Did We Watch The Same Game?

By David Mooney, Mon 26 September 2011 17:18

Did We Watch The Same Game?

On Sunday afternoon, with a few hours to kill, I was doing the usual – waiting for the afternoon game to kick off, losing a few games of FIFA and casually browsing around Twitter and the rest of the internet. Then, somebody I follow on Twitter (@DavidMooney, quick shameless plug) posted the official match report from the official Everton website for the previous day's game. And it's amazing.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't expect it to focus on anything to do with Manchester City; it's not there for City fans and, being the official outlet, it won't criticise the Merseyside team too heavily. When I write match reports on City, I freely admit I am biased towards the blues and some of that will shine through if you're a non-blue reading it.

I'd expect City's official website to be colourful with their language, too: 'City couldn't get a kick of the ball as the opposition were bossing the play' would become 'City couldn't get a foothold in the game and had to fight hard to keep possession.' But, equally, if City were bad, I'd not expect it to report otherwise.

Having both been the match and re-watched the extended highlights after, and then having read the match report, I can't decide whether the official Everton website is just making one big joke. That's how amazing the report is.

Here it is, in bold. My comments are in italics.

Everton left Manchester City beaten but unbowed following what proved a brave but ultimately fruitless rearguard action.

That's not a bad start, to be fair. It's the official positive spin on a negative story – they can't well report that the visitors had no intentions of leaving their own penalty area, after all.

It tells you everything about the contest and the reasons behind the visitors' emphasis that the decisive breakthrough was scored by a £30m pound substitute.

Hmm. When Balotelli signed for City, the reports were that the transfer fee was around £24m. Even rounding to the nearest £10m, it's not £30m. But, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that figure also includes the Italian's wages (though, I'd have probably expected them to total more than £6m for the length of his contract).

And there is a worthy in footnote in the fact that Mario Balotelli’s crucial strike was deflected on the way by a defender plucked from the Championship and nurtured into an England international.

I can see where this is going, at this point. City have spent millions on their squad and Everton's is assembled on a shoestring. Well, a shoestring plus £15m for a frizzy haired Belgian. Nevertheless, City have spent more money and that's a very fair point.

However, without going into too much detail, the Merseyside club have received a few decent amounts of money down the years, usually right at the end of the transfer window, when they have little to no time to spend it – Rooney and Lescott the prime examples. That money has then not been seen by the manager.

While we're at it, am I the only one who doesn't understand the bad blood over the Lescott transfer to City? David Moyes was unhappy with the way City conducted their business when they bid for the defender, but it was his club that went public over the deal, which they continued to reject until they felt the offer was acceptable. And if Moyes really is the one who makes the decisions of who stays and goes – as he continues to remind us he is – then he'll have been the one who accepted the offer. How awful of City.

Finally, back to the match report, I question how much Phil Jagielka was 'plucked from the Championship', given he had played all of the season before for Sheffield United. In the Premier League. Technically speaking, it's true, given Sheffield United's relegation, but he was hardly an unknown quantity that they had to do some real work on to cultivate into a player.

Phil Jagielka was for the most part superb at the heart of the Everton defence and was particularly unfortunate to play an unwitting role in the Italian’s critical intervention.

Jagielka was probably shaded by central defensive partner Sylvain Distin who enjoyed a commanding display against one of his old clubs.

His defensive assuredness was a trait of the overall performance as the Blues looked to frustrate a club with nearly £150m worth of talent on the bench and have spent almost £60m on left-backs alone.

Right. Okay, then. Here is who started on the bench for City last weekend (and their reported transfer fees): Pantilimon (loan), Kolarov (£16m), Zabaleta (£6.5m), Savic (£6m), Milner (£26m), Balotelli (£24m), Tevez (complicated one, reports from £25m-£47m).

Now, even if we're generous and value the Tevez transfer at £47m – which has been denied by everybody involved with the transfer, leading estimated to be around the £30m mark – the total of that bench is £125.5m. It's probably closer to £110m, but let's still be generous.

I suppose £125.5m is near to £150m, in the sense that London is near to Glasgow when compared to New York.

And I'm not finished there, either. £60m on left-backs. That seems a little over the top, so let's take a quick look at the left-backs at the club and their reported transfer fees: Clichy (£7m), Kolarov (£16m), Bridge (£10m). So that figure must be including Lescott (a centre-back, £22m) and Zabaleta (a right-back, £6.5m), both of whom have played on the left side of defence once or twice in their City careers.

Because, if they're not, then City haven't even spent £60m on left-backs since I've been watching the club... Off the top of my head: Clichy (£7m), Kolarov (£16m), Bridge (£10m), Garrido (£1.5m), Ball (Free), Jordan (Youth), Thatcher (£100k), Tarnat (Free), Jensen (£500k), Pearce (Free), Granville (£1m), Edghill (Youth).

I may have missed some, but that totals £36.1m.

But for a deflection they might well have achieved their goal.

The Blues aren’t used to losing at Eastlands – they had won the previous four meetings – and despite a defeat confirmed by James Milner’s late clincher, they won’t be unduly low going into a week that culminates in the Merseyside derby.

They defended stoutly in the face of inevitable pressure, their shape and focus leaving few gaps despite the hosts enjoying around 65 per cent possession.

Unfortunately, where they have managed to hurt City on the break in the past, they weren’t able to do so this time and were undone themselves by a combination of misfortune and their opponents’ superior firepower.

David Moyes opted to recall skipper Phil Neville and deploy the veteran as an anchorman in a bid to stem the creativity of City’s astronomically expensive midfield.

Astronomically expensive, perhaps, but you get what you pay for. Both teams probably showed that.

And the former Manchester United man played his part as Everton enjoyed some early possession and got into their stride quickly.

I was late a missed the start of the game. But I only missed the first 90 seconds or so and I saw City dominance when I arrived, so it must have been a very quick stride.

If the first job was to get a foothold in the game, be organised and tight, that task was completed by the 20th minute with a wayward Sergio Aguero effort all the hosts had to show for their efforts.

In fact, David Silva was the only one getting the home fans excited – and that was by rolling around on the deck.

Players tend to get hurt when they're kicked up and down the field.

Jack Rodwell and Phil Neville were both booked harshly for tangling with the Spaniard, while Leon Osman was also carded for a challenge on Yaya Toure.

I can buy Osman's yellow being harsh. But the other two? Seriously? Rodwell came through the back of Silva and introduced his studs to the Spaniard's ankle, while Neville stopped him breaking away with a clip to the heels. Perhaps the latter was inadvertent, but that doesn't make it not a yellow card.

Toure was then booked himself for scything down Seamus Coleman and with half an hour gone Howard Webb had been waving his card around like Roberto Mancini with Sheikh Mansour’s Visa.

Toure's challenge was late and he was rightly booked. But it was still nowhere near the challenge that Rodwell was 'harshly' shown a card for.

But as the interval loomed the pressure grew and once Edin Dzeko had had fluffed his lines when well placed, Aguero drew an athletic save from Tim Howard.

The Blues offered little going forward with not much sticking to isolated frontman Tim Cahill and regimented defending very much the persuasion of their first half approach.

If it wasn’t Cahill looking to provide a presence up top it was Marouane Fellaini, and the Belgian made a nuisance of himself as the visitors enjoyed their first spell of possession for what seemed an eternity in the five minutes before half-time.

It may not have been aesthetically pleasing but Everton’s first half display would have been eye candy for admirers of the ugly side of the game.

I'm not sure what that last paragraph means. It might not have looked good but it will have looked good to people who like things that don't look good. I'm guessing – feel free to correct me – but that's the official website's way of putting positive spin on the visitors kicking seven shades of shit out City's creative players. Just a guess, though.

As David Moyes said pre-match, you’re not going to outplay a team as lavishly assembled as City’s so it was about finding a way of getting something. For the Blues that meant a defensive gameplan that would have had coaches reaching for a notebook and pen.

Yeah, yeah, we get it. City have spent more money than Everton.

The pattern changed little after the break but there was a reminder of the Blues own attacking threat as Cahill glanced Coleman’s cross just over the bar.

Three corners in a row represented a welcome chance for Everton’s defenders to check out the penalty box at the other end of the pitch as a frustrated City looked to be running out of ideas.

Small point, but the Everton defenders had seen a lot of that penalty area. They'd been camped in it in the first half.

That prompted Mancini to send for the enigmatic talents of Balotelli, while an attacking change was also forthcoming for the visitors with Louis Saha replacing Cahill, the Aussie limping off with Vincent Kompany’s studs leaving an impression on his shin.

I'm surprised that there was more made of that challenge, here. Of course, when I say challenge, I mean 'landing', given it was Cahill's flying entrance on Kompany that caused the Belgian to land on top of him.

Balotelli’s off the field antics have regularly generated the wrong sort of headlines, but on the pitch his talent is unquestionable and it took him mere minutes to make the difference.

A large slice of fortune helped him along the way, however, as his shot took a sizeable and decisive deflection off of the lunging Phil Jagielka.

A large slice of fortune went against City at Fulham, when a different deflection pulled the home side level. Last weekend, a deflection helped City. You have to live with them; though I would question how much the deflection deceived Howard.

Inevitably that goal inflicted a gaping puncture in the Blues’ performance and a sloppy second strike merely confirmed defeat.

You say sloppy second, I say decisive attack. Maybe that defender plucked from the Championship could have nicked the ball from Silva, rather than waiting for the Spaniard to pick it up.

Fellaini saw a late shot cleared off the line but there was no consolation for the visitors who will now swiftly turn their attentions to a foe closer to home.

The running theme of how much money City had spent and the poor refereeing – really? – seemed to be a rather convenient distraction to Everton's kick-everything-that-moved setup. Kompany should not have been sent off, Rodwell and Neville should have been booked and City did enough to win the game.

I have no problem with 'winning ugly', Christ, City have had to do it in the past. But 'winning ugly' is remaining solid at the back, defending solidly for the majority of the game and taking the chances you have.

Not booting anything that breathes.