Filed: Thursday, 21st August 2008
By: Preview Percy
So if the lead-up to our pre-season was a tad dull, that of our next opponents has been anything but. Last season began very promisingly for “The Citizens” with a 2-0 win at the Boleyn as owner Thaksin 'Frank' Shinawatra ushered in the era of Sven Goran Eriksson. However the early promise wasn’t maintained and rumours of the Swede’s impending departure were rife well before the last-day 8-1 thrashing at the hands of an ordinary Middlesbrough.
In the end, although everyone knew he was going, it took two months of the close season for Eriksson – or possibly his lookalike – to actually disappear, and the haste with which his new job as Mexico coach was announced after the official sacking suggests that the Swede was far from being the last to know he wouldn’t be checking back into his Manchester hotel in July.
Enter Mark Hughes who, at the time, was also allegedly a target for Chelsea. Then the fun really started. The club spent a while being linked with Ronaldinho before Kia Joorabchian, whose name rings a bell for some reason, brought Joao Alves de Assis Silva, aka (thankfully) 'Jo,' across from the decidedly un-Brazilian location of Moscow, where the big striker had scored 44 goals in 77 for CSKA. Then Chairman Frank found himself at the wrong end of a Thai arrest warrant. The warrant may or may not have been politically motivated but the threat of a worldwide asset-freeze and the fact that the UK has a fully functional extradition treaty with Thailand may have prompted a worried glance or two down the corridors of Eastlands. Of less worry will have been the Premier League’s mutterings about their 'fit and proper person' test which, as the continued presence of Whe*an at Wigan has proved, is even harder to fail than an A-level.
Rumours started to fly about and, depending on who you believe, Hughes was disappointed/mildly disappointed/quite happy with the money he was being given and was ready to walk out at the drop of a hat/stay for the rest of his life. Newspapers eh? Further tales of players being touted for sale without the manager’s knowledge surfaced as the team embarked on a curious pre-season involving a combination of prestige friendlies against the likes of AC Milan (won 1-0) Celtic (2-2) Hamburg (lost 0-1) and, er, Stockport (2-2), together with UEFA Cup qualification rounds against EB Streymur (4-0 on aggregate) and FC Midtjyland to whom they suffered the embarrassment of a 1-0 home defeat in the first leg.
In the end the only other significant arrival to date has been Tal Ben-Haim who came in from Chelsea having had an unsuccessful spell there. The 'out' door has been busier though with a number of players disappearing to pastures new. City have in recent years invested in a decent youth system and we can expect to see a number of players from the current FA Youth Cup holders emerging over the course of the season – especially if the rumours concerning the Thai government and the chairman’s frozen assets are to be believed and the potential transfer kitty dries up – news of a recent £25m bank loan secured on future tv income having added to fans’ concerns rather than easing them.
For Sunday’s match we can expect England U21 ‘keeper Joe Hart between the sticks. Hart has withstood challenges from the now departed Andreas Isaakson and Kaspar 'Son Of Red Nose' Schmeichel and was named in the latest England squad – something that must have raised an eyebrow or two in the Rob Green household. In defence, one of Hughes’s first actions on taking over was to sign up Richard Dunne on a new contract. He will be missing for our match though through suspension having been sent off in the Boro’ debacle. Ben-Haim partnered the talented Micah Richards in the middle for the Villa opener and Corluka should start at right-back if Frank hasn’t sold him first.
In the middle City started with Academy graduate Kelvin Etuhu lining up alongside Michael Johnson Gelson Fernandes with Martin Petrov given the job of providing pace and skill down their left hand side. Other noteworthy midfielders in the squad include Didier Hamann, scorer of the last goal at the old Wembley (though the record should be asterisked to note the fact that it was David Seaman in goal) and former Cobh Ramblers youngster Stephen Ireland whose international career has been interrupted by a spot of indiscipline including his not being where he was supposed to be due to the supposed demise of either or both of his grandmothers – something that Anton Ferdinand might be familiar with.
Up front City have not been without problems already this season. The aforementioned Jo missed the Villa match due to being at the Olympics and, despite Brazil being knocked out in the semi-finals, he is unlikely to feature in Sunday’s match unless he is let off Friday night’s bronze medal match and given a flight home on an incredibly fast plane. The luckless Bojinov missed nearly all of last term with a cruciate ligament injury and was due to make his return at Villa only to collapse with a ruptured Achilles on his way out to warm-up, an injury likely to add another six months on the treatment table.
Darius Vassell – a player who strangely always seems to be better at international level than at domestic - is also a long-term absentee as is Benjani, whose transfer history has attracted recent attention from the FA. This leaves City desperately short up front and academy products Daniel 'nephew of Dean & Simon' Sturridge and Ched Evans, who appeared at Villa Park on Sunday, may have to shoulder the burden this weekend unless Hughes can bring in a striker beforehand with whatever funds are available to him. City had been linked with Roque Santa-Cruz but a recent bid was knocked back by Hughes’ former employers.
City were on the end of a heavy defeat at Villa Park and, whilst Hughes has built up a decent reputation as a coach there appears to be a lack of depth within the squad at the moment. Against them we are likely to be unchanged from the eleven that started against Wigan (unless there are any new arrivals between the time of writing and kick-off), Dean Ashton’s calf apparently being inconvenienced by little more than cramp. Getting anything out of this game will depend on our being able to get a good start and building on it, something we singularly failed to do in the second half last weekend. This is a difficult one to call as, though we could be considered fortunate to hold onto all three points last weekend, City’s own start to the season at Villa was wretched and one could quite easily make a decent case for all three possible results based on the strengths and failings displayed by either side over the past week or so.
Last season saw us visit Eastlands twice in a few days, a 1-0 cup defeat being followed up with a 1-1 draw courtesy of Carlton Cole’s overhead effort. We may not see such fireworks this weekend but a similar result is a distinct possibility so I’ll plump for another 1-1 giving us a two match unbeaten run going into a match against Hughes’ former club – who was their new manager again?
Enjoy the match!
Last season (league): 1-1 (Cole)
Danger Man: Petrov
Look out for: Actors out of Coronation Street, the Gallaghers and score extra bonus points if you spot the last few inflatable bananas left on the planet.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
by 1.618034 (MCFC)
11:08AM 21st Aug 2008
''Good summation of the state of affairs at Eastlands. It's (another) worrying time to be a Blue! Looking forward to the game though, have always liked The Irons and you would be my Lahndan club of choice to go watch if I lived down there. Reckon there'll be a few goals on Sunday and will be happy with a point.
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