Another tricky match navigated, another victory. No injuries reported either, and those two facts alone are the only things that matter. Because of the pitch, it is hard to analyse player performances when the whole game was turned into a near-lottery.
Some have mentioned that the venue problems doesn’t bode well for the World Cup of 2018, but apart from the fact that 2018 is five years way, I think it’s fair to say that money will be thrown at that particular spectacle. As we will see, there is a far bigger elephant in the room for 2018.
It is embarrassing for Russian football though that prior to a Champions League match a club was painting its pitch green, and not even the same shade as the grass that had survived a soggy September in Moscow. It also doesn’t paint (sorry) UEFA in a good light that they passed the pitch as fit for use, considering how anal they usually are (see their ridiculous set of rules of the Champions League final venue, where it is forbidden to as much as sneeze near the pitch for up to a fortnight prior to the blue riband event).
There was the traditional raising of the eyebrows as the team news filtered out. The full-backs were rotated once more, showing not only that City have some strength in depth in that area, but also that no full-back is having a sensational season so far. They are all interchangeable.
GARCIA KLAXON. Yes, once again, Javi Garcia got the nod at centre-back. I can only presume that Pellegrini does not want to play with two left-footed central defenders, but surely that is a better option than Garcia? Anyway, those bemoaning the Demichelis signing are probably counting down the days until he is match-fit. Garcia wasn’t quite as bad as some proclaimed, but it’s fair to say he wasn’t good. As slow as ever, ponderous, barely bothering to jump prior to their goal and so susceptible to any ball over the top. Time is running out for him to “come good”. Having said that, along with Zabaleta he made the most interceptions (3). It still felt like Nastastic was bailing him out for much of the time though.
Yet again though City have won deservedly, but are painted (sorry once more) as somehow being fortunate to come away with 3 points. It makes a change I guess from a string of undeserved defeats. Maybe the high-foot decision before CSKA’s disallowed goal was touch-and-go, but it should be mentioned that the players, most notably Garcia, stopped playing on hearing the whistle. It may have made no difference, but we will never know. What I do know is that City were the better side, but almost paid once more for their profligacy by retreating in the last 20 minutes. CSKA’s penalty appeals were weak, and whilst Negredo did appear to hand ball for City’s disallowed goal, a yellow card was ludicrously harsh considering he didn’t know what was going on.
And as a guide to City’s domination – they had 20 shots (9 on target), 60% possession and an 86% pass completion.
And so onto the paranoia section (part 1). City were portrayed by many as nailed-on victors prior to the match, against an out-of-form CSKA. You’d think they only had to turn up to defeat the Russian champions. Funny though that no other English team is expected to travel across Europe and win easily. Have these people never watched Champions League football? Did Barcelona go to Celtic and turn them over? Have United regularly thrashed teams away, as they played middling team after middling team, and ground out repeated 1-0 victories? No of course not. Yet a City victory on a cabbage-patch pitch in a freezing Moscow is somehow portrayed as a fortunate victory.
Time for Part Deux of the weekly paranoia section. Except it isn’t paranoia anymore. On Tuesday I watched Arsenal fall at home to Borussia Dortmund, and you could almost picture Clive Tydesley and Andy Townsend sat in the press box in full Arsenal kit, clutching Aaron Ramsey hot water bottles, vigorously swinging their Emirates rattles. They were so pro-Arsenal it started to affect their judgement, and at one point Townsend even proclaimed “come on Arsenal!” When Aaron Ramsey made a mistake that cost a goal, if you listened carefully you could hear Clive Tyldesley’s tears dropping gently onto his microphone. All well and good you may say, it is fine for commentators to favour the English side.
Fast forward 21 hours. Aguero slices the ball wide when he should have scored – near-silence from Martin Tyler. A CSKA player breaks in midfield – Tyler shrieks like a 15-year-old girl meeting One Direction. Repeat on a loop for 90 minutes. And then there was…..
Niall Quinn – dear oh dear oh dear.
Joe Hart has a propensity to come out to onrushing attackers and do a “nothing” type of jump as he is lobbed. I wonder if he should stay closer to his line in such circumstances. Anyway, that’s the ultra-cynical bit out of the way, he coped admirably on a pitch that must give goalkeepers sleepless nights, and he has responded to the avalanche of criticism of previous months in the perfect way. His save at the end didn’t require him to move to be honest, but he still has to be in the right place and that one moment has greatly increased City’s chances of qualifying for the knock-out stage.
As for their goal, it was a collective failure across the defence. You could throw criticism towards Garcia, Nastastic or Zabaleta.
Fernandinho was excellent once more. Who knew that a player could improve after having a bit of time to settle in a new country? He made six successful tackles, twice as many as any of his team-mates. Whilst Yaya made the most passes as usual (83, with 88% accuracy), Fernandinho was second with 70 passes with an 89% accuracy.
Dzeko wasn’t however. Another minus tick for him. Having said that…
There was one penalty that should have been awarded last night. You won’t have read about it in any match reports, and you won’t have heard a single word on the matter from the commentators. For one of Dzeko’s first misses, he got to the ball before the CSKA keeper and prodded wide. Groans all round, but after he got to the ball, the keeper took him out. It was a penalty, and yet they never seem to be given, and no one seems to care one jot. Strange.
That chip from Negredo for Aguero’s 2nd goal. Oh my. And what a brave and intelligent header too. Aguero had actually been rather wasteful before his brace, but thankfully made up for it. It is saying something about City’s European history that he is now City’s leading European scorer of all time with 10 goals (passing Francis Lee)
Peter Schmeichel – dear oh dear oh dear.
Graeme Souness. Now we’re talking. I have admired Souness as a pundit for a while now, and last night he did not disappoint once more. He actually says it as it is, uses common sense, and seems to know his football. Fancy that! He also got the Dzeko/Negredo analysis spot-on. And he likes City because of their approach to the game, bless him.
There is however a bigger issue emanating from last night…..
If FIFA’s delegates cared about racism, or homophobia, they would have considered the issue before awarding tournaments to the likes of Russia and Qatar. There are more important problems than the summer heat of an Arab state or the transport network behind the now-rusty Iron Curtain. At half-time in the United match, an anti-racism advert was aired by UEFA. All well and good, but it needs a bit more than an advert on UK television to address this problem.
It was a very dignified response from Yaya Toure after the match (and on Twitter – “Hate or racism cannot affect me when so many people are showing me love and support on a daily basis”) – I’m not sure I could have been that calm and considered. But sadly, he’s probably been in this position time after time.
Roy Hodgson’s joke about monkeys in space will garner 100 times the print space that any racist chants ever will, and all the while Peter Herbert will concentrate on whatever is good for his profile. And thus the chants will continue ad infinitum.
The clubs themselves are not directly responsible for chants, but they are responsible for the actions of their fans within the ground, and have a duty to deal with incidents rather than ignore them or sweep them under the carpet. This becomes rather more troublesome however if the owners of clubs don’t even accept there is a problem, if racism is prevalent in society as a whole, in large swathes of a continent.
We cannot rely on the clubs themselves to fix the problem, which has always been crystal clear. It is up to the authorities to ram home how unacceptable this is, and drag some of these neanderthals into the 21st century, kicking and screaming.
Fines clearly don’t work, especially the paltry amounts that are handed out. UEFA seem to think that appearing late for the 2nd half or a player carrying the name of a betting company on his Y-fronts is a bigger offence than a monkey chant. Stop the talk, the banners, the messages passed along the teams as they line up, and ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING. Start with matches behind closed doors, progress to bans, and force the clubs to deal with unsavoury fans whether they like it or not. Even this isn’t perfect, as the ones who need to be punished most are the actual perpetrators of the taunts, so a system must be in place to make sure this happens.
I am being slightly harsh however. It’s not that UEFA have done nothing so far – they are finally beginning to react to the problem. So far this season, UEFA has imposed full stadium bans on three clubs – Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, Legia Warsaw of Poland and Honved of Hungary – for racist behaviour by their supporters while five other clubs have had partial stadium closures. At least UEFA have stated that fines will no longer be the weapon of choice to punish such transgressions, after new regulations were brought in at the start of the season, which sees at first a partial stadium closure, followed by a full closure plus fine. But is that enough? It’s just a shame it’s taken this long for the penny to drop.
It’s deplorable enough to chant racial slurs, but it becomes even more staggering when your own team has two black players on the pitch. What must they be thinking? Well as you ask….
CSKA however deny there even being any taunts. So ignore everything I’ve said- I mean they would hardly make that up would they? They are adamant nothing untoward has happened, and staggeringly one of their two black players Doumbia has accused Toure of exaggerating what happened. Whatever happened last night, it has clearly been a problem in Russia and many other countries previously, and is sadly showing little sign of going away. Thankfully UEFA haven’t fallen for CSKA’s cries of innocence – the club have just been charged for racial abuse.
A quick final note from other matches around Europe last night. It has become apparent that some other clubs are using different fonts for player names on shirts. Come on City, let’s blaze a trail for the underused Book Antiqua – it’s about time it got the recognition it deserves.