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Patrick Roberts of Man City or CelticThis screenshot was taken from Manchester City's OS today, 13th August from our first team page and shows one of our supposed star young talents who was being touted as a future England star wearing his loan gear from last season at Celtic.  Is it right that as a first team player surely it wouldn't have been that difficult to get a picture of him in the right kit. 

Celtic fans are taking this as a sign he is heading back to them and as he didn't even make the bench against Brighton & Hove Albion yesterday they may well be right.  Personally the club need to look at how and why we are showing players in their loan gear on the squad pages of the official City website and ask themselves does this set the right tone for unity and cohesion within the squad.  

Yes, he may have played 43 times for Celtic and only managed 1 premier league appearance for City but he still has a reported two years left on his current deal so it would be good if the OS could at least get Sharon to take a snap of him in a City shirt so we can at least pretend he has a future at the club.     

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kolarovAs Arsenal take to the field to play Crystal Palace and after watching Spurs destroy Watford it looks like after 19 matches or exactly half-way through the season we are down to fourth.  You never know with a Sam Allardyce team but Palace are playing a centre-back who has trained for one day in three weeks but who has declared himself fit to play and with their limited options Sam feels he has no choice but to play him operating on the assumption that you play your strongest team as often as you can.  If you look throughout the premier league this season you will see that no team has tinkered and changed his squad as much as Manchester City have and this has not all been down to injury.

Now many City fans would have us beleive that we are week in defence because we do not have enough cover even with international defenders farmed out on loan.  Some argue we need better defenders but is that really the case.  Bravo has kept four clean sheets this season and it is interesting that in all of these clean sheets our defensive back line contains what I beleive is our strongest centre-back pairing at the club today and one which Pep needs to look to build on for the rest of this season if he really wants to get his title challenge back on track.   He might not feel that this pairing and actually the back-four I would play will play his style but there is little doubting they can do a job for us whilst he works in training on improving the players understanding of his style of play.

The four clean sheets we have had so far were against Hull, Watford, West Brom and Bournemouth.  

  • Huill,   Clichy / Otamendi / Kolarov / Sagna << Now Stones started this game but went off injured after 18 minutes to be replaced by Kolarov
  • Watford Zabaletta / Otamendi / Kolarov / Clichy
  • West Brom Otamendi / Stones / Kolarov
  • Bournemouth  Sagna / Otamendi / Kolarov / Clichy << Stones came on for Otamendi after 52 minutes.

All four clean sheets featured Kolarov at Centre-Back which Kolarov has come out and said is a position he likes to play in.  Now 2 clean sheets feature what I beleive to be our best defensive unit.  Clichy / Otamendi / Kolarov / Sanga but Pep insists on trying to play the error prone Stones as part of the defensive partnership with Otamendi.  I wonder where Stones is concerned if he is actually a centre-back or an old fashioned right-back.  He certainly drifts out to the wing or up into midfield constantly throughout the game.  When Stones moves out to the wing,  this drags Otamendi across leaving the left back marking any players coming into the box and so you often see teams over-loading our left-back.  Kolarov in the Liverpool game was left marking three attacking players on more than one occasion and it isn't the first time I have seen it this season.   It invariably leads to a twitter explosion of criticism directed at Kolarov althogh pretty much all our defenders receive a similar torrent it does seem that Kolarov takes the brunt of it.  Quite often he is the player nearest the goalscorer but is that down to Kolarov or the defensive unit letting him down time and time again. 

Certainly Pep beleives in Kolarov as he has played more minutes than any other City player but I would argue that to get the best out of our defensive unit Pep needs to commit to what he beleives is our best back four and I would argue that Kolarov's more disciplined approach to the centre-back position would allow a stability for Otamendi to work with which with Clichy and Sagna sat outside providing width level with Fernandinho would also allow the opposition to come out of their own half.  Opening up the space available on the pitch for our creative players . By settling on a back four defensive unit and working with that unit to make them mnore disciplined in their positioning you can prevent the sort of counter-attacking park the bus football we see the team exposed by time and time again.

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zabaletaPep Gaurdiola with Pablo Zabaletta is inheriting a player who was signed under Mark Hughes and has stuck around under Mancini, Kidd and Pellegrini to now see in his fourth Manchester City manager.  An elder statesmen of the squad now at 31 years of age and a player who has seen a huge transformation at the club,  Facilities,  Club Direction, Playing style and the reflection of all that in the trophy cabinet.  A player who when signing for us turned down a move to Juventus citing the challenge at Manchester City as one he just couldn't turn down.  Zabaletta over the 8 years he has been with the club has turned himself from another overseas import into what most fans would consider to be "One of US"  No mean feat when you look at other players who have come in and been loved by City fans but ultimately when leaving you never really think of or consider them again.  
Testimonials back in the early 2000's were thrown around by clubs and seemingly given to every man and his dog but these days with the way players contracts are it is hard to find players at top clubs who really deserve them.  Who have hung around for over 10 years and really put their heart and soul into the club and for most players you would want some home grown element to be involved,  Testimonials should be for players who embody that club through and through..
Zabaletta if he makes it through to 2018 would be such a player for me,  a player who epitomsies what it means to pull on a Manchester City shirt but based on what he has done for the club I wouldn't argue with one of this seasons home friendlies being a testimonial,  Even a game against the Under 21's to recognise the work he has done.

Embracing Manchester

Zabaletta and his family have fully embraced Manchester and the North West,  Happy to bring their children up here and happy to interact with the fans at all levels he truly is thought of by Manchester City fans as one of us.  A real acheivement for a player who heralds from Arrecifes and fully admits himself he is not a superstar like David Silva or Yaya Toure.  His devotion to fully immersing himself at the club has seen him watching the Reserves which became the Under 21's and is now the EDS.  Standing in the crowd with the fans watching the youngsters strut their stuff in the Blue and White of City.

When he walked into Manchester City he didn't speak a word of English but now speaks with a "MANC" accent which can be a little unnerving when you remember this is an Argentinian who is using the slang of a colloquial accent which is unmistakebly Northern England.  That is Zabaletta all over,  when he arrived he had to make that right back spot his own and he had to face off stiff competition over the years for it.  He has changed and developed his game and is now referred to as a wingback, not bad for somebody who wasn't blessed with the speed of a Sterling and early on was criticised for exactly that, his speed.

Now the experienced right-back knows when to make those oh so devastating runs round the oppositions rightback and into the space afforded to him by the excellent through balls of the likes of David Silva who he thinks of as the superstar of the side. 

Personally and from this City Fans perspective I would have it the other way around.  His devotion to the club and the cause,  his commitment to want to spend every minute of his time on the pitch and his influence with younger players is what makes Pablo Zabaletta stand out for me.  It would be an absolute travesty if he was to be sold or moved on without this being marked in some way.  Last seasons injuries and at 31, becoming an elder statesmen at the club I hope "PEP" holds onto such an influential player. He deserves to make it to 10 years playing at the club so we can truly honour him with the testimonial he deserves.  If not, give it to him anyway and the owners couldn't go to far wrong with giving him some role at the club when his career finishes.   Not for what he has acheived or for that crucial defensive save but for his passion and commitment which shines through every time he pulls on that Blue shirt or visits a hospital or other function to support Manchester City and their fans.   

An interesting Quandry for "PEP" is what does he do with a player so much loved by CIty fans,  Can Pablo Zabaletta's legs cope with holding down the Wingback birth for another 12 months or has Sagna done enough to prove it is somebody elses turn and if so is having him on the bench enough.  Nobody wants to see ever again another player play until well past it, Mentioning no names   ***COUGH Demichelis Cough***.  SO what does Pep do,  I would love for Zabaletta to be moved into the coaching/backroom setup at MCFC when the time is right as since his first day at the club he has thrown everything he can at it. Could he work for "CITC" as an ambassador for the club as well as assisting in some way at the CFA. 

Only time will tell but I don't think the Argentinian is ready to go home just yet,  if he still thinks of Arrecifes as his home,  My guess is he thinks of where he is now as home and whatever happens the North-West and our weather is where he is staying.   

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pellegriniWell it seems that the much maligned Pellegrini's reign at Manchester City has come to an end with many on Twitter determining that they are glad the season has finished and Pellegrini is departing.   You do have to wonder how Pellegrini has received such criticism with a win rate across his career at City of 60%,  Pretty much matching Mancini's win rate who he replaced in June 2013.  Pellegrini's reign has seen 2 domestic trophies,  1 Premier League trophy, qualification in each of his seasons to the Champions League and we were semi-finalists in this latest season of the Champions League. 

We have finished above our near neighbours Manchester United in all 3seasons and we have seen the further development of our Youth Football Academy with players tried in the first team and Iheanacho making huge strides into the first team set-up.  It could be argued that Pellegrini's results actually are more impressive than Mancini's with certainly the push out of the group stages of the Champions League this season being a huge boost to a Champions League campaign which over previous seasons hadn't really gained the momentum needed.

Nobody can say that Manuel Pellegrini hasn't been unlucky with injuries and injuries to his big game players,   Silva & Kompany being the most high profile but right across the first 11,  Nasri, Yaya Toure and Ageuro not being able to stay injury free for more than a handful of games at a time.   Even so Hart has only just fallen shy of the golden gloves award and Aguero's goalscoring prowess meant that with only 30 games played he still netted 24 times.  Considering how many times he limped out of games early that is no mean feat. 

Pellegrini's less combatitive style meant that unlike Mancini he didn't alienate the players or the board but Fans have struggled with his predictable substitutions and style of play.  Consistently picking Bony over the tremendously talented Nacho has also been a huge sore point for fans.  Not with-standing how Nacho's game has faded in the handful of games he has started a goalscroing record of 26 Premier league goals and netting 8 times.  You have to beleive that next season will be his season and I am sure Pellegrini wishes he would have been ready and available 12 months earlier.

The qualification for the Champions League this season was all to important and Pellegrini has succeeeded in managing that and on paper his Manchester City managerial career will have clubs across Europe willing to take a gamble on him I am sure.   I wish him well and overall I am satisfied that over the last three years we have watched good, fun attacking football.  I now hope that Pep can tighten things up at the back and across the middle so that Aguero and Nacho have a solid platform to build from and get the goals.  Next season we should have 2 x 20 goals a season strikers in these two and if we do not.  Then you have to wonder how much time the fans will give Guardiola or will he suffer the abuse Mancini and Pellegrini got from certain sections of the fans.



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premierleagueWhen you read that headline it is easy to dismiss it as sensationalist journalism and if I was reading it written by one of the main red-tops I would probably have skipped over it expecting little thought or nothing new but in the busy month of January Manchester City face Roberto Martinez's Everton three times.  Two matches are in the Capital One Cup, a Semi-Final which you could argue is more important than picking up the three points in the Premier League when we face them on the 13th January.  Certainly we need to ensure we beat them in the Carling cup and now we are over the half-way point in the season you wouldn't want to lose any more ground on Arsenal or provide any more encouragement to the nearly boys of recent years (Spurs).  Spurs form this season sees them knocking on a champions league place and some pundits saying that they are likely to join the battle for the top 2 positions.  I will leave you to make your own minds up on whether their squad is strong enough for that but they only have five matches in January so have a much lighter workload than Manchester City's seven highly competitive matches.  

evertonThe premier league match against Everton at home on the 13th January is one which falls squarely in the centre of a run of 7 games in January.  Look at Arsenal's run and over the same timeframe they have only five matches for their battle-weary squad.  When you look at City's injury count over the start of this season and the fact that Vincent Kompany is now likely to miss at least another 3 weeks and then will need to get back to match fitness we are looking at him missing at least 5 matches in January,  Three of those games against inform strikers Lukaku for Everton and Ighalo for Watford. 

In years gone by the scenario would have been fairly straight-forward,  for instance Mancini would have said to De Jong go and sit on Ighalo or Lukaku and don't let him touch the ball.  Limit his chances and opportunities to scraps and the worst of half-chances and that's your job done but in a City side under Pellegrini we don't appear to have that in our Arsenal.  I certainly cannot recall this season anybody marking an opposition player out of the game relying instead on our own abilities and that of our formation to get the job done.  De Jong wouldn't have crossed the half-way line for anything other than a set-piece and even then would have been back with a defender marking the striker and making sure that the fast break wasn't an option. 

We should have the tools for this in Fernando or/and Fernandinho and playing these two in rotation as a defensive midfielder man-marking the potential main threat from either Watford or Everton would do a huge job in nullifying their attacking strengths and would allow the rest of the team to play the type of attacking football the fans want to see in relative safety.  Certainly if we allow Lukaku the freedom over three matches to run across our defensive line unchallenged then you have to feel that a striker with 15 goals in 19 matches might be confident to add to his tally. 

There is nothing wrong with adjusting and adapting your style of play to the opposition we are coming up against and when you are playing a team three times in 21 days and 7 matches in 25 days then you have to plan carefully how you are going to manage your squad in order that you can get the most out of them.  We are in this position because the season is going well, Semi-Finalists in the Carling Cup, Champions League starts again towards the end of February,  still very much in the title race for the Premier League and the FA Cup to boot. 

mcfcThe fixture pile-up is one which successful teams have to manage and we have seen other teams come out of January in a much worse state than they went into it and if we are not careful then 2 of the top 3 in-form strikers of this season could put a serious dent in our Carling Cup and Premier League ambitions.   It will be interesting to see how Pellegrini manages his squad and how he manages the way he sets up his team to play and if he gives the potency of the opposition the respect it deserves.  At them moment we set-up with an extremely aggressive attacking midfield behind a lone striker and yet our top three goal-scorers are Aguero on 7 and KDB and Sterling on 5 a piece, when you consider 5 of Aguero's 7 goals came in one match against Newcastle it is not what you would call prolific when you consider what this takes away from our defensive game.   

So there it is, in January we will face two of the most prolific strikers four times, Once when we play Watford and three times when we play Everton.  In between we have a hard to beat Crystal Palace and West Ham who themselves are no push-overs.  The Premier League title race may be between Manchester City and Arsenal with Leicester and Spurs in the mix but the reality is Lukaku could have a huge impact on who the winner is. 

Will Pellegrini be able to steer Manchester City through a tough run of 7 games when those around us are playing 5 and will he be able to outfox Ighalo and in particular Lukaku, a stern test for any two centre-backs, especially if they are not helped with cover from a defensive midfielder.  

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