Manchester City: A Review of February 2014 and the Capital One Cup Final

After reviewing both December and January, me and Ciaran Murray thought we’d do it all again and look back at what was a difficult February for Manchester City. As the League Cup triumph fell just a few days after the end of February we thought it best to lump it in our review. Consequently, it makes for more enjoyable reading. We also talk Barcelona, Jose Mourinho, Samir Nasri and much more…

ROB TOOLE: Well, after Sunday’s events it would be a bit weird to start looking back at February straight away, especially given our form dipped a little. So, in the interest of starting from the top, how does it make you feel that City have won the League Cup and what was the day like for you?

CIARAN MURRAY: What a day. What an incredible experience. I was in Liverpool’s Pret A Manger having my Saturday lunch when I got the text offering me a ticket. Less than 24 hours later I was in the Capital, eating another Pret A Manger – this time at Euston Station and 85p dearer.

Getting to eat two Classic Super Clubs wasn’t even the true highlight of my weekend, either. Getting the train and eavesdropping on so many blues exchanging old stories and buzzing at the chance to tell new ones was just great. I loved how we ended up ambushing the bar of an Ibis hotel and I remember at one point remarking that the summer festival smell was in the air. That’s how the atmosphere felt.

I befriended a madman called Cookie on the way in who freaked about getting searched then gave me a swig of brandy from his hip-flask when we were heading up the stairs. Was just a wonderful buzz and, maybe the brandy had hit me, but I realised how privileged I was to be there and part of this big extended family.

At every ground I’ve been to, that first glimpse of the pitch when you step out is always class. At the Etihad I always get a little ‘wow’ feeling, even still. However, the first glimpse of that Wembley pitch and the red/blue divide and the sheer vastness of it all was a ‘WOW’ feeling. When I got to my seat I let out an “Oh my god” and the girl up from me smiled and nodded. She’d got it too, like.

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The match itself though. I text you at half time saying it felt exactly like every time we’ve played Sunderland away from home in the last 4 seasons. I thought a 1-0 was inevitable. I just didn’t see a way through based on that first 45. A cup final and a half, City haven’t shown up for.

But man. Yaya’s goal. I mean, 50 times now I’ve watched it and it defies logic. It defies gravity. It defies common sense that he’d stroll up and pop one from there. I felt for the first time, that we’d win it after that. I was even involved in a mini Poznan after that goal, despite feeling we’d turned our back on that kind of thing. I just couldn’t see Sunderland dusting themselves off after that stunner. They’d outplayed, or out game-planned City, rather, up until then.

Then Nasri’s goal. I remember nothing of it other than seeing it hitting the back of the net. I screamed til I was hoarse and I know the noise was deafening but it may have been complete silence for all I’d have known at the time. I was out of it with ecstasy. And not from something Cookie had dropped in his brandy, either. I mean just sheer, sheer jubilation. I love how much this game, those goals and this trophy mattered to City fans. This kind of Cup magic is what we need to be embracing before we can even think of rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite in the Champions League.

I loved getting a third, too. Navas is such a player and I was thrilled to see him kill the competition off. He looked absolutely delighted when he scored. Could see it in his eyes. The roar after that was of relief and realisation. Just an exceptional game. It wouldn’t have been City to not do it the hard way and put us through our paces. Made it all the more rewarding. Manchester City: Classic Super Club.

I can’t decide which of the goals I preferred between Yaya’s and Nasri’s. I think it’ll be the kind of happy debate I’ll be having to myself for the rest of my life. You don’t have that option though… Which of the two did you prefer? Talk us through.

ROB: That is such a hard choice; they were both so good for different reasons. I’m going to have to pick Yaya’s though. I have watched the replay of it on loop more than I have with Nasri’s goal. As well as being outrageously immense, it changed the game and Nasri’s goal probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Yaya. It kicked started the revival. It is was on those goals that will be shown again and again over the years and will live long in the memory of the fans much like Dennis Tueart’s bicycle kick in the League Cup Final in ‘76.

Also, I have to pick Yaya’s as I remember it a lot more clearly than Nasri’ goal. I was so caught up in the excitement of the first goal everything that followed immediately after was a bit of blur. I remember thinking Panti’s kick towards Aguero was decent but from then until the ball hit the back of the net I just don’t remember it. That said, when Nasri scored the pandemonium of Yaya’s goal carried over and I went absolutely crazy jumping up and down. Losing all sense of spatial awareness I advanced forward a little too keenly, caught my foot on the seat in front and also toppled the poor guy in front of me!

Everything you said really epitomises what the day felt like for me, apart from the brandy, and Cookie. A personal highlight was the hordes of City fans climbing the endless flights of stairs to the top of Wembley on the way in singing in full voice. I’ve never really seen anything like it, especially before a game, and it was beautiful. It really was a great day and, despite being incredibly nerve wrecking and tense, no City fan should be under the illusion that it was anything other than brilliant.

The month of February, on the other hand, was a bit of sticky month for the Blues. We lost at home to Chelsea and Barcelona, dithered in Norwich and stumbled over the line against Stoke. The win over Chelsea in the FA Cup was a delight but the two fixtures against Chelsea meant we were subjected to the relentless twaddle (sorry, mind games) of Jose Mourinho. What did you make of his mind numbing antics?

CIARAN: Hold on, Bob. If we talk about Mourinho’s mind games, aren’t we letting him win? That’s what he wants from us. He’s getting into our heads. We can’t let him infiltrate our minds, maaaan.

Seriously, though. I can’t stand him. The first time round it was ok. You could look on from afar and crack a wry smile at some of his nonsense. He wasn’t a direct rival and he was over there stopping United winning things and it was all ok. City brought about his first defeat the first time, too, which I loved. Steve McManaman was on the pitch. Moving on…

I avoided Sky Sports News and wasn’t interested in twitter in the build up (or subsequent aftermath) to that League game, y’know. That was the impact he had on me. I hate how he has journalists – fully grown men – giggling like giddy school girls. I hate how, when Chelsea beat City, it wasn’t them – it was Mourinho. I hate how ridiculously good he is at his job.

I watched that post match interview with him and found him so enthralling and entertaining. Hated myself for it, but I did. He’d his top button undone, a glint in his eye and a face on like the only thing missing was a post climax cigarette. This mattered to him and he spoke so highly of his team after their victory. He praised Demba Ba for clearing the ball when City had a last minute corner.

Mourinho thought Joe Hart would come up so he sent Ba on, as a last minute substitution, to mark him. Of course, Joe didn’t come up, but Ba still cleared the ball. That meticulous attention to detail, reading of the game and the willingness to praise even a 30 second cameo contribution, really impressed me. Pity he’s such a tool.

Chelsea deserved to win that game. I saw lots of City fans holding their hands up, in a matter of speaking, and admitting to that on twitter. Also saw praise for that from a lot of the Chelsea fans. I lost count, however, of the amount of times I read the two words: “Mourinho Masterclass.” Christ. There was a notable absence of such similar hyperbole for Pellegrini when his City team dominated Chelsea in the Cup. They didn’t have a shot on target! Hazard was anonymous! Lescott had a goal disallowed! During the first match, when Mourinho displayed such a fire in his belly, I sort of wished Pellegrini would, I dunno, become a bit more animated or tell him to F off or something. I felt he was in danger of getting faded out by coming across a little too placid, perhaps. However, I’m glad he is who he is and glad ultimately that he let the football do the talking, dumping Chelsea out of the cup in the process. Masterclass.

Barcelona, then. Barce-frigging-lona. I mean, I thought we were doing ok until the sending off. Demichelis has been subject to a bit of a tirade of abuse since that game. Is that warranted in your eyes and what are your overall feelings about the game, and the tie overall? Oliver Holt said we were “outclassed” and a plethora of media outlets seemed to be rejoicing in our misery. Bob, how come nobody likes us?

ROB: Well it was a bit of an anti-climax wasn’t it? The result obviously went a large way to souring the occasion for us but game itself wasn’t that great to watch. I was so excited before the game, perhaps too excited, so maybe I built it up in my mind too much. I was excited to see Messi versus City but in reality City coming from behind to beat Watford was a better spectacle, in my opinion.

I thought we played well and obviously the sending off made it a lot harder but even then I still think we coped fairly well. Pellegrini’s comments about the referee afterwards made it incredibly easy for the press to stick the knife in. Maybe they wouldn’t have if he had not said anything but I suspect they still would have. The sound of Clive Tyldlesley climaxing as the final whistle blew was enough to make me feel sick. The tie is stacked in Barca’s favour but stranger things have happened. If we have Sergio firing on all fronts we have a chance! 

As for poor old Martin he doesn’t half get a tough ride does he? He isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he was never intended to be the answer. I’m pretty Pellegrini brought a player he knows and trusts to be used as backup. What with Nastasic’s loss of form and consistent injury woes I feel Manuel’s hand has been forced. Lescott is an obvious alternative but sometimes a manager doesn’t fancy a player and I think that is the case here. Mancini was the same with some players: Craig Bellamy and Scott Sinclair (obviously) being prime examples. 

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His lack of pace, his occasional wayward pass and maybe even his pony tail make him an easy target for the boo boys. But what exactly do they expect? He’s way past his best but he reads the game well, is excellent in the air and is a lot more comfortable in possession than Joleon.  I dread to think what kind of abuse he would have got had he made that woeful attempted clearance that Kompany did against Borini that lead to Sunderland’s goal in the Cup Final. 

Nasri made a return in February and reminded us all of what we have been missing. Is he a contender for player of the month? 

CIARAN: Not in City’s eyes, anyway! Yaya, Silva and Kompany up for it on the official site. I guess Nasri was only back for half of February which explains it. What an impact he’s had since his return, though.

He could easily be nominated for one of our players of the season. He’s been incredible. I thought at times last season that he wasn’t worth the bother. I’d expected him to go last summer. How glad I am that he’s stayed. I wrote, at the start of the year, that one of Pellegrini’s greatest achievements so far was transforming the fortunes of our Samir.

He’s playing with a smile on his face and the passion he displays when he scores shows how much this all means to him. He’s another player who’s already eclipsed his goal scoring tally from last season already in this season. When he came on against Chelsea, he changed the game. He got at Barcelona, too. Against Stoke, he was one who shone and that goal against Sunderland gets better every single time you watch it. And when you’ve watched it over 50 times, that makes it a very good goal.

He shirked responsibility last season. He hid. He could be so anonymous during games and I could understand the theory that he and Silva couldn’t play in the same side together. Now – alongside Yaya, Fernandinho and Silva – Nasri is a vital cog in what’s currently got to be the best midfield foursome in the Premiership (feel a bit sorry for Navas et al there). I hope Nasri stays at City for many long years. Love a good old redemption arc, me.

I watched City’s goal of the month compilation video on the official site. There are ten goals featured: eight from the Under 18s and Under 21s (who I’m so, so impressed with and enjoying following) and there are two goals from the first team. City scored 3 (THREE) goals in the month of February. What on earth has happened? I’m not particularly worried about Alvaro Negredo’s form at the moment but I’ve sensed a few concerns over his lack of goals lately. Will he get over this blip and do you see City’s goals starting to fly in again?

ROB: It is a bit of a concern that Negredo, and indeed the team, are finding it hard to score at the moment. As clichéd as it sounds you cannot beat every team by four goals every week so I suppose it was inevitable that the goals would dry up at some point. Let’s not forget that we were missing some key players who have been vital in the goal machine that is / was Manchester City in recent weeks. Aguero, Nasri, Fernandinho and even Jovetic (Can we include him? Not sure we can given that February was pretty much the only month we have seen him) were out at some point in the last month. 

It’s a funny one with Negredo though. I’ve heard talk that he has been struggling with a shoulder injury he picked up against West Ham in January but I’m not sure that explains why he has been completely anonymous in some games. There is of course the partnership with Dzeko which is counter-productive to say the least. The thing with that is that it is less a partnership and more just two players on the same team with a similar style who occupy the same space and cancel each other out. It just doesn’t work. 

It’s pretty obvious to me that Negredo profits from Aguero’s presence and vice versa. They just have that telepathic understanding which makes them and City tick. Alan Shearer has frequently talked about strike partnerships on Match of the Day and explained that sometimes you don’t have to work on it and you just click with your partner. He said he had to work on it in training every day with Chris Sutton at Blackburn and that he clicked with Sheringham when playing for England. If you ignore the fact that he recently contradicted himself and said he did indeed have to work on it with Sheringham he has a good point. With that in mind, I am confident that once the Aguero / Negredo partnership is rekindled in the coming weeks that we will see the Negredo of earlier in the season, at least I hope so. If those two can stay fit I am not going to worry too much about City in the goals department.

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2 comments on “Manchester City: A Review of February 2014 and the Capital One Cup Final
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