When 13 men in sky blue and one in banana yellow masqueraded as the Champions of England on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon at Wembley, the travelling masses shrugged off a 3-0 embarrassment to Arsenal’s smoking guns.
The 25,000 or so Manchester City fans consoled themselves knowing that the Community Shield didn’t really matter.
It wasn’t a barometer for how the reigning champions would fare in the season that lay ahead – for goodness sake Davie ‘Football Genius’ Moyes – had lifted the cumbersome octagon monstrosity just 12 months previously.
Despite suffering the ignominy of a shock 1-0 home defeat to Stoke before the international break, City still sit above the undefeated Gooners, courtesy of under-cooked wins over Newcastle and Liverpool.
The transfer window has also closed since the last round of PL fixtures and it proved to be a bit of a pane for City.
Already handicapped by the ludicrous and dubious Financial Fair Play regulations – a complete contradiction in terms – City sold the ever popular Beast to Valencia, due to restrictions on foreigners in their Champions League squad and, remarkably, turned in a £9m transfer trading profit.
So much for ‘ruining football’ and ‘buying the league’ but hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of the Man City-hating media.
Under the astute off-the-field leadership of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, City are working with a business strategy that is being implemented with skill, speed and precision, making them the envy of the football world.
Who knows, Arsene Whinger might, just might, stop bemoaning City’s good fortune after Sheikh Mansour’s generous investment, and give credit to a smooth running outfit both in the boardroom and on the pitch.
Sorry, what utter madness…of course he won’t.
He’ll be too pre-occupied at the prospect of Frank Lampard making his debut in sky blue and how City are bucking the FFP rules, albeit by his own admission, the visually-impaired Frenchman doesn’t even know the rules!
Manuel Pellegrini has admitted City felt some discomfort from the £49m transfer constraints imposed by UEFA. City have, nonetheless, stuck a proverbial ‘V’ sign up to Napoleon Platini by effectively not touching the funds sanctioned by the Euro-bankers (don’t you just love a bit of cockney-rhyming slang).
A reliance on three strikers is a risk City have chosen to take after turning down the opportunity to buy Falcao on deadline day. The early signs don’t bode well with Stevan Jovetic succumbing to a hamstring injury on international duty.
Even more telling in respect of the match up to the Gooners, is the loss of Fernando to an ongoing groin strain, the injury that forced him off in the 38th minute of the Stoke defeat.
I’d stake my mortgage and Wenger’s annual sponsorship deal with Specsavers (Arsene suffers from selected vision), that if Fernando had been on the pitch he would have ‘halted’ Mame Biram Diouf’s surge upfield, long before he had sight of City’s goal.
His absence deprives Pellegrini of what might have been his preferred option when wanting to stifle an opponent’s midfield creativity.
A back four protected by the ex-Porto bulldozer, Fernandinho and Yaya would be extraordinarily difficult to play through or around. It was a permutation that might have served City well, both at The Emirates and the Allianz Arena next Wednesday night.
City’s Chilean boss isn’t one for compromising on attacking flair, but pragmatism has its time and place and that time could easily have been today at 12.45pm.
Shorn of two key players, City will still have the confidence and self belief that accompanies those beautiful gold Premier League sleeve badges. It’s a game that could see James Milner start and Lampard finally swap Royal Blue for Sky Blue in PL battle.
It might also be the day that Eliaquim Mangala makes his debut, as City opt for the pace of the young Frenchman, to counter the rapier-like thrusts of new boy Danny ‘I always envisaged playing for Arsenal (?)’ Welbeck and Chile speed merchant Alexis Sanchez.
Hopefully Pablo Zabaleta will be fit after Germany and Arsenal bit-part striker Podolski, injured the Argentine legend as the World Cup finalists walloped the World Champions 4-2 last week.
Zaba’s compatriot, Aguero scored against the Germans and could give the now internationally retired, Pers Mertesacker a torrid time.
Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey – if the Welshman manages to defy the odds and recover from an ankle injury – are a talented trio who could create openings for new boy Welbeck.
Captain Vincent Kompany will need to marshall his troops to maximum effect if a Wembley like blitzkrieg is to be avoided.
But, Manuel’s mantra dictates that he won’t be focusing on ‘incoming fire, he’ll be training his sights on the rear-gunners and seeing what David Silva, Sergio, Edin Dzeko and the Emirates favourite old boy, Samir Nasri, can do to occupy the home forces.
It’s an intriguing match-up and one that will fascinate the partisan Arsenal and City faithful, whilst serving up a feast of entertainment for the neutrals.
Clichy will probably edge the left back berth ahead of Kolarov due to his extra speed, whereas Sagna, the third Arsenal old boy at the Etihad, should be on the bench.
Undoubtedly an asset for the new campaign, Sagna had an anonymous debut, in keeping with the rest of his new team mates, against Stoke. It was a day when Zaba’s overlapping play and indefatigable efforts were conspicuous by their absence.
Having splashed the cash on Alexis, Welbeck, Debuchy and Calum Chambers this summer, it’s an ironic role reversal for Wenger, now purchasing his team rather than attempting to bring them through the youth ranks.
City and Pellegrini have no beef with Arsenal’s new policy of buying in talent – I say ‘new’ but Wenger has also acquired Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Koscielny, Mertesacker etc.
It would just make a change if Arsene stopped being such a massive hypocrite and criticising City for what he himself has been doing for several seasons.
City’s travelling support – with half price match tickets thanks to a club subsidy – can take heart in that Messrs Sinclair, Richards, and Boyata will not be on show as they were at Wembley.
Anything that even remotely resembles the shambolic performance of August 10th, will be met with very short shrift at a ground where City have only lost once in their last five visits – drawing three and recording a memorable win in January 2013.
A win or even a draw would be adequate reward as Pellegrini seeks to navigate through a triple header of Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Chelsea in the space of nine days. He knows it’s no time for deception or any disguising of City’s credentials as Champions of England and aspiring Kings of Europe.
Will the real Manchester City please show themselves by 14.45 today!
By David Walker
Dedicated to the wonderful people who have displayed community spirit, compassion & kindness in the wake of the horrendous blaze at the Manchester Dogs’ Home in Harpurhey. Such humanity far outweights the unfathomable evil that took the lives of more than 50 innocent creatures. RIP Man’s Best Friends…
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