Bring On The Champions
August 31, 2012

Photo: MCFC.co.uk

When I first saw the pots for the Champions League draw, the Nostradamus in me immediately sensed that City would get Porto, Anderlecht, and Nordsjælland. (Where "æ", in case you’re wondering, is a single character.)

As the final grouping draw progressed however, I began to realize that I’m only as good at predictions as Pele, the man who once said that Nicky Barmby will be as good as Zidane and Maldini.

For the second year running, City is in the “Group of Death”. This time with Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund and up-and-coming Spanish minnows Real Madrid -- all champions of their respective leagues. The more sanguine of City fans welcome the draw and the inevitable challenge ahead with open arms. Those with less optimism, like myself, cringe at the prospect of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo nutmegging Kolo Toure.

Alas, this is City. The club that is gradually yet persistently becoming the center of attention on and off the pitch; whether they want it or not. If the back-pages are anything to go by, at least, it’s evident that all eyes are on Manchester City, and Mario Balotelli’s latest cock-ups.

So what better way to live up to this expectation and continue to mesmerize the footballing world than to play in the toughest group of the greatest club football tournament on the planet.

I’d imagine some neutrals waking up in the wee hours around this part of the world to watch Yaya Toure and Mesut Özil clashing in the middle of the park at the Bernabéu. Or Carlos Tevez taking a penalty amidst a sea of black and yellow at the 80,000-capacity Westfalenstadion.

It’s the kind of stuff that makes for a great European night.

Either that or you can always switch to the other channel. Jonny Evans is taking a throw-in at the CFR Cluj half.



Good Kop, Bad Kop
August 27, 2012

Photo: MCFC.co.uk

Some days, you just know that things wouldn’t really pan out as planned. You arrive at work, and your staff pass is at home. You drive into the automatic toll gate, and your pre-paid card balance is too low. You play Liverpool (or any team for that matter), and you put Kolo Toure ahead of Joleon Lescott.

At the 364,765th place in the Yahoo! Fantasy Football table, I am certainly in no position to question Roberto Mancini’s tactics. And to be honest, I don’t really know the technical reasoning against his decision to start with three defenders. But that’s just down to my lack of footballing wisdom. What I do know is that if he really needed to tinker with the formation, he should’ve done it when we played Limerick in the summer, and put it to the test against Aldershot in the Carling Cup. Not in an away league fixture.

Alas, City took off well in keeping up with the pacey tempo of the game and grasping a good hold of the possession as the first half progressed. Against a newly-revamped Liverpool side basking in the atmosphere of inspiring Kop faithfuls under the bright Merseyside sun, the task was on City to keep the attacking reds at bay. Pablo Zabaleta didn’t have too much trouble holding Fabio Borini down. On the other side of the pitch however, 17-year-old prospect Raheem Sterling proved to be a handful for Kolo. Think an uncle chasing down his kid nephew who’d just shot him with a water gun.

Thirty-four minutes in, City paid the price for poor defending after a swerving corner from Steven Gerrard was finished with a thunderous header from their vowel-deficient hard man, Martin Skrtel. It was the type of header that leaves the opposing fans speechless. I know I was. Because with a bit more focus with the man-marking, it could’ve easily been avoided. The Slovakian practically towered over and tore our defense in half -- no thanks to their delayed reaction.

I was slightly nervous at the break. With the home side immensely uplifted by their soaring performance in the first half, it was definitely advantage Liverpool. Carlos Tevez was doing all the work up front as Mario Balotelli decided not to play. The corners we took made me wonder if the lads only practised them during five-a-side trainings. And Stefan Savic was seen warming up.

New boy Jack Rodwell was brought in for a tired Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko followed suit two minutes later, in place of Balotelli. An expert at sideways passing (for some reason), Rodwell allowed Yaya Toure to go up further a bit more and in the 63rd minute, it was Liverpool’s turn to make a mess out of their defense for Yaya to slot it in. Why I don’t have a kit with his name on yet is beyond me.

In the euphoria of the equalizer, City’s celebration was short-lived after Luis Suarez converted a free kick from right outside the box with a perfectly timed and placed shot nowhere to be saved by Joe Hart. The goal left City only twenty minutes to equalize. Sometimes as a City fan you wonder if the players do this on purpose.

With the introduction of David Silva in the 76th minute, City’s attack was on full-force yet with the odd counter-attack from Liverpool and a puffing and panting Kolo Toure trailing them, I sensed killjoy for the reigning champions as the prospect of losing the second match of the season was looming.

After firing blanks for a good ten minutes, it took a back-pass mistake by Skrtel to be converted by Tevez for City to score the second equalizer of the game. It was hero to zero and zero to hero within five seconds leading to the goal. A part of me wanted City to win an ugly 3 - 2 and undeservedly bag home all three points. For the benefit of my well-being however, another part of me simply wanted the game to end.

At the blow of the whistle, I exhaled my first actual breath after two hours. It was an underwhelming performance resulting in a flattering point. City’s luck was, in a way, Liverpool’s doing. For the neutrals, it was yet again an entertaining spectacle. If this is how every City game of the season is going to turn out though, for the sake of my health, I shall exclusively watch Premier League Chess instead.



Football, When Love and Hate Collide
August 21, 2012

Photo: MCFC.co.uk

In the excitement of the new season, I’ve almost forgotten the painful, darker side of the league. Yes we all love the drama, surprises, chills and thrills of the games but if your team is in the midst of a non-stop counter-attack exchange with 10 minutes to go, it’s not as fun. Suffice to say, smoking aside, watching football is the new main cause of hypertension. Sometimes I wish I’m just a neutral.

Manchester City picked up where they left off last season. Playing newcomers Southampton at home on opening day looked straightforward enough on paper. Nevertheless, it’s City we’re talking about here. When they won the First Division in 1937, they got relegated the following season.

The lineup looked convincing and if the first few minutes were anything to go by, the boys in blue were on the right track. Carlos Tevez looked like a renewed man who’s been on a strict protein shake diet. And after only 16 minutes into the game, his tireless effort paid off after winning a penalty at the edge of the box. It felt weird watching David Silva readying up the ball to take the kick. His deflected soft shot explained why. Penalties are beyond Merlin’s scope of spells.

Following a steady stream of insane through passes you’d only see on Winning Eleven, Tevez slotted the ball in after a brilliant lob into the penalty box by Samir Nasri. City was one-up into at the break, and it looked like business as usual. Which at the Etihad means that the second half will be an emotional rollercoaster.

Albeit City trying to slow down the pace with the lead, the Saints were adamant and their spirited performance earned them a well-constructed goal by Rickie Lambert in the 59th minute. The equalizer unsettled City and 10 minutes later, Steven Davis brought the score to 2 - 1 Southampton.

May 13, anyone? "Not again." was all I could utter.

An unrelenting bombardment of attacks toward the Southampton penalty box follows. Edin Dzeko banged the ball in after a mess in the box in the 72nd minute. And as the clock hit 80, Nasri fires the ball in and wished the whole world "Eid Mubarak". The yellow card was totally worth it.

Three points in the bag and what a curtain raiser it was. Credit to Southampton for never giving up and putting up a good fight. They played like a solid contender to stay in the league and if the team spirit doesn’t fade away as the season progresses, they certainly will.

Is City the new comeback kings? It’s too early to tell. And unlike Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson, we don’t have Mancini Time, yet.



What’s this gold badge on my sleeve?
August 18, 2012

Photograph: MCFC.co.uk

So, where were we?

Oh yeah. It was 446pm at the Etihad on that May 13 afternoon and Edin Dzeko had just scored the equalizer for Manchester City to bring the score to 2 – 2. The game at the Stadium of Light had just ended and as the table stood, Manchester United was yet again, the champions of England. Tension was high for the 40,000 fans in blue as seconds away was the destiny that shall determine if history would be made, or the mother of all 'Typical City' moments would make its mark.

93 minutes and 20 seconds into the game, time stood still. Aguero scored, Martin Tyler had an orgasm, City lifted the trophy, and the 2011/12 season became the greatest English Premier League season ever.

But let's not dwell too much on the past, shall we?

For today begins the 2012/13 season. Twenty teams battle it out again for nine gruesome months as fans worldwide go tooth and nail bantering on the Internet.

City marches into the season as champions. (Man, that felt good.) But after a rather quiet summer with Jack Rodwell as the only major signing so far, one would wonder if this lack of development would open up the chase for the title. Especially with Champions League winner Chelsea spending almost £65m already on Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Oscar and John Terry's lawyers.

The story of this particular transfer window though, would definitely go to the Robin Van Persie saga. Signed for Arsenal in 2004 from Feyenoord for £2.75m, the Dutchman recently made the move to Old Trafford for eight times that amount. Despite the noise at the Emirates over this transfer, I thought Arsenal got the better of the deal getting that amount for an injury-prone 29-year-old.

Nevertheless, always a man of shrewd and astute spending, Sir Alex Ferguson has already come out to say that his current strikeforce of Rooney, Van Persie, Hernandez, Welbeck and Kagawa is on its way to rivaling his Class of 1999 team; the best in Europe at the time. Somewhere in the United dressing room, a lanky backcombed Bulgarian is reading his comment in despair.

Enough about United.

As always, the upcoming season will see managers old and new making their rotations around the Premier League musical chair. Brendan Rodgers is starting to win hearts at the Kop and with the addition of Joe Allen coming in from Swansea, the dream of bringing the tiki-taka from one coastline to another is becoming a reality. So watch out, FC Barcelona.

André Villas-Boas is back after his post-Chelsea sabbatical. And over at Villa Park, Paul Lambert has switched the yellow and green of Norwich City for the claret and sky blue of the Villans. How this is a move forward though, is beyond me. I thought Norwich had massive potential on making its mark back in the top-tier.

Sadly, there will be no sights of Harry Redknapp this time -- unless you're in the same evening class as him. Nevertheless, the return of Sam Allardyce would be a huge boost to the sport. West Ham may not play the most attractive football under his leadership but if there's anyone that could match Tony Pulis at ball-punting, it would be Big Sam. West Ham – Stoke is one match I don't mind missing next season.

Alas, this is the English Premier League. No amount of preview could ever come close to the real thing. This is as good as football gets, bar the referees. In all this excitement, football fans are already making predictions over the top four as well as the relegation candidates. And at both extremes, the usual suspects are often similar.

I personally believe that it's probably too early to make predictions considering the surprises and drama that the league has got to offer. So bring on the new season, I say. And let the good times roll.

PS: City is gonna win the thing.



Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

About
  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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