Wednesday, 30 September 2015 & Football Pundette Presents...


Five games into the new Premier League season and Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City had made a flawless start. Top of the table with five straight wins and five clean sheets, his team were the team to beat, playing slick and sexy football. With their nearest rivals looking unconvincing, City were threatening to run away with it.

But my how the tables have turned. Along came the Champions League and Juventus: the Italians came from a goal behind to beat City 2-1 at the Etihad, with the Blues missing a hatful of chances to increase their lead and switching off at the back, conceding twice to give the visitors a crucial win. 

Next to the Etihad came Slaven Bilic and his rejuvenated, revitalised West Ham. They tore accumulators- and City- apart in a devastating first half that put pay to the home side’s clean sheet record. Kevin De Bruyne pulled one back, but again defensive errors and a second half dominated by missed chances meant it was the same old story for City- and their first League defeat of the season.

Attention then turned to the Capital One Cup and a trip to the Stadium of Light. Adorned in their new ‘Slimer from Ghostbusters meets an all night rave’ kit, it looked like the Chilean’s side had bounced back in unforgivable style, brushing aside a woeful Sunderland 4-1. At the heart of the annihilation was De Bruyne, scoring one and assisting in an inspired performance to boost confidence ahead of a tricky trip to White Hart Lane in the League.

From Wearside to East London and Spurs: City needed the win to put an end to their recent ‘blip’ and Spurs were yet to really click, with last season’s poster boy Harry Kane yet to score. It was the away side who took the lead; who else but De Bruyne to hand the advantage to City. The Blues’ joy was short-lived: goals from Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and that man Kane left the League leaders devastated.

A 4-1 loss was colossal: it was a cataclysmic second half, with yet another calamity at the back and a lack of accuracy with chances created costing the club dearly. For while City’s form has capitulated, United’s has flourished, with their 3-0 win against Sunderland seeing them replace their neighbours at the top of the League.

Where has it all gone wrong? In the space of a fortnight, City have gone from looking impenetrable to inconsolable and the inquisition into why begins right here.

1)      A fractured spine

Consistency is the key to retaining form and keeping momentum going. It’s difficult to maintain that consistency when injuries are sustained. It’s unrealistic to conceive going through a season and injuries not occurring, but you’ve got to rely on the quality in your squad and their ability to cope when such incidents happen.

Captain Vincent Kompany, who looked like a man possessed in the earlier games, was replaced by new signing Nicolas Otamendi during the Juventus game. There’s no denying his ability, but an error on his debut for the Italian’s second goal has been followed by a shaky start for the former Valencia man. Kompany was looking solid with a fine return to form: without the Belgian, City not only lack quality in defence, but the only real leader in the squad. No leader = no organisation or direction.

David Silva has been a big miss too. He’s been out with an ankle injury: although De Bruyne has come in and hit the ground running following his move from Wolfsburg with three goals in consecutive games, Silva is a player who’s both invaluable and irreplaceable. He pulls the strings in midfield: when he plays, almost every move goes through him. Raheem Sterling’s form has also dropped and it’s no coincidence that’s happened just as the 19 year old had forged a creative understanding with Spaniard Silva. Goalkeeper Joe Hart missed the Spurs defeat as a precaution, recovering from a back injury. His deputy, Argentine Willy Caballero, was widely criticised for a catalogue of errors and bad decision-making that led to conceding the four goals.

It’s that spine of Hart, Kompany, Silva and Sergio Aguero (who we’ll discuss later) that has proved to be pivotal to City’s success. Recent results have made it even more apparent the worth of those players who feature so prominently through the core of their team.

2)      An inconsistent defence

Of course, this is impossible when injuries occur. But, with Kompany sustaining a calf strain and Eliaqium Mangala out with a muscular injury, the players that have come in just haven’t been able to cope. Together, Kompany and Mangala had formed a solid partnership in the heart of defence. Otamendi and Martin Demichelis have come in, but the disruption has brought confusion- you only had to watch the opening 30 minutes against West Ham for evidence of this. A performance strewn with schoolboy errors, with a squad like City’s you would expect players brought in to be able to cope. Instead, the club’s defence has shown shades of last season- a travesty after such a formidable start.

Bacary Sagna has been sublime and a class above his performances last season. But Aleksandar Kolarov, who started the campaign in such a rich vein of form, has been poor of late. Demichelis can be reliable but lacks pace and Otamendi is new to the League. It’s been a baptism of fire for the 27 year old and the introduction of the Argentines to the back four has disrupted the status quo- and destroyed City’s spotless defensive record. With Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta suffering injuries too, a leaky and unorganised defence cost Pellegrini last season: he’ll be hoping lightning doesn’t strike twice this time round. The first five games proved how vital consistency in defence can be to achieving results.

3)      Sergio Aguero missing in action

Normally Aguero needs no introduction. The explosive Argentine is normally dynamite and normally scores goals for fun. Noticed the word normally used a lot there? That’s because this season he has scored one goal. Yes. One goal. The goal against Chelsea is the only time Aguero has scored so far this season in the League.

Considering City sold Stevan Jovetic to Inter Milan and have loaned Edin Dzeko to Roma, this is a bit of a problem. Add to that injuries to Wilfried Bony and exciting youngster Kelechi Iheanacho and City’s shortcomings upfront become alarmingly apparent.

A lot of fans point to the injury that Aguero sustained after a challenge by Scott Dann during the Crystal Palace game, but aside from the Chelsea game, last season’s Golden Boot winter has looked remarkably out of sorts. Of course the injury has affected his sharpness, but City rely on him so heavily to score their goals, sometimes without a plan B they are brutally exposed.

Fortunately, the midfield is littered with talent more than capable of finding the net, as proven during those first five games. But they now seem like a distant memory. To challenge for the title City need Sergio to be on song, firing them to the top spot like Anthony Martial has done for United. The world knows what he is capable of. We’ve all watched in bewildered awe. He is a proven goal scorer, an unequivocal talent. But the wasteful Aguero we have seen in front of goal of late needs to start converting his chances before City’s blip turns into a real problem.

4)      Inability to kill off a game

This one is the most frustrating for fans of any team who suffer the same failure. The inability to kill off a game: to defend a lead, to shut up shop or to convert chances. It’s something City have struggled with, as demonstrated in all three recent defeats and for the majority of last season. For all that talent, those big name players and supposed strength in depth, they still lack the ruthlessness and the cutting edge required to take a game by the scruff of the neck and grind out a result.

This wasn’t necessarily so during those first five games, but of late it’s been City’s major flaw. Those chances against Juventus- and they had plenty- would’ve given them daylight and almost certainly guaranteed a first game win in the Champions League. Instead, they couldn’t defend a one goal lead and collapsed defensively, gifting the Italians the win. Although West Ham went 2-0 up, once De Bruyne had pulled a goal back just before half time the stage was set for a comeback. City had 27 shots at goal during the second half with 72% possession: kudos must go to the Hammer’s defending but a team at the top of the Premier League should be finding the net with at least half of those chances. To put it bluntly, it’s just not good enough.

It was déjà vu at White Hart Lane. Another lead thrown away, more errors, more inaccuracy. Spectators will point to the questionable offside decisions throughout, with the goals from De Bruyne, Dier (Kyle Walker was off) and Kane all being called into question. Caballero has been made the scapegoat, understandably so with the mistakes he made, but the players need to stand up and be counted. The second half was a disaster all over the pitch for City, a throw back to last season where Chelsea romped away with the League. A team striving to be Champions need a killer instinct, a fear factor to instil into the opposition. Sometimes Pellegrini’s side are too nice, too wasteful in possession and to slow to react when a reaction is needed. It’s not their style to park the bus, but in the title race you’ve got to be able to defend when taking the lead. You’ve got to be able to find the back of the net. All flair and no focus invites mistakes when concentration slips- and that’s been an all too familiar occurrence of late.

5)      Does the strength in depth really exist?

Most people thought that City had one of the best transfer windows. They spent big- after last season they had to- and boosted their English quota too, with Fabian Delph, Sterling and Patrick Roberts all coming to the Etihad. Along with proven defender Otamendi and Bundesliga star midfielder De Bruyne, it was looking ominous for their title rivals, notably Arsenal and Chelsea who had failed to secure any real game changers throughout the Summer window.

It’s when the injuries happen that you see the squad for what it really is. The injury list has been substantial of late: Kompany, Silva, Aguero, Hart, Yaya Toure, Mangala, Clichy, Zabaleta, Delph, Iheanacho and Bony have all been seeing the club doctor. With the exceptions of Clichy, Zabaleta and Delph, all the other injuries have been incurred in conjunction to City’s recent demise. It’s been a test of character and the quality of players who have come in- and the Blues have been caught lacking.

Take the Spurs game for example: on the bench City had at their disposal Joe Hart (albeit recovering from a back injury), Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, Patrick Roberts, George Evans, Zabaleta and Brandon Barker. Three of those are youth players. There is always a case for utilising youngsters, but only when the occasion sees fit. Pellegrini brought on Navas and Nasri during the second half, but decided to introduce Roberts with just four minutes left of the game when City were already 4-1 down. Nothing to lose, some might say. But not necessarily the options needed for the Chilean to change it when a change was so desperately needed.

When the going gets tough it’s time for the players to show their worth. Navas has been scrutinised since he signed from Sevilla, but his performances remain inconsistent. He has the pace; it’s just the end product and quality of his final cross that leaves a lot to be desired. The accuracy isn’t there enough at the level that City operate. Nasri is another that divides opinion: he is capable of match-winning moments, but performs when he wants to.

Caballero isn’t good enough for a substitute goal-keeper- think Chelsea and Asmir Begovic. The defensive shambles has been much documented. Is Bony good enough given the chances he wasted during the Juventus game? Players should be able to come in and perform: after all, it’s their chance to shine and stake their place in the starting line up while others are out. But it just hasn’t happened for City - and it’s flagged up question marks for the rest of the season: particularly when certain players are regulars to the physio room. & Football Pundette Presents...


It was a week to forget for Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City. Unbeaten after five Premier League wins, it was same old City in the Champions League, when Juventus came from a goal behind to win 2-1. After taking the lead through a towering header by Vincent Kompany, who was only too happy to use Giorgio Chiellini as a climbing frame, the captain went off injured and City capitulated, with errors from defenders Eliaqium Mangala and substitute Nicolas Otamendi leading to both goals.

Most people would’ve punted for the home win on their accumulators when West Ham visited the Etihad given City’s League form- how wrong they were. Early goals from Victor Moses and Sakho left the home fans stunned. City, with Kompany and the mercurial David Silva (injured in the warm up), showed shades of what went wrong for them last season. A defensive shambles, lack of organisation, leadership and a certain Spaniard pulling the strings in midfield, it was down to record signing Kevin De Bruyne to impress, pulling a goal back just before half time.

After the break City huffed and puffed but they couldn’t blow the Hammers’ house down for love nor money. Registering 27 shots, West Ham goalkeeper Adrian pulled off a string of mesmeric saves to deny the home side the equaliser they so desperately searched for. It was an accomplished away win from Slaven Bilic’s side, whose smash and grab tactics early on left City stunned with a mountain to climb.

City remain leaders of the pack, but United are now just two points behind them. A stunning 4-1 Capital One Cup win at the Stadium of Light against an abysmal Sunderland side will go a long way to ease any nerves that may have crept in and boost confidence, but it’s a tricky trip to White Hart Lane next on Saturday to see if Pellegrini’s side can return to form in the League.


After a dismal start to the season, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea have enjoyed a winning week to ease the pressure and get their campaign back on track. When Eden Hazard missed a penalty early on in their Champions League tie against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Portuguese must have feared the worst. But his side went on to brush aside the visitors with a comfortable 4-0 win, with goals from Willian, Oscar, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas.

It was just the confidence boost Chelsea needed, but the real test was always going to be Arsenal in the League. A fiery encounter was guaranteed, but nobody could’ve quite expected the two red cards that followed. Antagonist extraordinaire Costa was at his villainous best, deploying his trademark wind-up tactics to Arsenal defender Gabriel, who responded with a petulant kick out a la David Beckham vs. Diego Simeone in the World Cup 1998.

After the break Kurt Zouma headed in from close range to give Chelsea the lead and a Calum Chambers own goal from Hazard’s shot sealed the three points for the Blues for only the second time this season. Arsene Wenger’s misery was compounded when Santi Cazorla saw red after receiving a second yellow card. Despite Arsenal going down to nine men, the game for the best part had been wonderfully open and free flowing, but will Wenger be left to rue the day he didn’t spend any of the £200 million sat in the bank on at least a striker, with Arsenal looking remarkably short up front.

The win was vital for Mourinho, who will be comforted by big performances from Zouma, Fabregas and Hazard in particular. Their early season hangover seems to be lifting, but Jose’s headache will linger after news that the FA have decided to charge his striker Costa with violent conduct. He will now miss the next three domestic games, starting with their League Cup match against Walsall. It’s Newcastle away next for Chelsea on Saturday: with their title rivals stuttering, Jose will be hoping his side can continue their return to form on Tyneside, albeit without their main striker.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 & Football Pundette Presents...

Tim Sherwood is a very unhappy man right now. Brendan Rodgers is battling to save himself from being replaced by Jurgen Klopp while it’s down to two teenagers to do the business for both Manchester clubs. As for Jose Mourinho? Well, nobody really knows. It’s just another eventful weekend in the Premier League.


The Premier League was back with a bang with all eyes were on Goodison Park to see if Chelsea could turn around their dismal start to the season. In a match deemed ‘The John Stones Derby’, Jose’s team went from bad to worse, with Everton running out 3-1 winners in an enthralling tie. It was Steven Naismith, on for the injured Muhamed Besic, who scored a hat trick to leave a beleaguered Mourinho reeling. Matic’s wonder strike gave Chelsea a fighting chance, but credit to Everton who impressed and clinched the three points with fight and endeavour. 

This time Jose’s excuse was that his tactics computer didn’t work. A petty squabble with Roberto Martinez over the post-match press conference running order has also made headlines. He went as far to say that refugees are under more pressure than him. The Portuguese claimed people will finally be happy to see his supposed suffering, drowning in a sea of paranoia. With four points from a possible 15, where does the Chelsea manager go from here? The big names are still yet to get started and a lack of cohesion throughout the side is desperately worrying for the reigning Champions. 

Let’s give credit where it’s due to Everton though as it certainly wasn’t all down to a lacklustre Chelsea performance. The Toffees put on a passionate and capable display, with star turns from youngsters Ross Barkley and, ironically, Stones. As the pressure mounts, Chelsea face Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League but the real test is a clash against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Is the problem really his players or is it time to hold his hands up and admit responsibility? No more dodging, no more migrant comparisons and no more walking out of interviews. Is the clock really starting to tick for Jose? 


Pacesetters Manchester City kept their unbeaten run going with a 1-0 win in a feisty encounter at Selhurst Park against a spirited Crystal Palace. City had the strength in depth to cope with injuries pre match to David Silva and Raheem Sterling, but star striker Sergio Aguero limping off after a tackle from Scott Dann was a sight most City fans had feared. Enter Kevin De Bruyne, making his debut after his megabucks move from Wolfsburg, and he helped pull the strings and influence City to their fifth straight win in a row.

Jesus Navas should’ve done better after he put his shot wide when he was through on goal, but it was Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho who wrapped up all three points for Manuel Pellegrini after coming off the bench to score a late winner, with a typical poacher’s goal in the box. At points it threatened to boil over, not least on the touchline, with Pardew and Pellegrini coming to blows. Although the game had been a relatively even affair, City cranked the pressure up throughout the second half and a late winner always looked likely in a wonderfully open and entertaining encounter. 

It’s West Ham at the Etihad next in the League for City, but not before their Champions League campaign gets underway, with a tricky home tie against last season’s finalists, Juventus. Pellegrini will be happy to have Sterling and Silva fit and available again, but Aguero’s knee injury is a big blow. Incredibly, it’s been 450 minutes since Joe Hart has conceded a goal: City’s defence look colossal. But Alan Pardew’s side can take solace in running the early favourites close: Palace looked invigorated and it was a battle to the finish.


It was the battle of the history boys over at Old Trafford with Manchester United taking on their old school nemesis Liverpool. Both sides desperately needed a win after their pre-international break defeats- and it was the home side that came up trumps. After a dour first half, United drew first blood with Daley Blind breaking the deadlock. That lead was doubled by an unstoppable Ander Herrera penalty, before a magnificent overhead kick by Christian Benteke offered Brendan Rodgers a glimmer of hope. 

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