Me and Typical City’s very own Ciaran Murray recently exchanged some emails looking back at what was an excellent December for Manchester City. We discussed our favourite matches, the joy of Fernandinho, the Negredo and Dzeko partnership and questioned whether City can really win the League this season.
ROB TOOLE: What a month December was. Nine games, eight wins and one draw. Looking at the fixtures beforehand I was almost certain that we would drop a lot more than two points. What game was your personal highlight?
CIARAN MURRAY: Well, I wish it could be December every month! That must be one of the best run of games in one month that City have ever had. Beating two table-toppers as well as the European champions and showing serious improvements away from home. Just sublime.
That’s a tough question to answer considering how well December went but I think my personal highlight was the Liverpool game. I was in a state of jittery panic for days before. I had crazy dreams in the build up to that game, including a 5-2 victory for City. Bad shout, in the end, sticking a fiver on that result!
It was just a huge, huge victory over the best team to visit the Etihad this season. Suarez was in unstoppable form heading into that game and we, er, stopped him. Whilst it didn’t have the volume of goals that we’ve become accustomed to, it was still a thrilling game and a hard earned three points. I live and work in Liverpool too and couldn’t have been arsed with the stick that goes with a defeat.
What did you reckon? Would this have been your personal highlight as a victory, or did you have another? There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief from City fans at the final whistle; perhaps not quite as enjoyable as some of the other games…
ROB: There certainly was a collective sigh of relief about the Liverpool result. It was one of the games that I felt we could easily lose and I was chuffed to bits about the victory. I felt it proved our title credentials more than some of the games where we have destroyed teams, as odd as that may seem. It made me laugh how Match of the Day entitled their analysis “Red Rampage” despite the fact that Liverpool lost and Suarez was kept (relatively) quiet. At what point will the in form team in the country get a bit of credit?
The highlight for me was definitely the Arsenal game. From a neutral perspective it had everything and was scintillating from the first minute to the last. That we were able to toy with Arsenal and put six past them with relative ease was a joy to behold. I watched the game with a Spurs supporter who revels in his hatred of Arsenal more than most of us do about United which heightened the experience. When leaving the stadium (or is it campus? I’m sure the announcer has called it a campus this season) I knew nothing was going to sour my mood (apart from the Aguero injury). A great day.
I’m not sure if it is just me but it seemed like in December the rest of the world finally realised Fernandinho is an absolute gem, whereas most City supporters have been raving about him all season. I know you’re a big fan. What is it that is so great about the Brazilian midfield maestro?
CIARAN: Love Fernandinho, me. I had a good feeling about him almost immediately. He’s absolutely mad on Twitter, and when he signed he was this ball of excitement just buzzing, waiting to get stuck in. That attitude reflected every City fan’s desire to see how the new regime was shaping up.
Didn’t he sack £4 million to join us, too? I mean he’s got a little vested interest there. Scolari’s (shockingly) overlooking him for the Brazil squad and the exposure he’ll get playing for the Blues might help him force his way in. It’d be a travesty for the little guy if, especially after excelling for City, he didn’t feature in the World Cup squad the year his home country is hosting the tournament. Sort of thing I’d start a petition (or in more realistic terms – a hashtag) about.
I keep thinking about the Hull game at the end of August. Fernandinho didn’t have a great game, by the standards he’s set for himself now anyway. Two guys sat behind me moaned and groaned for 90 minutes about his passing, his movement, his price tag, his contribution. They also bemoaned his role in elbowing Gareth Barry out of the team. It’s his third game in England after playing in the Ukrainian league! No disrespect but it’s a bit of a step up in quality. I felt a bit sorry for the lad and just hoped he’d prove pessimistic boo boys like that wrong. I’d love to hear them now.
He’s blossomed into a potential signing of the season, and not just at City. He combines the terrier like tenacity and tackling ability of Nigel de Jong, the dictation of play, passing and vision of Gareth Barry with the tireless athleticism and ability to turn defence into offence in seconds of a fully fit Jack Rodwell, if he existed. Three of my favourite City players of recent times rolled into one super-human signing. He’d need to be super-human, too. He’s such an intrinsic part of the system that he’s never rested. There are fears he’ll burn out if Manuel doesn’t let him put the feet up soon.
He’s brought out the best in Yaya, too. Remember the old trick of Mancini’s to put de Jong on to hold the fort in defensive midfield whilst Yaya’s surged forward like a tank. Fernandinho provides enough hold for Yaya to constantly cause menace further forward. Toure’s got a dozen already this season! Liability.
Nothing beats an unsung hero, though and Fernandinho is just that. He’s adding goals to an already fully accomplished arsenal so I reckon the unsung bit might just get cancelled out. What is there that he can’t do? Love him, me.
Speaking of unsung heroes, James Milner had a December with bells on. City fans knew he had in him but few others would have seen it. I read a tweet from a Spanish journalist saying he thought the player most improved under Pellegrini was Jimmy Milner. What’s your take on that and the month he’s just had?
ROB: Is Jimmy Milner the new Gareth Barry or is Gareth Barry the old Jimmy Milner? He’s one of those isn’t he? The one that the masses, that only watch England presumably, think is awful but those that actually watch him week in week out love.
I think he’s is playing the best football of his City career at the moment. The Bayern performance is an obvious example of how good he is but he has been doing it all season, and last season where he was arguably one of our best performers along with Zaba. He has a tireless work ethic, shows a great amount of skill and can fill in anywhere across the midfield. That assist for Navas’ second in the 6-0 against Spurs was a thing of beauty. He is also an occasional scorer of fine goals: I know they were last season but the goals he scored against Arsenal and Wigan away were immense. What’s not to like?
Despite not being a regular starter he is an invaluable member of the squad and no one should be under the illusion that he isn’t. Whether he is the most improved player under Pellegrini I am not so sure as I think others have made greater strides forward this season, such as Nasri and Kolarov, and I feel Jimmy’s performance levels have been consistently good for longer.
One of the great things about this season, and December in particular, is how many goals we have scored. If you have to pick one, which would be your favourite? A very difficult question to answer, I know…
CIARAN: From a personal point of view, I loved seeing Fernandinho finally get one (although I hope he’s been warned off doing that shite Bale celebration again). However, my favourite goal was Milner’s against Fulham. That assist! I’d elope with it.
I thought Negredo was on the fringes for most of that game. He isn’t as much of a force a) away from home and b) when he’s paired up front with Džeko. The system was changed, though, and Negredo was involved with both goals after Fulham had equalised.
Poor Milner, like. He’s the exact type of player who’d score a goal but be given none of the credit for it. Negredo’s used strength to hold off two defenders then had a nice little link up with David Silva. He then had the awareness to stop and look up, spying Milner’s run. The sense of vision is one thing but the audacity to pull off that kind of pass is another. I tried to explain it to a mate in the pub who hadn’t seen it. An angled, outside of the left foot cross from the right wing that flew across the box, beat a defender and bounced just at the right time for Milner to half volley home. How is that even possible? My explanation didn’t do it any justice so I googled a Gif on my phone. Just too incredible. Our own Rob Pollard even questioned if that assist was better than Silva’s half-volleyed through ball during the 6-1. High, high praise.
I mentioned above that the partnership between Negredo and Džeko doesn’t really work. Would you agree? Why wouldn’t it work and what other options do you see that Pellegrini could utilise instead? How do you rate our big Bosnian striker? He divides opinion more than anyone in our squad, I’d say.
ROB: I must admit Jimmy’s goal was in my mind when I asked the question. It was just beautiful football. There is no doubting that the defender should have done better with the cross but that shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment that the goal provoked. Seeing that type of football is why I love the game!
The Negredo / Dzeko partnership doesn’t appear to working at all, and I think there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, neither player has been on top of their game when they have played together. It seems as if they take turns to perform. Secondly, out of our strikers they are the most similar in terms of being big, bustling centre forwards so I think they cancel each other out when playing together. That said, I would pick Negredo ahead of Dzeko any day as he is far more technically astute and seems to have more of an engine than our Edin.
On the whole, I am not a huge fan of Dzeko but he has played well recently whereas Negredo hasn’t. In the Swansea game Dzeko held up play, linked up well with the midfield and generally looked lively. On the other hand, everything Negredo tried failed and it was no surprise to see him substituted in the second half. What frustrates me with Dzeko is that he has proven he can be a threat but his good performances are so few and far between he is extremely frustrating to watch. Needless to say but the sooner Aguero is back the better because, obviously, he is our best striker and the partnership he has struck up with Negredo is second-to-none in the Premier League. In the meantime, I would prefer to see Pellegrini play with one up top with Navas on the wing and Silva just off Negredo.
Given the excellent month we have enjoyed do you think that City will win the league this season?
CIARAN: Man! This is my first one of these – thought you’d go easy on me. Such a tough question to answer. Therefore I’m going to begin by changing the wording slightly to “can City win the league!” The answer being, of course, yes. With the squad we have and the goals we’re scoring we are more than capable of getting our hands on that trophy. I’m fairly behind Pellegrini and I believe, surprisingly much more than I did with Mancini, that he’s right for the job. If every month is anywhere near as good as December was, we’re in with a huge shout.
However, “Will City win the league?” is a much more difficult question to tackle. That stat knocking about showing us as having taken 18 points off close rivals is all well and good but we only played Chelsea away. The away form picked up lately, for sure but visits to Anfield, Old Trafford and The Emirates are still in store. I’m already freaking about travelling to Goodison in the penultimate match of the season, too.
We’ve got a much deeper squad than say Arsenal or Liverpool but the muscle injuries are a real concern. Calves, hamstrings and groins have had afflictions in varying degrees of severity this season and it’s becoming a pain in the arse (another muscle injury?) With Aguero and hopefully #Jovetic set to rejoin us soon, it could be like two new signings to raise the troops. If everyone stays fit, we’ll be in great shape to win the title.
I do think it’s between City and Chelsea. I’ve been so impressed with Arsenal, too but I see that Mourinho cockroach mounting more of a challenge. He’s openly said he needs to set up to win more games 1-0; the antithesis of everything City stand for. However, 3 points are what matters in matches and I can see Chelsea causing issues. He’s started the mindgames, hasn’t he? I read that he said it’s City’s to lose and they know it. That night, I dreamt that I farted in a room I was in with him then ran out and held the door handle so he couldn’t escape. Pure hatred on a subconscious level. I do realise that’s the second football related dream I’ve admitted to having. Need more hobbies and a life, yes.
To answer your question, I’m going to say no. I’ve never been confident about City in my life as I just think it’s unwise to believe they won’t mess things up like only City can. I think those who aren’t fearing Barcelona’s visit are doing so at their peril. I don’t mean to be negative but I’m always wrong so I’m trying to double bluff a little. I never believed they’d do it in 2012 either, so that’s why I’m scared to do it now! Maybe ask me again after January?