Friday, September 28, 2007

Exceeding expectations

(Match preview written for Man City blog Bitter And Blue)

The appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson and the flurry of quality signings shortly before the season kicked off had me confidently predicting that Man City would be one of our main rivals for the UEFA Cup positions, but even I’ve been surprised by how quickly the new arrivals have gelled into a side which is proving solid at the back and fluent and very easy on the eye in attack.

With Vedran Corluka a commanding presence in defence, Martin Petrov so trigger-happy he’s bound to score a hatful, Elano a majestic playmaker and Geovanni coming off the bench to score vital goals, it’s fair to say that The Side That Thaksin’s Filthy Lucre Built is shaping up very nicely indeed, as far as the blue half of Manchester is concerned at least.

But that would be to downplay undeservedly the contribution of players who were already at the club when the new owner and manager strode into town. Micah Richards is fast emerging as the most promising young English player around; our old boy Dietmar Hamann appears to have had a new lease of life, selflessly anchoring the midfield to the benefit of Elano and co; and Michael Johnson is holding his own in an expensively assembled side packed with creative forward-thinking talent.

All of which means it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Joey Barton was rueing his decision to jump ship before the revolution swept through the club. Barton is yet to make his competitive debut for us and, though he’s nearing full fitness, Saturday’s game is likely to come too soon. When he does finally make his first appearance, he’ll probably be paired with Geremi, who’s been a quiet revelation at the heart of our midfield since arriving from Chelsea.

We too had a very busy summer – a takeover out of the blue (Mike Ashley’s arrival precipitating the long-overdue departure of Fat Fred, the man who over the years has probably done the most to make us a national laughing stock) and a raft of new signings. My attitude to Sam Allardyce remains frosty at best, but at least he’s not only recognised our defensive frailties – as if that’s the hard part – but actually taken decisive action to redress them. Best of the new faces at the back has been Czech international David Rozehnal, like Geremi a reliable and committed team player of the sort we’ve had too few of in recent years.

Up front, we’ve continued to suffer from Michael Owen’s chronic injury problems – lethal for England, largely sluggish for us on the rare occasions he’s made it off the treatment table and onto the pitch – but at least Mark Viduka showed against West Ham last weekend that, in the mood, he’s significantly more than just a square-jawed pie-munching former Smog. After an explosive start to the season at the Reebok, Obafemi Martins has been the odd man out in recent weeks, the chances spurned against Arsenal and the Hammers when he did see some action suggesting a player lacking in confidence. Owen’s absence has presented him with an opportunity to rediscover some form, and that he does so is imperative if we’re going to get anything from our visit to Eastlands.

Whichever way we look at it, it’s a tough proposition – one we may or may not be up to. I’d say we couldn’t possibly be as bad as we were in our last Premier League away match, at Pride Park, but with Newcastle – as, I imagine, with City – you soon learn never say never.


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