Friday, February 05, 2010

The end of Bitter and Blue

Well sort of.

This will be the last post on Bitter and Blue in its current guise as from today the blog has moved to join the team over at SBNation.

It was a tough decision to make and it will be strange to have the blog elsewhere after four and a bit years at its home here on Blogger, but I feel it is a really good opportunity to join up with them. For those who may not know much about SBNation, they have really become a big deal in the world of sports blogging over the past 12-18 months or so and average around 50 million page views per month across their whole sports network.

They are now looking to really expand their football coverage and have asked me to come on board and as they expand their focus on the Premier League. One of the impressive features over at SBNation is the facility for readers to post links to articles, videos or even put up your own blog posts on Bitter and Blue.

For those of you who currently subscribe via RSS feed, it should automatically update but there is also a subscribe facility at the new blog.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by these past few years to read the blog. Hope to see you over at the new place.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bridge and Lescott nearing a return

Slowly but surely, the squad is beginning to take on a healthier look - and is set to have a very competitive feel to it. After Patrick Vieira's return to training, defensive pair Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge are set to return over the next week:
WAYNE Bridge is set to shrug off the problems of his personal life and return to action for the Blues at Hull on Saturday.

City could also welcome back £24million defender Joleon Lescott at the KC Stadium, but are still likely to be without Patrick Vieira, despite his return to full training yesterday.

But Bridge’s injury is progressing nicely and he is expected to return to the left back slot. Lescott, out for the same period after knee surgery, is also pushing for inclusion in Roberto Mancini’s 20-man squad.

Both defenders have been back in full training, and have impressed fitness coach Ivan Carminati, who told M.E.N. Sport:

“Joleon started with us last week with a warm-up and this week is 100 per cent with us in full training. When you have been out for more than a month, as he has, you need time, but I spoke to him yesterday and he is very happy.

“His knee is very strong, and unless things change he could be involved in the next game, and so could Wayne Bridge. They have a good chance for Hull, but if not, for Bolton next Tuesday. In a very short time they will be in the 20 and then Roberto will decide.”
The past few games have exposed some of the shortcomings in Javi Garrido's game so you would say Bridge's inclusion is an obvious one (depending upon his frame of mind of course).

For Lescott though it isn't quite as simple. He is synonomous with some of our defensive struggles earlier in the season, and a piece in the MEN highlighted his struggles as they rated the defensive pairings this season (something I'll more on tomorrow). His injury has allowed others to come in and stake their claim for a position.

Can you really justify benching Vincent Kompany - or even Dedryck Boyata - to accomodate Lescott? I'm not one who doubts his ability or that he will be a success with us, but he is surely going to have bide his time before he is back in the starting line-up again.

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Johnson talks about his move

A nice interview in the Northern Echo with Adam Johnson in which he discusses his time at Middlesbrough and reasons for the move (and mentions interest from both Wolves and Sunderland), and in which talked a little about looking ahead to his time at the club:

“It’s a big club, where I will learn and improve playing alongside top players every day. I want to achieve as much as I can in the game, I want to play in Europe, the Champions League and win trophies. At Manchester City I can do that.

“I’m totally prepared for the change. I actually think a move like this would have happened a few years back but I didn’t really get my chance while Stewart Downing was around.”

“It’s strange how I have joined when Robinho has left, it’s amazing to think I’m filling the hole left by the most expensive footballer in British football. I can’t wait.”

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Robinho's farewell

Via the official site:

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Vieira ready to go

It appears as though Patrick Vieira is finally ready to make his debut for the club:

"It has been a frustrating spell with the injury. Thank God it is over and I am ready to start, " he said. I suffered it in the last game for Inter and did not realise it was that bad. City have been right behind me and I have to thank them for that.

"I am looking forward to playing in the Premier League again and getting a run of games. When I was in Italy I followed the matches. They have been exciting and I really believe it is one of the best in the world."

"I have found a team that matches my expectations. I think the future for this club is fantastic. There are a lot of winners and great players in the dressing room"

How Vieira fares is going to be an interesting aspect to watch over the course of the remainder of the season.

Whilst we are well stocked in midfield there is a definite need for the type of player Vieira can be - or at least the player Vieira was. There has been plenty of discussion over the number of games both Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong have played so far and Barry in particular could benefit from a spell on the sidelines to re-charge.

The question will be though is which Vieira we will see. The dominant force at Arsenal? The one who laboured through his time at Juventus or the player who carved out a new role at Inter? Ideally, the Vieira we need will prove a perfect ally alongside Nigel de Jong but also able to contribute and dominate in an attacking sense.

It is a lot to ask of course and there is no telling how Vieira will fare on his return, with his thirty-something legs a long way removed from last playing in the Premier League.

But if the move is a success, the addition of Vieira could well be a difference maker come the end of the season.

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New contract for Petrov?

Tucked away inside this article on plans for a US tour next summer is the news that we have offered a contract to Martin Petrov - with talks by all accounts 'enouraging':
City have offered Martin Petrov a new contract and are encouraged by the way the negotiations have gone with the Bulgaria international. The deadline-day signing of Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy's impressive form have increased the competition on the left side of attack but Robinho has made it clear he does not want to return to Manchester after his six-month loan spell with Santos and the manager, Roberto Mancini, is keen to keep the 31-year-old Petrov, who is out of contract at the end of the season and eligible to speak to potential buyers.
As excited as I am that we landed Adam Johnson on deadline day, it would be a huge shame if that spelled the end of Martin Petrov's time at the club. Although he has come in for criticism in some quarters, he is a genuinely exciting player to watch and undoubtedly has a role still to play for us - even more so if Robinho has pulled on a shirt for the last time.

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Club accused over Gago

Judging by these comments, the agent of Fernando Gago and Real's Jorge Valdano are none too pleased with our conduct over the transfer that wasn't:

"City used us," Gago's agent Marcello Lombilla told radio station Onda Cero. "This has never happened to me before. I don't want to talk about the figures that City were offering because they approached Madrid without even knowing there wasn't physically enough time to put something together."

Real's sporting director Jorge Valdano was equally unimpressed with City's attempts, claiming that their lack of preparation hindered any hope of reaching a deal.

"They had nothing prepared, not even one document signed," Valdano told El Pais. "They had not reached an agreement with the player and they would have had to have done everything in 40 minutes."

It is difficult to know how true the accusations are, but it is not a stretch to thinkg that whilst Gago may have been on the 'wanted list', it was not until the deal to sign McDonald Mariga ultimately collapsed that there was a real intent to pursue Gago and salvage something from deadline day.

Given it was so late in the day though (with a 5pm deadline) that confirmation that Mariga's work permit had been declined, this would have left little or no time to negotiate and tie-up a deal for Gago (hence why suggestions of an initial loan surfaced on Monday), and if the accusations have some substance, does definitely show a lack of contingency and forward planning by the key decision makers in charge.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Benjani move confirmed

As expected, the loan transfer of Benjani to Sunderland was confirmed today and it is all but certain that his career with us is now over with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.

It is a good move for Benjani as he remains in the Premier League and goes to a side where he will likely see plenty of playing, something he would not be afforded (despite his recent stint as a stand-in) with the return of Emmanuel Adebayor.

Steve Bruce clearly thinks he has landed himself a good player (and it must be noted that there was plenty of interest in him) anyway:
"He's a big, strong, powerful centre forward and one we've been tracking for a long time," Bruce said. "I'm delighted that we've been able to bring him to the club. He'll bring another dimension to our striking options and will be a great addition to the squad."
It is easy to dismiss Benjani's time at the club as a failure, yet he was in many ways a victim of the circumstances that have swept through the club over the past 12-18 months. When he first arrived, my view was that he was a useful, if somewhat underwhelming signing but he performed fairly credibly initially and of course etched his name into derby folklore with the his goal at Old Trafford in our 2-1 victory.

But when the significant money began to arrive he found himself frozen out of the side during the time Mark Hughes was in charge - perhaps surprisingly when you look back and consider options in attack were limited and both Ched Evans and Felipe Caicedo were regular fixtures in the starting line up.

His rather languid style may not have endeared himself to Hughes though and until his recent surprise recall he was well and truly cast into the wilderness. There can be no argument that our progress and ambition means his future lies elsewhere, but he always struck as an affable character and he certainly won't go with any ill will towards him.

Career stats:

Season Apps Goals
2007/08 13 3
2008/09 8(4) 3
2009/10 4(2) 1

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Robinho keen on Santos stay

"My goal is to stay for a long-time. If the president wants to extend my contract to four years that would be great."
>>Robinho on his unveiling at Santos.

My view when the loan deal was made was that was the last we will see of Robinho in a City shirt, being that far from a loan deal invigorating him and providing the necessary motivation for him to succeed with ourselves, it would merely strengthen any resolve to move from the club.

Therefore the comments are not a surprise, but, on the other hand may have been Robinho paying lip service to a sizeable crowd that had turned out.

I doubt it though.

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A late, late deal for Benjani?

So suggests ESPN, based on Steve Bruce's pre-match interview when he discussed the potential move:

Steve Bruce is hopeful Benjani will be joining the club after Sunderland's last-gasp move for the Manchester City striker.

Speaking before Monday night's ESPN game with Stoke Bruce said his club had got all the paperwork off on time and were awaiting confirmation.

The 31-year-old Zimbabwean had been in talks with Blackburn but now his fate rests with the Premier League.

When asked if Benjani would be heading to the Stadium of Light Bruce said: "We hope so, we have done everything properly. It was very, very late but we hope it's been accepted by the FA.

"It was pretty hectic at five to five when everything was going in there. At this moment in time I'm not so sure but Niall Quinn the chairman is very, very confident that it has been completed."

I haven't been able to find anything else to back this report out, so if anyone has anything please feel free to leave a comment.

UPDATE: The Times man in the North-East, George Caulkin, suggests on twitter that the paperwork to sign Benjani has been filed but was held up by 'technical problems' and the hope is that some leniency will be afforded.

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The lowdown on the Gago 'non-deal'

The Guardian's man for all things La Liga, Sid Lowe, brings us some background on the reasons why a deal for Fernando Gago did not ultimately transpire:
Manchester City failed in last-minute efforts to sign the Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago in a deal worth a potential €18m (£15.7m). Gago, who had asked Madrid to allow him to leave, spent much of today in a hotel awaiting developments but was forced to stay at the Santiago BernabĂ©u after the clubs failed at the 11th hour to reach agreement on the terms of the transfer.

City were keen to bring the Argentina international to Eastlands and Madrid were willing sellers but, with time running out to finalise the details and complete paperwork on a permanent move, City proposed a loan with an option to buy for €18m only for Madrid to refuse.

The article goes on to state that Madrid were hoping to squeeze a higher fee from ourselves by leaving negotiations until the last stages, only to (incredibly) not realise that in England the deadline closed several hours before the Spanish one.

I can't say I'm hugely disappointed this one did not go through. A loan deal may have been interesting to see how he fared over half a season or so, but from seeing Gago play he hasn't shown me enough to suggest he would be a huge asset or upgrade to those currently in the squad.

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Mariga deal falls through.....and Inter nip in

One deal that was expected to be a 'sure thing' today ended in frustrastion as McDonald Mariga slipped through our grasp and ended up signing for Inter in a co-ownership agreement with his current club Parma.

It appears as though a deal was agreed in principle, but as I anticipated a couple of days ago we ran into problems attaining a work permit for the Kenyan:

Mariga, who has 24 caps, met part of the UK criteria after playing in 75% of Kenya's games in the last two years.

But his application was rejected as Kenya are ranked 98th in Fifa's world rankings, outside the top 70 nations.

City attended an appeal at Wembley on Monday morning but failed to overturn the decision about the 22-year-old.

A further appeal could have been lodged but would have meant a deal could not have been completed until the next transfer window.

Frustration I'm sure then turned to exasperation as later in the day it was announced that Mariga had signed for Inter, who had also coveted the player:
McDonald Mariga has officially signed for Inter as they agreed a £4m co-ownership deal with Parma.

The Kenya born midfielder was very close to a move to Manchester City in the past few days but negotiations didn't go ahead due to visa problems.
Unfortunately, Mariga has paid the price for having Kenyan nationality and it is something seen before where a player meets all the relevant criteria to be awarded a work permit, with the exception of being eligible for a side in the top 70 ranked countries in the world.

Whilst the overwhelming majority had never seen Mariga play, the comments left on here certainly suggest a player with immense potential and indicate him as a player who could have had a big future with us.

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Johnson signs

The deal that many expected was finally confirmed just before the transfer deadline this afternoon as we landed Adam Johnson for an undisclosed fee:
The Club is delighted to announce that Adam Johnson has joined us from Middlesbrough for an undisclosed fee after agreeing terms and passing a medical this afternoon.

The former England Under-21 winger, who has signed a contract until June 2014, steps straight into Roberto Mancini's squad against Hull on Saturday. He will wear the traditional No.11.

Johnson, who played 19 games for England Under-21s and scored four goals, has played 96 times for Boro, scoring 13 times and making a firm impression on the game's shrewdest judges.

Although it was confirmed as an undisclosed fee, the MEN are suggesting it is in the region of an initial £6million, rising to £10 million with add-ons. Although Johnson was out of contract in the summer, given his age (meaning we would have had to have paid a compensatory figure anyway) and undoubted potential it is a fair figure.

I am excited about the move. Johnson is very highly thought of in the game and impressed in our FA Cup meeting before being forced off through injury. He had his path blocked a little by Stewart Downing early in his career and spent time on loan at both Leeds and Watford but returned for the 2008/09 season where he made twenty-six appearances in Middlesbrough's relegation campaign.

Interestingly enough, Johnson has often featured on the right wing (or 'off-wing') - something that Mancini (amongst many others at the moment) is fond of utilising and far from him being banished to the reserves my view is that he will see plenty of playing time over the remainder of the season.

A further point to consider is the potential effect this could have on Martin Petrov's future. Out of contract in the summer of course, he has often been linked with moves away from the club (with rumours today of a move to Everton) and perhaps this signing pushes the Bulgarian closer to the exit door?

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Kompany injury blow

Some not so positive news following yesterdays victory:
Manchester City have been hit by a fresh injury problem with Vincent Kompany expected to be out for at least two weeks with a groin strain.

The big defender, who has been a revelation at centre-back during City's defensive injury crisis, limped out of Sunday's 2-0 win over Portsmouth.
With the emergence of Dedryck Boyata and return to the line up of Kolo Toure (plus the imminent return of Kolo Toure) the centre of defence is not an area we are particularly short in.

However, Kompany has been excellent since he stepped into the breach when Roberto Mancini arrived amidst a raft of injuries. So much so that he must be in contention for the January player of the month award (although like JPB I think Tevez has shaded it) and has been both an assuring and commanding presence at the back.

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Vidal joins Derby on loan

Derby County have signed versatile Manchester City youngster Javan Vidal on loan until the end of the season.

The 20-year-old England youth international can operate at right-back or on the right-hand side of midfield.

Vidal is yet to feature for City's first team but had loan spells with Grimsby and Aberdeen last season.

>>BBC Sport.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Johnson bid 'increased'

Sky Sports News understands that Manchester City have made an improved offer for Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson.

City made a move for the talented 22-year-old earlier in the week, only for Boro boss Gordon Strachan to reject the approach.

Although Johnson is understood to want the chance to hold transfer talks, Boro, for now, hold the key to his short-term future.


As I posted previously, I expected an increased bid from us and would be confident of it being successful. Middlesbrough, I'm sure, would take a bid in the region of £6 million as opposed to seeing him walk when his contract expires in the summer.

It always amazes me though quite why deals are left until the very end of the transfer window, and unless we can get a fee agreed soon we run the danger of not being able to complete by tomorrow's 5pm deadline.

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Toure on the Portsmouth win

The returning captain - and my man of the match - on today's victory:
"It was an important win for us. If we want to be in the top four then we know that we need to win these kind of games. This League is really tough - it doesn't matter who you play, you have to raise your game and try your hardest to win. That's what we had to do against Portsmouth.

"At the start of the season we dropped a few points to the lower teams. But we are strong as a team and we defended well today after the two goals that we scored."

"We've got Hull next week and then Bolton. They are really important games for us. We need to take the points against the teams who are in the lower part of the table."
Would we have lost earlier in the season playing as we did today? Possibly, but although we were not particularly good today one thing that was noticeable was that the team retained their focus and concentration, particularly in defence.

Earlier in the season, what was hurting us throughout the run of draws was poor decision making and a lack of concentration which led to crucial goals being conceded.

Kudos then to Roberto Mancini for the way in which he has focused on this area - an aspect that will also be key in our next two fixtures, that we realistically have to take six points from.

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Portsmouth ratings

Given - A couple of anxious moments early on but rarely tested. 6

Zabaleta - Some good attacking forays until forced off through injury - 6.5

Toure - Returned to the line up and a strong presence in the side. My man of the match. 7

Kompany - Continued his form of late. Hopefully the injury is not serious. 7

Garrido - Lack of pace again evident today and exposed on occasions. 5.5

de Jong - Strong performance yet again but could have received more than a yellow. 6.5

Barry - Not getting into games enough. Place must be under threat. 5

Ireland - Nice ball for the opening goal and added creativity today. 6.5

Petrov - Confident as always, but a little selfish in his decision making. 6

Adebayor - Good to see him back in the side and took his goal well. 7

Tevez - Plenty of energy and running but lacked the quality of late. 6.5


Onouha - Slotted in with ease at right back. 6.5

Boyata - Accomplished performance after replacing the injured Kompany. 6.5

Bellamy - Added importance pace late on. 6.5

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City 2 - 0 Portsmouth

One by product of the raised expectations at the club over the past 12-18 months has been an attitude where far less patience is afforded. Clearly today was not a particularly good performance, yet it was by no means a poor one. Judging by some of the post-match reaction you wouldn't have thought so though.

Ahead of the game my view (not a lone one I hasten to add) was that the three points were all but ours, and that anything a comfortable and convincing win was expected. Perhaps that was a mentality shared by the players given the evidence of the opening half an hour where it was Portsmouth, and not ourselves, who had the pace and energy. Portsmouth had early chances too, but crucially couldn't take them.

There were more formation changes again today - variants of 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 - which may have unsettled the side too. Mancini is clearly a flexible coach, and not one for allowing the game to remain static at any time.

As manfully as they began, it was evident that this Portsmouth do not possess sufficient quality throughout their side and it was a moment of quality that led to us opening the scoring. The restored Stephen Ireland, picking out the run of Emmanuel Adebayor (a borderline offside call) with a direct ball. Adebayor's first touch was excellent to bring the ball under control and the finish left David James with no chance.

With time ticking down on the first half, the game was all but killed off. Vincent Kompany beating his marker (Tal Ben Haim) at a corner to powerfully head home for the second. Whilst we have thrown enough leads away over the course of this season, it was a relatively safe bet that the game was all but over.

We played better in the second half and there was some good moments and passages of play, but lacked a little cohesion and collectiveness in attack to press home the advantage. Portsmouth missed an opportunity or two themselves to get back into the game late on before Tevez hit the post but there could be no real arguments as to where the points headed.

It was an important victory given results elsewhere this weekend (Villa and Liverpool winning, Tottenham drawing) and we round out January in a healthy position. February looks to be a tough proposition in the league with trips to Hull, Stoke and Chelsea alongside home games against Bolton and Liverpool.

There will be ten games remaining in the 2009/10 league campaign following this set of fixtures. Being in possession of fourth spot at the end of them has to be the requirement.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Portsmouth preview

Whilst a semi-final defeat would be frustrating enough, the manner in which we exited on Wednesday evening will have resulted in a squad of players eager to get back on the pitch and get it out of their systems.

For a choice of opponent, perhaps Portsmouth are exactly what is required. Currently bottom of the league, players not being paid and facing an uncertain future with a winding up order scheduled in February would be bad enough. Added to this though is the fact that they have failed to win in their past fifteen visits to Maine Road/CoMS and face us in the midst of a thirteen game home unbeaten run and a win will see us set new records in that regard and also for scoring in consecutive home games (currently at twenty).

From the limited time I have seen of Portsmouth they have appeared to be a spirited, if somewhat limited side, perhaps galvanised into a united mentality by the off-field troubles but surely that is sustainable only for so long. The more that emerges about their current plight, the more obvious the sheer scale of mis-management at the club appears to have been.

They have re-signed Jamie O'Hara on loan from Tottenham but have uncertainty over both Asimir Begovic and Younes Kaboul and looking through their squad they will face an uphill battle to avoid the drop this season unless they can somehow strengthen over the next few days.

I would be incredibly surprised (and disappointed) if Roberto Mancini did not revert back to a 4-4-2 formation to accomodate Emmanuel Adebayor. If so, the likely candidate to drop out would be Pablo Zabaleta, although he did enough in the second half on Wednesday to suggest he would be a better fit than Javi Garrido at left back. Mancini may also recall Kolo Toure to the starting line-up in place of Dedryck Boyata.

With Wembley plans now put to one side (at least until the next round of the FA Cup anyway), focus resumes on our bid for a top four spot. It is no stretch to say that three points really is a must if we have designs on Champions League qualification and a win is exactly what I am expecting.

As emphatic a victory as this one would be very welcome.

Game notes:
  • City are unbeaten in their last 13 home league matches since a 3-1 defeat by Fulham in April (W10, D3). If they avoid defeat on Sunday it will be their longest unbeaten top-flight run since an 18-match streak ended in September 1981.
  • They have scored in their last 20 league matches at the City of Manchester Stadium. If they score against Portsmouth it will be their longest goal-scoring run since 1958.
  • Portsmouth have won just one of their last six league games (W1, D2, L3).
  • They have lost 10 of their 11 matches against top-half opponents this season - the worst record in the division. The exception was the 2-0 win over Liverpool in December.
  • Pompey have scored 19 league goals this season - only Wolves had managed fewer prior to this weekend's fixtures.
  • They have only earned two points from losing positions this season.

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