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Wigan vs Manchester City: Preview

Monday 8pm, DW Stadium

Wigan 8.00 Draw 4.20 Manchester City 1.44

All odds courtesy of Paddy Power – sign-up for your £20 welcome bonus.

Awkward little fixture for City this – despite Wigan’s deficiencies, it’s not the most appetising venue for a must-win game.

Doubts exist over David Silva(f/g) and Mario Balotelli(f/g) for Roberto Mancini, and the Toure brothers are away with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Wigan welcome back Albert Crusat(f/g), but Mohamed Diame is also on international duty with Senegal.

Wigan are a team that needs momentum, a side that can grind through the gears and cause you problems if you let them. Roberto Martinez has seen his side hit the bottom of the league since Blackburn’s resurgence, and will ensure that his players appreciate the urgency for points.

City have not looked themselves for a while now. The stuttering performance against Liverpool, the refereeing travesty that was the derby game, and the stalemate at the Hawthorns have added up to the first semblance of doubt over their title credentials. Sunday’s encounter with Tottenham may promise bigger headlines, but victory tonight is just as important.

There’s not a lot of subtlety in the way the home side defends, and that promises much for a visiting attack stuffed with guile and creativity. If David Silva’s fit, expect him to enjoy himself – Wigan really aren’t equipped to handle that kind of player. Up front as well, I’m not sure that Franco Di Santo and Hugo Rodallega are capable of exposing the weakness felt by Vincent Kompany’s absence. All signs point to an away win, indifferent form or not.

If this is to be competitive, Wigan have to be forceful in midfield. City undeniably lose something when Yaya Toure isn’t playing, and it’s up to James McCarthy and probably Hendry Thomas to clog-up what will be an unfamiliar Barry/De Jong/Silva axis. Victor Moses has begun to show signs of why he was so coveted when at Crystal Palace, and his form this season has a lot to do with Wigan having as many points as they do – can he make an impact here though? Doubtful.

8/1 on Wigan? Only if you’ve got money to burn – City to win 3-0.

Enjoying Manchester City’s treatment of Carlos Tevez

Manchester City in their affluent form can sometimes be slightly unpalatable; such is the nature of envy. However, I think it’s time for a sincere and hearty round of applause for the way in which the club have handled Carlos Tevez.

Ironically, the commodity that City possess that has turned us all green-eyed is the very same one that has enabled them to strike a blow against player-power. Minor and subsequently insignificant as it will soon be, I’ve still enjoyed it.

As has been obvious for some time now, the players rule the game. Don’t like your club – sulk and get a new one. Don’t like your contract – tell the press about it. Don’t feel like playing – don’t bother. Don’t like your wife/girlfriend – physically assault her.

Carlos Tevez is guilty of the majority of the last paragraph, and it’s warmed my heart to see City flex their financial muscle to spite him. It would have been all to easy for Sheikh Mansour to write the net loss off on Tevez, and allow to move to the first club willing and naive enough to take him – and it would have been forgivable, the Argentine is the proverbial dressing-room cancer after all.

“Absolutely not Carlos, you can train with the u10s until someone matches our valuation of you – and if they don’t, well that’s really more your problem than ours isn’t it?”

I’ve loved every second of it – because there’s nothing that Tevez or Kia Joorabchian has been able to do to force City’s hand.

“Oh he’s on enormous wages is he? So be it, we can afford to just keep paying them”

Ultimately, as we all know, as and when the ugliest man in all of South America does move to another club, it will all begin again – and buona fortuna to our Italian friends with that.

Still, small victories…

Concerns should exist over Mark Hughes having a big budget at QPR

When anybody in football talks about ‘ambition’, I think we all know by now that they’re really talking about ‘money’. So when Mark Hughes left Fulham citing a lack of ambition on the banks of the Thames, he was really referring to the lack of transfer funds made available to him.

It’s not hard to see why the Welshman has been enticed to Loftus Road then, with all the bank notes spilling out of Tony Fernandes’ pockets.

The problem is though, that Hughes’ track record with money isn’t particularly good. Some managers operate best in frugal conditions, and conversely seem to get over-excited when they have too much cash at their disposal.

That’s Hughes in a nutshell, and Tony Fernandes would be well-advised to not to loosen the purse strings too much at QPR. Realistically, I’m sure Hughes has already been given a guarantee over the funds that will be available, but still.

If you look back at his managerial career, two things become obvious; he has an outstanding eye for a bargain, but he overpays for players if given a chance. I know that’s a contradiction, but look at his track record at Blackburn (modest finances) versus his spending at Manchester City (blank cheque)

Chris Samba – £400,000
Ryan Nelsen – Free
David Bentley – Sub-£1m
Roque Santa Cruz – £3.5m
Benni McCarthy – £2m

Clearly, all five of those deals represented outstanding value – remember also that Blackburn raked in £35m for the combined sales of Bentley and Santa Cruz. Ironically of course, the latter was bought by Hughes at Manchester City for a vastly-inflated £18M – in addition to, amongst others:

Carlos Tevez – £32m
Jo – £18m
Wayne Bridge – £10m
Tal Ben-Haim – £5m
Joleon Lescott – £22m
Kolo Toure – £16m
Emmanuel Adebayor – £25m
Robinho – £32m
Craig Bellamy – £14m

It’s not exactly a glowing reference.

In no way do I think that he’s a bad manager, more that he hasn’t really earned the right to be trusted with a big budget – given that the one time he did have access to one, he essentially failed.

If Fernandes is strong with him in West London then I’m sure it will all go well, he just needs to be sure not to leave the cheque book lying around for too long.

Man City’s Kompany has appeal rejected by ever more vague FA

So Vincent Kompany is going to serve a four-game ban for his red card on Sunday, as the FA have declined Manchester City’s appeal. From The FA’s website:

An Independent Regulatory Commission has today dismissed a claim of wrongful dismissal from Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany following his red card for Serious Foul Play in The FA Cup Third Round tie between Manchester City v Manchester United on 8 January 2012.

Kompany will serve a four-match suspension with immediate effect. The suspension consists of a statutory three-match suspension for Serious Foul Play plus one additional game given this is Kompany’s second dismissal of the season.

Is that it? Few things are as frustrating as the FA’s disciplinary procedures.

It’s quite staggering that, given how the game has advanced and the amount of interest in it, the FA don’t see a need for greater transparency here. I happen to think that Kompany’s challenge wasn’t worthy of dismissal, but regardless, I’d be interested to know how the Independent Regulatory Commission arrived at this decision.

What was it? Was it the two-footed nature of the challenge? The overly-aggressive nature of the tackle? Sport never benefits from ‘grey areas’, so why are the FA so reluctant to clarify their position here. Currently, the Premier League’s disciplinary system is very much in the mould of a ‘because we said so’ style of playground officiating.

Why not add in some details here from the referee, because not only would the FA be justifying their decision, but they’d also be setting a precedent for what can and cannot be appealed in the future.

Is it too cynical to suggest that their reason for not doing this is because it doesn’t really fit in with their ethos of ‘making it up as they go along’?

While we’re at it, is there any comment coming out of Wembley about the standard of Chris Foy’s performance on Sunday. Whether you’re a Manchester United or City fan, or whether you were just a neutral at the weekend, I think everybody is unanimous in their agreement that the referee’s contribution was unacceptable.

But yet another aspect of the game that’s veiled from the supporters – is it any wonder that there’s some much aggravation about how the game is governed. It’s a very amateur approach.

Chris Foy adds Manchester City to his list of wronged teams

The biggest criticism you can make of a referee, is that he overshadows games that he officiates. Chris Foy, through that phenomenon, is becoming the poster-child for the introduction of video technology.

Two red cards in the QPR against Chelsea game, a clusterfuck of ineptitude through Stoke/Tottenham, and today’s series of poor decisions at Etihad Stadium. In all of those fixtures, the points were decided by the referee rather than the players. Yet again in a match overseen by Foy, we’re talking more about him than we are the football.

It’s not the pace of the game that’s rendering officials in this country so inept, nor is it a lack of understanding of the rules; instead, it’s a lack of common sense in our referees combined with there being too much scope for objectivity in the rules.

Vincent Kompany’s tackle of Nani wasn’t the product of malice, because frankly he’s not that stupid. A Premier League defender and a captain of a club doesn’t make a ‘reckless’ tackle inside the first half-an-hour of a cup tie against his side’s most bitter rival. Now, he may very well mistime a tackle, but that’s a yellow card – unless he’s using ‘unnecessary aggression’ or denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, he should be staying on the pitch.

It’s almost too easy to criticise Chris Foy, so what really needs to happen is a clarification of the rules around tackling. If guidelines are being set, yet a group of referees in the same country still show dramatic variations in their interpretations of those guidelines, then it’s probably time for a rethink.

Spare a thought for the players – one game’s fair tackle is another’s straight red card. When pundits and fans talk about consistency, this is what they mean. Given how low the footballing IQs of our referees seem to be, surely it’s time to take the interpretation element out of the rules that govern contact between players.

At least clarify the situation, because all of a sudden a fundamental part of the game seems to have been clouded into a grey area – and it’s ruining games.

On a side note, I thought the way in which Vincent Kompany reacted to his red card was outstanding – a captain’s example. Other City players may have bawled and screamed over the decision, but the Belgian just accepted it – regardless of its controversy. That’s quite rare in football now.

Manchester City vs Liverpool: Preview

Tuesday 8pm, Etihad Stadium

Manchester City 1.83 Draw 3.50 Liverpool 4.50

No new injury concerns for either side, as Mario Balotelli returns to the City squad, and Steven Gerrard(f/g) and Luis Suarez(f/g) will both likely start for Liverpool.

As angry as Roberto Mancini was about the Sunderland result, those are just ‘things that happen’ in football sometimes – on another day, City have that game won within an hour. It shouldn’t be a factor coming into this fixture.

Liverpool have never really got going this season, good results seem invariably to be followed by underwhelming performances. The win against Newcastle was about as good as they’ve been at Anfield at home this term, but to build any momentum off the back of it would require their best away performance of the season so far.

Luis Suarez returning is an obvious boost, but Liverpool are still being short-changed by several of their other starters. Stewart Downing has been average so far, Jordan Henderson largely anonymous, and Charlie Adam hasn’t had the kind of influence on games that he was bought to provide. Depending on which of those players start, more is needed. Hopefully Craig Bellamy(f/g) will be given a chance on the big stage again, his pace, movement and energy will go along way to unsettling the City backline.

Expect City to revert to type. David Silva(f/g) will come back into the starting line-up, as well Sergio Aguero(f/g), Micah Richards and Gael Clichy. Yaya Toure will be key here, because he potentially gives City the midfield weight to strangle Liverpool’s presence in the game. If Jay Spearing starts for the visitors, that would be a concern for Liverpool – he’s a capable player, but one that doesn’t really belong in this type of fixture. It’s possible that Steven Gerrard might be preferred in that role to nullify the Silva threat, because the little Spaniard would surely be favoured in any Spearing match-up.

City win this 2-0.

Best bet: Liverpool not to score at 2.50

Player to watch: Manchester City’s John Guidetti

Maybe not a name that most will know, but that will probably change within the next eighteen months.

John Guidetti is the nineteen-year-old Manchester City forward currently on-loan at Feyenoord in the Eredivisie, and his eleven goals in twelve appearances this season should tell you he’s pretty useful.

If you were to create a mould for modern forwards, then it would be in the image of the young Swede. Physical, strong on the ball, composure, and confidence. An eye for a goal, and the nose for a final ball – regardless of the length of the queue at Eastlands, you’d bet on him becoming more prominent in the near future.

Manchester City to beat Liverpool? 1.83 with Paddy Power – claim your £20 welcome bonus today.

Injustices against Manchester City are just as important

This annoys me a bit. Yes, Sunderland’s late-winner created a spectacle out of a fairly ordinary game, but Ji Dong-Won was offside.

If that decision had gone in Manchester City’s favour, and Sergio Aguero had skipped round Simon Mignolet in the dying seconds, the football phone-ins and online punditry would be dominated by talk of injustice rather than drama.

It seems that when decisions go against the bigger teams, our appetite for schadenfreude removes the focus away from the officials. It plays into the hands of all the conspiracy theorists out there who perceive an entrenched bias in the way the game is refereed.

“Yeah, well they have all the money and all the luck, so it’s about time that they got done by a ref.”

Right, fine – but remember, this is just another example of a game being decided by a referee. Yet another example of a critical error that, contrary to the maxim, will not ‘balance itself out over the course of the season’.

It’s just another example of the tribalism that governs opinions about the game now, which although understandable, in this case just diverts attention from the growing trend for substandard officiating in the league.

Manchester City’s Wayne Bridge fires back at Roberto Mancini

Prepare to have absolutely no sympathy here…

I can’t stand it when players do this, when they revert back to teenage levels of sensitivity. You’ll remember Roberto Mancini’s comments about part-time footballer Wayne Bridge a few days ago, where he pretty much accused him of staying at the club purely for financial reasons. Well Wayne didn’t seem to like that much, and has come out swinging at his manager:

“When I was at Chelsea I was playing for a team where Ashley Cole was the best in the world and I still got games.

It won’t happen at City. There has never been an explanation, but it’s obvious they don’t want me.

Mancini doesn’t really speak to me, he doesn’t really speak to any of the players. The only time I’ve known a player isolated like this was Winston Bogarde at Chelsea. Usually you still train with the first team, even when they want you out.

I’ve never caused trouble, I’m not that kind of character.

There will be days when I’m frustrated – not depressed, but down. Training helps take my mind off the fact that I don’t play.

If I kicked up a fuss I might have got out easier.”

Yeah Wayne, you’re a real hero for not ‘causing trouble’. There ‘are days when’ you’re ‘frustrated’ are there? Poor you, it’s so very difficult when you’re stuck at a club that doesn’t want you and you just have to sit there and collect your money.

Regarding the lack of an ‘explanation’ – grow up. If Bridge is not playing, the chances are that it’s because Roberto Mancini thinks that he’s not capable of performing at the level that the rest of his team is. Which, incidentally, isn’t unreasonable given the abomination of a loan spell he phoned-in at West Ham last season.

Maybe Wayne Bridge’s quest for first-team football would be helped by reconsidering what he’s worth on a week-to-week basis? Just a thought…

Predictable ‘Man City interest in Arsenal’s Van Persie’ rumours start to surface

Who didn’t see this coming? It’s a new rule in British football; any player performing well over a sustained period of time must automatically be subject to interest from Manchester City.

It’s of little surprise then that The Sun have breathlessly splashed some nonsense about Robin Van Persie being the subject of £30m bid from the Champions-elect in the Summer.

Naturally, there’s no quotes, evidence, or anything else that gives this any credibility – it’s just 300 words of suggestive prose. Still, the dirty little tabloid can’t resist slapping an ‘EXCLUSIVE’ tag all over it.

“City are comfortable that Van Persie will not sign a new contract at the Emirates and follow Gunners Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy to the Etihad.”

I think they probably mean that City are ‘confident’ there – easy mistake to make though. Regardless, it’s all bollocks – it was written by Neil Custis, which almost guarantees that it’s completely without foundation. Could you not have even made-up some quotes from ‘an insider’ Neil, or at least a ‘source close to Robin Van Persie’. If you’re going to print lies, at least put some effort into it.

On a slightly more humourous note, have a look at the caption under the photograph of Van Persie. Aside from the obligatory play-on-words that has to, by contract, appear in every article written by all journalists employed at the paper, we also get the deeply insightful:

“RVP could get big wage rise if he joins City”

Oh really, now I’m sold – you’ve convinced me. I’ll bet the Dutchman is already looking at property in Cheshire.

Arsenal to beat Manchester City? 5/1 with Paddy Power.