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Crunch time

By | April 6th 2012

By Tony Ngare

It was supposed to be an easy script to follow for Manchester City. They seemed to have memorised carefully the first few acts.

However, like any experienced thespian will tell you; to shoot a long and energy sapping movie over a span of several months needs real stamina.

Unfortunately, as we approach the penultimate period in the English Premier League, that stamina seems to have deserted Man City. Their main rivals Man United are now five points clear. Come Sunday City may have to step out at Emirates against a wounded Arsenal side eight points adrift.

That aside whether they get one point leave alone three at Emirates a different story.

The mansion that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan built in Manchester appears to be crumbling in the last couple of weeks.

But how did it get this bad. I wish I could say that City’s last week’s action-packed game against Sunderland was the season’s most surprising, but with tension and tempers not too far off the radar, you can never be sure.

It was the moment that summed up a game gone wrong: Mario Balotelli having to be dragged away by his captain as he argued with a team-mate over who should take a free kick. At 3-1 down it was self-indulgent, self-destructive stuff. That Manchester City – and Balotelli – almost went on to put it right was a testament to the reserves of fight still left in this team.

They will need every ounce of it now if they are going to sustain the title charge. Not only did they put themselves in a position where they could lose touch with their rivals, they lost their composure, too.

By admitting after the defeat at Swansea on March 11 that his players ‘could be tired’, Mancini allowed the fatigue factor to creep into their minds. But the signs have been there since the turn of the year, a point highlighted by the sufferings of David Silva.

The Spaniard has started more games than any other outfield player, while Yaya Toure has yet to be offered a break since returning from Africa Cup of Nations’ duty.

City’s predictability has been the team’s main undoing. At the start of the season, City’s Plan A was devastating. Mancini’s 4-2-3-1 formation was solid defensively and unstoppable going forward. But eight months on, the system has not changed.

Every opposing defender knows that Silva and Nasri will not cross from the flanks and that everything is funnelled through the middle. Only Mario Balotelli offers unpredictability, but his teammates are as unaware of what he will do next as his opponents.

The Munich grand march

These last two weeks has been action-packed as far as UEFA Champions League is concerned. While football stars were fighting it out in Europe for a ticket to Munich finals, Kenyan football fans got a chance to get as close as it will ever get to the Champions league trophy aka Big Ears courtesy of Heineken.

Last Saturday, more than 5,000 Kenyans of all walks of life got a lifetime opportunity to experience the trophy at Carnivore Grounds. If the excitement and the buzz on social media is anything to go by, it’s safe to say most were elated to simply stare at their own reflection on the shiny and biggest club football prize.

Big up to Koen Morshuis, Krijn Jansen and the entire Heineken team for slotting in Kenyan football lovers in the UEFA Champions League Trophy circuit.

So Barcelona, for the fifth successive season are in the semi-final stage. This is no mean achievement, to get at the semis that is.

It’s like paying full fare to go to Nairobi’s CBD from Thika but due to rain and traffic jam, matatu crew drop you at Ngara, you cannot convince anyone you aren’t within city precincts.

However, the biggest talking point at this juncture is whether referees always favour Barcelona.

AC Milan players and officials now are backing Real Madrid’s manager Jose Mourinho long held view that Barca appear to be the anointed ones.

After tow penalties, awarded to Barcelona, kin and kith at AC Milan have been left fuming.

The first to unleash the first salvo was Barca’s former player Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He strongly felt that while Barca is a strong squad, possibly the best in the world, they are capable of winning their matches without help from the whistlers.

Defender Massimo Ambrosini was also unhappy with the second penalty. He said: "In every level and on every corner things happen, but the interpretation changes from referee to referee. There is no uniformity."

Well... I’m not a trained whistler and my eyesight, seeing that I have to rely on windowpanes to read suggest, I don’t have the best eyes this part of the ocean. However, for the first penalty I thought Lionel Messi came from an offside position just before Antonini fouled him.


If that is the case, then he ought to have been flagged for offside since he interfered with the play. This amorphous phrase—interfering with play— will continue to be at the centre of many controversies.

Barca manager Pep Guardiola may be getting nervy over this favouritism talk as he sounded exasperated in his response. "If Ibrahimovic says it is thanks to the referees then fine, but we have qualified five times and the players speak on the pitch, which is where they should do their talking."

With Chelsea having set up another faceoff with Barcelona in the semi-final stage, looks like the stakes can only get higher.

Should Chelsea go into the game with a grudge then it could actually work against them and end up picking yellow cards that would eventually be their waterloo. As for Didier Drogba, the man has a personal matter to settle with Barca.

The longer Roberto Di Matteo continues to serve in this ‘temporary’ arrangement the more he seems to cement his position permanently; but with that Russian you never know.

Real Madrid had already ‘qualified’ even before they stepped out of the Santiago Bernabue stadium courtesy of the three away goals they scored in Cyprus against Apoel Nicosia.

This, therefore, means that Real Madrid will have a chance to measure if indeed they stand a real chance to win this year’s edition with a match-up with Bayern Munich.

They may not look forward to going to Allianz Arena for the semi-final tie but if they expect to be back in the stadium next month, then they got to go past Bayern where they can expect stiffer competition than that provided by Apoel Nicosia.

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