Friday, 30 March 2012

Mike Calvin showing himself up a bit.

I've not done a piece like this for a while, but I read something today that just made me think "what the actual f**k are you talking about?"

Step forward Mike Calvin, Sports Writer of the year and Sports Reporter of the year twice over. In other words, he's a respected sports journalist. However you would be hard pressed to see why after reading his article in 'Life's a Pitch'.

Now I have no problem with people airing their own opinions on anything as long as they're well thought out and balanced. When it comes to football, this rarely happens though and there have been a few articles in the past where I have felt the need to set the record straight in my own small and rather insignificant way on the blog.

City fans were extremely critical of the press last season as they almost continually printed articles that showed City in a negative light. At the start of this season it appeared that it had changed, but as the weeks and months have passed they have swung back into knocking City at almost every opportunity.

Mike Calvin's 'Man City are ill-equipped to cope with title race demands' is quite clearly laced with bias against City as it pretty much opens with this little beauty;

"What Manchester City need to cope with the unaccustomed demands of a Premier League title race is a copy of a toddler training book, a parents’ bible."

And why is this, Mike?

"It would offer an immediate insight into the tiny mind of Mario Balotelli, who has resumed his normal position on the diamond-encrusted naughty step at Manchester City’s training ground in Carrington."

The "tiny mind of Mario Balotelli" on the "diamond-encrusted naughty step". What is this guy on? The press report some sort of argument in training, show one picture of Mancini talking to Mario like he often does and that is supposed to mean he's in trouble? And I know Mario has done some stupid things but to imply he is actually stupid is a little harsh don't you think?

Or is Mr Calvin trying to imply something else? Personally, I don't believe that a human being, especially when at the young age of 16, who would willingly spend time in a foreign country with and is driven to help some of the less fortunate inhabitants of this world when they could be doing many more self gratifying things like the vast majority of others of their age, has a tiny mind.

The language used in describing both player and club here are simple but carefully chosen for sure, designed to invoke certain images of lavish, ostentatious surroundings inhabited by crass, uneducated simpletons, conjuring feelings of injustice and inequality against the club for any neutrals reading.

His next dig comes as thus;

"Patrick Vieira may be an exceptional football development executive for Manchester City, whatever that means."

Would you like a side order of flippancy with that t-bone dismissive, sir? You can almost literally hear him scoff at the position as you read those words. Mike clearly has no understanding of the role that City created specifically for such a highly experienced ex-pro who is admired and looked up to by players both young and old throughout the footballing world.

The information on what City's Football Development Executive actually does is readily available if you wish to look for it. Mike obviously couldn't be arsed though, which seems to be the case for most journalists. Although you'd expect a little more from someone who has twice been awarded Sports Writer and Sports Reporter of the year. Or is that just me being a little too hopeful about the standards of British journalism? I suspect it is.

Mr Calvin then turns his attention to Roberto Mancini and how he thinks the pressure is getting to him;

"Roberto Mancini has already withdrawn from interviews because he does not trust himself to say the right thing."

Really? He has dodged interviews in the past where he has not been well, but the only recent one is after the Stoke game where by all reports he was incredulous with anger at the ref's allowance to let the Stoke players' rather physical game continue without any real punitive measures.

And he was right to be angered at such. Although physical contact is part and parcel of the sport, Stoke are well known for being a little overzealous for the most part.

So Roberto refuses to talk in one post-match interview and that is now apparently him refusing to talk in any other interview for the rest of the season. Sounds to me like someone is talking out of their arse.

As for not trusting himself to say the right thing, perhaps that was a sign of good judgement of his own character, knowing how wound up he was and likely to openly criticise match officials if he got the opportunity. As my mother told me, and I assume your mother told you, "If you've nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all."

See Mike, he's just taking the advice of his dear mother.

The actual message of the 500-or-so word piece is basically that he thinks Mancini will falter in the coming weeks. Which is fair enough, he is entitled to his own opinion about that. But try not to make it sound so bias that it was typed with one hand on the keyboard and the other caressing Fergie's member.


Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Equality in discipline?

This season City fans have felt pretty aggrieved at a number of performances by match officials (particularly away from home) and that a certain other team not so far away gets an easier ride. Those feelings have been met with the usual "it averages out over the season" or "you're just paranoid". But what do the figures say?


Both teams have now played 15 home and away games each in the league and it is the disciplinary records in these games which I shall compare. Now I'm not saying there is a conspiracy to undermine City's season and to install United as league champions for the umpteenth time. However, I think after looking, you will agree that some of these figures just don't add up.

City's disciplinary record

Seeing as this is a City blog, we'll start with City's home and away record, and here it is.


You'll be able to quickly see there is a large difference to how City are being dealt with home and away.

City have a pretty good disciplinary record at home, ranking 4th fewest bookings, and the truth is that City have had a pretty good disciplinary record for quite some time, even qualifying for European football through the FIFA fair play rankings in the not so distant past. Although this takes into account several other factors, the club's disciplinary record is a major contributor to the overall standings.

Away from home this season, City have averaged one fewer tackle per game than at the Etihad yet apparently commit 4 more fouls and are punished twice as much which makes City the 9th most punished team in the league away from home.

Is it just me that finds this really strange? I sincerely hope not.

What about City's opponents?


I'd say those numbers were fairly even ish, although opposition fans could still say these show that refs still favour the teams further up the table and that smaller teams don't have a 'home advantage' when it comes to officials when they play the bigger teams.

What I would say to that though is that City are being punished equally away from home as their opponents as the numbers quite clearly show, which as I said is twice as harsh as they would be if they were at the ETIHAD stadium. Where's the advantage City are getting away from home against teams lower down the league? There isn't one. In fact it's quite a clear disadvantage. 


United's disciplinary record

Unlike the figures produced for City so far this season, United appear to be treated rather the same both home and away and on the face of it that appears to be more lenient than the treatment of City.


United are on average making more tackles with the same number of fouls and the same number of yellow cards resulting from them. What is quite clearly different is that only 1 United player has been sent off, compared to the 3 red cards shown for City.

The biggest difference is actually the treatment of the opposition.


Despite averaging a similar number of fouls on United and City when taking both sets of figures into account, you've got an overall increased chance (17%) of being booked and 4 times the chance of being sent off if you're playing against United.

Basically the opposition are getting a pretty raw deal wherever they play United, but especially at Old Trafford. No surprises there then.

Disciplinary Comparisons

So how consistent do the number of fouls match up with the number of cards shown. You'd expect in general that the higher the number of fouls the higher the bookings. Even accounting for differences in tactics home and away you would still expect a measure of similarity considering we've been told several times by the FA that the referees are fair and consistent.

Unfortunately, that's just not the case with City and United. As you can see by the table to the right, away from home City are pulled up for more fouls compared to the number of tackles and even more of those are being booked.  As mentioned earlier, even when you take into account any differing tactics, that doesn't strike me as very consistent.

There is an inconsistency with the way opponents are being judged too. At the Etihad the tackles to fouls ratio is similar to that of City's but there is a greater number of bookings.

Away from home though, more fouls are being called for per challenge but much fewer bookings, meaning that more fouls are going unpunished when City are away from home.

There is much more consistency when looking at how United are being judged. Slightly fewer challenges are being pulled up as fouls compared to City, and slightly fewer of those are being punished with a card.

The major difference is once again with how the opposition appear to be treated. More challenges are being called as fouls and more cards are being shown per foul.

Putting it in overall figures opponents against City are being judged to commit a foul every 1.9 tackles and it's taking 6.3 fouls before a card is produced. With United's opponents though, a foul is being called every 1.8 tackles and a card is being produced every 5.7 fouls.

Disciplinary Rankings

Just be sure you are aware that this is not the fair play table, that is something entirely different. This shows the disciplinary rankings. Basically the lower the rank, the fewer bookings that team has received, with reds obviously counting higher than a single yellow.

What I have done is taken the liberty of adding in the comparison between the home and away rankings. In essence, a negative difference meas that a team picks up more bookings away from home, and a positive means they pick up fewer.

Fully half of the sides have a + or - difference of 1-4 and this seems to be the 'norm'. A difference of 5 and 6 is pretty rare as there are 3 scores of each, and then there are a few total anomalies with Norwich, QPR, Newcastle and Wigan.

Interestingly, other than Arsenal who have a 'positive' difference of 1, United are the only team expected to challenge for the title to have a positive difference away from home with +6.

Just to reiterate, this means that United have picked up the fewest bookings away from home of any team in the Premier League, so much fewer that they are ranked 1st in the overall rankings despite being 7th best in their home ranking.

City's -6 means that although they are 4th at home, they actually come in at 7th overall.

Newcastle have one of the largest difference between home and away with a -9. Spurs also fall outside what may be deemed as a 'standard' difference with -5.

Could it just be a coincidence that the 3 teams that have been the largest threat to an established order this season are amongst the ones with the highest negative values, picking up many more bookings away from home? Is it also a coincidence that United, who many perceive to get an easy ride have a +6 difference which is outside what could a considered a standard difference of 1-4?

Now I'm not saying that there is a conscious effort being made by officials in favour of United or against City, or that there is a conspiracy within the FA to hinder the possibility of other teams breaking the once closed party of elite clubs, but there are the figures. All I have done is present you with the figures and asked the questions. It's up to you to decide the answers and what the figures mean, if anything at all.

Of course some teams are just dirtier than others and deserve to be picking up more bookings  and there is room for interpretation in certain situations. You never know, United might just be the best disciplined team in the league after all...


Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Stoke City v Manchester City: #CityStats

Playing before United was a perfect opportunity to heap the pressure back on them before they take on Fulham. However, Stoke are never an easy team to play at home. Chelsea, Liverpool, United and Spurs had all failed to walk away from the Britannia with a win.


Match Stats

The possession and passing roughly follow the season-long trend, with the possession increased considerably and you can partly see why with Stoke's passing average. At 66% it is way below par on any level, let alone Premiership standard.

Unlike recent games where City were creating an abundance of chances, 'only' 16 shots were taken compared to the average of nearly 19 through the season and. It is also below the 18 City generally create away from home. This is still higher than any other team in the league but due to City's lack of incision they are often being taken in front or in the middle of a packed defence. Something that needs to change, and has been mentioned numerous times over the season.

Something that I find a little frustrating from watching the game and is shown in these figures is that very few players were willing to run with the ball. Even Stoke, who aren't exactly known for their incisive runs notched up more than double that of City.

Several opportunities to break away on a counter attack were once again dismissed and instead City worked the ball slowly up the pitch while Stoke got back in numbers.


Defensive

As with previous games, you can see just how involved the full-backs are. Zabaleta (6) and Clichy (5) put in more tackles than anyone else on the pitch. Neither one of them can be pulled up about their defensive duties. Zabaleta also pulled off a fantastic goal line clearance in the first half.

What is encouraging is that almost every outfield player were willing to stick a foot into a tackle and that is a large contributing factor in how much possession City ended up with. The only outfield player who was on the pitch any length of time who didn't make any tackles is Kolo Toure.

Richards, again filling in at centre-back had another good game and made more clearances (15) and effective clearances (11) than anyone else on the pitch, also winning 3 aerial duels during game. Only Crouch (5) won more 50/50s than him.

As far as the conceded goal is concerned I don't think any player can too upset about it. Fans on the other hand will point to yet another foul on Barry in the build up to the goal. It was a speculative shot that came off good and proper and I doubt he could recreate that too many times in training let alone in the middle of a match. I certainly don't think he will be scoring another like that again in his career.

Tckl = tackles won, Int = interceptions, Clr = total clearances, Eclr = effective clearances, Foul = fouls committed, BS = blocked shots, AD = aerial duels

Offensive

When Balotelli was left out of the Italy squad for their friendly against the USA, it looked as though he was going to storm the rest of the season in an effort to be included in the Euros in the summer. That seems to have evaporated after a couple of games as he was subbed at half time against Chelsea and didn't have a particularly good game against Stoke either. Compared to his 8 shots against Swansea and Bolton, he has only managed 4 shots in his last 135 minutes of play. 
The majority of his close control during the 90 minutes against Stoke, apart from a little jink to the left to take it past 2 defenders, was pretty poor and can be seen by the number of turnovers (5).

The way Stoke were permitted to play didn't help though, and Balotelli seemed to get more than his fare share of knocks which can also be partially seen by the 4 times he was fouled, and was even pulled back by his face at one point. The number of fouls could have easily doubled had Howard Webb not had a stinker of a game for the most part.

Like the goal conceded, City's solitary goal came from a pretty tasty strike too. It did take a slight deflection that helped it but it was a great strike non the less. I'll admit though, with Yaya's shooting being rather wayward for most of the season the words "Oh ffs don't shoot from there" left my lips as he walloped it. I'll gladly be wrong on every occasion if it means the ball hits the back of the net like that.

Shot = total shots, SoT = shots on target, Drb = successful dribbles, Foul = times player was fouled, Dis = times player was dispossessed, Trn = turnovers committed, Tch = total touches of the ball


Passing

As you might expect when you face a team who defends narrowly and in numbers, through balls will have limited success. Out of the 8 attempted, only 2 were successful and neither resulted in a goal.

Nasri finally appears to be growing into the team as Silva appears to be succumbing to fatigue. Nasri has had a higher passing % all season but he is now creating more chances than he first was and created 4 during the game against Stoke with old Arsenal teammate next in line with 3.

Nasri also fired in more crosses (9) but only 1/3 of them were accurate. With James Milner

A notable feature is Hart's distribution. Hoofing the ball up field against a team as big as Stoke was never going to bring much measure of success and I don't think 43% is much measure of success.

Whilst on the subject of pass success rate, Dzeko once again comes bottom of the list for outfield players, although it is still better than 6 of Stoke's on the day. He is actually ranked 246th out of 284 players for his passing throughout the season. That's 102 places behind the next City player, Balotelli, and is comparable to forwards Grant Holt and Jay Bothroyd.

It's certainly something that many fans find frustrating about him despite the effort he undoubtedly puts in. It's a good job he's scored a few goals throughout the season. 

Ass. = assists, Pass = total completed passes, KP = key passes, P% = pass success rate, C = crosses attempted, AC = accurate crosses, LB = long balls attempted, ALB = accurate long balls, TB = through balls attempted, ATB = accurate through balls


As I mentioned earlier,  Chelsea, Liverpool, United and Spurs had all travelled to the Britannia and failed to pick up 3 points. There appears to be a general consensus, even from several neutrals, that Howard Webb was far too lenient towards Stoke and had a fairly poor game throughout, missing incidents on both sides.

Although it should be viewed as a point gained, it's still difficult to stomach when the team you saw tear apart sides with ease are now looking devoid of ideas. On the upside though, City still in the same position as they were before kick off; Win the remaining games and they win the Premier League.

Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Manchester City v Chelsea: #CityStats

After falling behind United in the title race and seeing them go 4 points clear after Wolves capitulated with barely a whimper, let alone a growl, it was imperative that City continued their stunning home form. This was a game that didn't disappoint.



Match Stats

Chelsea came into this game after 4 straight wins in all competitions as Roberto Di Matteo and John Terry took over from Andre Villas Boas. Terry was absent from the touchline last night though but I don't think he could have helped the final outcome. 

City rather dominated the game as they have always done at home this season. With 61% possession and 21 shots on goal compared to Chelsea's 7 it has certainly renewed some fans depleted hopes of a first Premier League title for the club come the end of May.

What is still a little annoying though is how wasteful City have become in front of goal. Only 5 of the 21 shots were on target, 4 if you take away Balotelli's shot in the first half that was 'saved' by Petr Cech.

It didn't matter in this game, but it has in previous games and could do again in the next 9.


Defensive

It's fair to say that on the whole it was a good defensive display from City. Both full-backs provided great cover, making 7 tackles and 6 interceptions between them.

Micah and Kolo were also solid in the centre with Toure making a number of clearances with only Cahill (10) and Luiz (9) making more, which is to be expected given how busy the were.

The number of players who made interceptions is a good sign of how hard they all worked to keep Chelsea from getting much of a foothold in the game. It's only surprising that Barry isn't one of the players who made one, but as City pressed Chelsea more and more in the 2nd half he was able to get further forward limiting the opportunity to cut out long passes which he is usually quite effective in doing.

Tckl = tackles won, Int = interceptions, Clr = total clearances, Eclr = effective clearances, Foul = fouls committed, BS = blocked shots, AD = aerial duels


Offensive

At one point it looked as though Nasri was destined to have another game where he didn't find the back of the net despite hitting the woodwork. His overall contribution deserved a goal, and he eventually go it with a skillful chip over the falling Cech.

It was possibly Nasri's best game in a City shirt and one that will hopefully be the start of a more consistent run of form.

Although Aguero can be happy with his contribution, he did lose the ball more than usual. However, I don't think this is anything to worry about though despite being the worst on the pitch for it in this game. Torres came 2nd after losing possession 8 times for Chelsea.

What is a little worrying though is the continued dip in form of David Silva. I don't think he actually had a bad game, but his contribution in the final third has dropped dramatically recently.

He has played more games than any other outfield player for City, and looks as though he could do with being rested for a week. His ongoing problem with his ankle could be what is affecting his game with a little fatigue.

Shot = total shots, SoT = shots on target, Drb = successful dribbles, Foul = times player was fouled, Dis = times player was dispossessed, Trn = turnovers committed, Tch = total touches of the ball


Passing

City's passing was clicking once again, and although it was a little laboured at times you can't argue with an 88% success rate.

As usual, Yaya comes out on the top of the pile with attempted, completed and pass %. He is also joint top of the list for key passes (4), with Zabaleta (3) the next in line out of all the players on the pitch.

Tevez (4) is the other player alongside Yaya with the number of key passes as he made his first appearance for the first team in over 6 months. He was by no means 100% match fit and still looks to be carrying quite a bit of weight compared to his peak form last season. But he did put in a good team performance and provided the assist for Nasri's goal with a perfectly times reverse pass, which incidentally was City's only successful through ball of the game.

Dzeko is the only player in the team to drop below 80% pass success, and only Petr Cech had a worse record during the 90 minutes. He continues to work hard though but appears to be the player who least fits into the system City utilise and rumours continue to circle about his future at the club.

After having a very impressive couple of months, Mario Balotelli seems to have taken a step backwards again despite the increasing faith shown in him of late. Mancini was not impressed with his contribution against Chelsea and was subbed at half time.

Ass. = assists, Pass = total completed passes, KP = key passes, P% = pass success rate, C = crosses attempted, AC = accurate crosses, LB = long balls attempted, ALB = accurate long balls, TB = through balls attempted, ATB = accurate through balls

The title is still within reach, and such a performance should serve as motivation for the players and fans. It should also remind United and several pundits who felt a capitulation was inevitable that City are not going to go away quite so easy.

It was the first time City had gone behind at the Etihadand seen again last night.



Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Monday, 19 March 2012

Do your talking on the pitch.

With the events of the weekend shocking the football world, I felt the self promotion of the blog could wait a couple of days. And even now, lives hang in the balance as family and friends wait with bated breath for a shred of good news.

Certainly as fans, us Blues are no strangers to such tragic events and can empathise fully with how Bolton's fans must be feeling.

But however harrowing those images were, each club still has their own season to get on with. Although our thoughts and prayers go out to the each and every person affected by the events, City are still in with a chance of a Premier League title and it is to this we should respectfully turn as City take on Chelsea in 2 days time.

During the early part of the season you would have been hard pushed to find any interviews given by City players, and even fewer regarding the chances to clinch City's first Premier League title.

As the season has drawn on though, more and more players have taken the opportunity to give interviews regarding a few things, some on several occasions.

In fact it's been since January that I've seen a notable change. Hart, Richards, Lescott, Kolo, Kompany, Zabaleta, Clichy, Milner, Yaya, De Jong, Silva, Aguero have all been giving interviews about the title and Tevez.

City's form, especially away from home, has taken a nosedive and been knocked out of the Carling and FA Cup, gone out of Europe and been overtaken by United.

Right now I don't want to hear about how Tevez will be like a new signing, or how all the players are apparently pleased he's back in the squad, or how every game is like a Champions League final, and that the league is still in our own hands.

Why? Because since players and indeed Mancini have been saying this, they've played the worst football of their entire season. After saying they were going to give 100% for the full game in every game, they haven't.

Actions, they say, speak louder than words. The players should forget about trying to compete with the mind games, and get back to what they were doing at the start of the season and do their talking on the pitch. That is the only way City will win the league.

As always, if you have anything to say on this article, leave a comment underneath or post a reply on one of the following pages.


Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Message to Mancini: Please don't revert to last season's set up.

I'll start off by saying that this is not me having a go at any players, not in the slightest. Neither is this me thinking I know better than Mancini. However, I do not believe Mancini should put Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong and Yaya Toure in the starting 11 together in the final push for the Premier League title.

When Mancini first elegantly wafted into the hot-seat at City and during last season, we saw the team transform from one that leaked goals with its seive-like defence to one that was very hard to break down. In doing so, Mancini took a lot of criticism for fielding a 'negative' team as Barry, De Jong and Toure lined up on the pitch together.

As it happens and I'm sure you are aware, this so called negative team scored more goals than Harry Redknapp's wonderfully entertaining Spurs who played delightfully free flowing and attacking football. Not only did City score more, they conceded less, in fact they had the best defence in the league.

Despite scoring more goals though, City did find it difficult to break teams down if they decided to sit back and defend. Although Toure offers a moderate creative ability and can cause havoc with defences on the break, he is the kind of player who creates the foundation for an attack near the centre of the park and slowly works it forward.

When you then add 2 defensive players to the mix, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong, what this does is slow the overall tempo down dramatically when you have extended periods of possession, and one of those players takes away a place from a more attack-minded player. Although it makes your team harder to break through, it hinders your own creative and attacking ability.

Teams approached City last season as though it was a cup final, the big spenders from the City taking on the working class man and they were not going to go down without a fight. City needed to be hard to beat, they needed a midfield and defence that felt like the other team were running into a solid brick wall every time they tried to go forward because of this attitude.

To be honest, Mancini didn't have too many viable options available to him in attack either. Santa Cruz and Adebayor simply didn't fit into his plans, or style he perceived for the future. Bellamy never saw eye to eye with Mancini and, along with RSC and Ade, had been sent out on loan with several other players who were brought to the club by managers past.

Balotelli was bought in the Summer but was (and still is in a few respects) a rough diamond. He was totally unused to the league and just a little bit too crazy on the pitch to be able to rely on for an extended period of time. Dzeko came to the club in January and took a long time to settle in also.

That left just Tevez as a viable and consistent focal point of attack while the squad was slowly moulded together by Mancini. And to be fair to him, he did the business for the most part.

But then the summer of 2011 came, qualification to Champions League football had been gained as well as a shiny new trophy in the form of the world's most respected domestic cup competition, the FA Cup. The transfer targets were identified, Savic and Clichy came in to bolster the ranks of defence, and Sergio Aguero and (eventually) Samir Nasri were also added to the squad.

By now Dzeko and Balotelli had settled into the squad and City had plenty of attacking options to choose from.

Despite this, the first game of the season arrived (albeit without Nasri at this stage) and Mancini opted for last season's set up to start off with. De Jong and Barry as holding mids and Yaya Toure pushing further up the pitch.

Swansea put in a good showing and City did create a lot of chances in the first half, none of which were put away. Swansea were largely caught on the counter as they began to commit forward, which fell straight into the game plan with De Jong and Barry breaking up play and Yaya ready to break forward into space working a treat.

In fact it was a slick counter attack which broke the deadlock on 57 minutes before Mancini was forced into making a substitution when De Jong picked up a knock.

Instead of swapping like for like, or near to it, he decided to bring on Sergio Aguero forcing Toure to drop a little deeper. This really was the spark of an astonishing run of games that saw City tear teams to shreds as their confidence soared.

Teams then slowly began to drop deeper and deeper, hoping to grind out a draw and maybe snatch a goal for a win, and in some cases forget about the draw altogether and just limit the number of goals they lost by. If they did attack there was more pace and vision in the side to quickly punish it.

For the most part, Toure was lining up with Barry while De Jong was injured and working his way back into contention, and this gave an extra place for attacking players. City were controlling possession, the tempo of the game, grinding down teams to the point of capitulation and then smashing them apart.

A combination of either 2 of Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko (while Tevez was playing golf) was enough to keep teams guessing. But the point isn't the different qualities each of those brings, it's that City usually had 2 strikers on the pitch, because the 2 defensive midfielders had been ditched in favour of a more fluid 1 holding midfielder in Gaz Baz and a roaming/box-to-box player like Yaya.

Despite still being everyone's Cup final, teams are no longer looking to attack City, and if they do they make damn sure they also defend in numbers. A formation that requires 2 defensive midfielders is almost totally redundant in the Premiership.

It worked at the start of the season against Swansea because they tried to attack so much (although we only scored the 1 goal while Barry, De Jong and Toure were on the pitch and 3 when only 2 of them were on), and against Villa who were hopelessly pathetic that day, we simply don't need that kind of cover anymore. City have effectively become victims of their own attacking ability.

The last (and only other) 2 games those 3 players have been on the pitch together were Sunderland away and Swansea away. Each time Mancini realised that it was the wrong decision and duly took one of either Barry or De Jong off for an attacking player.

Combining those two games together, those 3 players were on the pitch for a total of 83 minutes. In those 83 minutes, City created a rather meager 11 chances compared to a season's average of 19 per every 90 minutes of play.

Don't get me wrong, City may well not have won either of those games had they started with a different 11, but the way in which Mancini changed the team early in the game suggests that he knows City would have had a better chance of winning had he not reverted to 2 defensive midfielders.

And why is this? Because sacrificing creativity for defensive solidarity when teams are simply sitting behind the ball with 8,9 or even 10 outfield players  (even when they are the home side) is pointless and gives teams the opportunity to gain a foothold in the game. 

City haven't needed that extra defensive player at any point during the season and still have the best defensive record in the league because other teams have hardly had a sniff at goal while City dominated the games with that extra attacking player.

I don't particularly want to see either of these 3 players left out, but in keeping them all in, you're then leaving out one of Aguero, Balotelli, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri, Milner, Johnson, and even Pizarro now he's getting up to speed and Tevez if he is to make an appearance. All of these players are players who have the ability to create and/or put away chances.

The vast majority of teams left to play aren't suddenly going to start attacking because they know how dangerous City are going forward. They will continue to sit deep, try and counter attack and snatch a goal.

So Mancini, change the starting 11 to keep players fit and to keep teams guessing if you wish, but please, please stick to the style you have so beautifully implemented for the majority of the campaign, home and away.

If we are to really push for this Premier League title, don't go out to play the opposition, make them play us. 



Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Swansea City v Manchester City: #CityStats

Certainly not the result that City wanted, the stats from several players are certainly not what we're used to either. Overall, it was a very disappointing performance which makes City's challenge for the title that little bit harder. So here they are;



Match Stats

Swansea set out their stall exactly how everyone thought they would do, and exactly how they have been doing the entire season. Lots of possession, mainly in their own half, frustrating other teams and denying them opportunity to create chances.

Well, that worked for the most part, except City actually had 22 shots on goal which is higher than usual. But as with the last #CityStats edition, City were very wasteful with only 27% of their shots even on target. Vorm made a couple of good saves but he was not tested enough at all.

City lost possession numerous times in the first half when they tried to loft the ball forward and almost every time Swansea came out with the ball, winning 67% of the total areal duels during the match.

When Swansea came to the Etihad Stadium they made more overall passes than City, and it was no different at the Liberty Stadium, with City making over 100 fewer passes.


Defensive

Richards is the standout performer when it comes to tackling, making more tackles than anyone else on the pitch, which in itself is a little odd as Swansea did most of their attacking down the right hand side.

When you look at the interceptions though, Clichy did a pretty good job of stifling their play with 3 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances.  It only makes it a shame that he was way out of position when Savic gave the ball away on the half way line which directly lead to Swansea's goal.

Although Savic will no doubt get the brunt of criticism for the goal, he had actually done a fairly good job of keeping Swansea at bay with 6 of his 7 clearances being effective (more than anyone else on the pitch) and also blocking a shot.

There is one thing that might not initially stand out, but take a look at the fouls... 11 of the 14 players committed fouls. Now I'm not going to go into officials, but I'm not entirely convinced all of those were actual fouls.

Tckl = tackles won, Int = interceptions, Clr = total clearances, Eclr = effective clearances, Foul = fouls committed, BS = blocked shots, AD = aerial duels


Offensive

Balotelli makes up for nearly a 3rd of City's shots and sums up the team's lack of clinical ability in front of goal at the moment. Only a quarter of his shots were on target.

He also gave the ball away more than anyone else in the squad, party due to the type of pass that was coming his way in the 1st half and Swansea's determination to retrieve the ball.

The 2nd half saw City grow into a game they should have taken hold of much earlier and Yaya Toure acted as the starting point for attack which shows in his 109 touches of the ball. Most of this was inside Swansea's half of the pitch as City pressed for a goal.

As with the fouls committed, most of City's players had a shot on goal, only Barry and Hart didn't have a shot. This gives you an idea of how much pressure the Swansea defence was under in general from open play and set pieces. Sadly, as mentioned before, very few of these were on target.

Shot = total shots, SoT = shots on target, Drb = successful dribbles, Foul = times player was fouled, Dis = times player was dispossessed, Trn = turnovers committed, Tch = total touches of the ball


Passing

This is the area of the game that is really disappointing as it is usually City's strength. The statistics don't show it, but the passing in general was far too slow with opportunities to counter attack missed.

There is a higher number of attempted long balls than usual with several of the key players misplacing many if not all of them. Yaya, Silva and Clichy, who are all good passers of the ball were also all major culprits wayward passing at distance.

Silva had a mare all round really. At half time he had only completed 59% of his passes. Poor by anyone's standards, let alone someone as talented as him. By the end of the game it had risen to 73% but it is well short of what we have come to expect from him.

It has been picked up on before, and it is one thing that had improved a little this season compared to last, but Joe Hart's distribution was as poor as I've seen in a long time. Each and every time he hoofed the ball out it was picked up by Swansea, several times without a City player even near it.

Ass. = assists, Pass = total completed passes, KP = key passes, P% = pass success rate, C = crosses attempted, AC = accurate crosses, LB = long balls attempted, ALB = accurate long balls, TB = through balls attempted, ATB = accurate through balls




Mancini is left ruing City's lack of precision in front of goal once more, a recurring theme in recent weeks, something that Mancini and the players need to address quickly if they aren't to fall further behind United now they have gone top of the league.


Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Europa League: City still favourites despite defeat

Ok it wasn't exactly a great performance, certainly nothing like we've become accustomed to this season. But lets face it, we've been spoiled rotten so far with very few disappointments compared to our Jekyll and Hyde existence in seasons past.

Sporting hadn't lost at home in Europe for the last 9 games. They'd won all 5 of their games there this season, scoring 9 and conceding just 2, so it was never going to be a walkover.

The final score was disappointing, but there are positives that can be taken with the negatives. Not least that Mario Balotelli seems to be quickly growing into the player many of us saw he could become when he signed last season.

Although he was only on for 20 minutes or so, he changed the entire game for City and very nearly pulled back a goal for a draw were it not for the crossbar. Sporting simply couldn't handle him and were drawn into fouling him several times around the area, conceding a number of bookings in the process.

Balotelli is quickly maturing and starting to repay the faith and time that Mancini has invested in the young Italian. Those who ever doubted his natural talent are being proved wrong one by one. For me, there was one thing during his stint on the pitch that summed up the brilliant unpredictability of Balotelli, his cross into Silva was something that would be spoke about for weeks had it been done by Ronaldo or Messi.

Bursting through the left side of the 18 yard box, does he take the easy and natural option of crossing it with his left foot? No, not our Mario. It was a short rabona cross as good as you'll ever see which was sadly prodded wide by Silva. Great tekkers.

Several key players were having off  days though. Silva, Aguero, Barry, De Jong, Dzeko, and Milner were all below their usual standards overall, some more than others. But everyone is allowed an off day every now and then.

There were other key players missing from the side too. Both Richards and Zabaleta were missing due to injury which meant Clichy had to fill in at right-back and was clearly not as effective as he is on the left. Yaya Toure was suspended and his forceful movement through the centre was also a miss.

Then to compound problems, Kompany pulled up with a calf strain early in the first half and is likely to be out for up to 2 weeks. Lescott also played through a slight groin injury towards the end of the game which may keep him out of the game against Swansea.

What was a really telling though, is that this was by far the biggest game of the season for Sporting as they played out of their skins. The celebrations of players and fans when they scored and at the final whistle were comparable to if they had actually won the Europa League.

Despite this, I don't think Sporting showed anything to say that they are in the driving seat to walk away from the Etihad Stadium with a passage into the next round. That's not to say City will walk the 2nd leg as I expect Sporting to put in another resilient performance and try and hit City on the break.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Joe Hart: 'All I'm interested in is how we can win the league.

Joe Hart has come a long way since his £600k transfer to City from Shrewsbury Town. From being largely unknown outside Manchester City 3 years ago, he is now England's number 1 keeper and regarded as one of the best in Europe if not the world. And at 24 years old, he isn't anywhere near the peak of his ability.

One thing that has helped him along the way is his that he has a steady head on his shoulders, knowing when to relax and have a joke and when to get his game-face on. Right now, as far as football is concerned, it's strictly game-face.

When asked about the possibility of City not winning the league this year because of either Mancini or a negative influence from Tevez, his reply is one  of a person who is fully aware of the responsibilities he and his teammates possess.

"A lot of people will say that (with reference to blaming Mancini) but, personally, I won’. If we don’t win the league, it will be our own fault. That includes Carlos, myself – everyone.

“I’m not interested in what’s perceived outside of the club. All I’m interested in is what’s going on inside the club and how we can win the league."

As for the possibility of Tevez returning to first team action, it is a subject that has divided City fans but as most players, Joe takes a more pragmatic stance;

“If that means Carlos coming back, scoring a hat-trick and everyone saying he’s the greatest player in the world, so be it. I couldn’t care less.

“I just think you’ve got to look further than your personal feelings,”

“Maybe it would be different if we were sat in fifth place and didn’t know where we were going.

“But we know where we’re going, and we haven’t got time to get hung up on individuals. We’ve got to be focused on our goal."

Joe doesn't feel Tevez will be walking straight back into the starting 11 when he is fit though. With Aguero being the new main striker with Balotelli and Dzeko all still scoring goals, Carlos may find it difficult to get a place on the bench, let alone in the starting 11.

Not forgetting either that it has been these 3 players that have contributed to where City are now and to drop either of them for a player who may or may not fit back in would be terribly harsh on them;

“I’ve not trained with Carlos personally [since his return], because of games and recovery, but the lads assure me that he’s firing.

“I’m sure it’s difficult [for the manager] and I’m sure other people are way ahead of Carlos in the pecking order, and rightfully so.

“We’ve been working hard whilst he’s been away for whatever reasons and I’m sure he understands that and appreciates that.

“So he’ll have to earn his place back. But if Carlos can play anything like we know he can, he’ll be an asset to the team.”

He isn't resting on his laurels either, with the end of the season looming it is still all to play for, especially with only 2 points separating 1st and 2nd place;

“It’s gone great so far, but we’ll judge it by where we finish at the end of the season.

“It’s nice now, but we need to win the title for it to be a good season."
 


There has been much talk of the pressures of being involved in a title race, and Joe Hart is one of the players at City never to have gone through such an experience. But he doesn't believe this will have a negative impact on the squad.

“There’s been pressure on us for a long time. But the pressure is put on ourselves by ourselves, in the dressing-room, because we want to win things.

“There’s obviously a lot of talk and hype around what we do, but we put ourselves under positive pressure to win every game.

“The Premier League is the most competitive in the world. I don’t think anyone is ever going to romp it by the start of March.

“We’ve got the most successful club in England, especially in Premier League terms, snapping away at our heels.”


“We can’t look to next season or try to hold onto a title we haven’t even won yet,

“But I’d love it to happen. I see myself as a part of City and I want to keep winning, I don’t want it to be a one-off.

“First and foremost, though, we have to keep our eyes on the prize this season and not lose sight of that.”


Sustained success is certainly what Sheikh Mansour was looking to achieve when he bought the club, and it's certainly looking like a very strong possibility when you have the players of the calibre the we have now. Just as important though is their desire to stay at the club and Joe is one who openly admits that he wants to stick around for a while.

When finding out that Alex Ferguson and United were apparently interested in him before City came along, Joe had this to say;

"For someone who I respect greatly and who I grew up admiring in football to say that is a great honour. I'm not quite sure what he meant by it but he's got fantastic goalkeepers there with [Anders] Lindegaard and David de Gea. And I'm quite happy on the other side of the city.

"I love Manchester City, I love playing for them. I'm really proud to have signed a long-term contract last summer and hopefully that can continue for a long time to come."


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Manchester City v Bolton Wanderers: #CityStats

This is the return of a once popular feature of the blog (or at least I like to think so). City Stats has had a bit of a face lift and is a little more in depth this time round. This time focusing on City's record-matching 19th straight home league win, which came against Bolton Wanderers.



Match Stats

The Match Stats really do tell their own story here as City were rarely put under any real pressure from Bolton. City's possession and passing have followed a similar trend throughout the season, although these are all improved on the season's average (58% possession, 86% pass success).

The most impressive figure of all may well be the number of shots City had at Bolton's net, creating  5 more chances than their average of 19.

However only 8 of these shots were on target which is only marginally better than the 7 averaged usually, but statistically worse when looking at percentages (33% v Bolton - 37% for the season).

Maybe Balo's attention was divided between scoring the game and scoring in an altogether different way at the strip club, if rumours are to be believed.



Defensive

Although it was Bolton doing the majority of the defending, there are some fairly impressive defensive stats when you look at City's players.

Gareth Barry managed to stick his foot into 6 tackles, more than anyone else on the pitch. Sam Ricketts of Bolton is 2nd with 5 tackles to his name. Maybe a couple more would have earned his side a point, but he may have been too busy thinking about who will win the title.

Vincent Kompany leads the way for interceptions, and not for the first time this season, with 8. This figure is once again the best on the pitch and double the total achieved by Bolton's Zat Knight (4), who had the most for his side.

Tckl = tackles won, Int = interceptions, Clr = total clearances, Eclr = effective clearances, Foul = fouls committed, BS = blocked shots, AD = aerial duels


Attacking

As you would expect after a game like this, City's attacking stats look pretty good (unless you're looking at shots on target).

Mario Balotelli actually had as many shots on goal as the entire Bolton squad with 8 shots, but with only half of them on target, Papa Mancini will be wanting a little improvement from the young Italian. Balo is the only City player to score though as Clichy's attempt is likely to be given as an own goal once the dubious goals panel takes a look at it.

Something else which has been a less than impressive trend this season is Yaya Toure's shooting. Only 1 of his 5 shots was on target today and his lack of clinical finishing is why he is looking at falling short of his 6 league goals that he achieved last season, with 3 so far. But there's still time to amend that. 

David Pizzaro's first start for City since his switch from Italy in January really did highlight his strengths. Due to his lack of match fitness I don't believe we have seen the best from him, but as far as his anticipation and vision he was as sharp as ever. The 3 fouls he drew were results of players attempting to tackle a ball that had already been moved on.

Shot = total shots, SoT = shots on target, Drb = successful dribbles, Foul = times player was fouled, Dis = times player was dispossessed, Trn = turnovers committed, Tch = total touches of the ball


Passing

With the higher than average possession comes higher than average passing statistics. Yaya Toure making the most passes in the squad as usual with 98 passes at a success rate of 91%.
In terms of total passes made, Gareth Barry is next in line with 83 in total with an 89% success rate.

Toure and Gaz Baz together made more passes than the top 5 passers for Bolton.

Yaya also leads the way with key passes with 4 in total, Adam Johnson a close 2nd with 3.

As we are seeing more and more, several players in the squad are hitting percentages of over 90% success for their passing. No fewer than 9 players achieved this, although only 7 of them were on the pitch for an extended period of time.

The only thing that is particularly disappointing is that there were no accurate crosses out of the 13 attempted.

Ass. = assists, Pass = total completed passes, KP = key passes, P% = pass success rate, C = crosses attempted, AC = accurate crosses, LB = long balls attempted, ALB = accurate long balls, TB = through balls attempted, ATB = accurate through balls


When he looks back at that game, Mancini should be quite satisfied. The team was missing Micah Richards, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero, 3 major players in the squad and City dominated very comfortably without being particularly spectacular for most parts, but did have a couple bouts of showboating in and around Bolton's 18 yard box.

On another day, with Nasri and Balotelli wearing their shooting boots, it really could have been 10.

If you have anything to add, or would like to have your say, feel free to leave a comment underneath.


Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot