John Guidetti: Is his future with the Citizens on the line?

Last January, Manchester City starlet John Guidetti headed south to Staffordshire, to join a Stoke City side with misfiring strikers and a lack of goals across the team. Guidetti was brought in to help keep Stoke in the top division, whilst gaining valuable experience under former boss Mark Hughes.

The move itself was Guidetti’s chance to prove himself, the first time he is allowed to get valuable Premier League experience after a wonderful loan move to Feyenoord in 2011/12 before paralysis of the right leg halted the Swede’s career for 18 months.

Guidetti 21, was in fact tipped to start alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Euro 2012 before the dastardly illness shelved his progress and he had hoped to regain that kind of form again when Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini allowed him to leave the club on loan for the rest of the campaign.

Subsequently, in came a host of offers from the likes of Ajax, Internazionale, Feyenoord, Lazio and Real Betis but City chose Stoke, a place where they felt Guidetti would thrive and mature as a player, to come back next campaign ready for the vigours of a top four side.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Guidetti has played just 59 minutes for the Staffordshire club since joining in early January, as the form of Peter Odemwingie and the reputation of Peter Crouch has kept the City youngster out of the starting eleven. In a recent game against Norwich, Guidetti came on, won a penalty and was the player sacrificed as Jonathan Walters was sent off. So much for match experience, eh?

The question really is, why did City sent Guidetti to Stoke? They’d just signed Odemwingie, already had Peter Crouch, Marko Arnautovic and Jonathan Walters and therefore didn’t really look light on attacking options.

The likes of Ajax or Lazio may have been better for the Swedish international but instead City chose to send him to Hughes. The same Hughes, you might recall, that whilst at City, chose to play Ched Evans instead of Daniel Sturridge. Make of that what you will.

Next year, Guidetti’s contract is up and there have been rumours of Feyenoord offering £1.2m to take him off City’s hands. However, it is well-known that Pellegrini likes him (he tried to sign him whilst at Malaga) and may give the Swede a lifeline.

Whether City offer him a new deal I don’t know, but another Premier League loan next campaign, this time with opportunities may be the best thing for him. He is a talent, there’s no doubt about that, a talent that most of us City fans would hate to see go to waste.

 

Written by Henry Francis

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Premier League 2013/14: So far, so very, very entertaining

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion - Barclays Premier League

The Premier League has always boasted its competitiveness compared to Europe’s other top leagues, although in reality it was only two, sometimes three teams that were really in the title race. So far this season, that has changed quite dramatically.

Here we are in January and the top 6 places are changing on a weekly basis and it’s nigh on impossible at this point to predict in which order the top 7 will be, come the end of the season.

For the most part, Arsenal have set the pace thus far. The sensational capture and influence of Mesut Ozil, coupled with the excellent form of Aaron Ramsey have helped re-establish what looked very unlikely on opening day, Arsenal as genuine title contenders.

On paper, their squad still looks thin, but on the pitch they’ve contended with a long list of injuries, negotiated the Champions League ‘group of death’ and remained consistent. If Arsene Wenger can find a suitable forward and defender in the January transfer window, then the Gunners could end their long trophy drought with a Premier League crown.

Pre-season title favourites Manchester City and Chelsea have both stuttered at times, but are now ominously gathering pace. City’s away form earlier in the campaign was threatening to derail their title challenge, but with that having improved and being so imperious and scoring goals for fun at the Etihad, they are now many people’s pick to be champions.

Fernandinho has slotted in beautifully next to Yaya Toure and Negredo looks an excellent acquisition, alongside the sublime Sergio Aguero seamlessly. Indeed, they have the best squad and arguably the best team that is gelling so well under the guidance of Manuel Pellegrini that, it could well be their title to lose.

Before the start of the season, I felt Chelsea were slight favourites to be champions with the quality and experience in the squad and the Premier League know-how of Jose Mourinho; however, they looked surprisingly fragile at the back and have often lacked fluidity in attack, but are still within touching distance of top spot.

Oscar often made a difference for the Blues early season and Eden Hazard has picked up his form of late, something that has been vital given that their strikers have barely found the back of the net and their best player, Juan Mata, is bizarrely spending most of his season watching from the bench. Mourinho may lack class with some of his post-match interviews, as he deflects attention away from his team, but he has a knack of winning trophies and Chelsea are certainly in the hunt for the title.

Liverpool are in with real chance of getting back into the Champions League this season, aided by the goals of the magnificent Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was the best player in the league last season, but the stupidity of biting Ivanovic and his reputation probably prevented him being recognised as such. This year, not only has hebeen almost unplayable at times, but he’s also cleaned up his act and been a huge part in Liverpool’s often scintillating attacking play.

Daniel Sturridge has also weighed in with goals, Jordan Henderson has been outstanding and Raheem Sterling is looking a much more mature player. With the experience and quality of Steven Gerrard and the creativity of Coutinho, Liverpool have continued their progression throughout the calendar year of 2013 to put themselves into contention.

Merseyside rivals Everton have been a revelation under arguably the manager of the year so far, Roberto Martinez. The Toffees had a squad primarily set up to be functional, hardworking and difficult to beat. Martinez has taken the handbrake off, allowing players to express themselves more and introduced a more patient build up to their play. Seamus Coleman being played as an attacking right-back has been a masterstroke, as has having the faith and confidence to play Ross Barkley in the key attacking midfield role.

Loan signings Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have been pivotal in a very impressive season, but the lack of depth to the squad does raise the question whether or not Everton will be able to maintain their top 4 challenge to the business end of the season.

After a sticky start, Newcastle have got going pretty well, influenced by the talented Yohan Cabaye and the goalscoring prowess of Loic Remy. The lack of Europa League football has no doubt helped them and although a European place looks beyond them this season, the Magpies are set for a satisfactory campaign.

Southampton’s start was fantastic, a win and clean sheet away at Anfield was just one of many eye catching performances that lead to Adan Lallana and Jay Rodriguez rightfully gaining international recognition with England. Luke Shaw is continuing to enhance his growing reputation and Dejan Lovren has been stellar at the centre of solid defence that combined with a good passing style, has seen Manager Mauricio Pochettino’s list of admirers grow. The behind the scenes unrest however, does threaten their stability.

After selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £85m, Tottenham spent over £100m on a promising centre-back, 2 central midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders and a striker, but bizarrely ignored their glaring weakness at left-back. Last season I felt that Spurs tactics were essentially to give the ball to Bale and hope he did something, meaning Andre Villas Boas would have to be more imaginative and expressive with his impressive looking squad this term.

Instead, they lacked a fluidity often suffered by teams trying to integrate too many new players at once and with the below par performances came a lack of confidence leading to the 6-0 hammering away to Man City and the 5-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool which ultimately cost Villas Boas his job. His replacement, Tim Sherwood, may not have the tactical prowess of Europe’s top managers, but he has employed a much more attacking style that has Tottenham back in top 4 contention.

Whoever took over as Man Utd manager after Alex Ferguson was always picking up a poisoned chalice, so to speak. They would inevitably either fail to live up to expectation or have success attributed to taking over an already successful team. I, amongst many others, was surprised at David Moyes selection as Ferguson’s successor.

Moyes built a good reputation at Everton, but his teams were very functional and his record was built mostly on finding bargains and over-achieving. Taking over at a club with money to spend and a higher expectation of success is a different challenge; one which only time will tell if Moyes is up to.

Last season, the under-performance of Man City and the goals of Robin Van Persie, particularly up until the festive period, probably masked the deficiencies in the Man Utd squad. Deficiencies that without Ferguson at the helm and big changes to the coaching staff, have become all too prevalent this season.

One positive this season though has been the marked improvement in goalkeeper David De Gea and with players like Van Persie and Rooney in the team, Utd have to be fancied for a top 4 spot. Their real difficulty will come in replacing an ageing defence, especially if there is no Champions League football for a club carrying heavy debts and huge expectations.

Before the start of the season, I fancied Chelsea to just win the title ahead of City. Although City look the team to beat, I have a feeling Chelsea may still edge them out in May.

Whilst the top 2 will probably be what many expected back in the summer, the tightness of the top 7 has been a pleasant surprise in what has been an entertaining season so far.

 

Written by Andy Wales

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Alvaro Negredo: The Spanish Beast sizing up a big say in the Premier League title race

It was last June when West Ham United were linked with Alvaro Negredo, reported by Sevilla president Jose Maria Del Nido to have tabled a £14.5 million bid for the Spaniard. There was no official confirmation from West Ham, though their £15 million went on Andy Carroll and Negredo went to Manchester City.

On Wednesday night, as with football’s cruel tendancy to exploit the ironic, it was Negredo hammering more nails into the coffin of the club who last summer tried to sign him.

Three nails in fact as the striker hit an unforgiving hat-trick in the first leg of the Capital One cup semi-final with West Ham. His third on the night, the fourth of a merciless 6-0 demolition, was a sweeping finish to round off a neat move involving Samir Nasri and David Silva. It is in those players whom City possess the graceful and the nimble, yet in Negredo they have something more rugged, a relentless presence who is driven by an appetite for goals.

On Wednesday night he hit his 18th goal of a season in which he has made 29 appearances, it is easy to forget, especially as Roberto Soldado experiences teething problems at Tottenham, this is his first year out of Spain.

The similarities between the two strikers are clear, both have experienced youth football at Real Madrid, both have been considered by Vincent Del Bosque as a natural centre-forward for his Spain side and both were prolific in Spain. Negredo signed off from Sevilla with 1 more goal than the 30 Soldado managed in his last year with Valencia, though at £16.4 million, £10 million less than the fee Spurs paid for Soldado, it is now clear who got the better deal.

Perhaps it can be argued that City’s business has trumped the rest of the Premier League, certainly no fellow fresh arrival to the league can boast a similar impact and reputation City’s “beast” has forged in his first 6 months in England.

A lot of credit will rightly be attributed to City’s coach Manuel Pellegrini who has quietly and amiably instigated a revolution at Eastlands. Having won the league but stagnated to rumours of mutiny under Roberto Mancini, Pellegrini has rediscovered not only a winning formula but an overwhelming confidence that victories can be achieved with unstoppable force.

Newcastle, Norwich, Arsenal, Manchester United, Spurs and Fulham have all surrendered by four or more goals to City in the league as the juggernaut enters the second half of the season on 57 goals and counting. At the forefront of that has been Negredo, the ringmaster of City’s lavishly assembled forward line.

As a defender he can be near-impossible to track, able to constantly move along the front-line into the channels to create, he has 4 assists and has carved out 21 chances so far this season, or he can resort to his bullying style, proving a handful to his markers with his brute physical force and an ability to bring others into play. With City of course, carrying Silva, Nasri, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho.

Jesus Navas and co. as the supporting cast, that is a welcome asset. Meanwhile, while the goals have flowed for Negredo, they haven’t come without trying. 58 shots have been attempted by the Spaniard high on confidence, again providing a direct touch to the patient, measured approach favoured by City’s technicians.

It is frightening that in the £22 million Stevan Jovetic City have a player who has not played since the 30th October due to injury and even more frightening that the demolition job on Wednesday was carried out in the absence of Sergio Aguero, the Argentine who has scored 48 goals in just 2 and a half years in Manchester. Pellegrini is finding that life without them for the time being is grand as Negredo fires on the most potent of cylinders.

Especially at the Etihad, Wednesday night saw his second hat-trick of the season after he got one against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, both contributing to a run of 14 goals in his last 11 home games.

It appears to be irrelevant just whom Negredo is partnered with such is the sense of belief he exhumes, most notably in front of the fans that continue to grow in adoration of their new number 9.

With Edin Dzeko on Wednesday he shared 5 goals and said of their relationship “We are always looking for each other and the partnership is working very well. We have a special connection. He speaks a little bit of Spanish and we are able to talk. He’s also a very good player and he had a really good game, too.”

There is an unerring sense that such is the velocity of Negredo’s form, the Spaniard could be partnered with anybody and strike up a prosperous combination.

It will be his burgeoning link-up with Aguero on which Pellegrini will pin his hopes on delivering City the title however, once the Argentine, on 13 goals for the season so far, recovers from his calf injury. “I need to get more and catch him up because I know, when he comes back, he will score more goals,” Negredo said of Aguero.

The Premier League will be higher on the list of priorities than the League Cup and there will be few more obliging opponents than West Ham’s sacrificial lambs on Wednesday, but as City approach the run in direct competition with Arsenal and Chelsea, the faith is in the beast to power them over the line.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Manchester City vs Arsenal: Match Preview

Arsenal’s title credentials will be tested to the limit when they travel to Manchester City on Saturday in the midday kick-off. Arsene Wenger’s men will face a City side unbeaten at home in the League and brimming with confidence after coming from 2-0 down to defeat Bayern Munich 3-2 at the Allianz Arena.

The defending champions went 2-0 up within the first quarter of an hour, until David Silva, Alex Kolarov and James Milner came up with the goals Pellegrini required to be victorious over Pep Guardiola for the VERY FIRST TIME in his managerial career.

City have been in dominant form especially at home in the League, winning all seven fixtures and scoring 27 goals in that stretch. They have only let in 2; one of them a fantastic free kick by Wayne Rooney in the 4-1 clobbering of Manchester United. Recently, it was Spurs that collected a sound thrashing. Kun Aguero, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo all had their names on the score sheet in what still remains one of the most one-sided matches I have ever seen.

Arsenal task has been made the more difficult judging by their last performance in the Champions league where they were beaten in Naples. City are yet to be prevented from scoring in 60-odd home games and it will be difficult to see how Per and Kos stop the Kun-Negredo combo from netting at least one goal.

The North Londoners sit five points clear of the chasing park and are aware that there is no room for lapses in concentration. With the big London derby coming up next, anything less than a draw could be detrimental to the lingering hopes of finally ending their EPL title drought.

PROBABLE LINE-UPS

MANCHESTER CITY

Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Nasri, Aguero, Negredo.

Possibly the strongest starting eleven Manuel can put out with injuries to Richards (wouldn’t have started ahead of Zabaleta anyway) and Gael Clichy. It is not the Chilean’s fault that Dzeko is rotting away on the subs bench. ALVARO NEGREDO has been possibly the best purchase made by City in the last three years. The Spanish attacker has proved his worth in four months and cannot be benched on current form.

We all know who the chief supplier of goals is and he has returned to the set-up after an injury ravaged start to the season. David Silva is surely assured of a starting place ahead of anyone in the playmaker slot.

Samir Nasri has done very well this season and should start against his former club and Sergio Aguero must lead the line as usual. Vincent Kompany was swept aside effortlessly by PABLO DANIEL OSVALDO in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at St Mary’s, but he is still the Leader of the team and strongman of the defence.

He should get the nod alongside the vocal Demichelis. Both should be comfortable against Olivier Giroud who is goal shy away from London. The Fernandinho-Toure midfield is as assured as any other in World football and should show that on Saturday. The presence of Fernandinho has allowed Gnegnery to maraud further up field and cause some damage.

It has yielded the right results for the recently crowned BBC AFRICAN FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR and his club. He returns after sitting out the Bayern victory through suspension. Joe hart remains an able deputy to Roman shot-stopper, Costel Pantilimon. Role reversal.

 

ARSENAL

Szczesny, Jenkinson, Kos, Per, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini/Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Giroud.

Pretty much the same as we have seen from Arsenal all season. Aaron Ramsey is set to start after being rested in midweek as well as the imminent return of Jack Wilshere whose sore ankle must have healed in time to face the blue army. Lukas Podolski is set to return to the team after almost four months on the sidelines, but Bacary Sagna is still out with a hamstring injury.

Mesut Ozil is set to battle it out with David Silva in a tale of two excellent lefties with some of the most unique passing skills ever witnessed/seen. Silva is no slouch and Ozil is different class. Aaron Ramsey can add to his 13 goals this season on Saturday which will further push his case up the ladder for him to be crowned PFA PLAYER OF THE YEAR cum May ’14.

On current form, he is among the best in the World in his position-which is currently unknown as he is deployed to several in every match. Mikel Arteta, who has assumed full responsibilities as team captain, since the ouster of club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, from the team, is accumulating too many red cards this season. Nevertheless, he is one of the most effective players in the League can be relied upon to give the midfield the needed balance.

Wojciech Szczesny has been very dependable this season but almost brought back memories of his over confident self in the first half of the game in Naples. Luckily for him and Arsenal, the mistake amounted to nothing.

With Pantilimon between the sticks for City, they have kept a few clean sheets along the way. Joe Hart might be facing deja vu. Roy Hodgson might be forced to look elsewhere for a replacement to the England first choice goalkeeping jersey if this current situation does not change soon.

 

CONCLUSION

A game that pitches two of the best sides in Europe against each other. It is the viewers’ dream to anticipate and finally watch some of the greatest footballers in the world slug it out for bragging rights. IT could be nine points-advantage Arsenal or three points-gap trimmed by City at the end of proceedings.

What is required of us is to wait as events unfold. Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton will keep a close watch on this game as it has a bearing on their current positions in the League.

As for Manchester United, this is beyond their reach at the moment. Focus should be on how to gather enough points before the new year. Who knows? Arsenal might be the first team to inflict on City, its first home loss. In football, nothing is certain.

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Manchester City: Pellegrini’s Citizens succumb to Bayern’s brilliance

“Super-Bayern uberrollen Manchester” rejoiced the headline in the German newspaper Bild on Thursday morning, celebrating how Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, on his 100th day in charge of the club, rolled-over Manchester City in a manner reminiscent of how the coach’s Barcelona dominated teams in such an unforgiving manner.

While Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben may have been indebted to Joe Hart for the role he played in their goals in the 1-3 victory, the general media consensus, across both countries, was that Munich had totally outclassed Manuel Pellegrini’s men.

Guardiola, given his relentless quest for footballing perfection that continues at full pace in his new job, will no doubt be interested to read the inner pages of Der Spiegel. He would find a criticism of his team’s lack of cutting-edge in a first half that saw 70% possession but only a one goal cushion going into the interval.

“Bayern toyed with the British team in a game of cat and mouse, but forgot their bite” read the Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung, desperately finding something to pull Guardiola up on, like a schoolteacher attempting to keep his star student grounded.

It seems absurd that such a commanding performance would have attracted negative marks, but the Spaniard would probably have been delighted to have read the criticisms given his unrelenting search for improvement.

Though Wednesday night wouldn’t have given him much room to manoeuvre. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben menaced on either flank, the irresistible Thomas Muller played his withdrawn striking role to near-perfection and Phillip Lahm, the definitive professional, again vindicated Guardiola’s innovative idea to renovate him as a holding-midfielder with another fine display.

It wasn’t a surprise given how ruthless Bayern were in winning the competition under Jupp Heynckes last season, though Guardiola has inherited that clinical efficiency and added his own layer of Iberian philosophy. The Germans retained the ball with precision, the featherweight grace of Toni Kroos, gliding across the field like it was glazed with ice, linked the midfield to Muller, the “space investigator” as he calls himself, constantly roaming and constantly scheming.

It was space that Muller found himself occupying in the 54th minute, acres of it in fact, as Dante chipped in a delicate pass that found Gael Clichy daydreaming, Joe Hart helpless and Muller fully receptive of the chance that had been presented to him. 0-2 and it was game over. Still they passed and they pressed, Fernandinho was caught in possession by Muller three minutes later and Robben was slipped in, again past the abysmal Clichy, to drive into the open chasm that seems to be Hart’s near-post.

In the co-commentary chair, Gary Neville aimed personal criticism at England’s number one. “You have to say Hart’s got to do better again at that near post” he said, “that’s twice he’s been beaten there tonight. He’ll be disappointed again”. It capped off a forgettable night for Hart who was beaten too easily by Ribery’s low shot in the seventh minute, further intensifying the scrutiny into his worrying lack of form going into England’s vital World Cup qualifiers. “He’s got to do better there” Neville surveyed the first goal, “he’s let it go through his hands”.

Hart was one of the many City players to come out of the schooling devoid of any plaudits with Yaya Toure, so often the behemoth that commands the midfield battle with brute strength, struggling notably in the face of Lahm’s nimble mobility and the fierce consistency of Bastian Schweinsteiger. Clichy was embarrassingly wretched while his nearest centre-back, the inexperienced Matija Nastasic, was constantly terrorised by Robben’s raids in-field.

City’s attacking trio of Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Eden Dzeko were almost non-existent until they were hauled off by a disgruntled Pellegrini with 20 minutes to go. “We played really badly” assessed the Chilean, and nobody could really argue. “We didn’t expect such an easy game like that” offered Robben “we expected more from City”.

That was to take nothing away from Bayern’s excellence however, producing the latest artwork in Guardiola’s steadfast search for his footballing vision to reach a zenith, a team that rotated on its 8 man midfield ahead of two comfortable ball-playing centre-halves and a goalkeeper. “I’m very, very satisfied” said Bayern’s president Uli Hoeness as he departed the Etihad, “it was amazing how we passed the ball around”.

Guardiola however, was less than happy. “We’ve a lot to improve on” said the 42 year old, “our dead-ball situations were terrible”. Few has noticed and even fewer agreed, they were too busy worrying how good Bayern Munich will be when, as Manuel Neuer said “we can get better still”, and Guardiola irons out the faults.

On Wednesday night, those faults were only obvious to him.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Manchester City: Demichelis in, Barry out – wise move by the Citizens?

In the early days of the Mark Hughes era, Manchester City spent big on several players, in order to get the team to the top level of English football. Whilst this feat may not have been achieved under Hughes, it certainly was under Mancini.

One constant in these two men’s sides was Gareth Barry. The midfielder signed from Aston Villa for £12 million in 2009, and has been successful since, winning an FA Cup and the Barclays Premier League under Mancini.

Despite this success, he has never quite won over some City fans, with his pace and inconsistent performances (mainly due to a lack of a right foot) making him a scapegoat for sections of the City support. With just a year left on the original contract he signed four years ago, Barry has spent much of this summer linked with a move away from the Etihad, and it seems he has got it with his season-long loan to Everton.

There, it is expected he will take the place of Marouane Fellaini in the Toffees’ side, who has left Goodison Park to re-join David Moyes at Manchester United. However, this will mean Barry will have to play deeper than Fellaini did for Everton, and will probably be far less effective than the Belgian was.

After four good signings earlier this summer, it seemed Manchester City’s spending was all but done for the window, until it came to light that a new central defender was needed in the absence of Vincent Kompany, who picked up an injury in City’s opening game of the season against Newcastle.

Although many names were linked with a move, the one eventually confirmed by the Blues was the signing of Martin Demichelis from Atletico Madrid. The Argentine was released by Malaga at the start of the summer, and picked up by Atletico, who have let the 32-year-old leave in exchange for around £4.6m.

Demichelis has played under the new manager Manuel Pellegrini twice before, at River Plate and at Malaga, so obviously knows his new manager well. From what I’ve seen, he looks like a very good signing for the price, although he has been criticised by some sections of the City support already.

What many have failed to notice that the defender was named in La Liga’s team of the season last time around, alongside names such as Lionel Messi. On a reported £18k per week, Demichelis could prove to be a fantastically shrewd signing.

 

Written by Ben Warner

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Fernandinho – A key signing for Manchester City?

In the month of August in 2008, the Abu Dhabi United Group took ownership of Manchester City Football Club, buying out then owner Thaksin Shinawatra.

Though signing a Brazilian – Robinho – was their landmark moment, few people could’ve foreseen that the signing of a £34m-rated Brazilian midfielder who was born in Londrina, Paraná would be the signing to take the club another step up the footballing ladder. Step forward, Fernando Luiz Rosa – Fernandinho.

 

Fernandinho’s competition

Fernandinho's direct competitors at Manchester City - Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia & Gareth Barry

Fernandinho’s direct competitors at Manchester City – Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia & Gareth Barry

Assuming that Man City keep all of their current options for their double pivot in midfield, Fernandinho’s competition for the spot as Toure Yaya’s midfield partner would be Gareth Barry, Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia. I’d fully expect Fernandinho to start ahead of all 3 of those players.

While Jack Rodwell could possibly have a key role to play in the future, he is too injury prone for Manuel Pellegrini to count on right from the start of his managerial reign. Javi Garcia played well enough at Benfica to earn a move to Manchester but, put simply, he has not given City their money’s worth.

Though the Spaniard will be useful to Manuel Pellegrini with his ability to play in defence and midfield, he is not THE player that City need to give their midfield engine room a much-needed boost, when facing stubbornly defensive opposition, albeit without sacrificing any defensive solidity.

Gareth Barry has been a solid performer for City since signing from Aston Villa but his limitations both physically and in the attacking areas are crucial elements that will see Fernandinho displace him in City’s double pivot in central midfield.

 

Statistical Comparisons

(The statistics used are from WhoScored and based on the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League)

As with any midfielder, passing is 1 of, if not the, most important tools of the trade. Fernandinho has an 86.2% pass success rate from 8 appearances. That compares extremely fairly to his expected competitors at Man City – Barry has 86.4% from 4 apps, Toure 86.1% from 5, Garcia 90% from 5.

While Barry and Garcia have better pass success rates than Fernandinho and Toure, the former duo spend most of their games away from the final third. Barry and Garcia do not often have to attempt a penetrative pass further forward, while Fernandinho and Toure do, hence it is only logical that it would be much easier for Barry and Garcia to log higher passing rates – most of their passes are “safe passes” just to keep the ball moving along when City have possession .

In terms of “key passes”, Fernandinho averaged 1.3 per match. While Barry averaged 0.8, Toure 1, and Javi Garcia 0.2. This is in line with the aforementioned point of passing rates, though they have their uses, not being the be all and end of studying any midfielder.

While Fernandinho does have the ability to start attacks with his passing ability, he is also able to use his athleticism to dribble forward as well. With 3.9 successful dribbles per game, Fernandinho’s stats in this aspect dwarfs those of Toure (1), Barry (0.3) and Garcia (-). In fact, in the 2012/13 Champions League Group Stage, the Brazilian was ranked 3rd in WhoScored’s list of “Players with the most successful dribbles per game”.

Where direct tackling is concerned, Fernandinho made 3.3 successful tackles per game while Toure made 1.4, Barry 2.3 and Garcia 1.4.

The Brazilian’s tackling stats put him ahead of the likes of Ramires (3.2), FC Porto stalwart Lucho Gonzalez (3.2), Nemanja Matic (3) and Michael Carrick (2.7). Now on to defending, where Fernandinho has shown his ability to intercept the ball, with his 3.5 interceptions per game being on par with the likes of Nigel de Jong and slightly better than the likes of Blaise Matuidi (3.3), Ignacio Camacho (3.3) and Benfica’s impressive Nemanja Matic (3). For comparison’s sake, Toure made 2.4 interceptions per game, Barry 1.3 and Garcia 1.2.

Whilst tackling is frequently perceived to be the key to whether a player is truly able to defend, I’d strongly disagree. For example, it has been said that Alex Ferguson’s decision to sanction the sale of a then 29-year-old Dutch centre-half Jaap Stam in 2000 was partly aided by statistics – Stam’s tackling stats had declined after an Achilles injury.

In actuality, Stam’s interception stats had improved, showing that he had become more mature and hence the Dutchman did not need to make as many tackles as before as his game-reading ability and positioning nous had improved. Thus, Stam had in actual fact improved, contrary to Ferguson’s thinking.

With the Jaap Stam anecdote in mind, Fernandinho most certainly is a reliable player to have when his team is forced to defend.

On the whole, Fernandinho has shown that he has the ability to not only be a threat going forward, but also more than holding his own when defending.

 

Stepping in at Manchester City

With years of UEFA Champions League experience (knockout stages included) and also having won 6 Ukrainian Premier League titles, 4 Ukrainian Cups, 3 Ukrainian Super Cups and 1 UEFA Cup, Fernandinho will most definitely add to the “winning mentality” at the Etihad Stadium.

Fernandinho will bring athleticism, dynamism and more quality in the more attacking midfield areas than any of his aforementioned direct competitors – Gareth Barry, Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia.

Able to transition quickly from defence to attack, be it through running with the ball or executing an accurate pass, Fernandinho gives City a greater ability to play on the counter-attack. This will be crucial in Europe, where City have failed to meet expectations.

At Shakhtar, Fernandinho was used as a box-to-box midfielder who played his part in a double pivot providing a defensive screen in front of the defence. He joined the attacking play from deep, providing key bursts of creative inspiration and movement with his football intelligence and decision-making ability ensuring that he made the right type of run, to the right area of the pitch and at the right time.

With forward runs from deep, timing and decision-making are crucial tools. Fernandinho most definitely has both those attributes. While the Brazilian is not known for his passing ability, he is more than capable of successfully executing an incisive forward pass when given the chance.

Defensively, Fernandinho and his previous midfield partner Tomáš Hübschman were key to Shakhtar’s menacing defensive record, especially at home in the Donbass Arena. With such strong foundations for coach Mircea Lucescu and Shakhtar’s attackers – Willian (replaced by Taison in January 2013), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (now at Borussia Dortmund), Alex Teixeira and Luiz Adriano – to build on, it is no wonder that the Ukrainian giants have hugely impressed in the UEFA Champions League with their tactical solidity in defence and eye-catching creative play going forward.

One of Fernandinho’s biggest strengths is his versatility from a tactical standpoint, perhaps not positionally but rather in terms of the types of duties that Pellegrini can ask of him.

The Brazilian can play as a box-to-box midfielder, taking turns with Ivorian powerhouse Toure Yaya to bomb forward and join City’s star-studded attack. He can also be used as a more specialised defensive midfielder, which City have lacked since the sale of Dutch destroyer Nigel de Jong to AC Milan.

Furthermore, Fernandinho can play as a ball manipulator tasked with keeping the ball moving and hence aiding his team’s dominance of possession – Think Sergio Busquets, but of a more box-to-box variety. While Barry, Garcia and Rodwell each provide 1 of those 3 tactical options, Fernandinho can not only do all 3, but do them with great quality to boot.

Fernandinho gives Pellegrini the option of tweaking or altering the team’s tactical approach in midfield without the need to make any substitutions.

 

Brazil return on the horizon?

Fernandinho set for a return to Brazil next year? Don’t bet against it. With his move to a “more visible” league and club, he now has everything needed to get a phone call sometime next year from Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The £34 million that Manchester City paid Shakhtar Donetsk may seem an overpriced fee to some, but if Fernandinho plays as well as I know he can, he’d have been worth every penny.

 

Written by Mark Ooi

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Manchester City: Pellegrini doing the right business with The Citizens

If there was surprise at the dubious timing of Bayern Munich’s announcement that Mario Gotze, still representing their Champions League final opponents Borussia Dortmund, was to join them at the end of the season, the blame should be put at the door of Manchester City. That is according to Bayern’s Chief Executive Karl Heinz Rummenigge who has claimed a City representative was so bitter at missing out on Gotze, he leaked the news prematurely after a “glass of wine”.

That will come as an indication of just how desperate City were to launch their summer spending in a bid to recapture the Premier League title. Gotze opted to join Guardiola’s Bayern for €30 million but it was unlikely City were outbid considering their extraordinary spending power under the guidance of the Etihad group.

In fact, the representative’s bitterness isn’t likely to have lasted long as he would have watched the club regroup and embark on a summer of gargantuan spending that is perhaps still not finished.

A total of £97 million has been spent on four players, Stevan Jovetic, Fernandinho and the Spanish duo of Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo. Given the disapproval Roberto Mancini was so vocal with last summer, allowed to spend over £50 million on Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia, Maicon, Matija Nastasic and Scott Sinclair, the chances of Pellegrini sharing the same disenchantment for this summer’s business is remote. Mancini was accused of failing to build on a title winning side, Pellegrini seems to be making one.

To do it, the Chilean coach is seemingly installing hunger and desire in the squad, traits that may have been lacking at times last season. Manchester City’s Chief Executive Ferran Soriano promised “three or four world class signings” at the start of summer and it seems as if he has delivered with players who have yet, with the exception of Fernandinho, to play regularly at the highest level of the Champions League. Fernandinho enjoyed unparalleled success with Shakhtar Donetsk out in Ukraine but a move to the Premier League still represents a major step-up.

It may not be a coincidence that two players who have won it all, Carlos Tevez and Maicon, have been allowed to leave Eastlands this summer, Pellegrini instead choosing to go down the avenue of relatively established players who have been limited to mild success.

It is only Fernandinho out of that quartet to have witnessed winning a league title and in the case of Stevan Jovetic, he has yet to win a thing. They will arrive in Manchester with a burning ambition to win trophies in direct contrast to the lack of motivation that may have mutated from a “been there, done that” attitude supplemented by extremely high wages. Maicon, used as a third-choice right-back, reportedly earned £110k a week, it was little surprise to see a culture of complacency and reports of dressing room unrest eventually contribute to Mancini’s exit.

Jovetic will not only provide ambition, but also reverberant quality that will offer Pellegrini useful versatility for his squad. Presuming the Chilean uses the 4-2-3-1 he utilised at Malaga and Villarreal, the Montenegrin can play right across the front four, equally at home on the left wing just as he is as a central striker where he has been used most often by Vincenzo Montella at Fiorentina.

Playing 29 times as a centre-forward last season, he scored 13 times and assisted 5. His close control, pace, sublime technique and muscular physique, reward of long hours in the gym, making him a force regardless of where he is positioned.

Jovetic is unlikely to be played as a central forward at City however, instead settling for a withdrawn position with Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo competing alongside Sergio Aguero for the starting berth of main striker. Negredo, signed for £22 million from Sevilla, is a robust forward full of movement and full of goals, recording 102 from 209 games during his time in Spain.

Negredo was chosen by Vincent Del Bosque to be Spain’s support striker at last year’s European Championships, citing his hold-up play, his strong left-foot and ability in the air as reason to be picked ahead of Valencia’s prolific Roberto Soldado and Atletico Madrid’s Adrian Lopez.

Pellegrini will see Negredo thrive off the service provided by his enviable array of attacking midfield options in the likes of David Silva, Samir Nasri and now Jesus Navas, who supplied Negredo so brilliantly at Sevilla having played together for the last four years.

Negredo has spoken of how he was convinced by the winger to join him in Manchester, “I spoke with him this morning and I told him how happy I was to be playing another year” said the striker, eagerly anticipating another season of Navas’s creative talents, the 27 year old hitting 269 crosses last year, the most in La Liga. A striking duo of Dzeko and Negredo, both tall and strong in the air, will be extremely potent with the presence of the fast-paced and direct Navas on the wing.

It has so far been a more successful and ominous summer in terms of transfer targets for Manchester City than last year’s frustrating dealings which saw money spent on players who flattered to deceive. Pellegrini has seemingly invested in players who he can trust and those who he is sure can successfully adapt to the demands of the Premier League as they prepare intent on winning it back.

They may have missed out on Mario Gotze, but £97 million on four top class talents is sure to soften the blow.

 

Written by Adam Gray

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Manchester City: The Ups and Downs of a dismal campaign

A season full of mystery, confusion and what might have been surrounded Manchester City’s 2012/13 campaign. Reigning champions City, had to come back even stronger after their infamous title win in 2012.

Preparation for the season could not have been much worse. A list of Roberto Mancini’s targets in hand, then Director of Football Brian Marwood failed to get any of Mancini’s most wanted. A list that included Italian international Daniele De Rossi, Brazilian defender Thiago Silva, wonderkid Eden Hazard and Dutch striker Robin Van Persie, would certainly have made a huge difference to City’s campaign.

In the end, Marwood went out and bought alternatives. Javi Garcia was signed from Benfica, after De Rossi decided he wanted to stay at Roma. Garcia, 26, had a torrid season at Eastlands. He mustered only 17 Premier League appearances all season and he made only ONE remarkable performance during that time (Arsenal (A)). Garcia was also shown up in a league too fast for his own game. Where Garcia thrived was when he had space and time on the ball. He very rarely got that in the Premier League, and so failed to deliver.

Maicon was signed to add experience to the defence, but was moved on to Italian side Roma after an injury hit season. Scott Sinclair has failed to make any impact in the team whatsoever, probably because once he started training with City, Mancini realised Marwood had bought a player simply not good enough for a team of City’s calibre.

Matija Nastasic was an exception of course. A revelation at the heart of the Manchester City defence, the 19 year old Serbian showed maturity beyond his years, and ousted England international Joleon Lescott from the City team, a player who had earned many plaudits for his solidity at the back throughout Manchester City’s title winning campaign.

Nevertheless, City started the season with pretty much the same side as the season before. They started at Villa Park, in the the Community Shield v Chelsea. They swept aside their opponents in irresistable fashion and won 3-2, whilst playing Stefan Savic in the centre of defence in a 3-5-2 formation that caused much controversy later on in the season.

Jack Rodwell was signed after the defeat of Chelsea, and whenever he played was extremely good in sky blue. Unfortunately, those appearances were few and far between as Rodwell carried his injury form from Merseyside to Manchester.

City started the season shakily. A win at home to promoted Southampton should have been a straightforward task for the Champions, but Southampton used pressing tactics to thwart City, and City struggled to respond. Southampton temporarily held a 2-1 lead at the Etihad, until late strikes from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri gave Manchester City an undeserved victory.

A draw at Liverpool and a routine 3-1 victory against the eventually relegated QPR followed, whilst City bizarrely sold fans favourite Nigel De Jong to AC Milan and also winger Adam Johnson before the close of the transfer window.

September started with another two average performances. The expected yearly draw at the Britannia before a dismal 1-1 draw against Arsenal, where the visitors largely dominated. Wedged in between was the 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid, where up until the 87th minute, City were leading, before an unlikely comeback from the Spanish side, crushed City hearts. Mancini’s team was beginning to look like a side lacking the will, motivation or spirit needed to win the League, one factor that caused Mancini’s demise at the end of the season.

An unlikely hero in Edin Dzeko started to emerge, when he sealed comeback victory’s away at West Brom and Fulham in successive away games before unleashing his touch at home, where he netted the 87th minute winner in a vital tie v Tottenham Hotspur. One of City’s better performances of the season came at home to Sunderland, where Aleksandr Kolarov and James Milner ran the show for the blues.

What City had this season compared to the previous campaign, was that teams treated their game against City as some sort of Cup Final. If you could beat the Champions, it could be one of the biggest results of your year, and could give those sides a platform to build on. The lack of spirit and fight amongst the squad gave opposition teams openings and City lost 6 times throughout the 12/13 season, once more than they did the previous year.

City were being humiliated in the Champions League. At home to Dortmund, City were lucky to even get a result when Dortmund completely dominated the blues for the best part of 89 minutes, until a Mario Balotelli penalty rescued a point. Away to Ajax, City’s defensive problems were brought to light as a young Ajax side took City to pieces and won 3-1. Coming out of that game was the players’ rift with manager Roberto Mancini. Mancini had changed tactics to 3-5-2, but the players did not seem to want to implement it, and it caused confusion amongst the side. They were again almost humiliated by Ajax at home two early strikes gave Ajax a 2-0 lead, until City brought it back to 2-2.

These were both games City should have won, and Ajax did not pick up another point throughout the rest of their Champions League campaign. A combative draw against Real Madrid followed before an utterly disgraceful performance away to Dortmund’s “B” side knocked City out of Europe’s top competition in the Group Stage for the second season running.

After City’s Champions League exit, their main focus was to be the Premier League. Top at the start of December, a deject draw at home to Everton gave Manchester United the top spot heading into the Manchester Derby at the Etihad. A late Robin Van Persie winner gave City’s arch-rivals victory, but had the commitment and desire to the cause had been the level of Pablo Zabaleta’s throughout the City side, then the result may have been different. Nevertheless, United created a 5 point margin at the top of the Premier League, a margin that escalated to 11 points by the end of the season.

In the second half of the season, City did not learn from their mistakes. Once the departure of Mario Balotelli was confirmed, it was expected that City would become a better side, one that was without the distraction of the Italian maverick.

However, in the three consequent games after Balotelli’s departure, City did not win once. A humiliating defeat away to Southampton, brought with it extremely odd howlers from Joe Hart and Gareth Barry. This would be the last straw for the owners of the club. After the defeat to Southampton, Mansour reportedly told his City boardroom to look for a replacement for the next campaign. From February onwards, Mancini was a dead man walking.

Despite their failings in the league, City had forged an impressive cup run. Wins over Watford, Stoke, Leeds and Barnsley brought City back to Wembley. They were to face Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup and for probably just the fifth time that season, City turned on the style. City impressively swept away Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley, only six days after a committed and hard earned performance at Old Trafford earned City the same result.

What was to happen six weeks later was a disaster.

City were undeservedly being given the chance to win some silverware after their pathetic showings in the Premier League and the Champions League.

City fans were filled with hope, that despite all the troubles of the season, they could win something.

They believed they weren’t typical City anymore.

How wrong they were.

City turned up to Wembley in a poor run of form after their victory over Chelsea six weeks earlier. Wins at home to Wigan and West Brom were awful performances, whilst the draw away to Swansea was even worse. City also lost to Tottenham during this time, when a 10 minute lapse of concentration gave Welsh wizard Gareth Bale license to play, and he inspired a 10 minute goal-fest from Spurs to win 3-1 over the Champions at White Hart Lane. Manchester United sealed their title win a day later, and City had failed to keep their trophy away from the red half of Manchester.

Despite their poor run of form, the football world still expected City to beat Wigan Athletic at Wembley. Wigan were struggling and currently featured in the Premier League’s relegation zone. They were unable to forge the yearly run of form to get themselves out of trouble, a trademark of Wigan’s since Roberto Martinez became their manager in 2009. Football fans around the world expected it to be a walk in the park for expensively assembled Manchester City. Yet what happened was City’s season in a nutshell.

No commitment, no drive, no passion.

As Wigan players fought for every ball, City players did not. Wigan were on top of City for the majority of the game. Even City’s player of the year, Pablo Zabaleta, the winner purely because he showed the qualities that his teammates had not, did not seem up for the game, and eventually was given his marching orders.

Inevitably, Wigan scored a late winner through substitute Ben Watson, and City’s dreams for silverware were over.

City were humiliated, embarrassed and a mess, three words that could have described City many times throughout the 2012/13 campaign.

Not content with the level of embarrassment, City sacked Roberto Mancini in undesirable fashion. They then lost 3-2 at home to Norwich on the final day.

City have been a laughing stock at many times throughout their history. The first side to be Champions and be relegated. The first side to score the most goals in one season AND concede the most. A side who lost 8-1 to a mediocre Middlesbrough side, managed by Gareth Southgate. And a side, when drawing 2-2 with Liverpool at home on the final day of the 95/96 season, told the team to try and maintain the result despite needing a win to stay up.

City will come back stronger next year and will always come out fighting. Despite their mess-ups, City have always found a way to fight back. Look to the 98/99 Play off final, or Aguero’s last minute winner to seal the title.

There’s no doubt about it, City will be back.

 

Written by Henry Francis

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Manchester City: A Continental Feel

When Roberto Mancini’s arguably successful reign as Manchester City manager came to an end on the 13th May 2013 after a relatively unsuccessful season, it came as a surprise to many. After giving the Manchester based team their first Premier League title in 44 years and an FA Cup to be proudly placed in there trophy cabinet and gaining Champions League qualification 3 years running, although not reaching the knockout stages each time.

However, 1604 miles south quietly away from mainstream media, Manuel Pellegrini constructed a team that managed to debacle AC Milan in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. Porto followed in the final 16 who were seen off with relative discomfort, but nevertheless saw them meet the competition’s runners up Borussia Dortmund but were to be knocked out last minute in unfair circumstances some may argue.

Ultimately this European success is what attracted the Manchester City chairman Al Mubarak to the Chilean manager, constructing a team to be successful on the wider stage to showcase to the world the considerable investment that has been made into this football club.

On Manuel Pellegrini’s arrival on the 14th June 2013, 2 of his target’s had earlier joined the club in the form of Jesús Navas and Fernandinho, breaking through Mancini’s philosophy of narrow football and with the majority of the play and creativity coming through the channels, via the likes of David Silva and Samir Nasri slipping balls into the 18 yard box for the likes of Sergio Aguero to lash into the goal.

The aggressive nature of these early transfers shows that Pellegrini is ready to stamp his vision on Manchester City in attempt to eradicate the narrow play from the start and help bring natural width and technique too the Etihad as soon as possible. This is evident from the signing of Jesús Navas who is a natural right-winger with raw pace that has split apart defences and left fullbacks looking silly since he broke onto the scene in 2003 after coming through the Sevilla youth team.

Brazilian international Fernandinho when looking more closely into the deal makes complete sense to the Manchester City management. With many players within the Manchester City squad not having massive Champions League experience and with the previous failings within that competition that means so much to the owners it makes sense they’d make a massive outlay into this player. Not only does he bring Champions League experience to the team, but he also brings technique and skill accompanied by raw speed to the deeper part of a Manchester city midfield that has failed to bridge the gap of Nigel De Jong’s departure to AC Milan.

With the departure of Carlos Tevez to Juventus on a relatively low transfer fee, in came the secret Spanish goal machine Álvaro Negredo. With an impressive season with Sevilla under his belt, scoring 31 goals in 42 appearances for the Spanish club he earned himself a move to the Manchester club hoping to re-enact that form in the Premier League and aiming for winners medals in the process.

He brings real instinct to the Manchester City front line being able to react to lose balls within the 18 yard box and also having an eye for a header even if he isn’t the largest of builds compared to Premier League central defenders at 6ft 1inch and can finish smartly but he is very much a consistent and confidence-dependent player. If this transfer is to be successful, he will have to have first team football and not be a bit part player like Mancini treated other strikers in the past.

Although not officially signed at the time of writing this, it seems that Montenegrin wonderkid Stevan Jovetić will be also a new edition to the Manchester City front line. With the potential of growing to an even better player then he is already is, he possesses real talent and strength within exploiting space behind the opposition midfield and playing in strikers from angles and also holding up the ball bringing other players into the game.

He is not an out and out striker banging goals in every game but he will certainly help out with that. With a beautiful first touch and intelligent footballing mind, he could be a big hit in the Premier League providing he adapts and keeps his temperament in check.

Manuel Pellegrini has already stuck his metaphorical stamp onto the Manchester based team with a string of signings paving the way for a new dynamic style of play for the fans to get there teeth stuck into. Some people within the Premier League football circle see these signings as being to “safe”, which is completely the opposite to what Pellegrini is doing in my opinion.

He’s giving people a chance that have proven themselves in their native leagues to prove it in the biggest league in the world and the biggest footballing competition in the world, the Champions League, which is a massive risk to take especially with the transfer fees that are being splashed by the Manchester City hierarchy.

With a few more additions and quick team bonding from Pellegrini and the backroom staff it could be a successful season especially with the ongoing media attention being away from them and onto their fierce rivals Manchester United with their change in manager and want away striker Wayne Rooney.

There is a real chance for an unstable and unpredictable title race this season, and in my opinion Manchester City are right in the mix for that bumpy ride ahead.

 

Written by James Clark

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