The team with no nine

Long before a heart condition threatened to curtail Sergio Aguero’s career, it was conventional wisdom that Manchester City required a world class replacement for their legendary striker.

Plagued by injuries, the club’s all-time highest goal scorer with 260 in just 390 games (not forgetting 73 assists), was reduced to occasional cameo appearances as City cruised to their third title in just four years. Pep Guardiola’s masterly deployment of a false number nine, meant City had regained their crown, with Sergio scoring just four of City’s 86 goal haul.

Sensational, superb, sublime Sergio – City legend and all-time record goal scorer.

Fast forward to more than a third of the way into this campaign and City are flourishing, with 17 different players so far on the score sheet. Top of the Premier League and already through to the Champions League knockout stage, Pep has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, in what has already been an injury riddled campaign.

Loved by the players, but loathed by so many fans, the frequent and infuriating international breaks have thus far accounted for the absences – some prolonged – of key players; Phil Foden, Ferran Torres, Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones as prime examples. Far from weakening City’s results and performances, the injury list has show-cased the astonishing strength in depth of the squad, at both senior and Academy level.

City are performing to the highest standards despite a glut of injuries.

City had five youngsters in the squad for the ‘dead rubber’ 2-1 defeat at RB Leipzig, namely; CJ Egan-Riley, Cole Palmer, James McAtee, Romeo Lavia and Josh Wilson-Esbrand. It was both puzzling and disappointing that only Palmer saw any action, and even that was as a sub.

Palmer and McAtee, in particular, look well equipped to follow Foden as regulars into the senior squad, and the sooner McAtee joins Palmer into committing his future to City the better.

City produced their worst performance of the season in the ‘dead rubber’ at RB Leipzig where Kyle Walker saw red.

Having already won Group A, it was curious as to why Pep fielded so many senior players in a lacklustre showing. The same cannot be said of Swiss referee Sandro Scharer, who upheld UEFA’s finest traditions with a stunning display of ‘ineptitude’ and anti-City bias. Remember his name because he’ll doubtless be back to screw City at some stage in the future.

The Leipzig result was irrelevant, but Scharer denied City a clear second half penalty – no VAR pitch side review deemed necessary – having previously booked KDB for prematurely taking a free kick. Don’t let the fact that I’m paranoid deflect from the fact that UEFA are still out to get City, whenever an opportunity arises!

Ever demanding Pep has taken City to the top of the Premier League for the first time this season after 15 games.

The emergence of such an extraordinarily high calibre of Academy ‘graduates’ bodes well for future first team succession planning. We’re not exactly into the realms of Dad’s Army here, with Ilkay Gundogan (31), Riyad Mahrez (31 in February) and Kevin De Bruyne (30), but a pathway is clearly there for 18 and 19 year olds, who are prepared to learn from the best and show a little patience.

When it comes to the best of the best, there’s none better than Bernardo Silva’s blinding brilliance which has illuminated City like never before. It’s no exaggeration to state ‘Bubblegum’ (so called because the ball sticks to his feet), is the finest footballer in the world right now.

Is there a better player in world football this season? No, response required, it’s obviously a rhetorical question.

Disregard the likes of the Pharaoh of Formby – Mo Salah, who’s done more dives than a Sharm el Sheikh scuba diving school in the Red Sea – Bernardo’s season is brewing up a treat, as the potential Player of the Year.

City supporters have just made him the first player ever to earn three successive Etihad Player of the Month Awards (September, October & November), at a time when he’s just equalled his top goals haul in a Premier League season (7/14 games, previously, 7/36 in 2018/19), and can now boast the highest winning percentage in PL history (minimum 100 appearances) at 77%, with 112 wins from 145 games.

And that’s the Goal Of the Season sorted…

It was a blessing in disguise that a Covid19-decimated transfer window, meant La Liga’s big guns could not afford the Portuguese maestro, at a time when he was yearning for a change in lifestyle, warmer climes and to be closer to his homeland.

From a football perspective, Silva cannot be in a better place than as an indefatigable playmaker and goal taker in Guardiola’s starting XI. Pep is on record as saying: “We never, ever wanted Bernardo to leave Manchester City in the summer, not for one second, never ever! But he knows – everybody knows – I don’t want people who are unhappy.”

Bernardo just being Bernardo and scoring at The Swamp.

Silva’s City contract runs until the summer of 2025 when he’ll be 31. Retaining him was undoubtedly the best transfer business didn’t do last summer, but the question still remains, should Khaldoon & Co have busted a gut to sign a successor for Sergio? Notwithstanding Aguero’s ongoing health worries, now being monitored with concern and sadness, there’s no doubt his free transfer switch to Barcelona made perfect sense.

Sergio bagged a brace on his last Premier League appearance but his departure was a sad sight.

A painfully peddled and media-hyped pursuit of Harry Kane came to nothing. How much truth there was about City’s valuation of Kane, or any concrete offers for the Spurs and England skipper, is debateable.

Did Daniel Levy really expect £120m-£150m for Kane? If he did, he was clearly living in cloud cuckoo land, despite having seen City splash out £100m, to trigger Jack Grealish’s buyout clause at Aston Villa.

Grealish is great talent and just needs time to adjust to a new environment, new team mates and the tactics and demands of the best manager of modern times.

Recently Grealish has come in for criticism from a minority of City supporters, but he’s a huge talent who needs time to adapt to his new environment, team mates and, above all else, Pep’s meticulous demands. He’s unfortunate in that some believe that £100m might have been better spent on a No 9, but who knows best – the greatest football manager of modern times – or a few impatient ‘fans’?

City aren’t looking too shabby in the run up to the end of the calendar year, but will Pep be in the market for a tangible and agreeable Plan B in January?

City fans who think they know better than Pep, when it comes to the acquisition of Jack Grealish, should consider upping their meds!

The conundrum is if City are doing so well, bamboozling opponents with roaming midfielders and a myriad of different false nines, why change it? Does the deep lying ‘striker’ mean opposing centre backs are left not knowing whether they’re having a sh*t, shave or a haircut – a phrase not necessarily found in Pep’s bible of tactical terminology?

Conversely, would having a conventional No 9, with natural goal poaching instincts, mean a substantial increase in the chances converted column?

Pep wants his team to be more prolific and less profligate in front of goal in their pursuit of a fourth Premier League title in five years.

Following the recent away wins at Villa and Watford, Pep himself has remarked on how both games should have been done and dusted at half time. Instead of 2-0 leads, it could and should have been 4-0, 5-0 even 6-0, with the opposition dead and buried.

Even if the Kane saga ever had any credence, surely the moment has long gone. He’s 29 next birthday, his ankles aren’t exactly robust and, to all intent and purposes, he’s out-of-form. Add into the mix Levy will still think he can win the lottery with the transfer fee, and it should be a non-starter.

Haaland is a huge talent, but any a move to the Etihad would inevitably mean City paying repulsive Mino Raiola tens of millions in agent fees. Surely that won’t happen?

As for the clamour for Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, surely City won’t entertain a move whereby Mino Raiola – the Norwegian forward’s agent – pockets tens of millions from any deal? If – and it’s unlikely – Haaland did join City, it’s a fair bet Raiola would be agitating for a move to La Liga within five years, and probably on a Bosman.

Just look at the Paul Pogba shenanigans at Old Trafford for the direction of travel of Raiola’s clients.

Dusan Vlahovic is on fire for Fiorentina in Serie A this season. Does Pep want the Serbian striker to switch to the Premier League and continue his purple patch of form?

The most pragmatic option could be Dusan Vlahovic, Fiorentina’s 21-yr old Serbian centre forward. He’s netted 40 times in 93 Serie A appearances – including 13 in just 16 matches this season – virtually half of the Florence club’s haul of 27 goals.

Since making his international debut last year, he’s scored seven goals in 14 games, and was part of the Serbian team which consigned a star studded Portugal to the World Cup play-offs, after a shock 2-1 victory in Lisbon.

Could this man be City’s new striker if Pep widens his tactical options in 2022?

Vlahovic wouldn’t come cheap, but any fee and wages would be considerably less than that being touted for Haaland. In addition, the Serb would be more readily available, if Pep wants reinforcements next month. The lack of any future wrangling with Raiola would be an additional bonus.

End

PS: The headline on this article in no way seeks to disrespect Gabriel Jesus who just happens to wear the number nine shirt. We at RBNR love Gabby!

Dedication

This blog is dedicated to the memory of a beautiful lady blue, Laveen Robson who passed away last month. Loved and adored by all who knew her in ‘real life’ – especially her partner Ian, son Daniel and her fur babies of Miniature Schnauzers, Dollie, George, Bluebell and Merlin, not forgetting Pete the cat – Laveen also had thousands of friends on social media who admired her strength, compassion, kindness and wit.

Laveen was a member of the MCFC Blackpool & Fylde, Manchester City Official Supporters Club and was visited by City legend Paul Dickov at the Trinity Hospice in Blackpool last summer, when he brought along the Premier League trophy and Carabao Cup to help raise her spirits.

MCFC Blackpool & Fylde are raising funds, via a Just Giving page, for Trinity Palliative Care Services and Brian House Children’s Hospice this Christmas, thanking them for the care provided to Laveen.

By David Walker

www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

16 Comments

  1. December 8, 2021  8:24 pm by Geoffrey Blake Reply

    David, its great to have this blog back again after too long an interval! I'm not on Twitter so I've not seen you for a long time!
    I also would hate to see us pay so much towards Haaland's hangers-on, esp the agent! and his wage demands will totally upset the wage structure at the club, and I do think that unity amongst the team is one of our biggest assets.
    My favourite would be the Serbian Vlahovic, younger, hungrier, and more likely to be grateful for a chance at the big-time, whereas Haaland seems to think that he's already made it, whereas he's not actually won anything yet.
    I see this evening that we might be on the track of Rafael Leao at AC Milan - any thoughts on him?
    Best Regards for a great Christmas
    Geoffrey Blake

    • December 8, 2021  8:50 pm by David Walker Reply

      Many thanks for such great feedback GB. I have no idea who City might target as a new striker - if indeed they're even considering it in January - but I do think Vlahovic ticks a lot of boxes, albeit he's not the finished article. That's where Pep comes in and improves those who benefit from his tutelage. It's more of a City type signing where we acquire a burgeoning talent and bring it to fruition. Haaland would be a great addition but, as you say, at what price, not just financially, but possibly to the overall harmony of the team. As for Leao, I must profess my ignorance.

  2. December 8, 2021  8:48 pm by Malcolm Gruber Reply

    Insightful as ever, David. My take on the false 9 is that against the average and some good teams we have enough to win the matches, but against the elite teams (Champions League, competition for the Premier League, etc) we need a clinical proven goalscorer. As much as I wouldn't want the job of choosing who to leave out of our team, there will still be enough quality there to provide ammo for the no. 9 to shoot goal wards.

    Like you, I was bamboozled that Pep didn't trust some of the youngsters in the dead rubber against Leipzig. What was he saving them for? And finally, should anyone believe your addressing the bias of the ref also included Walker's red card, that red card was fully deserved and Walker was an idiot!

    • December 8, 2021  8:56 pm by David Walker Reply

      Great stuff as ever MG, and no, I'm not including Walker's reckless challenge in Sandro Scharer's wretched refereeing performance. The nailed on penalty for the foul on Sterling and KDB's yellow card are the focus of my taking umbrage with the dodgy Swiss official. Yes, like you I'd like a new No 9 in the squad as it would give us real options. Let's face it, if a fully fit Sergio had still been with us, the false 9 wouldn't be our 'go to' setting. Cheers fella.

  3. December 8, 2021  9:21 pm by Paul Keys Reply

    You make a lot of great points as ever David, insightful and informative. Lovely dedication at the end to Laveen Robson, whom it was sad to read about and condolences to her family and friends.

    • December 8, 2021  9:37 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thanks fella. Yes the dedication to Laveen was very important. She was loved by so many :-(

    • January 8, 2022  5:48 pm by Ian Harrison Reply

      Thankyou so much,I miss her so much,incredible tribute from David

      • January 17, 2022  10:50 pm by David Walker Reply

        My privilege to be able to honour Laveen's memory in some small way. Take care fella.

  4. December 8, 2021  9:54 pm by Peter Thompson Reply

    Vlahovic over Haaland is a no brainer for me, if Pep fancies him of course! I’d imagine signing Haaland in July and his snake of an agent touting him to Madrid in December! Good to see you back David and a lovely tribute to Laveen.

    • December 8, 2021  10:01 pm by David Walker Reply

      Many thanks Peter. Were it not for Raiola I would imagine things would be very different, but that's just me surmising.

  5. December 8, 2021  10:11 pm by Superfun Happy Slide Reply

    Well, this blog is just out-freak'n-standing.

    Cheeseman's retweet brought me here but I'll be visiting every damn time you post, David. Love your writing style.

    As someone new to following futbol, I literally learn something from every bit of content I encounter. I have no doubt that this blog is going to be one heck of a resource. As to the whole "need a 9" debate that sometimes consumes the City family, that those jealous of City's success in the current era enjoy playing upon, I can't help but wonder if a lack of a 9 makes it easier for Pep to plan and work towards the total football philosophy.

    A number 9 of some galacticos standing, or someone lesser but with great potential, will want to be in position to accumulate tallies. Yet, albeit from a beginner's perspective, that want to be right in front of the goal may make it harder for Pep to build and plan towards the seemless flow that Cruyff was known for or the tiki-taka elements of Spanish football. I'm sure there are aspects of the game's form I'm not totally understanding, but, well, we all start somewhere.

    Anyhoos, great blog.

    Write lots more!

    • December 8, 2021  10:14 pm by David Walker Reply

      WOW - that's incredibly generous of you - thank you. As for the false 9 or conventional 9, I'd best leave matters to Pep.

  6. December 9, 2021  8:03 am by peter lynch Reply

    Welcome back! Great read as ever David, hope you and family are well.

    • December 9, 2021  8:33 am by David Walker Reply

      Thank you, glad you liked it. All the very best fellow Blue.

  7. December 9, 2021  12:02 pm by Doug Henshaw Reply

    Hi David and a big welcome back to RBNR how I have missed this blog. Great points made my friend, don't think we will ever be rid of problems with uefa to they just don't like us. The team has done well without a striker but I really do think we would be better with one. How I wish we still had Sergio in his prime so miss that guy

    • December 9, 2021  8:48 pm by David Walker Reply

      Can you even begin to imagine 10 years of prime Sergio in sky blue starting next month? Oh my days! Thanks for your kind comment.

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