, even during breaks in play, from memory! One not to be missed if you can get there - flights are with Jet2 from Leeds or you can fly to Munich from Manchester. Local brew is the fantastich Steigl.]

Juventus, whilst not the powerhouse of European football they once were, will still throw up a stern test. 27-time Serie A champions, and twice European Cup winners, they definitely fall into the category of "big name". Outside of Atletico Madrid (and I guess, City) they are one of the biggest threats in this early stage of the Europa League.

[A hard away fixture to resist for European football-starved City fans. Turin isn't the most attractive city in Italy, but it does have the advantage of being within 40 mins of superb skiing. Given that the fixture is on the 17th December, it makes this away trip much more appealing. No direct flights, but from Luton, or Manchester-Madrid. Beer is likely to be the Peroni/Morretti kind of average stuff.]

Lech Poznan are from Poland and apparently play football. They failed to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League, losing to Sparta Praha. That's about it.

[Another good away trip. If you don't mind unfashionable, dodgy people in shell suits with a completely impenetrable language making even getting directions without getting spotted as an outsider and mugged a difficult task then you can brave the trip to Liverpool (see what I did there?) and then fly to Poznan with Ryanair. In Poznan you'll find a great little city, lots of bars in the old town from what I can remember, and in Żywiec or Okocim some of the best beer you're ever likely to drink anywhere in the world. I didn't get to a game when I was there, but the locals were the kind of crazy-friendly set, and loved their football.]

Whilst we should have no problem advancing to the knockout stages of the tournament, the real test comes when the Champions League rejects drop down into the competition and beat the pants off everybody.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Stephen Ireland

Back in May we mused about the curious character that is Stephen Ireland, and what future he had at Manchester City. Well now, not only does Ireland no longer have a future at City, he seems intent on burning every bridge he crossed as well.

As part of the aftermath to his move to Aston Villa as part of the James Milner deal, Stephen Ireland has taken the extraordinary step of slagging off all-and-sundry at Manchester City, from the manager right down to the youth players. He comes across as a little bitter. And a massive tool.

Here's what Ireland had to say:
"I'm not really a highly-self-confident person... But I can honestly say Manchester City have tried to replace me for the last three or four seasons and it's never happened. I can easily say I've got, if not more ability, as much ability as any player they have signed this year."

"Without a shadow of doubt the situation I found myself in will happen a lot at Manchester City with all the high-profile players they have at the club. At Manchester City sitting on the bench I didn't feel part of the team. I was neither happy or sad if we lost."

"The young lads (at Villa) are so polite. At City they're not like that. They're coming in with £10,000 watches on their wrists and walking around as if they have played 200 Premier League games. I can really see myself having a good time here."
Footballers spending lavish amounts of money is nothing new, nor is it something for which to begrudge them. But for a player who is only turning 24 today, to criticise other young players for buying big on bling is the height of hypocrisy. Those in £5million mansions shouldn't throw stones...

However, the most startling comment is the one where he simply didn't care how the team performed, when he was relegated to the bench. That's a slap in the face to every City supporter that got his name on their shirt, or ever belted out "Ireland is Superman". A lot of fans spend a lot of money travelling up and down the country (and around the world) to see City play — and to discover that one player was not really fussed about the result borders on treason.

If Ireland was as good as he claims, he would have used any opportunity he could get to prove the manager wrong. Rather than reflect on his own shortcomings, he has decided to blame the manager. It's a familiar theme with Ireland...
20 August 2010: "Did I talk to him? Not at all. Mancini does not build relationships with players."
12 February 2010: "I was being played out of position... Maybe as a holding midfielder, left wing, right wing. It is not me... But the last six months under Mark Hughes was very frustrating for me."
20 November 2008: "(Hughes) is a proper manager, the kind which I have always wanted to play under and who covers every aspect of preparation and training. I have got more confidence this season and that is because the manager has shown his confidence and trust in me."
Whilst it's easy for Ireland, and those with an anti-Mancini agenda, to criticise the manager for not playing him at the end of last season, it should also be carefully noted that he didn't get too many starts whilst Hughes was still here at the beginning of the campaign.

It's amazing how a player that spent a good eight years in our youth and first team systems can have such negativity about City when he's left (or in Ireland's case, when he was still at the club!). Thankfully, he's Aston Villa's player — and problem — now.

Some of Stephen Ireland's purchases. A pot and a kettle aren't amongst them, presumably.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

FC Timisoara v Manchester City Preview

Manchester City kick off their Intercities Fairs Intertoto UEFA Cup Big Vase Europa League campaign 5am tomorrow morning AEST, against Liga I side FC Timisoara from Romania. This match is not available on Fox Sports or ESPN, so you'll have to resort to "other methods" to watch the game.

We dare not treat Timisoara lightly — it was in the same stage of this competition two years ago that we almost suffered an embarrassing elimination at the hands of FC Midytlland. It was only through an injury-time own goal and a penalty shootout that we were able to remain in that season's UEFA Cup.

Let's not forget a couple of days ago in the Champions League, Tottenham were expected to beat Young Boys quite easily (oo-er), but will have to come from behind against Young Boys if they're to progress (ok, that's enough). Point is, we should treat our European opponents with respect.

Last season, Liga I was ranked eighth on the UEFA Coefficient — suggesting that it is a more competitive league in European competition than those in Portugal (9th), Turkey (11th), and Scotland (52nd, just above San Marino).

Roberto Mancini has named a strong squad to fly to Romania — after all, it would be humiliating to exit the competition at this stage, after all the talk of having a big enough squad to fight on four fronts.

Joe Hart will start between the sticks for the second match in a row, which is somewhat surprising. It could be argued there was a case for selecting the Shay Given in our Europa and Domestic Cup campaigns, and keeping Hart for the League. By sticking with Joe, he ensures consistency in defence, but may also bring Given's time at the club to an end.

Aleksandar Kolarov picked up an ankle injury in the first half against Tottenham, and won't be fit, nor will the other new defensive signing, Jerome Boateng. James Milner will also be unable to play, signing too late to be named in the squad.

Joleon Lescott will likely make his first appearance this season at left back. Mario Balotelli, Patrick Vieira and Adam Johnson are likely inclusions to the side that drew at Spurs last Saturday.

Fearless Prediction: FC Timisoara 1 - Manchester City 2.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Meanwhile... Milner and Ireland Swap Agreed

It's all change at City at the moment — no sooner had Craig Bellamy left the club, the James Milner/Stephen Ireland swap deal (with about £18million chucked in of course), has been agreed and will be completed shortly.

This is the best deal City could have hoped for. Milner is a brilliant signing, an equal mix of versatility, creativity, and trackbackability. He fits perfectly in the right of midfield in Mancini's planned 4-3-3 system. Whilst he doesn't attract a lot of attention, due to the rather unattractive role he fulfils, he does his job very, very well, and he'll improve the team significantly.

As for Ireland, it's a real shame he couldn't replicate the performances of the 2008-09 season. But he wasn't going to be selected in the Premier League 25-man squad — and nor did he deserve to — so it's only fair that he moves to a club that will play him. Much like the transfer of Bellamy, the fact that Ireland promised so much yet ultimately delivered so little makes it a little hard to take. I'm not particularly thrilled in the manner that we've pursued Milner and forced out Ireland either...

The signing of Milner is the one that completes the puzzle for City, but whether this is the end of our summer spending remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Craig Bellamy Loaned to Cardiff

There's been much speculation over the future of Craig Bellamy last week, and now the club can confirm that he will go on loan to Championship side Cardiff City for the rest of the season.

I guess this move suits everyone, although I would have much preferred a six-month loan. Bellamy gets first-team football in his homeland. Cardiff get an exceptional player, with subsidised wages assumably, to push for promotion. And of course, Roberto Mancini gets his wish and rids his team of a cancer — and sends a strong message to the rest of the squad that loyalty is placed above ability.

It's the correct thing to do, but it's not really a cause for celebration. I'm really disappointed by Bellamy. He could have had real success at City, or even Liverpool before it. His commitment and dedication on the pitch could never be faulted — but I'm afraid his career will be remembered mostly for bad knees and an even worse attitude.

Don't mess with the family...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

OFFICIAL: "Super" Mario Balotelli Signs!

After one of the most protracted transfers since last season's Lescott saga, Mario Balotelli is now officially a Manchester City player.

It's been a tough week for Mancini, but he couldn't keep the smile off his face:
"I think that Mario is one of the best players of his age in Europe, and I very happy to be working with him again. His style of play will suit the Premier League, and because he is still so young there is a big chance for him to improve. He is a strong and exciting player, and City fans will enjoy watching him."
To me, this signing trumps them all. Robinho, Carlos Tevez, David Silva... the lot. A kid, who by the age of 20, has three Serie A titles, a Champions League medal, and the footballing world at his feet. He could very well be our Cristiano Ronaldo, or at the very least, our Wayne Rooney.

Very, very happy days indeed.

Balotelli and his entourage arrive at Eastlands. What Marlon Harewood was doing there, is anyone's guess...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bellamy's Future in Doubt?

Craig Bellamy has been left out of the 25-man squad to play in the Europa League qualifier against Romanian side FC Timosoara, on 19 and 26 August.

The full squad is as follows: Given, Hart, Taylor, Richards, Boateng, Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, Lescott, Logan, Bridge, Kolarov, Wright-Phillips, Adam Johnson, Yaya Toure, Michael Johnson, Barry, Vieira, Kompany, De Jong, Silva, Adebayor, Robinho, Santa Cruz, Tevez, Jo.

The squad conditions for the Europa League are even more confusing than the Premier League ones. Each team can consist of 25 players - eight of which must be "locally trained". These locally trained players must have spent three years between the age of 15 and 21 at an academy system at and English club.

Out of these eight, a minimum of four must have been trained by Manchester City, which is why outsiders such as Shaleum Logan and Michael Johnson appear in this squad, despite the latter not due to return from injury until December. Also, this squad does not require us to name players under 21, such as Vladimir Weiss or Alex Nimely.

This squad had to be submitted to UEFA by 9 August for the play-off round, and if we successfully advance, we will choose another squad (before 1 September) that will serve as our Europa League squad for the length of the competition.

However, it's highly unlikely that Bellamy would have been a constant feature in our European campaign regardless of his relationship with the manager. With his injury record and dodgy knees, he finds it extremely difficult to play two games in a week at the best of times.

Having said that, if Bellamy wants to remain at the club, he's not going about things the right way. He's been quoted in the media a few times this week, speaking out about how he has no contact with Mancini, and how he might leave the club should he not be selected in the final 25. Retirement's even been suggested.
"I feel strongly that I can offer something at the club. But if I don't get in the 25-man squad, I don't know what I will do. I might finish, full stop, or look at every option I get."

"This game is as ruthless as any. I sort of feel I am not going to be part of it (at Manchester City). I can see it from a distance. I find that very difficult to take because I really enjoy playing for Manchester City. I think I have shown that with my commitment this year."

"I've had a few options. I've turned down Wolfsburg. I don't fancy Germany, it's not somewhere I see myself playing football. I have to see what options I have. I am here to play football."

"With this 25-man ruling, it doesn't matter how well I train or how good my attitude is, I might not be registered to play. So do I go without playing football until January, or do I find myself a club where I can play football?"

"I am committed to stay where I am. I feel I deserve to be part of it, but I don't pick the 25 or the team. I have to wait on their decision."
Rather than knuckling down and proving to the manager just how good a player he is, and making it impossible for him to be left out of the squad — Bellamy all but wants out. And it has the stench of a Redknapp-tap-up all over it...

Does it come as any surprise that a player, who famously fell out with Newcastle, Liverpool, and West Ham, is now on the outer at City? I, like a lot of City fans, thought that Bellamy had realised that this was his last chance to really achieve something in the game, his last real big club.

Once Mark Hughes was moved on however, Craig reverted to type. He was seen to take David Moyes' side in his spat with Roberto Mancini, and perhaps the final straw, that handshake with Harry Redknapp after Tottenham knocked us out of Champions League contention.

And just like the battles between Hughes and Elano — if there's a bust-up between a player and a manager, there is usually only one outcome.

We'll only truly know until the Spurs match on Saturday what the future holds for Bellamy. If he's left out of the starting 17 at White Hart Lane, we may well have seen the last of Bellers in a blue shirt.

Mancini and Bellamy in happier times — can they repair their fractured relationship for the betterment of the team?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nedum Onuoha Poised To Join Mackems on Loan

According to reports, Nedum Onuoha will join Sunderland on loan for the 2010-11 season. I think that this is an excellent piece of business for everyone involved.

Nedum will get the consistent Premier League game-time he needs to improve his confidence, which is something that he wouldn't get here, behind the likes of Toure, Lescott, Kompany, Richards, Boateng, and maybe even Boyata at centre-half. But if he goes and shows marked improvement, he can slot back into the 25-man squad, or if not, then he can stay at Sunderland.

It is a little disappointing to see him depart though. Nedum is a life-long fan of City, and currently the longest serving player at the club — he's our Bryan Riggs (spit) or Gary Chuckle (double spit). Although, unlike the forementioned players, he's very smart and articulate, and it's refreshing to see a player interviewed without giving a slew of "errs" and "yerknows"...

But in this case it may have worked against him. His cards were marked after this interview on Soccer AM, where he was less than complimentary to Roberto Mancini.

Regardless, I had included Onuoha as part of our 25-man squad, so this will free up a spot for another player. I have the feeling now that Jo, on the back of a very good pre-season in which he scored almost every time he played, will now force his way into the manager's plans — something that would have been considered impossible a month ago!

All the best Ned, and it'd be great to see you back next season.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

FourFourTwo Season Preview... Starring Us!

As previously posted here, we were asked to provide our thoughts on the season ahead by FourFourTwo magazine. And here's the result! Hopefully it appears in Australian newsagents soon. It looks a good read — even without my input!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Liverpool and Arsenal Matches on Free-To-Air...

Australian broadcaster OneHD has struck a deal with both Liverpool and Arsenal to show content from the club's television stations — including replayed matches. Which is fantastic news for City fans four times a season, and means you can can a repeat of the City win on usually the Tuesday.

The first of these matches is 10pm Tuesday 24 August, where you can see Manchester City take on the Dippers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Playing For Keeps – The Great Goalkeeper Conundrum

Roberto Mancini has a few tough decisions to make over the coming weeks about the composition of the 25 man Premier League squad. But probably his toughest dilemma is managing our goalkeeping situation.

And with reports that Sunderland have officially approached the club about loaning Hart for the season (it's somewhat fitting that they're looking for us to help them out with a goalkeeper crisis, after they were kind enough to let Marton Fulop come to City on emergency loan), it seems this problem is about to come to a head.

The manager already appears to have made his mind up. The fact that the squad list has Shay Given as number 1 and Joe Hart wearing the number 25 shirt probably gives a clear indication of his intentions.

There is no doubt about his Given's ability as a shot-stopper, where he is possibly second only to Pepe Reina at Liverpool. Some of his reflex saves over the years have defied belief. Who could forget his debut against Middlesbrough, where he denied Afonso Alves on four separate occasions? Or his heroics in the home win over Chelsea?

However, Shay has his shortcomings. He's 34, whilst still in good form, is nearing the end of his career (although, Schwarzer is attracting the interests of Arsenal at 37 years of age, and Van Der Sar at Vermin Towers is old even by Rag standards, nearing 40). Also, he has just returned from the dislocated shoulder suffered against Arsenal, and for a keeper, that's a fairly serious injury – both physically and mentally.

The most frustrating thing about Shay's game is his unwillingness to come out for crosses, even those only a couple of yards off his goal line. This led result in us conceding some pretty preventable goals last season, namely the Carling Cup semi and the FA Cup tie against Stoke – which is often followed by his trademark vaudevillian-fall-to-the-ground-in-disbelief routine.

And then you have Hart, who was named by his peers as the best goalkeeper in the league last season, all the while behind a defense he had never played with previously.

There is a possibility that if selected, he could be our first-choice keeper for the next decade, much like Given himself was at Newcastle. And of course, Joe is no stranger to the fight for the number 1 shirt — at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, he was Sven's third choice keeper, with Kasper Schmeichel and Andreas Isaksson the preferred options.

So does Roberto stick with the proven option in Given, or the long-term option in Hart? For me, it's Shay, but only just.

Looking at the long-term, and blooding youngsters used to be a successful policy for City. Many of our academy graduates, such as Micah Richards, Joey Barton, Stephen Ireland, and Michael Johnson, all got an extended run in the first team before they were ready – although it could be argued that they were thrown into the deep end because we simply had nobody else! However, things have changed since the Pearce days, and we can no longer afford this option.

If we are serious about challenging for Champions League qualification, or dare I say, the League, we need to have the best XI on the field, regardless of age. It doesn't matter if that player is 19, like potential signing Mario Balotelli, or 34 like Uncle Pat Vieira. This is precisely why Bryan Riggs and Paul Scholes, at the combined age of 84, are still playing week-in, week-out for the Rags.

Hopefully, there will be no reason to sell or loan either player, with Hart in goals in the Europa League and Cup competitions, and Given to focus on the League. However, Hart has so far indicated that he is not prepared to sit on the bench, and another loan may be the best option for all parties.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Home and Away Kits Available to Order (Australia only)

This season's home kit is now available to pre-order, and as a result, we will be placing our own order for both the Home and Away kit.

We'd prefer PayPal, as it's just a lot easier to keep track of, but you can drop us a bank transfer if need be. To ensure that they arrive as quickly as possible — hopefully before the first match of the season — we will be placing the order as soon as the home kit is available for general purchase.

ensure you know your size, and inform me of it. I can't refund or exchange, I'm sorry.

All orders must be made and paid for by midnight Friday 6 August.

The cost for the kits is listed at £45 for short sleeve, and £50 for long sleeve. Thus, they will be priced at $80 and $90 respectively, inclusive of all postage and handling.

To order a shirt, please head to the Lesson In Pride Shop.