Writer: Johnny Baguette
Date:Monday April 6 2009
THE VITAL CITY ZEN
CITY PROGRESS OR FLATTER TO DECEIVE?
City are through to the UEFA Cup Quarter Finals but have the side truly progressed in the second half of this gruelling season? Appalling away performances suggest they haven't...
I'd say that the City fans 'No' Camp looks to be edging out the 'Yes' camp right now as we brace ourselves for a season defining fortnight.
On paper or on computer, City have successfully reached the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup and have just about stabilised a league position that was in danger of settling in the relegation zone thanks to home wins alone. Mark Hughes stated prior to the drudgery of the Arsenal performance that a seventh placed league finish remains his objective.
But...it has taken an unprecedented January outlay to bring us to this point.
Were it not for Shay Given's heroics at Aalborg, City would be out of the UEFA Cup by now and knee knacked Craig Bellamy's goals have helped to ensure we have kept a safe enough distance from the Premier League drop zone.
But the side have continued to put in poor performances on the road across both competitions save for the 1-1 draw at Liverpool and the 2-2 draw in Copenhagen. Both games that they could have and should have won had they continued to take the game to their opponents instead of retreating into containment tactics that this team simply cannot maintain.
Hughes promised us that his sides always put in strong second halves to seasons and we were led to believe that his City squad would be fitter and fighters. You can't help but beg to differ when you consider City's last two tired league performances against Sunderland post Aalborg and Arsenal post international break.
Once again, the squad is suffering a surfeit of injuries prior to this week's crunch Euro clash in Hamburg which was precisely the case in Schalke last November. Thigh, hamstring and calf strains re-occur with alarming regularity and very often it is admitted that the injuries were picked up in training. When you factor in new signing Nigel De Jong and Bellamy's history of injury concerns the treatment room at SportCity must be issuing 'wait to be served' tickets.
As many of us bemoaned before Christmas, we expected that Hughes, a notorious hard man in his playing days would bring a siege mentality to Eastlands but there hasn't been a whiff of it. That fact is backed up by the side's seeming inability or reluctance to get stuck in and chase the opposition around the park, particularly on the road. City's travelling faithful deserve to see tackles made and their side at least let the opposition know they are in a game.
Hughes even admitted after the Arsenal game that The Gooners were more athletic than The Blues.
To all intents and purposes, our season is at a crossroads now. Seven league games including some nasty away fixtures remain, and of course there is the small matter of Hamburg to overcome if we are to reach the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
The season has been unprecedented for modern day City sides in it's length and intensity and at the same time has been an extraordinary rollercoaster ride where one week we experience a feel good factor which is promptly replaced by concern and disappointment the following week.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, who alongside Stephen Ireland has been easily City's most committed player this season and who recently told Vital MC that he saw this season very much as a work in progress reckons that Hughes and his backroom staff will ensure City kick on next season once they have had a year with the squad.
But back to the present and the fact is that for City to reach the final of the UEFA Cup and/ or finish in seventh place in the Premier League, then the side will have to find levels of fitness, commitment and consistency that have so far eluded them throughout the season.
Inside four weeks we will either be buzzing or crestfallen. Based on our experiences this long season, there'll be no middle ground having been through so much.
We need Mark Hughes to be a success at City and for our club to find managerial stability now we have remained in the top flight for seven years and have top drawer owner's at the controls.
Regardless of upcoming results I for one will be prepared to forgive a fair number of grievances this season if the City 'project' starts to show some real fight and endeavour in the coming weeks and the promised improvement becomes reality with some back to back wins.
But hand on heart, based on what has gone before, right now I can't see it happening as the frustration of watching the side swing from positivity to confused caution threatens to continue.
Of course, this wouldn't be Manchester City if our side didn't deliver the unexpected, but for me our league and cup positions flatter to deceive.
Prove me wrong, City!
- Agree or disagree? Give us your thoughts both here and in the Vital MC Forum.
WHAT'S IN A WORD? THIS WEEK'S QUOTES
'We just lacked a bit of physical presence to dictate to the opposition. They are a big athletic side who are able to get around the pitch. As the game wore on, we found it more and more difficult in that respect...I just sensed that we lacked a little bit of presence on the field to enable us to ask a good Arsenal side enough questions from 1-0 down.'
- Mark Hughes reflects upon another lacklustre City showing in London.
'He's played games in the Premier League now and acquitted himself really well, so he can play at a high level. His international career will supplement his career here and help his development as well...Obviously it's better if he's in a winning team - it can be a bit soul-destroying if you are in a group of young players not getting positive results. But looking at the crop coming through, hopefully things will change.'
- Hughesy goes on to suggest that Chedwyn Evans could be the answer to Wales' attacking shortcomings. Not sure about that one at all, MH.
'Strikers like Jo need time and confidence. If you look at players from South America, they are slow starters when they come here. Carlos Tevez did not begin well when he first came to England and nor did Javier Mascherano. But I can understand why Manchester City loaned him out because in January they had a surfeit of strikers and we had none.'
- Shrewd cookie David Moyes, benefitting from his careful handling of a previously pisspoor Jo hints again that his Everton loan move might become a permanent one.
'I know about rumours linking me with different teams but I am not pre-occupied by them. My head only has time for City and I want to be the star of this club. I am totally convinced City can win the UEFA Cup. A title in my first season in England will be magnificent. City are preparing an enormous project for next season and I am totally focused on this adventure. We could really be big in the table in a few months.'
- For all the knocking and speculation that surrounds him, Robinho has never once talked the club down in interviews and maintained his stance before the Arsenal game that he is in it for the long haul.
'I definitely think it's only a matter of time before City are really challenging for things. We need more consistency but once we get that, we will put a lot of teams on the back foot and under the cosh. We are on a great run in the UEFA Cup and next year — when all the team is bedded in more — we'll definitely kick on. There have been a lot of new faces but once everyone's settled in I think we'll be fine when we get that consistency, especially away from home. I believe that, with the players who may come in the summer as well, we have a great chance to battle for everything next year.'
- Shaun Wright-Phillips is only looking in one direction and that's forward with positivity.
WE WEREN'T REALLY THERE? THE FINAL SCORE THIS WEEK 10 YEARS AGO
Football League Division One
Maine Road, 10th April 1999
CITY 4 (2) - 0 (0) Lincoln
Scorers: Dickov, 34, 45, 48 Horlock 63
City: Weaver, Crooks, Tiatto, Vaughan, Morrison, Horlock, Brown, Bishop (Whitley,82 ), Dickov (Robins, 72), Goater (Gareth Taylor,65), Cooke
Attendance: 26, 298
@ The Hamburg Arena
UEFA Cup Quarter Final First Leg
Thursday 9th April 2009 @ 19:45 GMT+1 BST
The Citizens Last 6 UEFA Cup games: DLDWWL
Hamburg Last 6 UEFA Cup games: WWWWDW
www.hsv.de/index.php?id=9431 (Official site in English)
http://www.hsv-sc.de/typo3/ (Supporters Club)
Vital MC is in the process of arranging a UEFA Magnificent Seven Fans Q&A with Hamburg's Supporters Club before the game.
Johnny On The Spot?
When you put City and Hamburg's UEFA Cup form and results head to head, on paper this will be no contest with Hamburg going through to the semi finals with relative ease. They've cruised past some teams and pulled off a potentially campaign defining win by coming back from the dead in the Galatasaray cauldron to reach the quarter finals. They also have a tremendous team spirit and work ethic which was underlined in the way their 10 man side celebrated after their 1-0 win over Hoffenheim at the weekend.
City meanwhile have stuttered along in Europe somewhat, doing just enough to progress. But City have defied the odds in Germany already this season. Mark Hughes took all the available 18 fit senior players he had at his disposal to Schalke in November and the team put in one of the performances of the season.
I'm ambitiously, perhaps insanely banking on that same European spirit to see us through as long as the muscle strains and tear injuries that Hughes' City squad pick up with regularity are overcome in the main. It won't be at all easy, but some of City's results in this competition are classic examples of a team's name being on the cup.
Hamburg 0 CITY 2
NEXT OPPONENTS BUT ONE:
@ The City of Manchester Stadium
FA Premier League
Sunday 12th April 2009 @ 16:10 GMT+1 BST
The Citizens Last 6 PL games: DLWLWL
Fulham Last 6 PL games: DLLLWL
Vital MC aims to bring you our Magnificent Seven Fans Q&A with Vital Fulham before the game.
Johnny On The Spot?
Fulham, to their credit have done their very best to upset The Big Four's respective apple carts this year but their otherwise Cityesque erratic form sees them stumbling along with us in this season's mid table UEFA chasing/ relegation avoiding lottery. Roy Hodgson is a shrewd operator and as we saw at Eastlands last April and at Craven Cottage in December has instilled something of a never say die attitude into his side.
That said, City are imperious at home and when turgid away form and tough remaining fixtures are taken into account, need to win this game to have any chance of UEFA qualification via the league.
Thursday's events in Hamburg will almost certainly have an impact. This City team tend to tire worryingly in games post UEFA flights. But we should have enough in the tank to keep the faint seventh place flame flickering.
CITY 2 Fulham 1
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Date:Monday April 6 2009
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