Manuel minds his own business – Man City v Liverpool

It was the culmination of the media’s Liverpool love-fest, the precursor to Steven Gerrard’s seemingly God given right to win the Premier League, and the climax of the rehabilitation of Luis Suarez, his cannibalistic ways deemed a thing of the past.

It was Sunday April 13, 2014 and 44,000 Scouse supporters had seen their pre-match prophecies of ‘We’re gonna win the league…’ just about come to fruition.

Premature jubilation - Liverpool fans celebrated Premier League success a bit too soon last season.

Premature jubilation – Liverpool fans celebrated Premier League success a bit too soon last season.

It was Brendan Rodgers, the darling of Sky Sports, the master tactician, the man credited with curbing the Uruguayan rodent’s taste for human flesh, taking the plaudits, smugly lording it over the team that was ‘ruining’ football.

It had been Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2 in a titanic top of the table clash.

Rodgers & Out - The Liverpool manager sniped at Man City throughout last season.

Rodgers & Out – The Liverpool manager sniped at Man City throughout last season.

The victors had opened up a seven point lead over Manuel Pellegrini’s men but, despite the Sky Blues having two games in hand and six to play, it was Liverpool’s first Premier League title – wasn’t it?

The reality was premature over jubilation.

Slippy Gee and the Demba Ba ditty was still to come, as was the three-goal capitulation at Crystal Palace and Rodgers’ comeuppance for his constant sniping at City.

Great timing - City clinched the title on the last day of the season.

Great timing – City clinched the title on the last day of the season.

If only opposition managers would focus on their own team and stop sticking their large snouts into Manchester City’s affairs they might fare better.

The snide sneer from Setubal, the poisonous Portuguese who presides over Chelsea also took far too much interest in Manchester City and look where he ended up…back in third place.

One of the many virtues of Manuel Pellegrini is he isn’t easily drawn into the adolescent mutterings of others, the immature so-called ‘mind games’ that an often inane media posse seek to feed upon.

Don't ask daft questions - Manuel is asked his views on Balotelli's time at the Etihad. Courtesy@MCFC

Don’t ask daft questions – Manuel is asked his views on Balotelli’s time at the Etihad. Courtesy@MCFC

A prime example came this week with Mario Balotelli’s imminent return to English football. Pellegrini was questioned about Mario’s time at the Etihad and his propensity for creating dressing room disruption and disharmony.

Did journalists, seeking a sensational line before the Monday night clash, really think the diplomatic Chilean was going to lambast Liverpool’s latest acquisition?

It was puerile, persistent and pathetic and Pellegrini was having none of it.

Cut the chat - Pellegrini is interested in trophies not 'mind games'.

Cut the chat – Pellegrini is interested in trophies not ‘mind games’.

Under the well measured stewardship of Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Ferran Soriano, Txiki Begiristain and Pellegrini himself, Manchester City have become a tabloid journalist’s nightmare.

No controversy, no training ground bust ups and no ill-conceived sound bites.

It’s even reached the stage where The Mirror – of all publications – has written a remarkably positive piece on Pellegrini and City.

Quick, get the author of said piece, Neil Moxley, on Sky’s Sunday Supplement to counter the bile and venom of Messrs Custis, Ogden, Dunn, Ashton, Slater, Smith, Wyatt…the roll call of City haters goes on, albeit with a few exceptions such as Samuel, Winter and Holt.

Super Mario - how City fans best remember Balotelli.

Super Mario – how City fans best remember Balotelli.

But back to Balotelli.

The overwhelming majority of City fans never envisaged Mario returning to the Premier League after leaving in January 2013, to move to his boyhood idols, AC Milan.

He missed Italy, his friends, the food, the culture and it was his dream to play at the San Siro, but this time in the red and black of Milan rather than the blue and black of Inter.

He can’t have forgotten the disgustingly high degree of racism that still persists on the terraces in Serie A, but he probably hadn’t banked on the previously imperious Milan, declining as a powerhouse of Italian football to a veritable outhouse.

Time to go - Mario in despair at Milan.

Time to go – Mario in despair at Milan.

No European competition after finishing 8th, despite a healthy goals-to-games ratio from Mario – 26 in 43 Serie A appearances – it seems Balotelli is unwanted by both the club and, more surprisingly, the fans.

Valued at £25m prior to the World Cup, the fact Milan are selling for £16m speaks volumes. In a recent poll, 70% of responding Milan fans voted that the club should sell.

He hasn’t signed in time to play at the Etihad, thereby depriving the home fans of showing their appreciation to a player, undoubtedly a maverick, but one for whom the majority have a soft spot.

Mad Mario - The bits of Balotelli, City fans would rather forget.

Mad Mario – The bits of Balotelli, City fans would rather forget.

The City faithful have a tendency to let the good, the funny and the outrageous elements override the times Mario went AWOL on the field, was ill-disciplined and sent off, or made front page headlines for the wrong reasons.

He scored 30 goals in 80 games for City with one solitary assist…but what an assist on May 13th, 2012!

Imagine if Aguero had gone down under that 94th minute challenge against QPR. It would have resulted in a last ditch penalty to win the title for City, with everything resting on Mario.

History re-written - If Sergio had gone down in the QPR penalty box it could have been Mario who clinched the title in 2012. Courtesy@MCFC

History re-written – If Sergio had gone down in the QPR penalty box it could have been Mario who clinched the title in 2012. Courtesy@MCFC

He’d have scored – of that there can be next to no doubt – and forevermore the Aguerooooooo moment would have been replaced with Balotelllllliiii!

City fans will wish him well but not his new employers. City can begin ensuring the latter with a home win against a radically re-shaped Pool, after Rodgers’ £120m summer spending spree.

Mario will be absent as will the most expensive defender to come into English football, Eliaquim Mangala.

Defence Chief - Eliaquim Mangala will be missing on Monday night as he works towards full match fitness.Courtesy@MCFC

Defence Chief – Eliaquim Mangala will be missing on Monday night as he works towards full match fitness.Courtesy@MCFC

City’s new import from Porto missed out on pre-season training and, despite being part of the French World Cup squad in Brazil, he lacks match fitness levels.

Pellegrini also needs to decide if Aguero, Zabaleta, Sagna and Lampard come into the reckoning for starting berths or places on the bench.

Even with the transfer market constraints imposed as part of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play penalty, Pellegrini has managed to strengthen key areas of his squad.

New dimension - Fernando had an outstanding debut at Newcastle, now he prepares for the Etihad. Courtesy@MCFC

New dimension – Fernando had an outstanding debut at Newcastle, now he prepares for the Etihad. Courtesy@MCFC

Fernando looked outstanding in the 2-0 triumph on Tyneside, whereas Frank Lampard has been earning rave reviews in training off Vincent Kompany.

World Cup ring rust remains in some quarters, but City’s all round physicality, tactical nous and technical skill will test a Suarez-less Liverpool to the limit.

Dzeko, fresh from signing a new four year deal, is a player reborn, whereas Jovetic is as good a new £22m signing, such was his injury record last season.

Four more years - Edin has earned a well deserved new contract. Courtesy@MCFC

Four more years – Edin has earned a well deserved new contract. Courtesy@MCFC

The early signs are that both Kolarov and Clichy have upped their game and will perform to even higher levels at left back.

The pace of Sterling and Sturridge may see Clichy get the nod with Zabaleta restored at right back, but Pellegrini isn’t one to worry too much about the opposition – quite the reverse.

So far it’s a philosophy that has proven to be a virtue and not a vice, but the £12m acquisition of Fernando could be pivotal in City’s title defence.

Left or right - Clichy has started the new season in good form. Courtesy@MCFC

Left or right – Clichy has started the new season in good form. Courtesy@MCFC

Superior to previous defensive midfield incumbents Garcia and Rodwell, the Brazilian could play with Yaya and Fernandinho in a much more combative midfield selection, as and when required.

It’s a formation more likely to be on show away from the Etihad, when Pellegrini might be tempted to forsake a little bit of flair and finesse for true grit and grind.

He has quality in abundance, with two players more than capable of performing well in every position.

Much changed - City drew 2-2 with Liverpool on the USA pre-season tour before losing on penalties. It'll be a very different looking side on Monday night. Courtesy@MCFC

Much changed – City drew 2-2 with Liverpool on the USA pre-season tour before losing on penalties. It’ll be a very different looking side on Monday night. Courtesy@MCFC

Monday night’s bench could conceivably see seven of this eight waiting in the wings; Aguero, Milner, Fernandinho, Kolarov, Sagna, Navas, Lampard and Caballero. It’s a daunting prospect for the rest of the Premier League.

Will a Liverpool side without Suarez be like a Tottenham team without Gareth Bale? Like Spurs, Liverpool have shelled out the funds from their superstar sale and much more, but are they weakened or strengthened?

Sub or starter - Sergio's gentle introduction to the new season could see him on the bench. Courtesy@MCFC

Sub or starter – Sergio’s gentle introduction to the new season could see him on the bench. Courtesy@MCFC

Lallana is injured, Lambert is usually a sub so only Lovren of the Liverhampton trio seems set to start. New signings Markovic and Moreno could well figure in proceedings.

It may only be the second fixture of the season but Pellegrini is rightly calling it a ‘six pointer’.

City are going for a seventh PL win on the spin, while Liverpool seek to extend to ten, an unbeaten on the road PL sequence during 2014.

It promises to be tight, it should be entertaining, but it won’t be a case for either manager to get ahead of themselves, win lose or draw.

Down but not out - City lost a battle at Anfield but won the PL 'war'.

Down but not out – City lost a battle at Anfield but won the PL ‘war’.

It’s not Pellegrini’s style and hopefully Rodgers has learned lessons and will stick with his laudable Anfield achievements…and keep his conk out of City’s affairs.

 

#TrustOurMP

 

By David Walker

 

www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

 

Dedicated to a selfless, incredibly caring and loving young lady – Jen Janes (JJ) – who has been a rock for her Mum in troubled times. Happy 16th Birthday – we’ll get you up to the Etihad in no time at all and give you a day to remember xx

 

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