Another week of big results has Joe Butterfield feeling rather bullish about the rest of the season.
We’re definitely going to win the League Cup
My ticket for Wembley arrived on Valentine’s Day, making it a far more important day for me than my girlfriend fully appreciated as all I’d managed to offer her on the day was a home-cooked stir fry and a box of Lindt chocolate (other chocolate brands are available). I’m going to wilfully ignore the possibility that my Valentine’s Day spending was hamstrung by my decision to buy a ticket for the final, although it definitely was.
After the 4th goal went in against Chelsea a couple of weekends ago, my mind turned to the upcoming repeat fixture in the League Cup final. It can’t be this easy again, can it? No, I decided, no it can’t. We were beaten by them 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, though that now seems like a lifetime ago.
In the last couple of weeks since that victory, I’ve become more convinced that the League Cup Final will be a breeze. The Chelsea players have clearly decided they don’t want to play for Sarri and the fans have decided that they don’t want to support him anymore either. Sarri must have been thrilled to hear his name be chanted by the Stamford Bridge faithful on Monday night, though probably less so when he realised that they were shouting “F**k Sarri-ball”.
Upon hearing the chants, Sarri turned to the crowd and asked, “Are you singing ‘F**k Sarri-ball’ or ‘Good luck, Sarri’ball’?” and somebody threw a bottle at him. They don’t like The Simpsons in Fulham.
No amount of relaxing cigarette chewing in the world can make the Italian realise that putting Jorginho at the base of midfield simply doesn’t work when he can be so easily targeted and taken out of the game by their opponents. Kanté is far less effective in his new position further up the pitch, though he’s still one of the league’s best midfielders, and whether it’s Kovacic or Barkley alongside the two, it’s almost entirely devoid of creativity.
Gonzalo Higuain has, admittedly, improved the attack. He’s brought a level of hunger (and that’s not a fat joke… okay maybe it is a fat joke), his link-up play with the wingers helps build up attacking moves and, unlike Morata, he doesn’t look like he wants to cry every time he touches a football. That said, he’s still not scoring goals and Hazard hasn’t looked much like doing anything good for about a month either. Whichever plays alongside them out of Pedro and Willian is irrelevant because they’re both in terrible form, yet the one which doesn’t start the game will definitely be subbed on ahead of Hudson-Odoi, who must surely be spending his time on the bench texting Jadon Sancho to ask what kind of plugs he’ll need in Germany.
The defence is shambolic. Rudiger is getting away with a lot because he’s actually willing to criticise the team after the matches and he applauds the away support when they’ve had their pants pulled down, so Chelsea fans love him even though he’s fairly average. However, it’s difficult not to look like prime Baresi when you’re partnered with David Luiz, a player who can make a fancy 50 yard cross-field ball but whose defensive awareness would make you think he’d been hit in the head multiple times by dozens of rakes he’d accidentally stepped on, much like a Simpsons character who he bears no resemblance to whatsoever. They don’t like The Simpsons in Fulham.
The only positive for Chelsea going into this game is that Caballero will be in goal ahead of Kepa, who is currently struggling to justify his price tag of £7.5 million pounds. Paul Pogba’s header he conceded in the weekend just gone was one he could have easily saved, as have been multiple of the goals he’s conceded in the last few months. It’s just as well Chelsea didn’t spend something ridiculous on him, like £75 million. Could you imagine that? That’d be… wait, what?
Combine this rag-tag bunch of tool-dropping, manager-hating, half-arsing players who make the Bash Street Kids look like a professional outfit with City’s recent form, including Sergio Aguero who is possibly playing the best football of his career, a midfield which simply refuses to age, the most deadly wingers in the league and Pep’s soulmate, Bernardo Silva, and we’re golden.
4-0 to City. You heard it here first.
We’re definitely going to win the FA Cup
As the full time whistle blew and Chelsea crashed out of the FA Cup against United, Wayne Bridge realised he’d forgotten something. Swearing violently, he darted into his dressing room. “Martin’s gonna kill me!” he muttered under his breath, as he took number 4 ball off the top of the radiator he’d had it sitting on for the previous two hours. He ran to the broadcasting studio where the draw was being held and quickly plunged the ball into the bag. When Swansea’s home fixture came out, Wayne knew what to do. He made no mistake as he pulled out the ball, still warm from its time atop the radiator.
“And Swansea will play Manchester City.” announced Mark Chapman. Head of the FA, Martin Glenn, lay back in his silk dressing gown in his high-backed armchair in front of the fire at his manor and raised a glass to the television.
“That’ll do, Wayne. That’ll do.”
From Newport to Swansea, many were annoyed by the ease of Manchester City’s fixtures, mostly people who support a team that plays in red, whose name rhymes with “Witherbool”. The FA Cup run has been undeniably kind to Manchester City – Rotherham, Burnley, Newport and Swansea is a run of fixtures which you’d expect most teams in the Premier League, or even The Championship, to overcome. Naturally, this is because The FA are desperate for City to win a trophy, it can be the only possible reason.
Either way, we’re basically guaranteed to get to Wembley, even if it’s just the semi-final, though I’d make us firm favourites against whoever we get left in the competition. Even a resurgent Manchester United side under the expert management of Andy Serkis are nothing for us to fear.
I wrote a piece after the Newport game going over the major talking points and one reader in particular got quite mad at the fact I’d neglected to talk about Phil Foden, so I’ll do that now. He’s pretty bloody good. Of the players who struggled to adapt to the state of the pitch (basically all of them), he was the quickest to take to it and was quickly making runs and passes which were creating opportunities for others.
In the second half, having fully grown into the game and the physicality that Newport were offering, he dictated the entire run of play and topped off his achievement with two goals, one of which was so hilariously brutal in its swift and immediate destruction of the hopes and dreams of Newport fans around the ground who, having just pulled a goal back, had briefly begun to believe that a comeback may be possible, that I couldn’t help but laugh as it happened.
I hope he plays against Chelsea on Sunday, or at least has some involvement. He’s a great player and it still blows my mind that he’s from Stockport. A player that good was born and raised about five minutes down the road from where my mum was. He also looks about 12 years old, which is a tad depressing. As a 26-year-old I still think of myself as young, but it’s a terrible realisation that in football terms I’m anything but. The game’s being taken over by pesky millennials with their AirPods and their grime music and their ridiculous fashion sense. *shakes fist angrily*
We’re definitely going to win the Champions League
When the draw was made for the Round of 16 in the Champions League and it came out that City had drawn Schalke, many were annoyed by the ease of Manchester City’s fixtures in the competition, mostly people who support a team that plays in red, whose name rhymes with “Fibbergool”. It’s simply our fault that we won the league last year and got ourselves in Pot 1. It’s our stupid fault that we topped our group to ensure that we didn’t get a draw against Bayern Munich or PSG. We’re so corrupt.
Speaking of corrupt, UEFA did everything they could to try to stop City from winning the first leg against Schalke. When City took the lead early in the game, the referee inexplicably went back to check a potential foul which took place about 30 seconds earlier, in which time Schalke had possession multiple times and could have kicked the ball out of play had they been particularly aggrieved by it themselves.. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is exactly the point of VAR, to ensure that any blatant fouls missed beforehand are pulled back, but one single look at the replay would have told you that it absolutely wasn’t a foul but they still spent a minute reviewing it regardless.
Then came the big one. Otamendi was penalised for a handball after nearly 3 minutes of VAR, after which it later became clear to everybody that the pitch-side television screen was BROKEN, meaning the referee could not personally have a look at it. Processes aside, I fully understand the decision they came to. Otamendi was trying to move his arm behind his back, I know. However, I can’t really get behind the idea that, intentional or not, blocking a shot on goal with your arm isn’t a penalty. It should absolutely be a penalty. I’ve no problem with it being awarded, however the intent should be taken into account and so giving a yellow card for it was just absolutely ridiculous. Still, at least that yellow wouldn’t have any impact on the rest of the game.
Then came a second penalty in which a shirt was pulled, which is a penalty, fair enough. However, what the VAR team run by UEFA absolutely refused to acknowledge is that the two players right by Fernandinho were clearly offside as the free kick was taken, one of which was the player who had actually been fouled. Of course, if the referee on the pitch had been able to see this then he would have potentially overturned the penalty decision, but that darn TV on the side of the pitch wasn’t working, so he had to take UEFA’s word for it. Funny, that.
So City showed no signs of coming back from this position and, admittedly, I started to think we might not even get a draw, let alone a win. Then Otamendi makes a tackle which just about sums up why half the fan-base thinks he’s brain-dead, earning himself a second yellow card and banishing himself to the sin bin alongside Fabian Delph. See you in April, Nico.
Down to ten men against a Schalke team that had basically grown in confidence since taking the lead, I was basically praying for a 2-2 and expecting nothing. What I got instead, however, was much better.
Leroy Sané stepped up to take a free kick and I wasn’t expecting much. We’d had a couple of free kicks in decent positions in the game and done nothing with them. However, he hit the ball in a way that can only be likened to Ronaldo, getting the ball up and over the wall with an incredible about of power and movement to take it away from the keeper. Upon seeing the goal, the creator of Football Manager 2019 smiled wryly, adding this goal to his list of examples for why every single player scores against their former club without fail in the game. FIX IT, MILES, IT’S NOT REALISTIC.
Then came the pièce de résistance. The Stück de Widerstand. Das schadenfreude. After a seemingly baffling decision to take off both Kev and Kun, Ederson lumped it long with the ridiculous pin-point accuracy that Alisson can only dream of. Raheem, who had now filled the lone striker role in place of Aguero, held off the Schalke defender brilliantly and, as Fahrmann made the foolish decision to rush out at an angle that left half the goal open to him, Raz showed a level of composure that Alan Brazil and Graeme Souness never thought he was capable of to calmly place it into the goal.
10 men. 5 minutes. 3-2.
As a side note, Ederson’s assists total now stands at 2 in all competitions, which is higher than Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Fred, Pedro, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Lucas Moura, Juan Cuadrado, Douglas Costa, Ivan Rakitic, Kingsley Coman, James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben, David Alaba and Thiago to name just a few. Just some small names there.
We’re going to win the Champions League. Forget PSG, the perennial Champions League chokers. Forget Real Madrid, a team whose season is going so well that they considered Brahim fucking Diaz a marquee signing in January. Forget Juventus, who just had their pants pulled down by Atlético Madrid.
Forget Barcelona. Forget logic. Forget UEFA. We’re going to win it. We’re going to win everything. Football’s coming home.
Follow Joe on Twitter – @joebutters
Follow City Xtra on Twitter – @City_Xtra