Manchester City: A Review of March 2014

City found a bit of form in March and despite being knocked out two competitions they still have their eyes firmly set on the Premier League title. Typical City’s very own Ciaran Murray and Bob Toole look back at the month. The game of the month, the goal of the month, David Silva and Martin Demichelis are discussed, amongst other things…

CIARAN: We cheated a little in last month’s review by including City’s League Cup success with the win over Sunderland at Wembley. We came back to earth with a bump after that, however, with back to back defeats against the mighty Wigan and Barcelona. Since then we seem to have hit a decent run of form as the month has marched on. What’s your overall feeling since we last spoke? Do you’ve a personal March highlight? 

BOB: I feel good. It seems that ever since the Hull game we have turned a corner and started to play quite well again. Let’s be honest, there was barely one good performance since the 5-1 against Spurs at the end of January until we beat Hull. Perhaps just being able to focus on the Premier League has galvanised the team as they know what’s ahead of them whereas before being knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League the fixture pile up was getting out of hand.

The fact that we beat Hull with ten men away from home was hugely important for the morale of the team. They needed a lift after two consecutive defeats and the manner in which we won was excellent. The performances that have followed suggest the team are confident and are on a roll.

My personal highlight was the derby, obviously. That said, I never ever enjoy watching a derby game. Ever! It’s just too stressful and tense and every time United attack I think they’re going to score. However, if we win nothing beats the feel good factor that follows for the next day or two.

Looking back in the cold light of day it really was a dominating performance wasn’t it? I mean United didn’t have a sniff whatsoever. I love the fact our first goal game after 42 seconds and it was our third chance of the game. I love that the two players United have spent almost £70 million on were all but anonymous (apart from when Fellaini planted his elbow in Pablo’s face). I love that stewards had to guard the Chosen One banner to stop United fans tearing it down. I mean that is just fantastic. After all their years of sneering arrogance with banners the fact they managed to create one that rips themselves it just outstanding. I mean, you couldn’t write it. I love that Stoke have a better home record than United. Above all though, it was vitally important we won and we did it emphatically. What could be better?

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Of course, City were knocked out of the FA Cup and the Champions League in the space of a few days in March. To me, it seemed like the club prioritised the Champions League whereas I got the feeling a lot of fans would’ve much preferred another trip to Wembley in the FA Cup. What did you make of it all?

CIARAN: I know that I left the Etihad completely shell shocked after that defeat against Wigan. Howard Hockin commented that Pellegrini will have lost some friends/fans/followers that day and I could see where he was coming from. That was one of the most bitter defeats of the season after the thrill of the Wembley trip exactly one week prior to it. It felt like that Blackburn replay, spirited comeback v Watford and hard fought victory over Chelsea were all for absolutely nothing with mission impossible in Barcelona the clear priority. 

I sort of wish you’d not asked me about it all; I’d kind of forgotten about it and the anger I felt! It’s been said that City’s oil rich second string of billionaires should have swept aside a lowly Championship side. I think if you were an outsider looking in, that would be true. The main downfall was, as I heard someone say on the way out of the ground, “Rule number one: Never eff about with your defence.” Richards, Clichy, Lescott and Demichelis whilst, on their day, of stellar individual ability, just did not work as a unit on that day and both Wigan goals were an embarrassment. I was made up for Uwe and all but I’d have killed for at least one more trip down to Wemberlee. Que sera sera, I guess. 

The Barcelona game. Why can’t I really remember anything about it? Wow – how professionally researched this response is. I think I’ve put it to the back of my mind a little. I remember being pretty proud of certain City players – Zaba and his sending off included – but realising there’s still quite a gulf between us and the elite, regardless of how well we played in the Champions League this season on the whole. I’ve said here before that I believe we need to walk before we can run and domestic success has to be at the forefront of the holistic (ugh) picture. 

Vincent Kompany was immense in both games against Barça. I don’t think Messi particularly lit up either leg of that tie, despite what Ollie Holt would have you believe. I find myself so often thanking my lucky stars we have Vinnie leading our team. What are your views on him as the captain, the player and the man? (Accidental Brent)

BOB: Well, we couldn’t have a better captain could we? It’s clearly a position he takes seriously and pride in and as a result the City fans love him. It is not often that a player genuinely cares about the club but I think Vinnie does. It’s not just on the pitch that he represents the club with distinction but off it as well. He seems an intelligent man and actually thinks about what he says, which is a rarity in football. When you consider that Tevez was our last captain, they couldn’t be more different could they?

He’s a top player as well, our best defender by a mile and his presence alone makes us a better team. The collective sigh of relief when it transpired that he was actually available for the United and Arsenal games spoke volumes. He is irreplaceable.

There have been some suggestions from the media that he always has an error in him which I am inclined to agree with. That said, who doesn’t? Take the Hull red card. Sure he was fouled beforehand and usually defenders get the benefit of the doubt but he should never have been in that situation in the first place. He turned into trouble and the rest is history. The amount of things he does right far outweighs his errors so, you know, I absolutely love him.

In March we found our scoring form once again. One of my favourites was Silva’s against Hull. Do you agree with that or do you have another favourite? Talking of Silva has he ever played better in a City shirt than in the last month?

CIARAN: It’s a toss up between Džeko’s first against United for the sheer *I’ve been nervous about this game for three days and we’ve just scored in 43 seconds* quality of it; Silva’s at Hull or one of three at Fulham. This shortlist is becoming a longlist. Is it the Yaya special, the Fernandinho piledriver or a Martin Demichelis masterstroke? 

I think Fernandinho’s just edges it for me. Just because I love him (and I’m going to ask you to talk a bit about Yaya in your next turn!). Seriously, though it was a sublime finish. I loved that Fulham game; the perfect antidote to a few less than title-winning-worthy performances at home in the weeks prior. Although we benefitted from spot kicks and a sending off, it was great to see some of the swagger back. 

The goal, though. Given the amount of times we’ve pathetically wasted corners this season, it was great to see one so well worked…as opposed to not beating the first man or aiming and failing to find a header at the near post. Milner spotted Fernandinho on the edge of the box and slid a precision daisy cutter towards him. He’d still a lot to do but managed to hold off a challenge, charge into the box and let one rip. It was so reminiscent of 93:20, too (minus the tingles and tears) which is never a bad thing. 

And speaking of the title winning season: has he (Silva) ever played better for City than in the last month? Well I remember I got a text from a Liverpool supporting friend after the 3-2 versus QPR that season. Not *thee* 3-2 versus QPR but the one in November. Anyway, Silva scored a cracking goal in that match where his first touch bought him a foot of space whilst simultaneously setting setting himself up for what was City’s second. My mate’s text read, “Give Silva the player of the season award right now!” And I wholeheartedly agreed. Early in that season featured some of the greatest assists I’ve ever, ever, ever seen; all from one man. Remember the one for Kun against Wigan, or the through ball for Milner against Everton? And of course that volleyed pass for Džeko at Old Trafford? What a guy. 

It has to be said he didn’t hit those heights again last season, but who did for City, really? Lately, though, he has been astonishing to watch. He’s not just the puppeteer pulling the strings any more. He’s more like ventriloquist with his hand up the rear end of every game, dictating every nuance. It’s been like that bit in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves realises he is “The One” and just like effortlessly swats off every punch without breaking sweat then unleashes the pain. It’s sorcery watching Spanish Dave. He’s the Oracle. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now he’s returning to the top of his game, City have regained their composure and confidence as a unit. Let’s hope they don’t pick up the wooden spoon in the title race and remember instead: There is no spoon. 

It’s a terrific change in fortune from last month to see three players up for player of the month who all fully merit it. It’s even better to acknowledge that could have been joined by a handful of others. Silva, Yaya and Demichelis got the nod. Unquestionably, it’s got Silva’s name on it. But talk us through the month of March for MDM and, eh…YYT. Deserved nominees in your eyes? 

BOB: I think so, yes. Yaya without question and I think Demichelis deserves to be on there too. The way he has turned it around since the horror show against Wigan is admirable. Lesser players could quite easily let the pressure and criticism get to them but he has proved a point in the last few weeks.

The Hull performance stands out from the rest for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the offside trap deployed so effectively and that was largely down to Demi. I don’t recall United or Arsenal causing him too many problems either and that goal against Fulham was hilarious. I love how he celebrated before the ball had crossed the line. I did feel sorry for Negredo in that game though: the poor b*stard had been trying so hard to find a goal and then pops up Martin who scores without even trying.

Yaya, on the otherhand, is simply a beast. I sense there are still some people out there who bash Yaya for his lack of tracking or some other rubbish but just imagine City without him. You know, it’s unimaginable, as far as I am concerned. If you can’t enjoy Yaya running at full speed like Wildebeest majestically sweeping across the plains of the Serengeti you should watch a different sport. There’s no other player like him and we should cherish him for as long as he is at the club.

Liverpool have established themselves as arguably City’s closest rivals for the title in March. Do we really anything to worry about in your opinion?

CIARAN: Yes. We’ve a lot to worry about with Liverpool. But we’re City fans – what else would we be doing? 

They’ve mounted such a charge this season. And they’ve gone about it in a similar fashion to us, really: scoring lots of goals and playing it the right way with positivity and attacking intent. Certain off the field issues that have plagued both clubs in recent years seem to have ceased, too. There’s none of the bans for biting, golfing holidays, bathroom firework displays, managerial uncertainties, high profile failed transfers or red faced Glaswegian timelords to contend with any more. It’s fitting that it’s seemingly City and Liverpool (a fool would rule out Chelsea, mind you) fighting for the title in the first season after Ferguson’s reign of terror came to an end. United’s difficult season would become even harder for them to swallow, bless them, if it’s us or the Scousers hoisting the league trophy aloft next month. Next month? Jesus.

I live in Liverpool and the buzz about the City is just crazy at the moment. It’s also a good time for the Evertonians so Merseyside is collectively loving its footie lately. It’s not been easy for me, really. I felt like I was watching the game on Saturday in North London, such were the celebrations when Arsenal scored. There were real life “Off! Off! Off!” chants when Silva slipped in their box and fell into a defender. Studs were up, apparently. I realised on Saturday that if City win it, I’m in for a torrent of abuse. However, if Liverpool win it, I’m in for a torrent of abuse. 

It’s their confidence that’s giving me the jitters over the remaining games. We would not dare chant that we’re going to win the league. Only after Yaya’s 90th minute goal did I firmly believe we’d won the derby, for Christ’s sake! It’s not something City would do – to forecast victory like that but it’s the belief emitting from Anfield that is scary.

Both teams have shown this season they’re capable of a cock up, nor is anything guaranteed in this league. But I do think the winner of the game on Sunday 13th April will go on to win the title. Imagine it was between Liverpool and City down to the last day. I’m already envisioning the chopper in the sky with the Premier League trophy, hovering above Warrington, waiting to be told which stadium to head for. “Sorry, did you say ‘Roger that’ or ‘Rodgers that’? Over.” Shudder. 

Before we visit them next weekend, there’s the small matter of a visit from one of the league’s in form teams in Southampton: a team we’ve scraped a win against, got mauled by and drew with in the past three meetings. Aguero’s back though, and hopefully he’ll hold off injury for the remainder of the run in. If anyone can it’s him…

"We play with 11 men, other teams play with 10 men and a goalkeeper.”

“We play with 11 men, other teams play with 10 men and a goalkeeper.”

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