Manchester City Preview

Manuel Pellegrini

What are you meant to make of this lot?

Manchester City were once quintessentially British in their hangdog awfulness, the footballing equivalent of Hywel Bennet in Shelley, but now they are something almost alien. They have all this money from the Middle East and a big, antiseptic stadium and it should all be great but there is something distinctly hollow and out of place about the whole set up. This new City are a bit like that Ferrari that’s always on a plinth in the airport – it’s meant to symbolise the pinnacle of glamour and sexiness but despite clearly being worth a fortune it just looks a bit tinny close up and your eye is always drawn to the McFlurry carton that some scruff’s left under the wheel arch.

Their supporters, resplendent in their Voi jeans and lemon Crosshatch t-shirts, will probably disagree, arguing that everyone else is simply envious jealous of their newfound wealth, but the whole situation there just always looks slightly unsatisfying.

If being taken over by a sovereign state and having hundreds and hundreds of millions spent is what it takes to win the title, you have to start wondering whether the prize is actually worth it. What’s more, they only won it the once, and haven’t even had a sniff of the Champions League. Just how much cash is that going to require?

They certainly don’t look like winning it this season if Wednesday night’s game against the frankly incredible Bayern Munich was anything to go by. It might irk the purists but Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were something of a turn-off – like American football they were ace in the highlights package, for Lionel Messi’s goals essentially, but pretty tiresome to watch for an entire match. His new side though, oh boy, they are simply raw sex.

That said, City were a disgrace for most of the game in midweek. Until David Silva, James Milner and 1950s Coney Island street-gang leader Alvaro Negredo came on there was a distinct lack of genuine desire to close the Germans down and make life hard for them.

When Manuel Pellegrini got the City job he was asked to stop haunting the nightmares of children and stealing their souls and transform Roberto Mancini’s disjointed misfits into a proper side but he appears to have his work cut out because when the going gets tough a number of his well paid players don’t appear quite as arsed as they should. They look a bit like the England national team sometimes: a lot of superstars who are happy when things are going well but not so chuffed about chasing, sacrificing themselves and making selfless runs when they are up against anyone with a bit of fight in them.

Given time then, will Pellegrini’s unnerving ability to look like he’s chain-smoking without ever holding a cigarette prove much use in transforming the atmosphere and outlook at the Etihad? That’s the question that isn’t on everyone’s lips. But maybe it should be.

Despite all those reservations about the City squad, they do have a pretty formidable home record in the Premier League and the ability to make a lot of changes to their side for Everton’s visit. The three subs from the Bayern game must be strong contenders to start, particularly Negredo who scored a cracking consolation goal. The Spaniard looks a far greater threat than Edin Dzeko – the Bosnian does have the skills of a Brazilian, unfortunately for him though it’s that lolloping shitbag Jo, the striker who not so long ago disgraced the shirts of both of these esteemed football clubs.

Of course Everton only loaned Jo from City, just as they have borrowed the services of Gareth Barry who unfortunately won’t be eligible for Saturday. That’s certainly a shame as, just like Darron Gibson before him, there was all the usual internet grumbling when he was linked but he has been a roaring success so far. Everyone has waxed lyrical about all those great footballing sound-like-you-know-your-shit qualities he possesses like ‘positional awareness’ and the ‘ability to read the game’ but the most impressive thing about him is the way he fouls people. Dead authoritative, but with the minimum of fuss, almost like your Ma’s new fella coming home and saying ‘Right, you’ve all had your fun but that’s quite enough’ he stops opposition attacks just as they are on the cusp of that ‘ooh definite booking’ stage. He then gives the referee a look of ‘come on, we’re all men, you could see what had to be done there’.

Fuck it, let it be known, right here, that Gareth Barry is football’s Atticus Finch and Hatem Ben Arfa is a rabid dog scaring the kids, we’ve just decided, just now, halfway through that last sentence.

Anyway, we’ll miss him on Saturday is what we were trying to say.

But while we are on the subject of fouls, it was interesting to hear Mark Halsey (possibly, some ex-referee anyway) doing his bit of commentary on the Manchester derby the other week and saying that some illegal challenge or other had gone unpunished because the official was ‘taking into account the size of the occasion’. Now, everyone accepts that sort of passing comment without turning a hair, but when you think about it it’s a bit of a wild thing to say.

Can you imagine, for instance, Andy Murray being let off with twatting the net because, you know, it’s Wimbledon and there’s a lot of pressure on him? Or Len Ganley saying ‘Go ‘ead lad, just put it back in the D, I know what it’s like here at the Crucible’?

No, you couldn’t, is the answer you were reaching for there, the rules are meant to be the fucking rules. The size of the occasion! Fuck me a bus. Isn’t every home game at somewhere like Old Trafford a big…

Oh, hang on.

And on that frankly cheap and tawdry note, see you at the match report, bitches. Over and out.

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