• There is genuine shock that the club has been banned from competing in the Champions League for two years because of accusations of breaches of the financial fair play regulations.
• Several years ago in Scottish football, everything revolved around Celtic v Rangers, two Glasgow clubs with a bitter rivalry not equaled anywhere else in the world.
This piece is highly controversial and you might agree or disagree. I have been talking with several people involved with Manchester City.
There is genuine shock that the club has been banned from competing in the Champions League for two years because of accusations of breaches of the financial fair play regulations. City’s lawyers are already planning their appeal which will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Their management and their lawyers insist they have done nothing wrong. Under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour, City have become a world powerhouse in footballing terms. His absurd wealth has transformed the club from an also-ran to one which is respected around the world.
His generosity has also pumped millions of pounds into social housing around Manchester and developed the local university. They have arguably the world’s best coach in Pep Guardiola and yet for two years, they will not be competing for Europe’s top prize if Uefa have their way.
Several years ago in Scottish football, everything revolved around Celtic v Rangers, two Glasgow clubs with a bitter rivalry not equaled anywhere else in the world.
Rangers got into financial difficulties and irregularities in their accounting saw them demoted to the third tier and Scottish football effectively died as there was no other team to challenge the might of Celtic, who went on to win the league title year after year after year.
Put quite simply, it was boring. Football north of the English border has never really recovered. Now Uefa has banned Manchester City from all European competitions and whichever club wins the Champions League can they really say they are the best in Europe?
Football is the big loser. Europe will be starved of the talents of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and co. and the competition, in my opinion, will go into recession for two years. I admit that a £30million fine is peanuts to City with their wealth and manager Pep Guardiola might be tempted to leave if he cannot compete in the Champions League and so might Aguero and co. but again I say, at the end of the day it is football and the fans who are the ultimate losers.
Leicester’s problems versus Man City
This weekend’s big match between Leicester City and Manchester City has given manager Brendan Rodgers a painful headache. Hamza Choudhury is suspended for the game which leaves the Leicester manager with a problem since Wilfried Ndidi has not recovered from knee surgery and Nampalys Mendy is also injured. Leicester tell me that Rodgers is looking at playing Ryan Bennett or Wes Morgan with Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans and he will also play three at the back. Choudhury has been one of Leicester’s most creative midfielders this season and his red card dismissal against Wolves will give the Foxes problems against Aguero, David Silva and De Bruyne.
Kante ruled out because of groin injury
I spoke with Chelsea late on Wednesday evening to enquire about the injury to N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman had to be replaced after only 12 minutes into the game against Manchester United on Monday evening. I understand initial scans revealed that he sustained a small tear in his groin. Kante will miss the game against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend and Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the medical team think the seriousness of the injury will also rule him out of the next games against Bournemouth and Everton and the much anticipated match against Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round.
Guendouzi upsets Arteta
During Arsenal’s winter training camp break in Dubai, Matteo Guendouzi had a loud and heated row with some of the staff on the pitch. It later continued in the hotel. Coach Mikel Arteta is a demanding boss and his training programmes are tough. He also impresses upon the squad that he expects the utmost effort from every team member.
Guendouzi failed to live up to those expectations and his attitude and body language left the manager in no doubt that he was giving far less than his best. The Frenchman, despite being only 20-year-old, is very outspoken both on the training pitch and in the dressing room and Arteta doesn’t like his attitude. As a consequence, he left the midfielder out of the squad to face Newcastle in Arsenal’s last Premier League game.
When questioned about this situation Arteta said: “The reason I left him out of the traveling squad is that other players, who in my opinion are training better, behaving better and are playing themselves better to deliver on the pitch are the ones I want in the team and have selected.”
Chelsea fans starting to murmur
I went down to Stamford Bridge on Monday evening to see Manchester United walk away with a 2-0 win which has once again relieved the pressure on Ole Gunner Solskjaer. It was a game of two managers who are under a lot of scrutiny and Lampard came off as second best. For the first time, I heard murmurs of dissent from the Chelsea faithful directed at their hero Lampard. His honeymoon period is over and it is time to deliver.
Chelsea have lost five times at home this season and won only four of their last 14 games. 24 hours later, I watched on TV the highlights of Liverpool’s defeat to Atletico Madrid. The contrast with Chelsea was so obvious. Whereas Chelsea’s defence had trouble coping with United’s Martial and co. Atletico were the masters of defence. With Liverpool commanding 75% of the ball possession Mohamed Salah, Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino could not break down a well-disciplined, well-drilled and well-organised group of defenders. Lampard would do well to study this defensive master-class.
Clubs welcome possible new offside rules
There is no doubt that many clubs and supporters have suffered considerable frustration with VAR. It is often inconclusive and holds up a game while faceless men in a studio miles away from the action decide whether or not to allow goals, fouls, penalties etc.
Probably the most controversial decisions have been over the offside rule and it has dictated that this frustrating factor of VAR is amended. The current law says that if any part of an attackers body, with the exception of hands and arms, is nearer to the goal than the ball or the second last defender, then it is offside.
However, VAR referees are penalising attackers if armpits, toes and even fingers are a fraction nearer to the goal than a defender, disallowing goals. Managers have hurled themselves across their technical areas in pure anger and frustration, fans and commentators have been confused.
In his role as head of Fifa’s global football development, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is proposing that the rules be changed to say that there must be clear daylight between the attacker and defender. This, it is argued, will lead to fewer marginal decisions, more goals and less time for stoppages during a match. I called on several of my contacts around the Premier League and found that there is overwhelming support for Wenger’s new proposals.
Arteta proud of Arsenal’s defensive record
When I asked what Mikel Arteta thought was his best achievement so far in his rebuilding of Arsenal he points to their defensive record. Although he was hired to bring life and flair to the Gunners, which he will ultimately do, he is proud of their recent defensive record.
David Luiz and co. have conceded only eight goals in 11 games. Previous manager Unai Emery conceded 23 in his final 11 games. Stats speak for themselves. With that in mind, and to the delight of the travelling Arsenal fans, Mesut Ozil scored his first goal since last year and it involved 35 passes which is 10 more than any goal scored in the Premier League this season.
Villa unlucky with injuries
I felt sorry for Aston Villa last Sunday as I watched them lose by a 90th-minute goal to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur. They played well, went ahead after nine minutes and were only beaten by a superb display from Son Heung-min who stepped up to the mark again in Harry Kane’s injured absence.
Villa might have lost and are now only one point outside the relegation zone but as assistant coach John Terry pointed out, Villa have lost Tom Heaton and Wesley to season-ending injuries, John McGuinn has not played since Christmas and their best defender, Tyrone Mings has tonsillitis. Their best player Jack Grealish, thank goodness, remains fit and able and one of the Premier League’s best strikers.
By the way, it is typical of the brilliant attitude of Tottenham’s Son Heung-min when he claimed that he will be back for the final few games of this season after breaking his arm. He is determined despite the Spur’s medical team and Mourinho saying he has no chance of playing again this season.