April was a fairly successful month for Manchester City. As usual, Ciaran Murray and Rob Toole mull over the month that has passed. On the agenda this month is the Chelsea game, Fernando, Nasri and much more…
Rob Toole: April was a pretty decent month for City with five wins, three draws and progress to the Champions League semi-finals for the first time. There is a lot to get through but what was your personal highlight?
Ciaran Murray: I write this post-Southampton so I’m a bit sore but we’ll save that for next month…
April was pretty good, though and as you point out there’s a lot to get through. There were a lot of highlights but I think for me personally the Chelsea game is definitely up there. It was great to see a little bit of swagger back in City’s game.
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? This record against the top eight. There’s a barrier that just prevents City getting anything off the top teams. Chelsea have a superb squad and any other season would/should be challenging but we carved them up completely. An aggregate score of 6-0, against the Champions, again in any other season, should be mightily impressive. This season, however, it’s a mere consolation when everything else has been so shoddy in the league.
The game itself just seemed to revolve around Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne. What an exciting prospect we have with those two playing together. It’s hard to know who’s going to see out the summer but one thing’s for certain: these two together will be lighting up the pitch next season. The energy, synergy and understanding between them at Stamford Bridge left Chelsea’s players dizzy. It was a well deserved hat trick from our Serge but KDB was at the heart of most of the action. His skill, pace, work rate and awareness made things so easy for the little Argentine.
Nasri, as well, had a superb game and was vital for City – and Aguero’s – second of the evening, playing a perfectly weighted pass into the striker’s path. It was a real pity he got injured in that game and I felt we’ve missed him in subsequent matches. Fernandinho’s run, too, that led to Courtois being sent off, summed up City’s hunger and desire and demonstrated how Chelsea struggled to live with us. I cheered for the red and felt a bit bad afterwards; I think Courtois might be the only Chelsea player I like and he’d been completely let down by a ragged defence. Aguero, who seems to have altered his penalty run up style after a few dodgy misses, dispatched the spot kick with no hassle. Suddenly my sympathy for their keeper receded. All in all, a commanding performance, a faultless score line and a valuable three points.
I mentioned Samir Nasri and his timely return. I think we’ve really missed him and I know you’re a fan. He shone in his appearances during April. What does he bring to the table and do you think he’s got something to offer under Pep Guardiola next season?
Rob: Nasri has been a very welcome addition to the team in April. He was out for so long that I almost forgot that he played for us, but with that ridiculous and unforgettable hairdo he has reminded us all of what we have been missing. Like you said, he was excellent against Chelsea and also had a valuable contribution against West Brom scoring the winning goal and getting the man of the match award. Richly deserved.
I am a big fan and I just love how good he is at keeping the ball. He has the tendency to slow the game down and sometimes that is not what is needed, but, more often than not, the rest of the team are losing their heads so it is good to have someone who can put their foot on the ball and calm it down. Quite often the team panics in possession and give the ball away but he barely ever loses it. His link up play with Yaya is also a joy to watch. They are good mates off the pitch and it seems like they love playing footy with each other, which is great to watch. I understand why he was withdrawn from the Champions League squad but it is damn shame he isn’t in it given how far we have come in the competition. Unfortunately, the sack of cement that is Wilfried Bony will have to make do instead.
I also love Samir’s personality. In the context of modern football, so many footballers are painfully dull but at least Nasri says what he thinks. His rift with the French national team was well publicised but I like how basically told them to ‘eff off and never play for them again. This is a man who died his hair blue whilst injured. What’s not to like? Jamie Vardy may be having a party but Nasri isn’t because, as far as I know, he doesn’t want one and if Samir doesn’t want to do something, Samir doesn’t do it.
Looking to next season, I sincerely hope he sticks around as I think he could be a dream player for Guardiola. If City are going to turn into the team I think they will Nasri will have a pivotal role in the team. He is born to play possession heavy football and I would be very surprised if Pep discards him. Let’s see what happens…
Another player who has excelled in April was Fernando. He was particularly good against Madrid. I didn’t see it coming but he can actually player a bit. What have you made of the much maligned Brazilian? Will he follow the same pattern as Javi Garcia by being sold just when he starts showing why we bought him?
Ciaran: There has been such an improvement in Fernando and I was so impressed with him in April. I mean, there was that howler against PSG but he was superb in the month, that aside. Thankfully that didn’t cost the tie as it would have been such a shame if such an awful individual error led to City’s exit from the Champions League.
I never, ever thought I’d be writing about Fernando in such a positive light. I don’t like to criticise individual players too often but he was dire last season when we bought him and I didn’t see any redeeming qualities to be honest. He was brought in to play in a midfield three with Yaya Toure and Fernandinho alongside him. Yaya’s had his struggles this season and we can see him beginning to be phased out to a degree. That’s meant is that Fernando and Fernandinho have been left to form a little partnership in the midfield. It just makes sense. They’re both Brazilian, have a great friendship off the pitch and, heck, they’ve practically got the same name. There’s a trust and understanding emerging and it’s worked well at certain times lately.
Fernandinho has been allowed to use his bite up front a little more with Fernando in front of the defence. With Fernandinho’s pace, zip and energy he’s got on the scoresheet more often this season whilst still performing his defensive duties and breaking up play. The reliance on Fernando to stay put and protect the defence has helped Fernandinho have what’s probably been his best season in sky blue. Two seasons ago Fernandinho was the unsung hero but this season Fernando has been quite content to sit deep, break up play and let his little mate shine that bit brighter.
Against Madrid in the first leg it was the Octopus’s garden. Fernando was everywhere. For me, he was contender for man of the match (that was Joe Hart, obviously). I just felt the Brazilian and his limbs were everywhere. He was a blockade and there was no getting through him. He probably lacks that dynamism in possession or creative outlet to pick out a pass but as a bullish, no nonsense ‘stopper’ he was, and has been, first class recently. He got two goals in April, too, which is pretty impressive for such a defensively minded player.
Again, the big question is whether he’ll last the new manager’s arrival or, like Javi Garcia who you mentioned, be shipped out just as he shows signs of settling and proving his worth. He’s probably not as fluid, ball playing or versatile as Guardiola likes his midfielders to be but I do hope he keeps him and tries to work with him. Like everything with Pep, we’ll have to wait and see.
A few of our friends at Typical City and on the Blue Moon Podcast seem to think a top four finish is all but wrapped up. Yes, April was a pretty positive month but I know you’ve not shared this confidence. As it’s our last monthly review before the big finish, where do you think City will end up and just how disastrous would missing out on a Champions League spot be for the Blues?
Rob: You’re right, I don’t have the shared confidence of some of esteemed colleagues. I think we may scrape a top four finish but I certainly think it will be a nail biting affair right to the final whistle of the last game. With United and West Ham having a game in hand on us (albeit against each other) there is a very real prospect of us being taken over by one or both of them. However, if we win both of our games there is nothing either of the chasing teams can do, so at least it is in our own hands. We have Arsenal at home before travelling to Swansea on the final day. Given our record against decent teams this season, as well as the general malaise in the squad, I have absolutely no reason to be confident against the Arsenal.
It would be fairly catastrophic not to finish in the top four, especially with Pep arriving. I’m pretty sure he didn’t sign up for Europa League football. Personally, it doesn’t bother me too much if we are in the Europa instead of Champions League but it may well hamper our attempts to attract the very best players that we may be targeting in the summer. If we finish 5th I think it could be a bit of a wake up call for the owners given that, in my view, Pellegrini has been kept in his job way longer that his performances have warranted. If it happens and we do finish 5th, perhaps they won’t make the same mistake again. It is all “ifs” and “buts”, though so we’ll see. Life will go on regardless and I’m sure we’ll be a hell of lot more competitive next season regardless of whether we are in the Champions League or not.
One final question for you, Kelechi Iheanacho has been on a great run of form recently and had his first start in god knows how long against Stoke. Just how good is he and how excited are you to see what Pep can do with him?
Ciaran: I sometimes think of that image from City Live last year when Denayer, Lopes and Iheanacho were proudly displayed as “First team graduates” and how with the first two that was basically a lie. Obviously, through interest from other clubs, Otamendi’s arrival and the feeling that perhaps they weren’t ready to make the step up after all, Denayer and Lopes were moved on (the former mercifully just on loan). The club had no intention of letting Iheanacho go anywhere, however, and that speaks volumes about the talent they knew they had on their hands.
Kelechi Promise Iheanacho is going to be a superstar. There is absolutely not one single shred of doubt in my mind. I’ve not seen a youth player – in fact I’ve not seen many players – with so much potential and out and out raw talent. His goals per minute ratio is actually pretty unfathomable. City Watch tweeted a great picture after the Stoke game that had a table of Europe’s top 12 strikers ranked goals per minute and our 19 year old topped the lot.
Europe's top 12 strikers ranked by goals per minute. At number one is… pic.twitter.com/SCUzYuTmZw
— City Watch (@City_Watch) April 25, 2016
It’s ridiculous that he gets so many goals in so few minutes. Also ridiculous, though, is that he gets so few minutes. If Pellegrini’s trying to nurture his hunger or something mad like that then that could be the only explanation. Because I see no other possible motive for not giving the lad a chance when, every time he’s given an opportunity, he seizes it with both hands and proves himself time and time again.
Rob Pollard had the pleasure of interviewing him as he was beginning to come through and said that he used the words “hard work” in practically every sentence. That tells you all you need to know about his drive, determination and desire to improve. He’s not the finished article (at 19 how could he be?) but he’s going to learn from others in the squad and, with the world’s best coach on his way, the only way is up for Kelechi Promise. I only hope that the fans are patient with him, let him grow and develop at his own pace and that everyone has a good go at learning how to say the kid’s name correctly.
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