Lee Fucking Mason. Who would have believed it if that had not seen it with their own eyes. After giving Burnley every free-kick and dubious push and tackle. After having even penalized Ramsey at the end of the first half after he’d been clobbered by one of their lot, he gives us the most important decision of the game. I was looking for someone else to take that penalty rather than Alexis. But he scrapped it in and we came away with both the three points and a clean sheet. Amazing. Two wins in a row. Let the season end now.
The first half was dysfunctional. We could not seem to retain the ball. There were a couple of challenges just inside our half where I could have sworn Xhaka chickened out. He was barely involved in the game and Ramsey was taking his usual too many touches. But where was Ozil? We were down to a single Nazi in our team. Instead we had to watch Ob1 flitter around the pitch. It’s times like this that you realize (if you’d not been watching for the last 3 or 4 years) how much we miss Ozil.
In the second half though we came out with more purpose, pushed Burnley back and dominated. They were much less dangerous than they were in the first half. Gudmanssoon tested us in that first half. He looked quite good. Cech looked even better though. As, to be fair, did our entire defense.
What is up with Mustafa? I think someone has occupied his body and mind. And instead of the gormless, panicky player that gives away possession we actually have a real defender who fearlessly throws himself at the ball in dangerous areas. Only once today did he play a wayward pass. Does this mean he’s actually coachable? I hope so. Now if only someone could turn their attention to our right wing-back. Bellend is utterly gormless. It looks like he just does not know what to do the with ball when it’s at his feet. He’s become Walcott-like in his fear of taking on his man. Instead it’s always square and backwards. And he is just so flimsey on the ball that the other team has to blow on him and he gives away possession. Not that I would want Ox in that position – he was, as usual, ineffective against Chelski playing in that right-wing position that he hates so much; not that he’ll keep his place in the team when Llanlana, Mane and other return. Back to Bellend. Because we had both him and Ob1 on the right, it meant all our penetration and purpose came down the left hand side. Kolinsac combined well with both Alexis and Monreal. Between them the final ball and/or cross was lacking but they caused all the Burnley all sorts of problems.
Cigarette must be so frustrated. He worked so hard but rarely received the ball. This boy is a star but he can’t shine if they don’t pass to him. He makes the runs but without Ozil there’s no-one to feed him the ball. All his runs down the right channel were wasted because Bellend won’t go forward and can’t beat his man. Like Walcott (did I mention this before) he won’t use his pace. But Cigarette will score for us and does lead the line. When he comes short for the ball he’s got the balance and control. And then, unlike our French beauty, can sprint upfield.
In the first half, Ramsey had a wonderful chance after gorgeous work by Cigarette down the left channel. He should at least have hit the target. But then he was the only person making that run into the box. To go in level at half-time was better than I expected. I thought they bullied us and out worked us. But, at least in the second half, we controlled the game. It was also good to see Jack come on instead of Ob1. If we could put Ob1 and Bellend in a package deal and send them to Barcelona that would be ideal. I don’t think Bellend will ever fully adapt to the physical side of the English game – he’s better suited to Spain. It’s a shame we have no ready replacement though. As for Ob1 at least we have Ozil and Jack.
Today we won the three points because of our newly discovered rock-solid defense. Cech was outstanding again. And in addition to Mustafa, Monreal and Kosclieny were excellent. It’s a pity that don’t get the physical protection in front of them. Khaka was poor in the first half and only came into the game as Burnley got tired. But there’s no way we can win the league (next year not this – City have it won already) with this guy in the team. He’s a B+ player at best. But, for someone of his size, he loses way too many tackles and, unfortunately like Ramsey, is too slow on the ball.
I know I should be happier after these possibly undeserved three points but it was frustrating to see how slow we were in possession and lacking in inventiveness. There was very little movement except for Alexis. We missed our creator in chief and it was not clear who was supposed to step up into that role. But at least we seem to have a defense now. And maybe that’s due to Mustafa. I’m hesitant to believe his new focus and concentration will persist. There was one time in the second half when, a la BFG, he went chasing a ball from our half way line into their half and left a gaping hole in our defense. It was only because their forward had no speed that they could not exploit that opportunity. But, it seems rare now that he’s that reckless. And long may he remain more Adams-like than Cygan or Stephanov-like.
They say that for teams to be successful they need to gain points when they don’t play well. It seems like we should be very successful then. We did not play that well this week. And, against poor opposition, I don’t think we did last week. But the next couple of games will tell us a lot. For these games we can’t really rotate the way we do in the NoHopa League. Having to play midweek and then face up to Darth Vader at the weekend will test the team. I hope the devil comes with his usual defensive posture of not losing. I just wish we could change Xhaka and Bellend. Then we could have a real team. We need the right hand side of the team to be functional and we need a strong physical presence. Who do you think would win in a tackle between beefy Xhaka and midget-man Kanti? No contest, right.
Anyway, here we sit in the top four after losing to Liverpool, Stoke, Watford et al. Funny old game. As much as City are running away with it, there are still many points to be dropped before we go through our usual late winter collapse. Though, we seem to have come through November relatively unscathed. Maybe that’s progress.