With City’s victory over United, is the tide turning in Manchester?

22 04 2011

Based on comments made in forums and chat rooms after Manchester City’s FA Cup semi final win over United, was the result as monumental for the fans as the press would have you believe?

With Edwin van der Sar’s poor clearance, Michael Carrick’s slack pass and Yaya Toure’s opportunistic finish Manchester City clinched a 1-0 victory over their fierce rivals United and marched onto their first FA Cup final in 30 years.

The facts will read thus: Roberto Mancini’s team will face Stoke City in the final of the FA Cup. It will be their best opportunity in recent years to end a trophy-less era stretching back 35 years since winning the League Cup of 1976. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will have to wait another year to challenge for the famous domestic cup, which they last won in 2004 having been beaten in two final appearances since.

In the league the Citizens are competing with Tottenham Hotspur for the lucrative 4th place and Champions League qualification. In contrast the Red Devils now have their sights firmly set on a well-positioned assault on the Barclays Premier League and Champions League crown.

These are the facts, yes, but for the red and blue sides of Manchester the 16 April 2011 has had and will continue to have dramatic ramifications for years to come.

City – A watershed moment

The overwhelming reaction from City fans has been one of unbridled joy and optimism.

“Today the team got a monkey off their back. This will instil the confidence in the players that they can beat the best in the land on a regular basis. The celebrations at the end showed that. This result could be the turning point for the team.” Burtonblue on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

Several City fans see Saturday’s result as a momentous, watershed moment for the blue side of Manchester – with a playing squad and budget to match the top teams in England – marking the start of better things to come for Roberto Mancini’s team.

“We may lose the final to Stoke – we know that would be kind of typical City – but Saturday 16th April for me is now the start of Year 1.” The Blue Panther on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

United – Bitter pill to swallow

For United supporters, the enduring memory from the Wembley defeat was one of indignation. That, and disappointment that these City upstarts dare upstage the team in red and dash their prospects of repeating the treble triumph of 1999.

Unsurprisingly the United fans were also playing down the significance of the result, highlighting how much the team have yet to play for this season.

“If anybody said we had to lose out on one, of course it’d be FA Cup. Yes, to be 90 mins away from a final and not get there is disappointing, even more so when it’s against your city rivals, but I’m sure we’ll forget about this if we win the title or the CL.” MUFCgal on redcafe.net

Some were even feigning relief the treble was no longer on the cards, yet fellow members quickly quashed this suggestion. Clearly the fans are despondent an opportunity to relive the magic of ‘99 has been denied.

“Lets not win the treble because it’s special being a one-off? What a load of nonsense. Good thing our Manager doesn’t have that mentality.” BG on rednews.co.uk

Furthermore, this result has served as a wakeup call for United fans with member comments alluding to a realisation City are now more than mere noisy neighbours – and it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

“We all know Saturday’s loss will need a long time before it is erased from the memory. Now they have finally beaten us in a meaningful way they will want to use it to the max especially with all the moolah they have. No 19 [top flight league wins] would go some way to softening the blow but the taste it has left will be bitter for a good while.” daviephi on rednews.co.uk

Manchester thanks Sheikh Mansour

While the United fans were licking their wounds the City fans were quick to pay tribute to two individuals in particular: their owner Sheikh Mansour, who they feel has more than shown his commitment to the club, and their often-maligned manager Mancini.

“Just can’t believe what has happened to us so quickly and cant thank Sheikh Mansour enough! I look at our squad now and if we get Champions League…it blows my mind! We will be legends for years to come but will never forget our history!” richards30 on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

While the optimism is clear to see some are just thankful for the memories the result provided, presumably none more so than Mancini who looks to have finally endeared himself to the fans.

“I know if we were to finish 5th and lose the final my attitude will change again but I have been saying that even if we finish top 4 I would still like [Mancini] to be removed of his duties…now I am not so sure. Whatever the future holds thank you Roberto for that moment yesterday, something I will remember for a long time!” OriganiNinja on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

A Manchester in transition

So in the longer term, what does the result mean for each team’s future prospects? In brief: a brighter outlook for City, a bleaker outlook for United.

“Fergie has a huge job to do to get us over the line for 19, (I do not think we have the ammunition to win the CL) and an even huger task to recruit/rebuild and shed dead wood this summer. It’s not going to be easy. If the berties [slang for City fans] qualify for the CL, this guy at the Arse puts his hand in his pocket and Dogleash [sic] starts spending we will need to do some very astute wheeling and dealing, starting NOW!” Everred on rednews.co.uk

The red fans have been aware of a transition taking place in the northwest and are wary of the challenge City will bring to their recent dominance. The fraught second Manchester derby last season was billed as such – as this author wrote ahead of that lunchtime contest at Eastlands.

That match was dramatically settled with a last gasp Paul Scholes header, which the United midfielder recently described as “one of the best things I have ever done”. Those memories are set in stark contrast with his actions in the teatime clash at Wembley where Scholes and his teammates cut forlorn figures desperately trying to cling onto a superiority that has been rapidly eroding over the past two seasons.

The Treble and the Auto Windscreens Shield

Despite the immediate implications of Saturday’s result and another reminder of the shift in momentum in Manchester, some fans offered a sense of nostalgic perspective.

“It’s hard to believe the position we are now in. I remember us getting beaten by Bury around 12 years ago and wondered if we would ever get back near to the top. We have and it is all down to one man…” kismet on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk [on post headed “Manchester thanks Sheikh Mansour”]

These memories hark back to the 1998-99 season, when City were battling in the old Third Division (and United were building to a famous treble), chronicled in Mark Hodkinson’s Blue Moon:

“Sensibly, staff at Maine Road seldom mention Manchester’s other team these days,” wrote Hodkinson. “United are success, money, glamour and a 1-1 draw with Juventus in the semi-final of the Champions League, while City are failure, debt, calamity and a 2-1 home defeat to Mansfield Town in the Auto Windscreens Shield.”

It is a testament to how far City have come to be competing, once again, for the most coveted prize of English cup football yet highlights one of the greatest strengths this United can boast under Ferguson – that of a remarkable consistency and staying power at the top.

City have won four FA Cups in their history. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24-year tenure at United he has held the trophy aloft on five occasions, with the club amassing 11 wins in the competition overall.

“While they cared on the day, and I’m sure it still hurts a bit, it would have pained us a hell of a lot more. Celebrating is great and we deserve it after beating them but it brings us back around to this small club mentality. We should enjoy this now, enjoy the small victories, because we’ll have them singing non stop when they win the Premiership at the end of the season and God help us if they get to the CL final and Barca have an off day.” Rahart on bluemoon-mcfc.co.uk

Stoke and silverware is just the start

For now, objectives such as to knock United “off their perch” will have to wait but in the short-term City have all the weapons in their armoury, with gifted players an astute management team and an ambitious oil-rich backer, to challenge their cross-town rivals.

“Even if they don’t win it they’ll bang on about it for ages like the Leeds lot still do. 1-0 blah blah blah. It’s horrible. We better get used to it because they’ll be there or thereabouts as long as they have the money and with SAF set to retire one day it will be tough.” Claymore on redcafe.net

The Citizens won’t be happy until parity is unequivocally confirmed in the League and in the Champions League but ending 35 years of hurt – something that puts Arsenal’s current woes in perspective – will go a long way to restoring the balance of Manchester.

Then of course, if United secure the Barclays Premiership, the blue and red armies will be locking horns again at the home of English football in the curtain-raiser to the 2011-12 season for the FA Community Shield.

Whether United fans like it or not, it appears City have joined the top table of English football and the Red Devils will have a fight on their hands to hold onto the silverware.

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Red devils decline, blue moon ascent. A Manchester in transition

16 04 2010

The most decisive Manchester derby since Dennis Law’s back-heel in 1974 will highlight where success and failure lies in a footballing city marked by a season of transition.

Forget the War of the Roses. Forget the north/south divide. Saturday’s clash between the red and blue armies of Manchester promises to be an epic, with meteoric implications for both clubs and both sets of supporters.

The Carling Cup contest was a classic cup tie with each side going for broke from the first kick. The early season 4-3 victory over City was special for its drama. The 2-1 humbling of United in 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich disaster will not be forgotten quickly.

But with unrest and uncertainty in the air for the reds, contrasting with the optimism and financial clout wielded by the blues, this Premier League derby could prove as decisive and divisive a match as there has been at Old Trafford since former red, Denis Law’s back-heeled goal for City relegated United to the old second division in 1974.

Both sets of supporters have had fun with the renewed rivalry in Manchester Victory for United in the powder-keg atmosphere of Eastlands would reinvigorate their flagging aspirations for a fourth consecutive championship. While defeat or success for City would have dramatic implications for their assault on the top four, the immediate future for their manager and offer a fitting barometer to gauge the potential of this revamped, resurgent City of Manchester club.

For both Lancashire outfits this season has been one etched with transition. United are just facing up to a potentially bleaker future of consolidation and austerity on the pitch and in the transfer market. City, by contrast, have been burgeoned by Sheikh Mansour’s billions generating a firm belief in this club that they can recapture the glory days gone by of the 1960s and 70s.

The prospects for this period of transition in Manchester will be clearer when the final whistle goes tomorrow lunchtime. In previous years United have been almost untouchable in the league, setting the standards of domestic football while City were establishing themselves in a relatively new stadium and trying to shrug off doubts over the legitimacy of their ownership by Thaksin Shinawatra.

Since Gary Neville held the Premier League trophy aloft in May the gap between the clubs seen in performances on the pitch and in the transfer market has narrowed considerably. Perhaps this fixture in the coming years could represent a title decider – the likes of which not seen since Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison led City to League Championship success in 1967/68, when United were beaten into second place – as the two clubs continue on this path toward a level playing field.

Uncertainty and unrest at United came with the emergence of the tremendous debt the club is facing Returning to the story of 1974, two years after Law’s goal against his former club, the blue side of Manchester was celebrating victory in the League Cup. It has been 34 years since that day and they have not picked up anymore silverware since – a fact the Old Trafford faithful propagate with increasing relish. The second-leg Carling Cup semi-final tie in January, regardless of what Ferguson would say about the importance of reaching finals, was ultimately about extending this barren spell, delaying Mancini’s men an outing at Wembley that their attacking displays this campaign have arguably deserved.

A befitting consolation for their passionate support would be a top four finish and an opportunity to represent what they believe to be the true team of Manchester on Europe’s centre stage – in the Champions League – confirming their ascent to club football’s elite that their billions of pounds would vindicate and their thousands of fans would demand.

Both times at Old Trafford a last-gasp goal has been the only thing maintaining United’s superiority this season. At the City of Manchester Stadium, the former United striker, Carlos Tevez was the difference for the Blues taking a 2-1 lead in the cup. It could well be, just like Dennis Law in ‘74, a former red devil that will have the final say on a season dominated by transition that will ultimately end in despair for one half of Manchester and celebration for the other.

Dennis Law’s back-heel that consigned his former club, United to relegation




England’s World Cup squad as Capello sees it – the goalkeepers

23 02 2010

Who should be in Capello’s squad based on his insistence of form?

England’s U-21 squad, announced on Monday by Stuart Pearce, had the revealing omission of goalkeeper Joe Hart. Conspicuous by his absence, the Birmingham City stopper is widely considered the form English goalie of this Premier League, and is likely to be tried out in the upcoming friendly against Egypt next Wednesday, but will the England boss be willing to hand the young man the number 1 jersey in South Africa?

Joe hart must gain invaluable experience in England's friendlies Along with the left midfield the goalkeeping selection has been like the fragile metatarsal in Rooney’s magical feet: always likely to crumble at that crucial moment. Remember David Seaman against Brazil in 2002. Remember Paul Robinson in Croatia and Robert Green in Wembley? Remember not qualifying for Euro 2008???

Forget the dire condition of England’s training camp in Rustenburg, the most pressing decision weighing on Fab’s studious mind right now is who to put between the sticks. Now, in an attempt to premeditate his chosen number 1, here are those statistics for our nation’s top-flight goalkeepers that the Italian vows by so religiously. We will see if the stats really do add up for our man Fabio, based on Premier League figures and Champions League and international appearances.

GOALKEEPERS

 

Games

Mins

CS

Saves

GC

Mins/GC

GC/game

CL 09/10

WQ 09/10

England CG

Hart

25

2250

8

101

28

80

1.12

0

0

0

Robinson

27

2430

9

86

43

57

1.59

0

0

16

Green

26

2322

7

90

40

58

1.54

0

4

4

Kirkland

23

1958

5

61

42

47

1.83

0

0

0

James

17

1514

3

43

29

52

1.71

0

6

16

Foster

8

720

3

18

8

90

1

2

1

1

CS clean sheets | GC goals conceded | CL Champions League appearances | WQ World Cup Qualifying caps | CG competitive games | First place | Second place

No. 1 – Joe Hart has made the most saves with 101 and with the second best goals conceded to games ratio (1.12) should statistically be first choice but is inexperienced with no competitive England games to date. It would need the conservative Capello to break with his traditions to select the nation’s top-flight in-form stopper.

No. 2 – Robert Green would make a dependable deputy. He has made the second most saves with 90 and played the second most games in World Cup qualification with four.

No. 3 – Paul Robinson, attempting to return from the international wilderness, is an experienced backup with the most clean sheets and games this season (nine in 27). He has jointly played the most competitive matches for the Three Lions, level with David James on 16.

David James has been reliable when called upon but his club form is not good enough James is statistically vulnerable, conceding a goal every 52 minutes and only appearing 17 times. Ben Foster has played too few games, with eight, to be considered but is clearly able, only conceding a goal a game and with recent Champions League experience. Chris Kirkland is not up to scratch with 1.83 goals conceded per game and a limited international pedigree.

So there you have it. Hart needs to start. He is brimming with confidence, performed commendably for the U-21 squad in their last European competition, saved a penalty, and even scored from the spot. David James, previously a shoe-in for Capello has dropped down the pecking order. Come May and June the situation may have changed but for Capello, the decision is likely to be one of deciding between experience and ability. He made the right choice with JT. Will he make the right choice with JH?

Next post: I’ll assess the outfield options.





The lesser of two evils: Liverpool or Man City to finish 4th?

12 02 2010

Which self-important, deluded, foreign-funded club would you least like to see take the final Champions League spot at the end of the season?

For the Manchester United supporter this is one of life’s great conundrums. Arch nemesis or arch rivals? Sworn enemy or noisy neighbours? For those who still believe in the beautiful game and the purities of football Manchester City will represent Beelzebub incarnate – driving ticket prices, agents’ wages and fan expectations through the roof. For those sick of the ‘four-trick pony’ that has been the Premier League, practically since its inception, the opportunity to break up the Big Four monopoly with the sacrificial lamb that is Liverpool FC would be a refreshing development.

Scousers...love em or hate em...hate themOn the one hand the Scousers need reminding that last season was an anomaly. A freak event. One comparable to the magnitude of Yellowstone erupting in the film 2012, spiraling the world into chaos and fear, until Rafa made his famous speech that reminded everyone their resurgence was merely a storm in a teacup.

However, the alternative is almost too unbearable to imagine, isn’t it? That City, with their trillions and uninterested investors could flourish while the Crystal Palace’s and Portsmouth’s flounder in their wake. With princes and big wigs in it to make a name of Abu Dhabi rather than rejuvenate a once proud club. Happy to bank roll inept suits such as Garry Cook and make examples of football heroes like ‘Sparky’ Mark Hughes.

Garry Cook = deplorable twat To allow Liverpool to remain in the top four after the shoddy campaign they’ve cobbled together would be criminal of the chasing pack. To allow City to break through into Europe’s esteemed premier competition would do a disservice to the traditions of the sport.

So, if you too enjoy stagnation and fear change, if you would reward those who value self-righteousness and can forgive Villa and Spurs for not making the grade then pick Liverpool for fourth. Alternatively, if you like change on the scale Obama was talking about following Bush’s reign of ineptitude and can accept the Fat Cats profiteering while your neighbour swallows forced redundancy then City with their blood money are for you.

For most the decision is between the lesser of two evils. Like Cameron or Brown. Swine Flu or Bird Flu. Jump or be pushed. I just hope there can be a third option: give us Nick Clegg, a common cold, throw us a parachute and have Martin O’Neill do us all a favour by leading Villa into the top four.