‘More U-turns than a dodgy plumber,’ but Manchester City still in good hands despite Yaya Toure’s antics

The Ivorian powerhouse midfielder has been at the centre of intrigue and confusion this week amidst his agent’s claims of ‘disrespect’.

Just a fortnight ago Manchester City clinched the Premier League title, coupling it with the Capital One Cup to cap a successful first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini.

Yet merely a week later, the steady, holistic ship that the Chilean so gracefully, patiently and impressively sailed to glory has been ever so slightly rocked by claims made by Yaya Toure’s agent Dimitry Seluk. 

There’s a saying at Manchester City referring to the soap-opera nature of the club. ‘Typical City’. The club that never does anything the easy way, it was hoped it would be eradicated with an influx of money from the Middle East.

It hasn’t. 

From Manchester City apparently not recognising Toure’s birthday (they did, there was a cake, a sing-song and numerous birthday tweets), to disrespecting him because Roberto Carlos got a Bugatti from the President at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala whilst Yaya got nothing…it’s the kind of line you would expect to hear at a five-year-old’s birthday party, not from the agent of a Premier League footballer. 

To quote Iain Duncan Smith, Toure has done more U-turns than a dodgy plumber. Yet, even if the Ivory Coast powerhouse does leave Manchester City this summer then the club will still be in good hands.

For as integral to the side as Toure is, the fact is that at 31 he has only a few years left at the top level. He needs replacing in City’s engine room and if his latest alleged tantrum makes the powers that be at the Etihad Stadium start scouting for his replacement now it can only be beneficial.

Putting the Toure debacle aside, there are numerous positives surrounding Manchester City. In an in-house interview, Chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak spoke glitteringly of the club’s future – despite the impending Financial Fair Play constraints.

He cast away any doubts from those envious of the regeneration in East Manchester – on and off the pitch. He emphasised Sheikh Mansour, the owner’s, continued commitment to the cause, to the future. He praised Patrick Vieira’s work with the Elite Development Squad (EDS), the man it seems they’re moulding to take over from Pellegrini in a few years time.

He praised the likes of Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott who will depart on free transfers this summer. He spoke glowingly of Yaya Toure, the man who inspired City’s Capital One Cup win amongst their drive for Premier League glory.

In a nod to UEFA, he spoke about Manchester City’s impending profitability, and declared the running of the club as sustainable, even managing a dig at how City’s neighbours, Manchester United, over the road are run by the Glazer family.

“We have zero debt we don’t pay a penny to service any debt. For me, that is a sustainable model.”

For Manchester City fans it must be refreshing to hear such intelligence, ambition, sophistication and pride at what has been achieved so far, and at what is to come, emanating from the man in charge. 

Yaya Toure may leave Manchester in the summer in a manner that risks undoing all the hard work he has put into City. They would miss his brilliance, his goals, his powerful, driving runs from midfield that leave the opposition staring blankly, shaking their heads in disbelief.

Yet, even if he does go there’s no denying that with the Sheikh bankrolling matters, Khaldoon Al-Mubarak running the day-to-day business and Pellegrini at the helm, Manchester City are in safe hands.

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Soap-opera City need another ‘miracle’

If ever there were to be a prize awarded to a club for “doing things the hard way” it would almost inevitably be handed to soap-opera club Manchester City.

They are a side that leave it until the last five minutes to take a play-off final to extra time and then penalties. They are a side that leave it until the last three minutes of the season to clinch their first ever Premier League title.

They are Manchester City, and they do it the hard way.

Defeat in the final minutes to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and defeat at the Amsterdam ArenA – the home of Dutch champions Ajax – has left Manchester City with an almost impossible task of qualifying for the second round of the Champions League.  Manager Roberto Mancini has described their plight as in dire need of a ‘miracle’. Manchester City are in the mire, and they only have themselves to blame.

Expectations have soared to a whole new level following Sergio Aguero’s last gasp winner against QPR last season that sent Manchester City fans into absolute ecstasy. They were going to spend further in the summer, strengthen a squad that was already brimming with talent and steamroll their way to the top like the juggernaut they want to become.

Manchester City players look shell-shocked as Ajax cruise to victory

Reality struck. Financial Fair Play rules – whether they will ever be introduced or not is a different debate – prevented City from splashing the Sheikh’s cash on the “top names” Mancini wanted. The likes of Daniele De Rossi opted to stay at Roma, rather than join City. Things didn’t go exactly as Mancini wanted, leaving him frustrated.

Despite a subdued transfer window, City remain unbeaten in the Premier League but even whilst it is not their main priority this season, their Champions League form has been particularly woeful.

It is testament to the quality of their opposition in the Champions League that Joe Hart has been the Blues’ best player over the three games played. The England international has established himself as one of the very best around over the course of the campaign and his sensational form has kept City alive in the competition.

Against Real Madrid, City put up a good effort. Taking the lead twice and relying on Hart they were doing well until a tactical change saw them change to three at the back. It was a change that played into the hands of Madrid, allowing them to push on and win the game. Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space and the rest, as they say, is history.

At the Etihad Stadium, there was optimism. After all, City had gone to the Bernabeu and were five minutes away from getting a famous result. The Blues would surely be able to rise to the challenge of Borussia Dortmund. They weren’t.

Having taken a point from their three games so far in the group stages, City are clinging on by the skin of their teeth. They’re in that position because they deserve to be there. The performances haven’t been good enough to qualify for the second round. Their performances haven’t even been good enough for them to be worthy of qualifying for the Europa League. And the only man you sympathise with is Hart, because if there is one player deserving to go further on in the competition it is him. Nobody else has performed.

Three wins from three could see them claw their way through. It’s unlikely, but if any club can do it you’d put your money on it being City.

Comments on Twitter to @matty_hill

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Wenger hails ‘remarkable’ end to season

Arsene Wenger today praised his side’s character following their strong performances in the second half of the season that could see them seal third place in the Premier League with a victory over West Brom on Sunday.

If they do finish third it would be an achievement that seemed unlikely given their early season form Wenger conceded: ‘Three months ago, everybody would be happy to go into the final game with this [league position].’

‘Ask our opponents, who were 10 or 15 points in front of us, the Premier League is difficult. We came from a deep position in the league but, if you look at where we are today, it’s remarkable.’

Arsenal travel to West Brom needing three points and Wenger is expecting a difficult encounter, dismissing suggestions that his opponents will lack motivation in what will be Roy Hodgson’s last game in charge at the Hawthorns, and that his side are inexperienced.

‘I expect [West Brom] to play at their best. They’re well organised, they play 4-4-2 very well and we’ll adjust our performance to that, to face an opponent who are focused and motivated. It’s a massive game but I feel that we are focused, switched on and I’m confident we will do well. We have known final days like this, where we’ve played for championships or qualifying for the Champions League. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us, one we want to take. If we have more of the ball than West Brom, we’ll have more chances to win the game.’

There was praise, too, for Hodgson who will next week name his England squad for the European Championships. ‘He has stabilised West Brom in the last two seasons, they had 47 points last year, and they have that again this year.’

When asked if rivals Tottenham, who are just a point behind Arsenal, had an easier game on Sunday Wenger disagreed: ‘Fulham are a good team. [It is] a derby we cannot predict, there are no easy matches in this league.’

Reflecting on this campaign, which has been voted the best Premier League season ever, Wenger agreed: ‘[It has been] an interesting season, very unpredictable. Every game was difficult. The differences between the teams have become smaller, so the quality is maybe higher.’

Should Arsenal clinch third place it will be a fitting way for assistant manager Pat Rice, who retires at the end of the season, to end his 44 year association with the club as both a player and a coach.

If Manchester City do not win the league this season only one man is to blame…

When the final whistle blows at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday May 13th an inquest will begin, regardless of whether Manchester City will have been crowned champions or not. With seven games remaining and a five point gap between them and league leaders Manchester United it seems an unlikely task. The optimists in the blue half of Manchester will claim that with United still having to play their title rivals City at the Etihad Stadium as well as needing to visit Everton and Sunderland before the season finishes it is not all over. The more pessimistic blues will admit that the title seems likely to head back to Old Trafford.

If Manchester City do fail in their pursuit of the Premier League title then there can be only one man to blame. Roberto Mancini’s side seem to have fallen at the last hurdle and are stumbling towards the finish line. There is time to rectify it but it is now out of their hands and that is where the inquest will begin. Having dominated the league for the majority of the season and seen a healthy goal advantage slip away questions will be asked of Mancini by the City hierarchy. The recent slump has happened at the worst possible time and has left many questioning whether City had the nerve and experience to stay the distance.

It is not just the stuttering league form that has raised eyebrows in the boardroom however; Mancini’s handling of internal difficulties such as the Carlos Tévez situation and his persistence in standing by Mario Balotelli are also causing problems.

When the young Italian eventually matures he may become a world class player but at the moment his talent remains described as ‘potential’. He has shown glimpses of his incredible skill on a number of occasions this season yet his general demeanour both on and off the pitch overshadows that. Whether he is setting his house ablaze with fireworks or driving around Manchester city centre in his Bentley handing out £20 notes, the Blues’ enigmatic striker is certainly favoured by Mancini. It is this favouritism though which could cost Mancini his job. On the one hand it is admirable that the manager has such faith in Balotelli yet, on the other, it could be seen as blind loyalty and one which is not benefiting the club.

Sir Alex Ferguson called it “desperation” but City saw it as moving on and making the best out of a bad situation. Carlos Tévez’ return to Manchester has received a mixed reaction. Some are willing to accept his apology, draw a line in the sand and move on – after all he is a wonderful footballer. Others however, cannot accept his apology and do not want him near the club. It was a fine balancing act for Mancini, a chance to show that nobody, despite their immense talent, is bigger than the club. He got it wrong.

Roberto Mancini appears to be feeling the pressure as the title race hots up.

 

Back in November it was clear that Mancini did not want Tévez to play for him ever again. He had disgraced himself, embarrassed the club and the manager but more importantly shown a complete lack of respect to everybody associated to Manchester City by refusing to come on as a substitute. The response from the team was sensational Premier League form and a prolonged spell at the top of the table. The response from Tévez was a five month holiday in Argentina and a refusal to apologise. It could have been so much easier if he had apologised straight away. Having said that, knowing Tévez, it probably took him those five months to learn how to say the word ‘sorry’ in English.

Despite this City have improved once again under Mancini, and although it is likely they will finish trophy less it is another step in the right direction. He deserves another season to continue building a side which is capable of staying the distance and progressing further in Europe but it remains to be seen if he will get it. With Jose Mourinho’s name being touted as a possible replacement there may be another managerial change at the Etihad Stadium.

Although unlucky with the injury and suspension of club captain Vincent Kompany at key points during the title challenge, Mancini has to take the blame for the demise of City’s season. To have such a healthy league position at the half way stage and to now be trailing United by five points is inexcusable. At times this season Mancini has had a cool exterior, yet at others he seems to be feeling the pressure. His failure to shake Tony Pulis’ hand at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks ago and subsequent refusal to speak to the media was not only undignified and unsporting, but also a sign that he was maybe cracking up. After all, Stoke City played as expected. They were strong, aggressive and difficult to beat.

It has been apparent for weeks that City’s maestro David Silva is either carrying an injury, fatigued or has just hit a bad run of form yet Mancini’s persistence in playing him is highlighting a problem within his team. With Samir Nasri not hitting the heights that many expected him to, Silva has been the main playmaker and it is finally taking its toll on the Spanish wizard. The Blues’ over reliance on Silva being the creative force indicates that Mancini is still not satisfied with the squad he has. He lacks quality wingers to change his team’s style of play and the lack of width has been identified as a major problem in recent weeks. Despite the charging runs of the likes of Gael Clichy and Micah Richards, width is a concern especially following the disappointing performances of Adam Johnson and Nasri over the season. With rumours suggesting City are lining up a move for Eden Hazard, expect Johnson to be sold in the summer with Liverpool a possible destination. They have a habit of overpaying for players who flatter to deceive.

With millions having been ploughed into the club, the Abu Dhabi based owners are looking for a return on their investment. It remains to be seen if they have the patience to acknowledge that despite a potentially disappointing end to the season Mancini has improved the side. There will be departures and arrivals in the summer that much is clear, but whether Roberto Mancini will be one of the departures only the Sheikh knows.

Will Mancini be the manager next season? Do you want him to stay? Leave your comments below.

 

Swansea City 1 Manchester City 0

Manchester City’s title hopes were dealt a massive blow as a late winner from Swansea super-sub Luke Moore saw the Welsh side take all three points at the Liberty Stadium. The striker had been on the field for only a matter of minutes before a poorly defended cross from the impressive Wayne Routledge was headed past Joe Hart in the 82nd minute. Cue pandemonium in the stands both in Wales and at Old Trafford.

After a 2-0 victory against West Brom, Manchester United headed to the top of the Barclays Premier League, a position Manchester City had held since October.

It could have been much worse for the Blues however, had Scott Sinclair managed to despatch his fifth minute penalty. After a bright start the ball was played through to Routledge who was brought down by Hart, City felt aggrieved but it was a difficult decision that referee Lee Mason decided to give to the hosts. A poor penalty from Sinclair saw Hart guess correctly and get a strong hand to prevent the Swans from going one up.

The first half was dominated by Swansea but their failure to create clear-cut goal scoring opportunities allowed City to find their way back into the game. A tactical change by Roberto Mancini shortly after the half hour mark saw Gareth Barry replaced by Sergio Aguero and it changed the game. The Blues looked livelier, kept possession better and began to get a foothold in the game.

It was much better from City in the second half but Swansea still created chances; a dangerous cross from Routledge fizzed into the box just evading Danny Graham. The Blues were living dangerously. As Yaya Toure began to control the game, City patiently began to probe but just could not quite break down the impressive Swansea defence.

With the end of the game approaching and a draw looking inevitable a quick break from Swansea saw them break City’s hearts and take the lead. It was the Blues’ man-of-the-match Yaya Toure who was caught in possession after a poor pass from defender Stefan Savic. The young Montenegrin was returning to the team alongside captain for the day Kolo Toure in the absence of the injured Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott.

As the Blues rallied for the last five minutes they thought they had snatched a late equaliser. The ball was crossed into the box and a commanding leap from Micah Richards saw him head the ball past Michel Vorm in the Swansea goal. With Richards reeling away in celebration he failed to see the assistant on the far side flagging for offside. It was a bitter pill for City to swallow, but Richards was narrowly offside.

Deep into injury time City again piled the pressure; even Hart came forward for a late free kick but to no avail. The game finished 1-0 to Swansea and City are now a point behind Manchester United with ten games remaining. The season is not yet over and it looks likely that it will all come down to the Manchester derby on Monday 30th April. Out of the two, City have the more difficult run in and if they want to win the league they must win their remaining games and perform better than they did against Swansea.

What are your side made of Roberto?

 

What did you make of the performance? Can Manchester City still win the league? Have your say below.