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Manchester City
Posted by Wallace Poulter on 01/23/2012

Mario Balotelli will get all the headlines, but James Milner played one of his best games for Manchester City to help the club to beat Spurs 3-2.

City lined up in a 4-4-2 with Samir Nasri and David Silva on the outside and Gareth Barry and Milner in the middle of midfield. This in some ways limits City as Nasri just doesn't combine as well with Silva, but given the desire to play two up front, and no Yaya Toure, the centre of midfield is where Milner should play.

Silva was given his normal free reign to roam although nominally being assigned to the right of midfield. This meant that Milner had to cover for Silva defensively when a play broke down. However, more than that, with Micah Richards playing right full back and occasionally moving forward, Milner would then drop back to cover for Richards all of this while also playing the central defensive midfield role with Barry.

Milner's value is emphasized by what happened in the game between Arsenal and United. Rafael, the United full back, went surging forward and was tackled in the Arsenal box. Arsenal counter attacked immediately and the ball was played into the left wing where United had not successfully rotated correctly allowing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to find Robin van Persie for the equalizer.

Given the formations of Spurs and City with Harry Redknapp's club playing five in midfield the visitors really should have dominated, but Milner constantly made the correct decision to deny Modric and Bale the opportunities to cause trouble. I've written that Spurs have the best midfield in the Premier League. That wasn't the case on Sunday as Gareth Barry combined superbly with Milner to really prevent Spurs from hitting their stride.

And finally the controversies of the game. Lescott should have received a straight red for his elbow smash to Younes Kaboul. With Balotelli I'm not so sure. At full speed it looks like the striker is trying to regain his balance. In slow motion it looks like a clear stamp on Scott Parker. But when you are off balance you do stomp down to regain your footing. As it was Balotelli frankly I think most of us, including me, will tend towards a deliberate stamp.

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Posted by Niyi on 01/23/2012

As much as I love Mario, I believe that was a deliberate stamp. It's going to be another tough patch playing without Mario and Lescott as I expect the FA to act.
Whatever the case, I'm glad City won.

Posted by Cody on 01/23/2012

i just commented about milner in your last article!

Posted by Cody on 01/23/2012

also im glad you see both sides of the equation of the balotelli incident. i feel the same way but it's very frustrating when everyone else deems it a deliberate stamp just because it's mario. also the yellow card he received was borderline absurd. first challenge of the game from him and it wasn't even that bad

Wallace Reply Yes I thought the yellow was a little harsh.

Posted by Richie on 01/23/2012

Milner in all fairness know this also and has said it many times but with Yaya available, he is often stuck out in the wing. He is a formidable as Roy Keane in that role he plays if picked as a CM. The biggest loser throughout January is De Jong with Mancini deploying Barry and Milner together. Could not imagine us without him last season but this team has developed naturally and Nigel has been left behind as well as AJ in my opinion. Keep up the good work Wallace.

Wallace Reply I don't think the club can win in Europe without de Jong playing.

Posted by Emanuel Bamgbose on 01/23/2012

The ref Howard Webb should be ashamed of himself, he missed making the correct decisions of two malicious blatant fouls which both amounted to violent conduct, and his utter lack of grasp of the fouls had a major impact on the game sadly to the detriment of Tottenham Hotspur, which was cruel on them to say the least.....

Wallace Reply Agree on Lescott. Balotelli in real time does not look like a stamp.

Posted by hankinsohl on 01/23/2012

Hi Wallace:

Good to see another of your exellent articles.

RE: "As it was Balotelli frankly I think most of us, including me, will tend towards a deliberate stamp." - perhaps so. I don't think that Balotelli is a mean player though. If the stamp was on purpose, it must have been a heat-of-the-moment reaction. Contrast this with Pepe's premeditated stomp on Messi in the Classico just past - totally different situations.

Harkening back to one of your earlier posts, I thought that Richards played a vital role in our attack today. Our offense is much better when Richards plays.

I'd also like to see Kolorov get some playing time - Kolorov plus Richards would really get our attack back online (though we might be weaker on defense as a result).

Posted by Carl on 01/23/2012

Another great column, Wallace. Savic struggled in the center and, though he's had a few decent outings, it's hard not to be troubled. When/if without Kompany or Lescott, what do you think of moving Richards inside and starting Zabaleta outside? City loses Richards' pace on the wing but may gain some spine in central defense.

Wallace Reply I think Richards is the key to unlocking opposing defenses so I'd be hesitant to take him out of that role.

Posted by Dia on 01/23/2012

Insightful comments and Milner is a guy with great work ethic. City will feel confident with the win and all with out Yaya,Kompany and the star man in the reverse fixture not at his best.

Posted by MCapital on 01/23/2012

Hi Wallace,
Your honesty is quite refreshing once again.

Mancini has been complaining about lack of depth within City. You honestly believe he has got a point?

It looks like the Championship will go down to the wire with the two Manchaster teams plus Spurs.


Wallace Reply City have a lack of depth in one area and that is the middle of their defense.

Posted by Warra Mean on 01/23/2012

I don't agree with you on De Jong being the key for us to win in Europe, reason being we are a much more offensive side this season, as the commentators pointed out last game we have scored as many goals halfway through this season as we had scored in the entire of the previous season. We play a much more offensive game and try to dominate possession, and i don't think De Jong blends in with our current playstyle because judging from this season his passing game is to predictable/safe and he in my eyes is one of the least creative MF we have when going forward.

Wallace Reply I disagree with you. I believe de Jong is crucial because he protects Kompany and Lescott/Toure through the middle as the better teams in Europe can take advantage of their less than stellar play when attacked through the middle.

Posted by pjdemers on 01/23/2012

Does Onouha come back into the frame should City lose Lescott through suspension as well? He was on the subs bench yet again and while I've read City have accepted an offer from QPR, I wonder if they shouldn't rethink this one. City have said they won't buy until they sell and its worth mentioning that Onouha was excellent at CB under Hughes and did quite well in the initial half of 2010 when Mancini first arrived. I'd love to see him get a 2nd chance as he's an intelligent, solid defender, not to mention a sensible boy who is a true blue through and through. Even if an international class CB is available he is going need to time to settle whereas Onouha is already familiar with Mancini's system and style. Any thoughts on this one Wallace?

Wallace Reply Normally I would say yes, but remember it was the involvement of his Mother that led to Garry Cook leaving the club and I think City want rid of him.

Posted by d on 01/23/2012

As always you've created a fair assessment of a match. I wish there were more ESPN writers of your caliber.

Posted by Stan on 01/23/2012

Excellent points re Milner. I'd like to think Savic will "come good," but his performances with headers offer no confidence at all at this point.

I agree completely with your perspective on Balotelli's clash with Parker. In real time he looks like he's trying to regain his balance, but I expect him to be suspended because it's Balotelli.

Dzeko looks like a slumping striker trying too hard. How many times has he ruined a juicy Kun scoring chance by taking the ball off his foot? Let's hope he gets straightened out soon.

The first City goal was nice link-up play between Nasri and Silva. Let's hope we see more of that, particularly if City loses Balotelli and has to start the slumping Dzeko.

Wallace Reply I'd like to see City try an experiment with Aguero playing out on the left, but like Silva with permission to roam and Balotelli and Dzeko up front (with Barry-Milner centre mid). I don't know if it would work, but would be interesting to see.

Posted by Merle on 01/23/2012

I agree with your take on Milner. He played a fantastic game yesterday. As for Balotelli I would give him the benefit of the doubt because it would appear in real time like he was trying to regain his footing. Another thing going for him was he never looked back or showed any intent on stamping but only he knows his intentions.

Personally I question the need for another defender as I feel Kompany and Lescott/Kolo is a very solid back. The problem is Kompany is suspended and Kolo is out but I thought Lescott and Savic were solid other than the slip up to lead to the first goal and the late chance that Defoe missed.

Utilizing De Jong is the key. I would have liked to see him brought on after city went up 2-0. Maybe as a replacement for Dzeko and tried to keep the score at that.

Posted by Joseph on 01/23/2012

Wallace, what do you think of Clichy? I honestly begin to think that Mancini should stop starting him . Sooner or later, Clichy's lack of concentration will cost us. For example was the match against Tottenham, Clichy got a yellow after just 10 minutes of the match! I believe Kolarov (even Bridge) is better than Clichy in that position.

Plus, our midfield without Yaya should be Silva and AJ on the wing with Milner and De Jong in the centre. Barry is a slow player; Milner saves his butt many times without Yaya in our midfield.

About striker, Isn't it about time Mancini should utilize the golfer Tevez? At least until he leaves for good. With Dzeko still an enigma and Balotelli's suspend is looming, Tevez will do good.

About Savic, I agree Mancini should start Onouha instead of him. Just put aside the involvement of Onouha's mother with Gary Cook because I believe he's innocent in this case. And Onouha will be an adequate cover until Kompany/Toure returns.

Wallace Reply Johnson doesn't track back enough on defense and until he does he will always be a bit player for Mancini. I rate Barry highly, always have, and feel he does a good job for City in the middle. Clichy was brought in to steady the position and has done so. There are times I prefer Kolarov, but against the better teams Clichy's defense wins out.

Posted by Hari on 01/24/2012

if lescott is banned, who willl city play in the center for the next two matches?????

Posted by PM on 01/24/2012

Excellent article! Milner is the unsung hero at City. He is often pivotal in attack and defence and it doesn't get picked up on by the media. I've not seen him have a less than 80% game this season - he is as crucial as Yaya or Silva imho. I dont understand how Zaba isn't getting into the side, he's better than Kolarov and Clichy both attacking and defending, mind you - there's a vase on my windowsill that I'm sure could defend better than Kolarov given half a chance.

Wallace Reply yeah, Kolarov does seem to have some issues defending. It works when City have to make all the play, but against the better teams I think Clichy is better.

Posted by Alex on 01/24/2012

Great piece, Milner has been one of the best players this season along with Barry, but surely Nasri deserves a mention?, this was easily his best performance since joining from Arsenal

Wallace Reply Honestly other than the goal I wasn't that impressed with Nasri. He didn't link up with Silva the way Milner does, but there's no arguing that it was a beautifully timed run to score the goal. It really showed Walker's inexperience.

Posted by Martin Nazimek on 01/24/2012

Hey Wallace,

Good to hear from you again. I believe that our defense is weaker with the players we have going forward which make Milner so important. My question is simple: why is De Jong not playing? Is it because of his contract dispute? And why would city not pay him? He is still young? Did his feet give out already?
Cheers Wallace. CTID

Wallace Reply de Jong appears to be not effective when partnered with anyone in a two man defensive midfield, which is what City have been playing most of the year. De Jong works when he is the sole DM in front of the back four with two other midfielders in front of him. I'm not sure why that would make a difference but it does... significantly.

Posted by Tawin on 01/25/2012

Are Dzeko and Aguero inherently not clicking or is this just another rough patch. I really feel for Dzeko as I think he deserves to score more. I don't know why he's not scoring.

Wallace Reply I think it's a matter of them playing together more and having a full training camp.

Posted by Elisha on 01/25/2012


Milner did play a great game, and I've been really impressed with him this year vs last. Also, why don't we see more of Adam Johnson pairing with Silva rather than Nasri who despite the goal this past game has not impressed me this year? Johnson may not be quite as flashy but like Milner he always produces when he's on the field.

Finally, I have a question about the logic behind holding onto Tevez. Correct me if I'm wrong but at about 200k/week he's making a little over 10mill a year. We value him at around 30mill yet received an offer if you believe the papers for around 25 earlier in the window. Am I missing something when I ask why we didn't take that? If we wait until the summer to offload him and get 30 mill, we still would have paid another 5 mill in salary (granted we may recoup some of that through the legal system but why waste money on all those lawyers?) and come out a wash anyway. Am I missing something?

Wallace Reply City are very much making a point that they will not be dictated to on this. I very much suspect that unless his evaluation is met that City will not only not sell Tevez, but will continue to fine him all of his salary while he is not at the club.

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Wallace Poulter Wallace Poulter is an award winning video game producer, designer, industry consultant and writer. He has been a football fanatic since the day he moved in next door to Brian Clough. "Cloughie" being the acknowledged genius that he was promptly moved out and went to manage Derby. A serviceable senior school left-back in his youth, Poulter played one season of Sunday league football as a striker proving conclusively that he was a serviceable senior school left-back! Today Poulter remains involved with football as a licensed referee and most recently as a consultant on a Football MMO.

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