Pablo Zabaleta – the undisputed hero at Manchester City

Manuel Pellegrini’s men claimed the Premier League trophy on Sunday, and Pablo Zabaleta’s form is one of the key reasons why.

In the upper echelons at the Etihad Stadium, where the powers that be must now decide where to strengthen what is a Premier League winning squad, there must be a tinge of disappointment about Sergio Aguero’s fitness.

Manchester City’s mercurial striker has been hampered by muscular problems that have disrupted what could potentially have been a wonderful season for the 25-year-old.

And it was a campaign that surely would have seen Manuel Pellegrini’s men crowned champions sooner than the final day of the season, had Aguero’s fitness not been compromised.

But as important as Aguero is to this Manchester City side, it is another Argentinian that once again deserves the plaudits this year.

Pellegrini has brought the excitement back to the blue-half of Manchester. His appointment was described as ‘holistic’ and it brought much sneering, but those who sneered must now reflect that the dismissal of Roberto Mancini has proved a masterstroke by the City board.

Attacking, attractive football has been at the forefront of the Chilean’s playing style, the likes of Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure have been the principal beneficiaries. Indeed it was Toure’s rampaging run, as has often been the case this season, which saw City reach 100 Premier League goals in their 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa last week.

But it was the man who set up the first two goals in that vital win against the Midlands outfit, Pablo Zabaleta, who was the cream of the crop.

Marauding down the right wing, the gritty, tenacious Argentinian is a joy to watch. Zabaleta is becoming an institution at Manchester City and in the Premier League; he is fast becoming part of the furniture.

It’s often said that modern day fullbacks are better offensively than they are defensively, yet Zabaleta is the exception to the rule.

Sunday’s game with West Ham, the final fixture of the Premier League campaign, saw the 29-year-old play his 48th game of the season. He has missed just three Premier League matches, proving how integral he is to the club’s success.

Seven assists, one goal, 15 clean sheets, 120 tackles won, 84 clearances made, the numbers do not tell the whole story for the hugely popular Zabaleta. His determination, passion and ability has helped drive City to a second Premier League trophy, to compliment the Capital One Cup won earlier this year.

Despite the majority of their core players – Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero – having missed a combined total of 35 games this season, City still earned Premier League glory.

Aguero may be the talismanic striker who grabs the headlines, but it’s his Argentinian teammate Zabaleta who is the undisputed hero at Manchester City.

Courtney Meppen-Walter on trial at Carlisle but does he deserve a second chance?

Courtney Meppen-Walter on trial at Carlisle but does he deserve a second chance?

It is not the first time that footballer Courtney Meppen-Walter has been on trial, though it is precisely this version of the aforementioned noun that the 19-year-old will prefer to be associated with.

Having been sentenced to 16 months in prison in February following a road traffic collision which led to the deaths of two people, Meppen-Walter could be forgiven for thinking he would never complete his professional career.

Read more on WNOLSport

Weekly Podcast: Sir Alex Ferguson, Ian Holloway, this week’s Premier League fixtures and more!

This week the WNOL SportsTalk team discuss all things football. Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, Ian Holloway’s departure and the upcoming Premier League games.

Worth a listen!

http://www.wnol.info/wnol-sport-podcast-251013/

Everton 2-0 Manchester City

Manchester City may have left Goodison Park with a feeling of injustice but the problems lay deeper than a refereeing error. Sure, Marouane Fellaini’s handball should have been awarded as a penalty and should City have scored they may have gone on to win the game – or at least gain a point. The situation, however, is hypothetical and in reality the Blues got exactly what they deserved.

Everton had a point to prove although they never need firing up to play Manchester City. A shambolic defeat in the FA Cup last week against Wigan ended all hopes of a trophy, in a competition deemed as winnable, as David Moyes approaches the end of his 11th year in charge of the club.

For City though, sitting 15 points behind Manchester United, it was a chance to show that they had what it takes to claw the title back. They didn’t. City fans often sing about fighting ‘til the end, following the heroics of last season, but the 11 boys masquerading as men at Goodison Park showed no sign of that famous spirit.

The cliché of modern Premier League football is whether a player can ‘perform on a rainy day in Stoke?’ It should be changed to can they ‘perform on a rainy day in Merseyside?’ It is clear Manchester City cannot.

Roberto Mancini’s future is in doubt and there are many who remain unconvinced that he will be at the helm next season. All is not lost for the Blues, who have the FA Cup semi-final to look forward to in four weeks time. Indeed, if it is City’s name on the trophy as it was two seasons ago then a second placed finish and the FA Cup may spare the Italian.

But performances like the one at Everton will not help his cause and tactical changes that could have made a difference were enforced far too late. It was evident from the opening ten minutes that Edin Dzeko was set to be little more than a passenger for the Blues. Worryingly he was not the only one. When Steven Pienaar was correctly sent off for two yellow cards, City should have taken the game to Everton. Real Madrid managed to do just that against Manchester United at Old Trafford two weeks ago, but the Blues were incapable.

Despite a 15 point deficit on neighbours United, some City fans remain optimistic that they can retain their title, looking back to last season as inspiration. It won’t happen. They can’t witness performances like the one at Everton and then re-watch Sergio Aguero’s goal against QPR and expect lightning to strike twice. The season is over and the best thing the Blues can hope for is the FA Cup and second place.

Over the course of 38 games last season, City deserved to win the title. They were the better side for the majority of the campaign and made history. This year they have not and that is why the trophy is returning to Old Trafford.

Comment: Liverpool and Suarez both lack class

The game between Manchester United and Liverpool on Saturday was the perfect opportunity to put to rest the racism controversy that has overshadowed the Premier League for the past three months. Luis Suarez’s return to the Liverpool first team at Old Trafford could have been downplayed, save for a few boos upon his every touch. But his decision to snub Patrice Evra’s hand in the pre-match fair play handshake has caused the spat to erupt once again.

One of the most frustrating things about it, as the Premier League desperately tries to eradicate racism, is that it was all so unnecessary. The Premier League should have intervened before the start of play and prevented the handshake going ahead, just for this game. After all it was inevitable that Suarez would not shake Evra’s hand. Suarez is a man who believes he has done nothing wrong. He said from the beginning that he would carry out the suspension with the resignation of someone who hasn’t done anything wrong.

Would you shake the hand of someone who had publicly humiliated you and called you a racist? I wouldn’t that’s for sure. And that is the exact position that Suarez was in yesterday, he firmly believes he is the victim and therefore he refused to acknowledge Evra.

What was worse than the ‘non-handshake’ of Saturday afternoon was the fact that Liverpool did not wear black armbands in respect of the 54th anniversary of the Munich air disaster. That was classless.

Everton 1-0 Manchester City – match report

A Darron Gibson volley on the hour mark capped a miserable day in Merseyside for Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City. The former Manchester United midfielder took advantage of Landon Donovan’s poor control from Leighton Baines’ teasing cross and powered in the winning goal via Gareth Barry’s backside. It was the Irishman’s first goal for Everton and handed his former club a massive boost in the race for the title. City’s defeat sees them end January still top of the league but only on goal difference.

It was a bizarre game at Goodison Park. Manchester City, boosted by the return of their influential captain Vincent Kompany who had missed the previous four matches through suspension, started slowly in contrast to Everton. Five minutes in Joleon Lescott was forced into clearing a header by the excellent Denis Stracqualursi  off the line after a corner saw the unmarked Argentine rise and head the ball past Joe Hart. Lescott duly received a torrent of abuse from the terraces of his former club.

Ten minutes into the game City got their first real chance to take the lead. Some fine passing between Sergio Aguero and David Silva cut Everton’s determined, albeit makeshift, defence apart. James Milner’s dangerous cross evaded the incoming Edin Dzeko and fell to Gael Clichy, who proved to the nation why he’s a defender, with the full-back blazing his shot over the bar.

The Blues dominated the possession but lacked a cutting edge, their best effort on goal coming after 35 minutes. Samir Nasri’s long range effort look destined for the back of the net, swerving wickedly past Tim Howard before rattling the cross-bar. Even at that point it seemed like it just might not have been City’s night. Everton constantly pressed forcing City to misplace passes and the Sky Sports microphones regularly picked up the screams from the Toffee’s manager David Moyes, demanding his players put City under pressure and “get tighter”. It certainly worked. Everton were well organised, disciplined and ensured the fixture remained a bogey one for Mancini’s men.

The match was paused briefly moments before half time when “Jimmy Jump” a notorious pitch invader handcuffed himself to the goalpost in Joe Hart’s net. It was an incredible scene which lasted for about five minutes before he was eventually removed by security. His previous stunts include running through the starting grid during the parade lap of the 2004 Spanish Grand Prix and running onto the pitch during the 2007 Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool.

After Everton’s breakthrough City eventually began to respond after about 70 minutes where they proceeded to try and find an equaliser. Their efforts were fruitless and Everton hung on to take all three points and leave City yearning for the return of Yaya Toure. City have won just five of their last 12 matches, also losing five. As we enter the final few months of the season the title race is rapidly heating up. The two Manchester sides are now only separated by goal difference.

Dzeko heads City to victory at Wigan

A cold night in Wigan saw Manchester City visit the DW Stadium and with City having lost two consecutive games the pressure was on to end their blip in form. With the Touré brothers away on international duty, inspirational captain Vincent Kompany serving the second of a four match suspension and Micah Richards out injured the captain’s armband was handed to birthday boy Pablo Zabaleta.

Both teams started brightly and City were boosted by the return of Spanish wizard David Silva who has an almost telepathic relationship with Sergio Aguero, a relationship which combined from the kick off to create a goal scoring opportunity.  It was Wigan, however, who had the best of the early chances wreaking havoc in City’s depleted defence,  young Serbian defender Stefan Savic was easily turned by Rodallega and Gareth Barry collided with Gomez two minutes in as Wigan appealed for a penalty. Referee Martin Atkinson disagreed.

The Blues had the majority of the possession in the first half and made it count after 22 minutes when Edin Dzeko won a free kick down the left hand side. A beautifully weighted cross from David Silva found the head of Dzeko who placed it powerfully past Al-Habsi in the Wigan goal to make it 1-0. It was Dzeko’s 11th goal in 17 games, but his first goal in 11, showing just how mercurial he had been at the start of the season.

 

Dzeko leaps the highest and powerfully heads City into the lead.

 

Manchester City constantly pressed Wigan, forcing the Latics into making mistakes at the back which City were unable to capitalise on. Wigan got back into the game towards the end of the first half, however, but were always vulnerable to the Blues’ quick counter attack. Silva found Sergio Aguero but his shot was well saved.

The second half started just as brightly as the first and some sensational footwork from Aguero as he weaved in and out of Wigan’s defence almost saw City get the much needed second goal. Aguero was unable to get his shot away and it fell to Edin Dzeko whose effort was tame and ended rolling into the arms of Al-Habsi. Aguero was not happy, neither was Mancini on the touchline.

City continued to press and dominate and Clichy’s cross on the hour mark found Aguero whose flick came off Gary Caldwell and went agonizingly past the post.

A loose pass in the middle of the field was seized upon by McCarthy who raced towards goal only to see his shot excellently saved by the foot of Joe Hart as Wigan pounced on City’s gift.

This left Wigan believing they could still get something out of the game, the same thought must have crossed Mancini’s mind as he sent on Nigel de Jong for Samir Nasri and Nedum Onuoha made a rare Premier League appearance, replacing David Silva ten minutes from time.

As Wigan continued to add pressure with minutes remaining, one last attack from City almost sealed the win.  Aguero did well to stay onside from Milner’s pass and he then managed to pull his shot wide of the post.

The final moments were frantic as Wigan threw everything they had at the City, but the Blues held on to record their first away win since QPR on November 5th and to take all three points.

Man of the Match: Tough one to call, Joe Hart made an outstanding save which ensured City gained maximum points. Sergio Aguero also had a good game, but for his sensational goal and hard work Edin Dzeko gets the MotM award.