Tip for City: think like winners
I was looking forward to watching Liverpool against Manchester City last weekend. I thought that two teams desperate for the fourth place in the Premier League and a spot in the Champions League would be fighting tooth and nail for victory. Instead, I witnessed one of the most forgettable games of the season. In 94 minutes, I counted two shots on goal and a lack of ambition from both sides. The managers seemed content with the draw, but I doubt the fans felt the same.
City have to take on Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa over the next few weeks. Not only that, their games against teams struggling against relegation will be demanding for different reasons. They have no option but to raise their game otherwise they are heading for a very disappointing season. Wednesday's FA Cup defeat by Stoke City ended any hopes they had of winning their first trophy since 1976. That's 34 years. I know it was in the cup, but City are poor away from home having won just three times in 13 league games.
Only Everton have conceded more goals than City in the top 10 and most of those were when they were injury hit at the start of the season. It's being unbeaten at home, which leaves City fifth in the table, level on points with fourth place Tottenham but with a game in hand. City were hoping for a top-six finish at the start of the season but given the money spent, that was conservative. Sixth is now looking more likely than fourth if City don't take risks and make better use of their talented squad of players.
Liverpool could have been beaten, but City are lacking direction and the players don't seem to know what they are aiming for. And publicly saying that they were expected to finish in the top six set the standard too low. I always remember Kevin Keegan telling us at Newcastle that we were going to win the league at the start of every season. It was a bit surreal hearing him, but such ambition and confidence breeds a belief lacking at City and there are already murmurings about the new manager, Roberto Mancini.
Fans do have to realise that spending money doesn't equate to instant success though. Real life football is not like a computer game and teams need time to gel. I don't think that Mark Hughes was given enough time and I hope the same fate doesn't befall Mancini. He is not doing that much different to Hughes and got off to a flying start with six wins in his first seven games, but City have won just twice in the last seven. Better is expected, but a manager needs time and not speculation about his job. City have now changed managers around once a year and that doesn't lead to a stable football club.
Liverpool are the side most threatened by the new Manchester City. The top three positions already look decided by Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, but Rafa Benitez's side have been dreadfully inconsistent all season. Less was expected of Arsenal, but I think Arsene Wenger has again done superbly on more limited resources than United or Chelsea, though Theo Walcott is the player who most intrigues me at The Emirates.
He was labelled as the new Thierry Henry when he signed from Southampton as a 16-year-old, but he has a long, long way to go before he can compared to my friend Henry. Put simply, I'm not convinced by Walcott. I know he has been frequently injured, but he has failed to produce on a consistent basis when fit. He has speed, but he can sometimes run the ball out because he doesn't know where to go with it.
People have cut him a lot of slack because of his age, but he's 20 now. He is light years behind where Wayne Rooney was at that age and needs to show a big improvement if he's to be international class. Walcott was a surprise call-up in the England squad for the 2006 World Cup, where he was a spectator. Fabio Capello will be making the decision this time about whether he goes to the South Africa or not, but I'm not sure if he - or anyone - knows what his best position is. Wenger is usually such a shrewd judge of a player, but he doesn't appear to know either whether Walcott is better used as a winger or centre forward.
I trust Capello to make the right decision, one of many he's got to make at the moment. I don't envy him. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: February 26, 2010 04:00 AM