So, tonight brings one of the biggest games of the season and the GMP’s busiest night of year, as Manchester City host United at Wastelands. No derby is complete with a bit of rival banter though, so Danny Pugsley from the popular City blog, Bitter and Blue, has taken some time out to have a chat with us at RoM.
Scott the Red: Ahead of kick-off, City have just put an end to a losing streak in the league and Europa. Currently three points behind United and three points ahead of Newcastle, how do you think your season has gone so far?
Danny Pugsley: For the most part the season has been positive. We go into tonight’s game level with Arsenal in third place, and with a chance to go joint second if we beat you. Added to that we are well set to go through to the knock out stages in the Europa League and it has been a positive start. Some crisis eh?
What was pleasing about the West Brom win heading into the derby was the reaction to recent events. Three defeats on the spin isn’t ideal but for large chunks of those games we played well and the media reaction has been hysterical in some quarters.
We have largely been consistent this season, with the play based on a strong centre back pairing and dominant midfield trio that control possession and suffocate opportunity for the opposition. With this as the basis, we can then utilize Tevez and Silva, who have developed a good understanding.
STR: Joint 2nd? Well, you’re 4th, with a -6 goal difference on Arsenal and us, with a chance of going 3rd (unless you beat us 4-0). By the by though. You quickly get to learn to dismiss the word ‘crisis’ at the top. We’ve been in ‘crisis’ and ‘decline‘ for a decade! So, ignoring the ‘crisis’, do you think City will finish in the top 4 this season? What will be the consequences if you don’t?
DP: I think we will do. The opportunity was there last season following Liverpool’s implosion but credit to Tottenham, it was some run they put together at the end of the season but this time around there is an even bigger opportunity.
Obviously we have strengthened even further over the summer and with three defeats following Champions League games Tottenham are having difficulty balancing the two. Liverpool look at the very best no better than last season so there is really no reason why fourth place isn’t the minimum expectation.
You’d have to say it would be difficult for Mancini if fourth wasn’t attained. The changes the club has undergone the past couple of seasons have been geared towards Champions League football and the impending UEFA financial regulations will only sharpen this focus. Mancini is certainly under no illusion as to what is expected.
STR: Mancini has lead City to victory in just over half of the games you’ve played this season, which probably isn’t the best return on the vast amounts of money he’s spent. When you factor in those three straight defeats, do you think he’s starting to run out of time, with the club and the fans?
DP: No, not at all. Despite what is being reported the past week or so, I would be astounded if Mancini was sacked. Not only has he been heavily backed in terms of money to bring players in but there has been significant changes in terms of the coaching set up. The ownership have proved they are not afraid to make decisions as proved with the sacking of Hughes but it would be folly to dismiss Mancini.
In terms of the fans perspective, the overwhelming feeling I get is that they are right behind Mancini and if anything, this is being strengthened the more certain (but not all I must add) sections of the media continue to criticize and speculate about his future. He got fantastic backing at West Brom and there is no question of any terrace revolt.
STR: Of all the players he’s brought in, who are you most impressed with?
DP: I don’t think Mancini has necessarily made a bad move as yet. Players like Boateng, Kolarov and Balotelli are players who fit a profile of being young, ambitious and have potential to improve so are sound moves.
The move that most excites though is David Silva. Mancini has brought him along slowly but he has come into his own the past few games and he looks to be a wonderful player. Excellent balance, control and always seems to pick the right ball. A genuine exciting talent and don’t buy into the lazy accusations about his size, he is a tough player too.
STR: It is a Mark Hughes’ buy that makes or breaks your chances of Champions League qualification, with Carlos Tevez proving himself as totally vital to City having any chance of success. But he can’t speak English, so can’t communicate with the ref or his team mates, he repeatedly talks of retirement and his unhappiness in England, and used to kiss the badge of Manchester United. What do you make of the decision to make him captain?
DP: The decision to make Kolo Toure captain was always a strange but credit to him, he has taken the decision to take the armband off him with good grace and has played well this season. My own choice at the time would have been Vincent Kompany but the decision to make Tevez captain has provided the correct one.
I do think there is far too much emphasis on the captain in football. Given there is no tactical or strategic decision making it is little more than an act of symbolism. However, there have been times when the armband is given to a player to provide an incentive, motivation or even to round out a player and is something Alex Ferguson has done well in the past. That was clearly the thinking with Tevez and the results so far this season have proved Mancini correct.
STR: A year or two ago, Stephen Ireland was being tipped to be the future City captain. He made his way up through the ranks, was your Player of the Year in 2009, then was told to train with the Reserves and sold off in 2010. Any regrets over the shoddy treatment he received from your club?
DP: There was a real divide between fans in terms of the value of Stephen Ireland as a player. There is no doubt he had a very good twelve-eighteen months when he appeared to have rid his game of the inconsistencies he had shown and looked ready to really kick on.
With the arrival of Tevez he got squeezed in terms of space on the pitch and had a more withdrawn role (with Tevez often dropping deep) than he did the season before. For whatever reasons, he never adapted or fit well as part of a central midfield pair despite plenty of opportunity.
Mancini was enamoured by his talent but less so in terms of his application and it is interesting to see how scathing Gerard Houllier was in his recent comments about him.
There was a stand-off at the end when there was posturing on both sides to see who would blink first in terms of the severance payment which wasn’t nice to see but he did destroy a lot of goodwill and feeling he did have with his comments after signing for Villa.
STR: You can hardly blame him though, right? Selling him because he’s not good enough is one thing, but to put him through the humiliation of training with the Reserves? Richard Dunne, who had been at the club for 9 years, and was your captain, was kicked out too, and he talked of being “stabbed in the back” by Garry Cook. But it’s not always City treating their players badly, but sometimes the other way around. Robinho, what went wrong?
DP: Maybe it was never destined to go right. Undoubtedly a huge talent and whilst easy to write off his whole time at the club, his first season was largely positive. The second season though there was more of an expectation in terms of discipline and tactical play, which he didn’t appear willing to follow. We’d also added Tevez and Adebayor which meant there was less emphasis on him as the ‘main man’ and could this have affected his ego?
Possibly he is one of these players destined to play at numerous clubs throughout his career, leaving behind a trail of under-achievement and his start at Milan has hardly been auspicious.
STR: No, he hasn’t set the world alight, but 2 goals in 6 Serie A games isn’t bad, particularly when you consider only Tevez has scored more than 2 goals in the league for City this season. Anyway, who is your favourite current City player?
DP: Difficult to say if I necessarily have a ‘favourite’ player as such but although early in his City career David Silva is probably the one I enjoy watching above all others.
STR: And your favourite from the past?
DP: It has to be Kinkladze, a shining light in an otherwise depressing period although a slight confession would be I did have a bit of a soft spot for David White when I was growing up.
STR: I suppose asking who your favourite United player is wouldn’t be fair, so which United player would you most like in your squad?
DP: How much he still has left in his tank is debatable but Paul Scholes would be a good fit for any midfield. Goals, an excellent range of passing and a bit of fiery streak, there isn’t much he doesn’t have. The fact that the games he seems to feature in now are the most important ones shows his value, even into his mid-thirties.
One player I’m surprised seems to get so much criticism though is Berbatov. He played the lone striker role with Spurs down to ten men a few seasons ago against us and it was one of the best individual performances I have seen.
STR: I’m a big fan of Berbatov and it seemed the tide was turning with our supporters this season, but maybe that was a bit premature. His hattrick against Liverpool certainly boosted his rating in our fans’ eyes, so maybe a goal against City would help seal the deal! What are your predictions for the derby?
DP: The West Brom game was a big result. Not just to get the points (which coupled with Arsenal and Chelsea’s defeats looks even better) but to see the performance the side showed. The strengths were again on display, the Kolo Toure-Vincent Kompany partnership looking strong again and players such as Barry and Yaya Toure excellent, whilst Tevez and Silva linked well again.
What was telling though the sides’ reaction to recent events; it was a display that had the hallmarks of an ‘us against the world’ siege mentality, which confounded some of the coverage of splits and anti-Mancini feeling.
It’s going to be a difficult game though. It is two good sides who have hard good starts to the season and it will have a real edge to it – even more so being a night game, but I have a feeling it could be a tight, cagey affair which both sides will want to avoid losing.
A difficult one to call but I’ll sit on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw.
STR: It’s hard to call it until we’ve seen the team sheets. At the moment, we’re without Nani, Rooney, Giggs, Valencia, Anderson, Carrick, Berbatov, as well as Scholes, Evra and Vidic playing through the weekend with illness. In contrast to your result at the weekend, United had a shocker against Wolves, yet somehow managed to finish the game with all the points! But you can never really call a derby, particularly with them seemingly becoming bigger every season. Last year, we beat you three times, but which of those three injury time defeats hurt the most?
DP: The league defeat at Old Trafford was a tough one after coming back so late in the game but given what was at stake the Carling Cup defeat was the toughest. There was a feeling that there a huge opportunity at stake and when the cross came in to Rooney there was an awful inevitability at what was about to occur.
STR: Oh Rooney, I’m glad you mentioned him. What are you going to do with your City shirt with Rooney 10 on the back?
DP: It’s been a long time since I bought a football kit! It was a strange one with Rooney as despite all the rumours and speculation I just couldn’t envisage a scenario where he leave United – let alone come to City.
It was an unsavoury business though and although I think bridges will ultimately be rebuilt between Rooney and United fans, it has been good to see he hasn’t necessarily been welcomed back with open arms.
STR: Football fans are fickle though aren’t they? I’m certainly intrigued to see how his name being read out on the team sheet for the first time will be received by our home fans. He has scored 4 goals against City in the past 4 years, so I guess it’s a shame he won’t be around tonight to start making it up to us!