The FA Community Shield, sponsored by McDonalds, has always been a fixture that has baffled me. Hailed as the traditional curtain raiser for the season it is difficult to distinguish whether it is a friendly or a competitive match. With thoughts of pre-season world tours fresh in the minds of both teams and the transfer rumour mill often reaching stupendous levels the match often isn’t taken too seriously by fans and players alike.

The prospect of a trophy though confuses the spectacle somewhat. No team can claim to not want to win silverware so one can never be quite sure what to expect.

Prior to the game, news was emerging that City had agreed a fee for Everton’s young English midfielder Jack Rodwell. The deal all but secured subject to a medical. The news could arguably be more exciting for City fans than the prospect of claiming the Community Shield given the unusually quiet transfer window for Champions, so far.

The approach both sets of players took to the game certainly banished any thoughts of this being a casual, pre-season kick about. Challenges were flying in left, right and centre culminating in a few early yellow cards and eventually a red.

Roberto Mancini opted to use the 3-5-2 system that he has been experimenting with during the pre-season tours of Austria, China and Malaysia. Though City played with more attacking verve for the majority of the first half Chelsea took the lead courtesy of a Fernando Torres goal shortly before half time. Not long afterwards the tough tackling spectacle reached a head when Branislav Ivanovic deservedly saw red for rash challenge on Aleks Kolarov.

In the second half, City managed to make better use of possession in the final third, thanks in part to their numerical advantage over Chelsea. Within the space of 13 minutes fine goals from Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri ensured City were on course to claim their first Community Shield in 40 years.

In true City fashion they didn’t make it easy for themselves. Ryan Bertrand, the young English Chelsea substitute, ensured that City fans bit their nails to the final whistle after pouncing on a Costel Pantilimon spill with 10 minutes left to reduce the Chelsea deficit to 3-2. Nevertheless, City held on to get their hands on the trophy sponsored by McDonalds (a sponsorship that epitomises everything that is wrong with the modern game).

City celebrate winning the Community Shield

The game was comforting for City in that it has proved the 3-5-2 can function effectively in a competitive scenario thus justifying the work Mancini and his staff have undertaken in pre-season. I am not sure that the system is sustainable though. Unless City are able to field 3 centre halves at the back instead of full backs or a deer in the headlights like Stefan Savic, I am not sure Mancini will persevere with the system. With the transfer window still open there is time to make additions to bolster his squad to better suit this system.

Carlos Tevez also showed that he is a different proposition to last season after having lost weight over the summer. The Argentine applied himself with his trademark bulldog like approach and a fine performance was capped with a classy goal. Tevez was perhaps deserving of the Man of the Match award but ITV’s “experts” gave Yaya Toure the prestigious title of McDonalds Man of the Match. Also worthy of note were the tireless performances of James Milner and Nigel De Jong.

All in all, a good day for City: Another season, another trophy.

Chelsea Team

Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, David Luiz, Terry, Ramires, Lampard, Mikel, Hazard (Bertrand), Torres, Mata (Sturridge)

Man City Team

Pantilimon, Kompany, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic (Clichy), Milner, Nasri (Silva), De Jong, Yaya Toure, Aguero, Tevez (Dzeko)

Words by Robert Toole

During the close season there is often very little to write about football that is worthwhile. Obviously, transfer stories capture the headlines but the majority of football coverage focuses on speculation which quite frankly bores me to tears.

Thankfully the City website has been jam packed with videos of all sorts to keep the City faithful entertained during the baron months. The City website provides a vast array of videos that cast shame on their rivals websites. Though the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have similar sections on their sites, you’ll be hard pressed to find the same level of content in comparison to City.

City offer videos ranging from training, in depth interviews, First Team and Academy match highlights, behind the scenes features to more light-hearted features like #AskSergio in which Sergio Aguero answers fans’ questions from Twitter. Last season City debuted the particularly excellent ‘Inside City’ feature which gave an insight to the working of City on a weekly basis: anything from training to charity work was covered. One episode even featured behind the scenes footage of the promo event for Joleon Lescott’s clothing line.

City’s most recent posts are extensive features of their recent pre-season tour of Austria and current tour of China. I don’t know about you but I would much rather be able to see what is actually going on at City instead of reading the ramblings of some listless journalist from The Daily Mirror speculating about what is going on.

Words by Rob Toole

*Videos taken from MCFC’s Youtube channel for the purposes of embedding on this blog.

 

 

 

Yesterday, Roberto Mancini signed a five year extension to his contract as Manchester City manager. Immediately prior to the deal being completed, there was intense speculation linking Mancini to a lucrative deal to manage the Russian national team. To the relief of many, Mancini put to bed any speculation regarding his future by becoming Manchester City’s smartest signing of the summer.

Though some may not appreciate the magnitude of this deal, the importance of it is not lost on me. Regardless of any big name players that City may sign before the closure of the transfer window, securing Mancini’s services for the next five year is huge by comparison.

Despite Mancini’s success at City, his abilities and achievements are seldom recognised or appreciated by the masses. Delivering City’s first silverware in 35 years with the FA Cup in 2011 and City’s first league title since 1968 in the space of two and a half years is an extraordinary achievement. Yet, it seems that if City do well it is to be expected due to the wealth of the club’s owners but when they underperform criticism is relentless.

The excellent job Mancini has done, and continues to do, can be seen by looking back at the various styles of play City have adopted prior to and during Mancini’s reign as City boss. Even the way City approach certain opposition has changed over time to ultimately get the better of them.

Forza Mancini

The squad that Mancini inherited from Mark Hughes in December 2009 was in a poor state, despite being expensively assembled. The set up essentially boiled down to a gung-ho mentality lacking the basic principles of a good football team: organisation and a good defence. This type of approach was, at times, entertaining but it was severely flawed. Against weaker opposition it worked but when facing the best teams who were organised and defensively sound, problems were inevitable.

The positive side to this approach was perhaps best demonstrated in the 4-2 victory versus Arsenal in September 2009. The negative side to this approach was demonstrated in the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham in December of the same year: a game in which City were torn to shreds by a team who could attack and defend astutely, and essentially had a game plan. Hughes’ last game in charge, the almost farcical 4-3 victory over Sunderland, epitomised this wayward approach.

Though Mancini took on a job with unlimited funds it was by no means an easy task. City were in disarray and it is huge credit to Mancini that the football City produce today is a far cry from the hit it and hope kind of football City fans were having to endure week-in week-out prior the Italian’s arrival. Mancini essentially went back to basics and worked from the back. The key to all great teams is being able to defend and Mancini knows this. From the moment he took charge the number of goals that City scored and conceded decreased.

During the 2010-11 season City were regularly cited as dull and boring due to their defensive nature and perceived lack of goals. The lazy cliché of an Italian style of play was banded round with nauseating regularity. In spite of this, City finished the season with a goal difference of +27. In the same season, Tottenham Hotspur, a team regularly cited as the best attacking team in the league, achieved a goal difference of +9. Quite how City gained a reputation for being negative didn’t quite add up.

With a solid defence in place, Mancini unleashed the shackles in the 2011-12 season. With the additions of key attacking players like Sergio Aguero and David Silva during Mancini’s tenure, City played with freedom, pace and intricate movement. As a consequence City’s attractive style of play was beginning to receive recognition in the media. After 10 games, City had already surpassed the goal difference they achieved the season before (+29) and were on average scoring 3.6 goals per game and conceding 0.8 goals per game. By the end of the season, City won the Premier League by scoring the most goals (93) and conceding the fewest (29). The transformation from reckless entertainers to free scoring Champions was complete, all due to the hard work and tactical knowledge of Mancini.

The excellent work of Mancini can also be demonstrated by the way in which City have changed the way they play against certain opposition. For example, Tottenham have long been a bogey team for City. Yet, Mancini has gone from attempting to nullify the threat of Spurs’ attack to being able to dictate play in his short tenure as City manager. Though the majority of games against Tottenham in the last three seasons have all been well contested games, the results (below) demonstrate the way Mancini has developed his City team from cautious and defensive to sparking attackers.

2009/10 Season
Spurs 3-0 City (*Mark Hughes as manager)
City 0-1 Spurs

2010/11 Season
Spurs 0-0 City
City 1-0 Spurs

2011/12 Season
Spurs 1-5 City
City 3-2 Spurs

It is refreshing  that City have finally got the right man for the job and are looking to the future with Roberto Mancini. There have been many false dawns at Manchester City: managers have come and gone with such regularity that the job was perceived as somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Not anymore, City yesterday completed biggest signing of their summer, Roberto Mancini.

Words by Rob Toole

Last night Lille playmaker, Eden Hazard, put an end to the growing speculation surrounding his future by declaring on Twitter that he will be joining Chelsea. After weeks of public speculation in which Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea were the forerunners for the 21 year old Belgian’s signature, Hazard declared: “I’m signing for the Champion’s League winner.”

Though some of the City faithful may be disappointed, it may be a blessing in disguise. After a fine season playing for Lille in the French Ligue 1 it was inevitable that Europe’s biggest clubs would be interested in the services of potentially lethal Hazard. However, the manner in which Hazard has publicly fanned the flames of the speculation has not endeared himself to many. Prior to Chelsea’s Champions League victory he strongly indicated that it would be the blue of City that he would be wearing next season. I may be mistaken but  it seem that all the praise of his ability and the stature of the clubs interested in him has gone to his head.

Few players are afforded the opportunity to be linked with, let alone play for, clubs like City, United and Chelsea. The youngster who is relatively unproven, domestically and internationally, seems to be somewhat of a prima donna. With undoubted potential Hazard has performed well in the French league but it is not the pinnacle of European football. Moreover, on the international stage, Hazard has had a high profile run-in with the former Belgium coach, Georges Leekens, which did little to enhance his reputation.

Eden Hazard is Chelsea bound

His arrogance is something that City and Roberto Mancini could do without. After all, City have plenty of their own problems in the shape of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. Whilst they are both undoubtedly fantastic players their attitude is not exactly first class. Then there are the hangers on: players like Emmanuel Adebayor and Wayne Bridge who claim they want to play football but are unwilling to take a wage cut to do so. City should only recruit those who want to play for the club for the right reasons. It seems that if City had captured Hazard it could amount to be more of a problem than a benefit. Only time will tell but it seems Hazard was more interested in where the money was and who he thought owned the most prestigious trophy. I can’t imagine Mancini will lose any sleep over this.

Ultimately, Hazard opted to join Chelsea, the FA Cup and Champions League winners. On the other hand, he has joined a team that finished extremely poorly in the Premier League. They finished 6th, 25 points behind the Champions, Manchester City, and behind 5th place Newcastle. Going into the final day of the season, Chelsea could finish no higher than 6th, regardless of what other teams did. Chelsea is an unsettled club owned by a Russian mercenary on a personal crusade who changes his manager more often than most. Chelsea is a club run on player power with the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard ruling the roost, seemingly able to influence the owner to dispose of managers who they dislike. Maybe, just maybe, the culture of player power at Chelsea is the perfect match for the seemingly arrogant Eden Hazard.

Words by Rob Toole

The dust had barely settled from Manchester City’s historic Premier League victory when the Manchester City team took to the streets of Manchester to parade the trophy to thousands of delerious supporters. On Monday 14th May 2012 an estimated 100,000 poeple crammed into the streets of central Manchester to sing the praises of their heroes.

Words by Rob Toole – Photos by Sam Ellis

What a great season! After a long campaign which, at times, threatened to end in disappointment, Manchester City were crowned Premier League Champions on Sunday, ending their 44 year wait for the league title. Few, if any, could have predicted the dramatic fashion in which the title was clinched at the death, including myself. Although I predicted silverware this season, I was way off the mark in terms of the grandeur of what City ended up with:

Premier League: predicted 2nd, finished as Champions.

Champions League: predicted quarter-finals, finished at group stage.

FA Cup: predicted 5th round, finished at 3rd round.

League Cup: predicted Winners, finished at semi-finals.

In spite of my flimsy predictions, it has come to that stage of the season to take stock and look back at the highlights of an unforgettable and historic campaign. In a similar vein to the nauseatingly blinkered Premier League 20 Seasons Awards, I have a number of categories.

Player of the Season

An extremely difficult decision given that players in all positions have excelled throughout the season. If you were to ask me tomorrow it is likely I would select three different players.

1st: Sergio Aguero

In recent years, City have bought strikers of high prestige who have not cut the mustard. Not Sergio. He is the real deal. With great skill, a fantastic attitude and the frightening potential to get even better, I have to include Aguero in the top three.

2nd: Yaya Toure

Simply indispensable. City are not the same without him as was proven when he left for the African Cup of Nations in January and February. Nothing beats watching the versatile midfielder running at speed with the opposition quaking in their boots.

3rd: Gareth Barry

Despite his advancing years, Barry is a mainstay in Mancini’s midfield. Solid and consistent, he has kept Nigel De Jong on the periphery of the starting 11 for most of the season, with little room for argument. Enough said.

Game of the Season

Though the QPR game won the title, the game itself was not the best so I have another category, “Moment of the Season”, to account for that. With so many great performances, it is a difficult choice to narrow to three games, apart from the obvious.

1st: Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City – 23rd October 2011

City beat United 6-1 at Old Trafford and it could have been worse for them. The flurry of goals proved decisive in the goal difference that won City the League Championship.

Fact: This game was the first time that United conceded more than 5 goals at home since December 1978.

2nd: Tottenham Hotspur 1-5 Manchester City – 28th August 2011

I despise Tottenham and Harry Redknapp. Destroying Spurs on their own turf, thanks to an Edin Dzeko 4 goal haul, was a personal highlight.

Fact: In this game, Samir Nasri provided 3 assists, 2 more than he provided in the entire of his last season at Arsenal.

3rd: Porto 1-2 Manchester City – 16th February 2012

It was a classic European away performance against the holders of the Europa League with astute defending and two vital goals to take into the second leg. It was a good contest in which neither team flaked that I enjoyed. City were deserved winners.

Fact: This game represented Porto’s first competitive defeat at home since 23rd February 2011.

Goal of the Season

1st: James Milner versus Aston Villa – 15th October 2011

Stunning! A beautifal 3 pass move using the majority of the pitch. Thwack!

2nd: Mario Balotelli (2nd) versus Manchester United – 23rd October 2011

Pass and move, pass and move. Lovely intricate passing that calved open United’s defence. That was liquid football!

3rd: Joe Hart versus Aston Villa – 12th February 2012

It wasn’t a goal, it wasn’t even a shot. It was a save that felt like a goal (it didn’t). However, in the interest of proving that one can claim that just about any moment throughout the season won City the league (I have already in this article: the 6-1 over United adding to the crucial goal difference), I am claiming this last minute fingertip save to deny Darren Bent won City the league.

Moment of the Season

This is obvious. After all, it was the moment of a lifetime for thousands of people. City winning the Premier League Championship 13 seconds after Manchester United had kicked the final ball of their season (for clarity, this is the actual moment City won the league). Words cannot describe….

Champions

Words, that cannot describe, by Rob Toole

GUEST BLOG

written by Robert Pollard – 14th May 2012

With both Manchester City and Manchester United going into the last match of the season with a chance of lifting the 2011-2012 Barclays Premier League trophy, it promised to be a great final day of the season. However, what ensued will go down in football history; a day of the highest possible drama that brought a fitting end to one the most entertaining seasons in recent history.

It was Manchester City who won the coveted prize; their first league title in 44 years, a period in which their fans have suffered ridicule on a grand scale. Relegation to the third tier of English football saw them branded as a laughing-stock, with even their own staff recognising their problems. Former player, and one time chairman of the club, Francis Lee famously claimed City would ‘win cups for cock-ups’, and Joe Royle, the manager who rescued them from their deepest slump, coined the phrase ‘cityitis’, a word which described City’s unerring ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

But all that was forgotten as they clinched the biggest prize in English football in the most dramatic of circumstances, scoring two late goals to seal the trophy their fans, players, management and owners had long craved. Manchester United did what they had to do on the final day – beat Sunderland away. Their 1-0 victory had, at one stage, seemed enough to snatch the title from their rivals, but City’s late, late salvo changed it all within minutes, scoring with their 43rd and 44th shots of the match. It seems poetic that the team so often praised for their ability to produce late drama have been usurped in exactly that fashion.

Roberto Mancini, City’s Italian manager, must now begin to take some long overdue credit. He took the job when many others were shirking it, coming to a new country to take the reins at a club where expectations had soared due to their new-found wealth. Since then, despite success, he has received little praise. When City do well it is to be expected; when they don’t it is a failure on his part. An FA Cup success, qualification for the Champions League, and now a Premiership title, all delivered in the space of two-and-a-half years, mean his excellence deserves to be recognised. He found himself trailing United by 8 points but managed to win the last 6 matches of the season – including a win against United – to take the title. This is a remarkable achievement. You feel if Harry Redknapp, or another similarly well-liked manager, had turned round such a deficit and won the league he’d be carried on the shoulders of journalists through the streets of London. However, Mancini is not afforded such favourable press.

The hard work starts here for Mancini and creating a team capable of dominating for a long time his the task he is charged with and he has an outstanding set of players to achieve this. Vincent Kompany grows in stature every day, with his performances, leadership, professionalism and interview style now a vital part of Manchester City. Every club needs a leader and City have one of the best. The spine of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero is the best in the league, and provides a frightening prospect for opposing sides. This City team is young and hungry for more success.

A special mention must also go to Pablo Zabaleta, one of the best full backs and undoubtedly the most valuable utility player in the Premiership; his grit and determination is something City fans will long remember in what has been a tiring campaign. Gareth Barry, who may not feature quite so heavily in a title-winning side again as he enters the twilight of his career, has also been excellent. City must now use the momentum this title has created to push on and become even better.

Manchester United also deserve great credit for their season. They have had crippling injuries to deal with, most notably the absence of Nemanja Vidic who, along with Kompany, is the best central defender in English football. Sound logic would suggest if he had been available all season, United may well have been lifting the trophy. Sir Alex Ferguson will spend this summer and United will be a force again next season. Only a side managed by Fergie could have kept pace with such an excellent City side, and they came so close to an unlikely 20th league title.

If city were ever going to become champions of England, one suspected it would be dramatic, heart-in-the-mouth type stuff, but even by their standards this was remarkable. Never will there be a final day quite like yesterday.

Robert Pollard is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter and Passions Just Like Mine