Manchester City v Bolton Wanderers
A £200million investment in playing staff. Wholesale background changes. Managerial casualties. New dawns. Revolutions.
It’s fair to say that Manchester City Football Club is synonymous with change- but one thing that remains constant throughout is the guarantee that the eleven players on the pitch, whoever they happen to be and however much they cost- will veer between the sublime and the ridiculous again and again. To outclass Chelsea and Arsenal one week and be run ragged by a lowly Bolton the next just typifies this. Many have tried to understand the condition- managers have spent lavishly and revoultionised their working environments- but still, the parasite that is ‘Typical City’ remains. Little surprise, then, that 19th placed Hull, without a win in eleven games, managed to quite comfortably outgun the Blues on Saturday. They enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, carved out chances with relative ease and claimed the three points thanks to two men. The first, Jozy Altidore, had failed to score in any of his previous appearances for the Tigers, and the second, George Boateng hadn’t found the net in nearly three years. Typical City indeed.
So, having seen his side collapse spectacularly against Hull, preceded by less than impressive displays against Everton, Manchester United and Portsmouth, Roberto Mancini’s honeymoon period has drawn to a close and the reality of life in English football has struck. The popular Italian has introduced changes in style, though- Mark Hughes’ aggressive, fast counter-attacking tactics have been replaced by a more patient, functional playing style, in which not many risks are taken. The players appear much more disciplined positionally- rigid, even. As with any change in leadership, time is required to allow Mancini’s influence to be truly felt. Perhaps the biggest question is will the fans, and more so the club’s ownership, afford him that time?
Bolton are Tuesday night’s visitors to Eastlands, and buoyed by the appointment of club legend Owen Coyle as manager recently, they won’t be coming to make up the numbers. Despite their current precarious position, confidence is high at the Reebok and Coyle will of course take encouragement from his last visit to Eastlands in November, when as Burnley manager he orchestrated a spectacular 3-3 draw. He, like Mancini at City, has overseen big changes at Bolton with the direct approach favoured by Gary Megson replaced by a much more fluent, attractive passing game. His loan signings of creative minded youngsters Jack Wilshere and City’s own Vladimir Weiss paint a picture of the style the Scot is looking to implement.
City’s last five Premier League encounters have been a mixed bag, in truth. They impressively dispatched Wolves at Molineux and followed it up with a spectacular demolition of Blackburn, in which Carlos Tevez starred- but that has been followed by arguably the poorest performance of the season at Goodison Park, a lacklustre 2-0 win over bottom club Portsmouth, and Saturday’s defeat at Hull. Statistically, 9 points from a possible 15 is reasonably good form. A deeper analysis gives more cause for concern, perhaps.
Meanwhile, the opposite is true for Bolton. Four points from five outings doesn’t sound particularly pleasing but it’s been an incredibly tough start for Coyle. Arsenal visited the Reebok and struggled to overcome the Trotters, eventually winning 2-0. Only three days later, the two sides met again- this time at the Emirates. The signs of Coyle’s influence were apparent, as Bolton attacked with style and purpose, scoring twice but going down 4-2. Next up was the visit of newly-promoted Burnley. This was arguably the poorest Bolton performance in weeks, but they got the all-important result, a 1-0 win allowing Coyle to finally celebrate his first victory. They battled admirably at Anfield but Liverpool quite fortuitously picked up the three points. Their most recent game was the visit to the Reebok of Fulham, on Saturday. Remarkably, Kevin Davies’ late strike was ruled out for ‘infringement’- a decision which has left many even more disillusioned with beleaguered referee Mark Clattenburg.
Kolo Touré vs. Kevin Davies- Since arriving from Arsenal in August, Touré’s form has been questionable. At times outstanding, at others disastrous, consistency has so far evaded the Ivorian. Davies, meanwhile, has been his usual menacing self. Often regarded as one of the hardest strikers to mark in England, his physicality and workrate will require both concentration and determination from Touré. If he switches off, City are in trouble.
Shaun Wright-Phillips vs. Paul Robinhson- With Craig Bellamy ruled out through injury, surely this is a perfect opportunity for Wright-Phillips to cement a place in Mancini’s side. The winger has been unspectacular this season, but hasn’t had much playing time recently. With aspirations of playing at the World Cup this summer, he needs to start performing well consistently. A date with a tactically naive and one-paced Robinson must be the perfect springboard.
Lee Chung-Yong vs. Wayne Bridge- South Korean Lee has been in sensational form this season for Bolton. Signed from FC Seoul for £2million in August, he has vision, dribbling ability, is a fantastic crosser of the ball with an eye for goal, and has been dubbed in his homeland as ‘the Korean Hleb’. Wayne Bridge has been embroiled in personal controversies recently, but will need to be fully concentrated on Tuesday to nullify Lee’s certain threat.
So, it’s the meeting of the Premier League’s two most newly appointed managers. While Coyle slowly rings the changes and goes about securing Bolton’s top flight status for another year, the beads of sweat will be dripping from Mancini’s brow. His targets have been set, and time is running out to deliver. It should be a fascinating clash, the outcome of which is difficult to call- will City’s famed inability to see off ‘lesser sides’ strike again, or will their class come to the fore?
Thank you to “Colin The King” of www.mancityfans.net for writing this excellent match preview.