Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Swansea City v Man City, Match preview, Liberty Stadium, 11/3/12

Bring it on.....

I've written previously of the pleasure it gives me to consider and talk about the "iconic" fixtures we've faced in this League this year, both Home and Away, but we'll get more than just promises on Sunday, when Roberto Mancini brings his Man City charges to the Liberty, and it's a mouthwatering prospect in this weekend's match-up.

Pitted against the team that was our very first PL opponent, and who have gone on from that encouraging start against us to genuinely challenge the perennial favourites, and to provide a refreshingly open contest for the top spot, we can expect fireworks, as at least one of their players will testify.

Forgive me if you discern a bias towards East Manchester in my approbation of this year's leading protagonists, but Manchester City's progress offers a little more to be sympathetic toward, I'd offer, despite the supposedly limitless backing available from their Middle East ownership.

I say this principally because as a neutral, undeniably a Swan, it seems to me that they're approaching the prospect of ultimate success with a degree more humility than that displayed by the Govan Guv'nor propped adjacent at one end of the East Lancs Rd., who, it seems to me, takes his Red Devils predominance more as a rite of passage rather than an open contest. But perhaps that's just my personal bias? Who knows.

What can, undoubtedly, be said, is that Mancini's urbane challenge has both frightened and challenged Fergie's bullying bluster. Where's the "mind-games" now, Alex?

However, let's at least be fair here - the only team to have come to the Liberty this season and to not only compete, but to have won with a little to spare, was SAF's tried and trusted warriors, in the 1-0 bluster and blather of their 19th November, 1-0 victory.

Whilst Norwich City were the only other side to have succeeded at the Lib, that was also a game where we might have won, or at least drawn. Against Utd, on the other hand, they did more than just a "number" on us - they seemed to win with a degree of comfort we're not used to seeing at our place.

Incidentally, since we're talking Premier League and what it means, if anyone hasn't seen the "QPR- Four Year Plan" documentary, done by Mat Hodgson for the BBC, get it here, while you can, and pray that Huw Jenkins behaves more like Amit Batia, rather than Flavio Briatore or Gianni Paladini. Shudder, and thank God we're on a different track.

So, when we face Manchester's best (according to some) we can not only take in the extravagant talent on display, but puff our chests out in pride that we're competing with the very best.

Be honest, as no more than an interested observer this coming weekend, you'd want to see how CR7 and Lionel Messi were getting on, but after that your interest would surely veer toward the Lib - where we'll get to see the sublime David Silva, and the equally compelling Sergio Aguero, arguably the best 2 footballers in the British Isles.

Small problem, of course, they're playing against us - but, hey, that's how good it's got lately. Where on earth would you rather be? I'll take Jamaica or Barbados or any equally flippant answer, but don't even bother to suggest another football ground.

Don't forget, too, that one reason this game is attractive is the way we play. People enjoy it.

The Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) has provided Roberto Mancini with the wherewhithal, via cash investment for player purchase, in advance of anyone else in World Football, and as the season progresses, the initial fears that Don Roberto may not be "up to the job" have moved further and further into the background. The singularly pleasant Italian is proving that his spell at Inter Milan, and the trophies won, are a little beyond
winning the Ryman League, as some football Journos still seem to tag his achievements for so doing.

Calciopoly notwithstanding, Serie A success should have given the hint that after a stellar career as a player, Roberto Mancini had done enough during his days on the field to reinforce that in his fledgling managerial employment he would ultimately go on to manage at the top level. And now he is.

He is assisted by both David Platt and Brian Kidd, the ex England players both having had extensive Managerial experience, and the rest of the coaching staff, Attilio Lombardo, Fausto Salsano, Ivan Carminati, Massimo Battara, has familiar Italian football names.

Plus, don't forget, Patrick Vieira, he of PL fame, is nowadays the Football Development Executive.

Before listing the players, it should be remembered that they still own all of these talents, all of whom are out on loan......Dedryck Boyata* (BEL), Wayne Bridge* (ENG), Greg Cunningham* (IRE), Abdisalam Ibrahim* (NOR), Michael Johnson* (ENG), Abdul Razak* (CIV), Vladimir Weiss* (SVK), Emmanuel Adebayor* (TGO), Roque Santa Cruz* (PRY), Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely* (ENG).

The squad assembled is this.....
Goalkeepers :- Costel Pantilimon (ROM), Joe Hart (ENG), Gunnar Nielsen (FAR), Stuart Taylor (ENG)
Defenders :- Aleksandar Kolarov (SERB), Vincent Kompany (BEL), Gael Clichy (FRA), Joleon Lescott (ENG), Stefan Savic (MON), Micah Richards (ENG), Kolo Toure (CIV), Pablo Zabaleta (ARG)
Midfielders :- Gareth Barry (ENG), Owen Hargreaves (ENG), Adam Johnson (ENG), Nigel de Jong (NED), James Milner (ENG), Samir Nasri (FRA), David Pizarro (CHI), David Silva (ESP), Yaya Toure (CIV)
Strikers :- Mario Balotelli (IT), Edin Dzeko (BIH), Sergio Aguero (ARG), Carlos Tevez (ARG)

Just occasionally, one gets to write about a squad that is genuinely exciting, and this is one such.

In goal, England's No1 is covered by Costel Pantillimon, the 6ft 7ins Romanian being rare not just for his size - but from the infrequency of his appearances. Still, as we understand too well, when you've got more than excellence in goal, you don't often change it. One of Hart's many strengths is that even after many minutes in a one-sided but close game, he continues to make excellent saves from the opposition's rare chances. A giant, in many senses, and for many years to come. Stuart Taylor - the long toothed ex Arsenal and Villa custodian sees the junior club sides right, and is extended cover.

The two RB's Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta, are intriguing contrasts used tactically to perfection thus far. Richards, the young English cap ignored by Capello for some years, is an absolute Lion. Physically imposing and athletic, he rampages forward if possible, and is equally adept at defending his corner. Zabaleta is tactically and technically the opposite, he tends to be chosen when they want the game to be tight, although the Argentine regular is a bundle of trouble going forward too.

At LB the same key holds true. Gael Clichy, the Frenchman recruited from Arsenal is the more defensive option, which is odd considering he's always been perceived as an attacking flyer, but people forget how his technical excellence reminds of an Ashley Cole type. Aleksandar Kolarov, on the other hand, strikes one as more of a wing-back, with a fearsome and effective dead ball delivery, and enjoys the freedom of being unleashed in a tactical "3 at the back", when he isn't one of them.

The four CB's are top quality and interesting. Without doubt, the first choice pair are Vincent Kompany, the Belgian Captain recruited when he was still occasionally used in MF, and Joleon Lescott, £27m worth of experience from Everton via Wolves.

Kompany is that ever-surprising footballer, a fully rounded individual who's both erudite, articulate and interesting, who appears to have a satisfying life outside the modern football bubble. Equally as likely to Tweet and Blog as to take in a Picasso exhibition at the Tate, it's always refreshing to hear their Club Captain treat and complete an interview, where he always gives respect to us, the listener and viewer, without any of the nonsense often presented by some within the game.

His main partner is Joleon Lescott, who has confirmed his "first choice for England" form the more we've gotten into the season. He has a habit of also scoring vital goals when attacking from set pieces. Mind you, when you've paid £25 m for a CB, so he should. What price Steven Caulker, eh? I know, we'll always think about prices when we're talking about this team - it's almost inevitable, and we're going to have to face a similar challenge of "value for money" at some time.

Since we're at it, here's a view on the "Footballer/Manager being interviewed" format we're used to seeing.

I'm a subscriber to Major League Baseball from the States as well as a viewer of their NFL and NBA too.It seems to me that sportsmen and women in this country, and the Broadcasters as well, could take a lesson from our American Cousins. Since, ultimately, it's us that's stomping up the cash, Yankee sports stars give not only good interview, but even front up at any time and in any situation that the Broadcaster sees fit - and it is rarely abused.

It's too much to hope for, I know, but it would be nice to see Mike Phelan sidelined by an interviewer with the words " Sorry, Mike, but we're a bit fed up with the Monkey - could you send out the Organ Grinder, please?" Sam Allardyce - we're looking at you too. Show a little grace, you pompous ass.

As I said earlier, we're unlikely to see such nonsense from Roberto Mancini this week, as he, like the recently departed and much vilified AVB, is a Manager of the modern era. As, thank god, is our own Brendan Rodgers.

Back to the football, since it's the really important bit.

Cover at CB comes from the elder Toure brother Kolo, ex-Arsenal, and the young Serb, Stefan Savic, who has struggled with PL adjustment on occasion. Toure's ACN interlude in January along with his brother Yaya's was negotiated successfully, with Savic only used, albeit testingly, a couple of times.

Mentioning Yaya, who's verve and drive were noticeably missed in that early year interlude, his adaptation to the PL has been one of the impressive features of this exciting MF mix. Prior to his arrival from Barcelona, he was generally considered a primarily defensive MF'er, of capable physical prowess. What's most impressive, however, is his almost re-invention as a real out and out, box to box, complete model, able to take a game by the scruff of the neck and shake it City's way. He scores, he creates, he defends, he attacks......all in all - he leads.

The sitting player when selected is thus Holland's Nigel de Jong, forever remembered for this assault on Spain's Xabi Alonso in the World Cup Final. He also happens to be a decent player.

Two of the other more defensive MF Worker Bees are Gareth Barry, recruited from Aston Villa, and nowadays a first choice for England, and David Pizzaro, who, recently recruited on loan from Roma had played under Mancini at Inter Milan, and the experienced Chilean was a transfer window addition to kick on toward the title push. Owen Hargreaves, the injury decimated England International is also a squad member, but I fear we may have seen the best days of this unlucky player.

Of a far more attacking bent, the other MF'ers are James Milner, Adam Johnson, Samir Nasri and David Silva. I don't really need to remind you that over somewhere in the region of £80m was the acquisition price of these 4 players alone, but then, some would say you must pay more for Artists, as opposed to the previously cited Artisans.

Whist it could be argued that England's Milner and France's Nasri do incorporate a running, grafting physicality to their abundant footballing skills, both Johnson, with his wide trickery and even more so Silva, a leading contender for Player of the Year, rely more on technical and tactical gifts.

Johnson is often used as an impact sub, introduced late in games to break teams down, whereas Silva is really the Heartbeat of the side.

Physically in the same mould as Barca's Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, or our own Leon Britton (small- sic), his touch and vision on countless viewings this year have been breathtaking. I once saw George Best at his peak. This week I get to see David Silva. Very different players, I know, but that's how good a continuation of this master craftsman's art can take him in public estimation.

I have no doubt that he's the player I've enjoyed seeing most this year- in a fantastic Division with some unbelievable players. Please, please, let him play - even if he's one of the enemy - I want to see.

Finally, there's the 4 up front they choose from - and what a 4.

Recently described to me as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, they, like the old Clint Eastwood movie, certainly compel, and to a stirring sound-track too.

Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian signed from Wolfsburg in Jan 2011 is the least of RM's worries. The traditional No 9 has adapted well to England, and although he fell out with Don Roberto in that infamous away CL match at Napoli, his profuse apology was accepted immediately and he's gone on to have a good season, maybe not quite as prolific as once seemed possible.

The other part of that Neapolitan saga of course was the very recently almost-but-not-quite re-integrated Carlos TeveZzzzzzzzz....... and this weekend might just see us Swans as the first set of PL fans to see him back on the pitch for Man City, after his self-immolating leave of absence. It should be noted that he played last night (Wed) for the club in a Lancashire Senior Cup fixture where they beat Bolton 3-1, and Carlitos scored, although he does seem to have put on a little weight.

Almost, but not quite, last, we'll get to see their other challenger for the Footballer of the Year- the magnificent Sergio Aguero. Ever since his introduction against us in the very first game of our PL campaign, where he turned the tide and confirmed their powerful win, he has almost made it possible for people to believe that paying £35m for a player makes sense - mind you, some in Liverpool might argue with that!

Seriously, though, this is the sort of player who makes watching football the best spectator sport in the world. Wonderfully gifted, and a perfect foil to be the recipient of Silva's probings.

Finally, they have the gift that keeps on giving - the Tabloid writers dream- the incomparable Mario Balotelli. I sometimes feel that Mancini's protege, the outrageously gifted Italian, is very, very fortunate to enjoy his Manager's diminishing indulgence.

Can you imagine SAF's response to one of his most important players setting fire to his own bathroom, exiting a Strip Club at 3am on the eve of a game etc, etc, etc,??? Yes, I thought you might.

Whatever, he certainly lights up the too often seen pomposity of the modern game, and it is, after all, entertainment.

So, here we go.

To face this extensively talented group we Swans have begun to see Brendan Rodgers' preference for continuity in selection over the last 2 games, and, with Nathan Dyer's red card in last week's game leading to an immediate suspension, many and most of us will consider that a straight swap of Wayne Routledge for ND may be the only change.

The only comment I'll make is that it would seem most likely that it'll go that way - but I think I'll just wait and see - who knows, maybe BR has a trick or two up his sleeve.

The only thing left to observe is that after Gylfi Sigurdsson's two goals last week I'd be stunned if either he, or Michel Vorm, is not playing. Then I would be worried.

Another fantastic occasion at the Liberty in prospect, and another fabulous opportunity to enjoy, so....

Onward, Swansea City.

Celebrity fans
Noel Gallagher, Ricky Hatton, Lee Dixon, Andrew Flintoff, Mark Radcliffe, Johnny Marr, Mark E Smith, Rik Wakeman
Some with baggage, some without. Whatever you say about City, at least they're interesting. Bring it on, indeed.


Anonymous said...

if tevez plays will the crowd make dog noises ?

woof! woof! woof !

Anonymous said...

Another great read Pierre, almost but not quite as entertaining as I'm hoping the game will be! Watching them play Sporting as I'm reading, and Sporting seem to be more than holding their own. Let's hope and pray that we can do the same, although reading your team report of them, it's a wonder that they don't walk every match. Definitely the match I've most looked forward to this season. Oops - Sporting just scored, so it's not impossible. Come on the Swans!!