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Battle of Manchester – A preview

Manchester City vs Manchester United, Etihad Stadium, Premier League

Kickoff – 20:00 GMT (00:30 IST), 30th April 2012

So, it has all boiled down to this. The largest game of the season is upon us. A city waits with bated breath with the world watching on as Manchester City host Manchester United, in the title decider.

This season, has been one of the best I have witnessed. There has been so much pace, so much passion, so much craziness, so many incidents, so many unexpected results and a horde of drama. And, there’s still more drama. What better can it be than the title clash, between the long standing rivals in Manchester.

By December, Manchester City were literally steamrollering their way in the Premier League. They just had to turn up and demolish teams it seemed. And why not. Bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi group, and armed with some of the most fearsome attacking talents on display in the league, everyone’s favorites to win the title, was Manchester City. In the summer, Mancini used all the cash reserves at his disposal, to prise Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy from Arsenal, to already add to the impressive array of players such as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure. The power battle in Manchester seemed to have completely swayed, towards the rising blue tide, when in one destructive balmy afternoon in October, City managed to put 6 past a hapless United, to record their biggest win at Old Trafford in nearly 56 years.

However, the story has not been all smiles. Cue the culprits. Messrs Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. With big names come big egos they say. And it was inevitable. Carlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini had a public outburst in a Champions League group game against eventual finalists Bayern Munich, a game which they went on to lose 2-0. Supposedly, the Italian manager asked the Argentine hotshot to get ready for warmups. Tevez refused to oblige and faced the wrath of the Italian. Tevez posted a completely different version. According to him, Mancini took out his frustration on the striker, and hence his revolt. Yes, revolt. A revolt, which saw him jetting off to his native, without serving a notice to his employer. For months, Manchester City remained clueless to the whereabouts of Tevez, until he posted a picture of him on the internet, visibly fattened, enjoying a round of golf with his buddies.

If that was not it, City had internal squabbles to deal with. First, there were players who were publicly remonstrating against the manager, on being subbed, more so out-of-favour Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko. While he scored two late on at Old Trafford, in the 6-1 hammering, his form of late has waned, and he has had the temerity to display audacity, on being replaced. Another example is that of Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov, who has never been able to hold on to his place in the squad. While this was going on, Mancini had to deal with another man with a light fuse, Mario Balotelli. While his fight with Jerome Boateng last season, was quite widely publicized, it did little to change the attitude of the enigmatic striker. He has had constant duels on the training ground, with right-back Micah Richards, captain Vincent Komapny, and with Aleksandr Kolarov, in a league game against Sunderland, and Yaya Toure, thereafter.

This has seen the title almost fall out of grasp from the Sky Blues, into the hands of the opportunistic Red Devils. While Carlos Tevez has returned and lost quite a bit of his belly, there were still problems with City, as they went on a poor run. They lost at Swansea, 1-0, and quickly made a comeback, in the next game, to rally and beat Chelsea 2-1. After that, they were held to a draw by Stoke City, thanks to a wonderful goal from Peter Crouch. In their next game against Sunderland, they looked like they were down and out, trailing 3-1, with barely 10 minutes to go. After the Balotelli-Kolarov push-and-shove, City managed to eke out a point, before completely being outplayed by Arsenal in their next game, and losing 1-0 thanks to a late Mikel Arteta goal. To compound their woes, Balotelli got a red card. They have, however pulled themselves back into contention, with a 4-0 thumping of West Brom, a 6-1 away win at Norwich, and a 2-0 win at Wolves.

While the ‘noisy neighbours’ have been, well, noisy, Manchester United went about quietly picking up the pieces since the 6-1 home humiliation. Having started the season, in a more emphatic fashion than their cross town rivals, early games indicated United’s dominance. They first brushed City 3-2 in a thriller at Wembley in the Community Shield, before garnishing it with results like the 3-0 beating of Spurs, the 8-2 crushing of Arsenal, a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton at the Reebok and a 3-1 win over Chelsea, before it all came crashing down to earth in the Manchester derby.

Like I said, they slowly picked up, eking out results. They edged Everton, Sunderland, Swansea and Aston Villa, all 1-0, before coming into their stride, come December. Consecutive 5-0 wins over Fulham and Wigan were sealed, but then it seemed to go horribly wrong. United, who had earlier crashed out of Europe, finishing 3rd in what seemed to be a straightforward group, suffered two losses, at the hands of lowly Blackburn at home 3-2, and a 3-0 loss, away to Newcastle.

When doubts were raised if Fergie and his men were up for it, they responded in typical fashion. First they knocked out Manchester City from the FA Cup, 3-2 at the Etihad, in a controversial game. Then, they went on a fine run in the league, winning 11 of their next 12 games. This included 2-1 wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, and a comeback at Stamford Bridge, after going 3-0 down, to secure a point. This has seen them overturn in what was once termed an unassailable lead, to a 8 point advantage of their own.

However, the unpredictability of results this season has been such, that nothing can be taken for granted. Wigan Athletic outplayed and deservedly beat Manchester United, and then, Manchester United gave away a 4-2 lead, with minutes to go against Everton, to draw 4-4, and tip the scales somewhat equally in favour of both Manchester clubs.

3 points is the difference. The permutations are massive. If Manchester City win, they will go on level with points with United, and ahead on goal difference With games against a topsy turvy Newcastle and relegation threatened QPR, you can almost see them through with winning the title should they win tomorrow.

However, anything but a City win, and one can be sure of the Red Devils coasting towards a 20th league title. They face Swansea at home and Sunderland away on the last day of the season, and with both of them in holiday mood, it could be rollover.

Let’s have a look at the teams then. While Roberto Mancini says, he could play Mario Balotelli, to induce that surprise factor, I feel he will stay on the safer side and play the Argentine duo of Aguero and Tevez, who have 9 goals between them in the last 3 games. What has been a feature to City’s game is the way they have played their midfield of late. Having played James Milner and Adam Johnson on the wings, for most of the campaign, they have narrowed down their play in the last 3 wins. Now, they play a rather more central 4-2-2-2 formation, with Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure/Nigel de Jong in defensive midfield, David Silva and Samir Nasri in attacking midfield, and of course Tevez and Aguero in attack. While this system is quite open for Manchester United to attack on the wings, City’s defensive midfield will hold the key, to help out Richards and Clichy. Vincent Kompany has been majestic this season, and so has Joe Hart. They will have big roles to play tomorrow.

Manchester United, on the other hand, will look to the brilliance of Wayne Rooney, the astuteness of Scholes, and the pace of Valencia and Nani to counter City’s threat. Defence is a major worry for the Red Devils, having leaked 4 against Everton, all of them being the result of poor defending. Rafael looks a major liability, and Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans are yet to convince everyone that they are a good defensive team. David de Gea seems to have overcome all the early criticism of him, to become a fine shot stopper as of late. It will be interesting to see if Fergie goes with two upfront in Rooney and Welbeck, or he aims to win the battle in midfield.

It is going to be much more than a game tomorrow. It could be the turning point in City’s history. A moment for them to finally emerge out of United’s shadow. Their turn to have bragging rights in the city. Or will a certain Scot again brand his iron fist and paint the town red.

It is going to be a treat and you certainly wouldn’t want to miss it.

Enjoy the game wherever you are. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in General

 

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2009-2010 Season Review – More Unfinished Business

A long pre-season over, a fresh new challenge awaited the Gunners, as they embarked upon another roller coaster ride, in what was to be the 2009-2010 season. Coming close on many fronts over the last few seasons had left everyone frustrated and here was a chance for Arsenal to redeem themselves.

Surprisingly, the only major signing was the Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen. Emmanuel Adebayor had left for wads of cash. He was to later change his name to Emoneyuel Greedybayor. Kolo Toure left after examplary service to the club. Both had the same destination, Moneybags City.

The campaign started away to Everton. Arsenal had to endure a tough opening match of the season. Or was it?The Gunners completely dismantled the Toffees 6-1. The rout was started by Denilson in the 26th minute with a long-range screamer. And by half-time, 2 more goals were added as debutant defender Thomas Vermaelen headed in one and his defensive partner William Gallas also netted. And in the second half, Arsenal’s dream start continued as Fabregas netted a brace, celebrating the second by displaying a jersey with the name of his friend, and late Espanyol defender Daniel Jarque. Eduardo completed the rout before Louis Saha scored a consolation.

Big Belgian, Little Belgian!! 

Arsenal seemed to be on a goal-scoring spree as they qualified fir the Champions League group stages yet again, when they beat Scottish team Celtic 5-1 on aggregate, and Portsmouth 4-1 in the league.

However, that was that, as Arsenal faced a daunting trip to Eastlands to face both the Manchester clubs in the league. Old Trafford was the first stop, and Arsenal seemed to be on top of their rivals for most of the match, despite an early chance for Wayne Rooney. The young side created a flurry of chances, before Darren Fletcher bough down Andrei Arshavin for ‘what-should-have-been’ a penalty. But the referee didn’t oblige. Moments later, Arshavin found the ball in a perfect shooting position and let in a scorcher to hand the Gunners a 1-0 lead going into half-time. The second half started in the same frantic manner as the first had started. Wayne Rooney converted a penalty in the 59th and minutes later, Arsenal undid all their hard work as Abou Diaby headed in a disastrous own goal. A late deserved equaliser by Robin van Persie was denied by the referee.

Arshavin scores a belter!!

Manchester City were aiming to be the new force in the Premier League, with new investments coming in from the Abu Dhabi group. They had already priced away Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from the Emirates for a combined fee of £41 million. And other high-profile signings included strikers Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz, midfielder Gareth Barry and defender Jolean Lescott, all of whom were attracted by nothing but riches. The game, in itself was an enthralling affair, with van Persie’s fine strike levelling the scores at 1-1 in the 63rd minute. Moments later, Bellamy made it 2-1 to City before Emmanuel Adebayor made himself Arsenal’s public enemy No.1. He scored in the 80th minute and ran the length of the entire pitch and overcelebrated in front of the Arsenal faithful. He was also involved in a moment with van Persie, when he stamped the latter on purpose. However, it went unnoticed and Arsenal were beaten 4-2.

Days later, Arsenal found themselves 2-0 down in Belgium in less than 6 minutes and it seemed like Arsenal were disintegrating too early. However, Niklas Bendtner equalised on the stroke of half-time, and a 78th minute equaliser by Vermaelen in his homeland was soon added on to, by a 81st minute winner from Eduardo to complete a 3-2 turnaround.

The comeback is complete!! 

Vermaelen was proving to be somewhat of a hidden centre-forward as he crashed in 2 goals against Wigan in a 4-0 triumph, the second a belter from outside the box.Blackburn were given a sound 6-2 thrashing, in a game featuring another Vermaelen screamer, after being 2-1 down at one stage.

A centre forward in disguise!

Arsenal dropped 2 points away to West Ham with a late Allesandro Diamanti penalty and days later a youthful team eliminated Liverpool from the League Cup, young Spaniard Francisco Merida, scoring a wonderful goal.

The first North London derby turned out to be a mismatch, as Arsenal beat Cunty Spuds 3-0. Fabregas embarrassed the Spurs defence, in the 43rd minute, who were kicking off after van Persie had scored the first. He took the ball of them and ran half the pitch, beating everyone in his wake to score the 2nd goal of the evening.

Spuds drubbed again!! 

Meanwhile, Eduardo was in scintillating form as he forced two own goals at Wolves in a 4-1 win. However, the run ended there as the next two league games ended in defeats, first a 1-0 loss at Sunderland, and then a home loss to a marauding Didier Drogba-inspired Chelsea. More humiliation was heaped upon as a young team were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City in the League Cup.

Arshavin re-announced himself at Anfield, months after his 4-goal display, as he scored a brilliant goal in a 2-1 win. Dirk Kuyt had scored the first for Liverpool, before Glen Johnson deflected one into his own net for Arsenal’s equalizer. It saw a reverse in Arsenal’s league fortunes, as they picked up vital wins against Hull City, Aston Villa and Portsmouth. 2 late goals from Ramsey and Eduardo saw off West Ham in the FA Cup.

Gerrard-‘What have we ever done to you, you mean mean Russian?’ 

Arsenal hosted Everton in what was one of the few matches around the country that weekend, due to heavy snowfall. Most matches had been cancelled, and it seemed even this would have been. However, brilliant work from the groundsmen ensured the match would go ahead as scheduled. And it seemed Everton would make most of Arsenal’s defensive frailties when Steven Piennar handed them the lead in the 81st minute. But, Tomas Rosicky’s late goal secured a point. Bolton were then beaten 2-0 and 4-2 in successive games.

Arsenal welcomed back experienced defender Sol Campbell on a short deal to the Emirates. He had made 195 appearances in his first spell from 2001 to 2006, winning two league titles and the FA Cup thrice. He moved on to Portsmouth where he won another FA Cup winner’s medal in 2008. He made an unsuccessful move to lower league Notts County, breaking his contract after just 1 match. He returned to Arsenal’s training base to keep fit and was offered a short term deal. He made his debut in a 3-1 loss to Stoke City, which saw the Gunners exit the FA Cup.

31st January 2010 is a date I don’t remember fondly. It was the day before the new semester began in college, and I was in the hostel to watch Arsenal host Manchester United in the league. Giving me company were around 30 glory hunters. I am sure not even 5 of them could name Manure’s starting lineup. United were 1 point ahead of the Gunners coming into this one. Every Manure goal was cheered loudly by these chums, who didn’t know shit about the sport. Anyways, Arsenal disappointingly lost 3-1.

Even this goal was to no avail, in the worst match ever!

Arsenal were haunted again by an Ivorian demon called Didier Drogba, going down 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. By now, Arsenal had fallen well behind in the title race, 9 points adrift of their Chelsea neighbors.Abou Diaby bought back some cheer as he scored the only goal in the 71st minute in a game against Liverpool.

Sol Campbell scored his last goal in the Champions League in that fateful night in Paris against Barcelona. He scored again in the Champions League Knockout stage game against FC Porto of Portugal, with the scoreline reading a 2-1 loss to Arsenal. 10 days later Arsenal travelled to Stoke, only to face a team that had been trained to play in the Rugby league. Ryan Shawcross’ wild lunge broke young Aaron Ramsey’s tibula and fibia (in short, the leg). It was another horrific injury Arsenal had suffered. I can still remember that moment, when Ramsey lie there in dire pain, calling out for the physio for help. It was another Eduardo moment, and the Gunners covered their face with their hands, not able to comprehend the injury. But, it was not to be a Birmingham as Arsenal proved their mettle with two goals in stoppage time from Fabregas and Vermaelen to secure a 3-1 win.

Ramsey’s horrific injury..

The team celebrate a resurgent win!! 

In the home game against Burnley, posters in support of Aaron Ramsey adorned the stadium, with the Gunners emerging 3-1 winners. 3 days later, Arsenal turned on the style in Europe. Down 2-1 from the first leg, Arsenal saw themselves leading 2-0 after just 25 minutes, with both goals being scored by the heavily-criticized Dane Niklas Bendtner. The 63rd minute saw the lead being extended to 3 goals, as Samir Nasri beat a host of defenders, and proving he can step up to the role of Cesc Fabregas, to score a peach. Emmanuel Eboue scored in the 66th, before Bendtner completed his hat-trick with a stoppage time penalty.

Bendtner and Nasri, brilliant against Porto!! 

A trip to the KC Stadium proved to be fruitful, as Bendtner turned out to be the match-winner to secure a 2-1 win with a really late strike. This still kept Arsenal in the title hunt. Arsenal were 2nd, level on points with leaders Chelsea at 64 points, and a point ahead of United, having played a game more.

Bendtner’s 90th minute goal!! 

After beating West Ham 2-0 at home, Arsenal failed to go just 1 point behind leaders Chelsea after being denied a win at St. Andrews, thanks to a late Kevin Phillips equaliser. And, Arsenal were still going strong in Europe and had been drawn to a formidable Barcelona team. While Barcelona were near full-strength, Arsenal were still without first-choice striker Robin van Persie. A half-fit Fabregas led Arsenal into the match.

Barcelona were completely dominant in the first half, and only a resolute Manuel Almunia kept them at bay, as he pulled off a flurry of saves. To Arsenal’s misfortune, they suffered two more injuries as Gallas and Arshavin were substituted before half-time, with the lesser-experienced and lesser-talented Denilson and Eboue. Barca made most of it, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the first a minute after the second half started. He rocked Arsenal again 13 minutes later to double the advantage. It seemed all was over for Arsenal that season in Europe. Just then, Theo Walcott fired in Arsenal’s first in the 69th minute to provide a glimmer of hope. As Barca huffed and puffed to hold on to the precious lead, Carles Puyol bought down fellow Catalan Cesc Fabregas in the box and was sent off. Fabregas converted and made it 2-2, but by now he was limping in pain, and played the last 10 minutes without complaining. The match ended 2-2, leaving the Gunners a mountain to climb at the Nou Camp.

El Capitan wins and scores the equaliser! Legend!

Back in the league, Wolves provided stiff opposition, only for Bendtner to pop up with a valuable winner in the 94th minute, the very dying embers of the game. This win kept them 3 points behind the leaders Chelsea, with 5 games to go.

Bendtner to the rescue again!!

Camp Nou was the setting of the beginning of the end. A Messi masterclass. In the 18th minute, Walcott sent Bendtner through. The Dane missed, but scored off the rebound. I remember that goal. I was so mad at Bendtner, I would have killed him if he were next to me. But, he redeemed himself seconds later. Arsenal were 1-0 up at the Nou Camp. That joy was shortlived as 3 minutes later, Barca were level through that superhuman Lionel Messi. By half-time, it was all but over as Messi scored two more to hand the Catalans a 3-1 lead. The second half was more a regulation, and Messi rounded off with his 4th of the night in the 88th minute. A weak Arsenal had been thoroughly beaten.

A Messi masterclass! 😦

Arsenal’s last shot at silverware was the league, and nothing short of 15 points in the next 5 games would give the chance for Arsenal to life silverware. First stop, Shit Fart Lane, in a forgettable North London derby. It was the day when some cunt called Danny Rose decided to be Ronaldinho for a second. His blazing shot from planet Saturn was unstoppable. Soon enough, in the 47th minute, Spurs doubled their advantage through Welsh winger Gareth Bale. Robin van Persie made a comeback after a long injury layoff in the 68th minute, but was denied a goal on several ocassions by Gomes, who decided he would be Oliver Kahn for 25 minutes. Bendtner’s 85th minute goal was just a consolation, as Arsenal created a 6 points gap between them and the leaders.

Some pride was restored at the DW Stadium, as Arsenal took an unassailable 2-0 lead against Wigan. Or it was, I thought. Wigan heaped heartbreak over the Gunners, with 3 goals in the final 10 minutes, to snatch a 3-2 win. In this game, Charles N’Zogbia decided he had Roberto Carlos’ left foot. The title race was over for Arsenal.

Dejection! 😦

Another loss awaited at Ewood Park, before a final day home win over Fulham meant a 3rd place finish and no trophies to show for.

Chokers?Goners?’Throw away your chances’ team?Well, all of it were terms branded by the media over Arsenal, as the club completed their 5th season without a major trophy.

Well, my love for Arsenal?It was the same old, boundless.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 3rd place

FA Cup – 4th Round

Carling Cup – 5th Round

Champions League – Quarter Finals

Top Scorer – Cesc Fabregas (19 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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