Toure speaks out agains racism
All eyes are on the powers that be at UEFA now having charged CSKA over the behaviour of their supporters towards Yaya Toure in Wednesday’s fixture. Just how serious are European footballs governing body when it comes to eradicating this type of behaviour from the game? Pitifully small fines had been the normal punishment historically when racial behaviour had been reported with stadium closures, or part stadium closures now one of the repercussions. Yaya would suggest – and rightly so – that these sanctions aren’t sufficient and has even suggested African / black players boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This isn’t an idle threat, afterall when the reigning African Player of the Year talks, people listen...which makes it all the more disappointing to hear Seydou Doumbia of CSKA and Ivory Coast play down the abuse. CSKA’s official response was predictably lamentable and would be laughable if this wasn’t such a serious issue. This issue isn’t a tribal matter between clubs, it is ignorant and mindless abuse of the very worst kind and it has to stop. Enough is enough. Over to you Monsieur Platini.
The Luzhniki Stadium pitch
Much was made of the state of the Luzhniki surface ahead of the midweek fixture, with all sorts of horror stories literally painting an image of no-mans land at the Somme rather than a professional football pitch. As it turned out the painted green surface played reasonably well – the odd sand assisted bobble aside – with City in particular stroking the ball around fairly freely in the second period. Having spent my youth playing on the mud baths of Hough End, it is always hard for me to feel a great deal of sympathy when the professionals complain about a difficult playing field. David Silva in particular – majestic at West Ham last weekend and in midweek – made light of the surface, but very few if any within the City squad are as technically gifted as the little magician, so he probably isn’t the best barometer to measure others against to be fair..
Negredo and Aguero
A key feature of both the victory against West Ham and CSKA days later is the growing understanding that exists between Citys first choice front two. An immediate awareness was in evidence when the duo lined up in the mauling of Manchester United a few weeks back and things have only blossomed since then. As it has turned out, Negredo has been more the provider – his nonchalant dummy against West Ham bamboozling the whole defensive line and allowing Aguero to slip through, and his outside of the boot cross to lay on Aguero’s second midweek demonstrated real class. The little Argentine is on a very hot streak at the moment and the longer he plays with ‘the Beast’ the longer you feel it will continue.
Now I don’t wish to lambast one of our own players and he is becoming something of a scapegoat, but it is fair to say that Blues all over the world are fairly united in their opinion of Javi Garcia lining up as one of two centre halves in the starting XI. Against West Ham’s strikerless formation, Javi had a fairly easy time and played reasonably well, comfortable on the ball and defending resolutely when required in the 2nd half. In Russia, the jitters were back in spades. Beaten in the air by Honda for the first goal and tested repeatedly by the pace of Doumbia, Garcia had a torrid time. With no recovery pace to speak of and with the positional sense of a defensive midfielder being played out of position, surely the Spaniards time as a makeshift centre half has run its course. The return of Vincent Kompany and new signing Demichelis cannot come soon enough, especially with the key clash against Chelsea looming large at the weekend.
After 12 matches across all competitions, Manuel Pellegrini’s preferred starting XI is becoming clearer. Joe Hart has responded well to his wobbles in recent weeks and long may that continue. The full-backs have been rotated fairly frequently throughout, but Kolarov appears to have the edge over Clichy at present, despite his defensive limitations. The centre-halves pick themselves (when fit) and Zabaleta is still the best right back in the EPL, despite not finding the consistency of last season. Fernandinho and Yaya are the central two, with Silva and one of Navas or Nasri lining up on the opposite flank, depending on the nature of the opposition. As mentioned above, Aguero and Negredo are the preferred partnership up top, with Jovetic still feeling his was back after a succession of niggling injuries and Edin Dzeko as frustrating inconsistent as ever. With Kolarov playing in midweek, I would expect City to line up for Sunday’s match – Captain’s fitness permitting (fingers crossed) – as follows: JH; GC, MN, VK, PZ; FE, YT; DS, SN; SA, AN. Lets hope its enough to hand Mourinho a first ever EPL defeat at Stamford Bridge.