Five For Thought: Chelsea v City Women, New York v Orlando & City on Tour

New York City turn on the style as Pirlo debuts

IMG_4008Pirlo pointing to where Kaka is going to put his free-kick

Wow what an amazing game! The one thing I can credit about Sky Sports is that their coverage of New York City has been pretty extensive and it’s terrific to have been able to watch New York City with such frequency. It was terrific to have been in attendance at both the pre-season friendlies in Manchester and where the time difference hasn’t been too differential I’ve rarely missed a game.

I must admit that ever since the first game against Orlando City I’ve taken a bit of a disliking to them solely due to the fact that Sky seemed to insinuate that NYCFC was a franchise spending mega dollars whilst Kaka had merely joined Orlando City through genuine affection for a club that was the same age as the team they were playing. Then it was like some divine moment when his deflected free kick denied City of three points in stoppage time.

As for the return it was a close first half and the deadline was broken just before half time as a wonderful ball over the top from City graduate Angelino found David Villa. Villa brought it down, turned and fired a wonderful finish into the bottom corner. A superb finish! However anyone who saw the Toronto game knew it wouldn’t end there.

As good as NYCFC have been going forward, and despite the arrivals of Iroala and Angelino, they just can’t defend to save their lives. I imagine Kevin Keegan loved it. The only thing bigger than the inevitability about Cyle Larin’s equaliser was the space he had to finish.

Calle re-took the lead before Larin levelled again for Orlando as unlike the first meeting between the teams on the opening day NYCFC just couldn’t cope with Orlando’s pace. However with the introduction of Pirlo New York boast an embarrassment of attacking options with Tony McNamara, Mix Diskerud, Pokue and Villa they turned to their best form of defence…attack!

Villa and McNamara pulled NYCFC into a seemingly unassailable lead with some absolutely thrilling football whilst at the other end Josh Saunders made a superb save at his near post. Villa’s second goal came after a powerful run from Poku, holding off his man before slotting in Villa whose shot was deflected into the bottom right corner. The third was rifled into the roof of the net after another excellent run and pass from Poku.

At 4-2 I text my dad simply saying ‘4-4’, and when Larin was again given the freedom of Yankee Stadium and fired a rocket into the top corner I must admit I feared the worst. Fortunately that was not the case but there was to be a grandstand finish as Orlando earned themselves a free kick at the edge of the area in stoppage time just as they did in the season opener. As on the opening day, up stepped Kaka to strike it, only this time it cannoned off the inside of the post, fell kindly to Diskerud who hooked it away and allowed City to break down the other end 3 on 1 and eventually Poku presented it back to Diskerud with a tap in to end a thrilling game.

With 13 games to go the team sit outside the playoffs on goal difference but look much improved from that initial run where they went winless in 11 after collecting five points from their first three games. Ignoring budgets credit must be given to the management side for making the necessary changes to ensure that City have been competitive in the first season (how long and how many millions has it taken for Toronto to get to this point?) and a play-off spot would be no less than they deserve.

As for Pirlo, the Sky Sports commentator literally counted the number of accurate passes he completed when he came on and his ability will easily translate to MLS. Any accusations of an easy final payday can be ignored as he took one for the team late in the game with his first MLS booking. Pirlo to Villa with Lampard still to come should be a superbly entertaining end to NYCFC’s first season.

Could Kwadwo Poku be the first NYCFC player to move to MCFC?

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At 23, 6 ft 1inches tall and from Ghana, the comparisons to Yaya Toure will border on lazy. But so what? In reality I’d compare him to Paul Pogba in the Champions League final, huge, fast, raw and strong. When NYCFC kicked off their existence in Manchester in February he was one of the players who I was impressed with. Arriving from Ghana in 2010 and playing for the Georgia Revolution in the NPSL for two years before joining the Atlanta Silverbacks (great name for a team) in 2013 it was great insight by Claudio Reyna to acquire Poku. On Sunday evening he didn’t look out of place mixing it with Pirlo, Villa and USA international Diskerud and three times he broke away with his man with a frightening burst of speed rounded off with the fifth goal. He collected three assists on the day.

OK, it’s a long shot and the you can argue that looking good in MLS doesn’t translate to doing well in the Premier League but there have been enough players who’ve moved from MLS and done well in England over the last decade to make success for Poku less far-fetched as he demonstrates both power and pace. For now, after Tony Taylor, I’m happy with his name being the first I look for on the New York City team sheet.

Whisper it quietly but are Manchester City’s Women back in the title race?

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Going into the World Cup MCWFC were well off the pace and it was fair to say that they may have had one eye on the trap door at the other end albeit however slim that might have been.

Since England women’s third place in Canada, the Women’s Super League kicked off a week later with all five of City’s England contingent in the starting line-up and eased to a 1-0 win over Birmingham. Credit to City as I wondered if they played them to take advantage of the post-World Cup euphoria and might have rested them for a couple of games but instead they’ve all featured in every minute since returning with superb 3-0 wins away to Bristol Academy and Doncaster Belles.

The trip to Chelsea ladies at Staines Town would be a marker in City’s season, the two sides played out a 1-1 draw at the CFA before the World Cup, and three points would leave them three points behind the then leaders with a game in hand. Of course, Chelsea were top for a reason, had beat City in the FA Cup semi-final at Adams Park and had just paid the biggest fee for a female football ever in Fran Kirby (£60,000 if you’re wondering).

City started well, passing the ball quickly, movement off the ball, width and a good tempo about them. They deservedly took the lead through Toni Duggan after 12 minutes with a superb cross field from the impressive Daphne Corboz. Duggan, controlled it with the outside of her boot, raced into the area and finished neatly inside the right hand post given the Chelsea goalkeeper no chance.

And from there…City switched off a little bit. They defended well but they resorted to the long ball far too often in the first half. There were still some nice moves which forced Chelsea to dish out a few heavy challenges but the tempo and the width went and as the half wore on Duggan continued to be more and more isolated.

City defended well throughout the game and I thought Karen Bardsley had one of her best games I’ve seen her have whilst both Lucy Bronze and Kathleen Radtke were both excellent. However, when Chelsea scored just after the break, a rare mistake from City when Steph Houghton was left one-on-one with Aluko, allowed her too much space and fired a snap shot from the edge of the area, City were then left to try and lift themselves to try and win the game. Credit must go to City because that’s what they did, they stepped up, like Champions in waiting, they took the game to Chelsea, created more chances with several long range efforts and the attacking trio of Corboz, Nikita Parris and Duggan always looking a threat whilst Jill Scott and the underrated Izzy Christensen pushing forward City looked the more likely of the two sides to find a winner.

Ok, the goal took a fortuitous deflection of Claire Rafferty but sometimes but we’ll ignore that and sometimes that bit of luck that comes with a good performance is how title challenges are kick-started.The Continental League Cup takes centre stage for the next month with the next game at home to Durham on Wednesday but City’s next big test is Arsenal away at Boreham Wood on Sunday 9th August.

Is it time for Izzy Christensen to be considered for the England team?

With just a mere six England Internationals in the starting line up at the weekend (Demi Stokes is the 6th but bizarrely didn’t go to the World Cup) England manager Mark Sampson could be forgiven for overlooking Isobel Christiansen for the England squad. Christensen has been an ever present in the City side this season and is an intregal part in the side, scoring the winner in the Continental Cup final last season and slotting in behind the striker in the side.

Christensen is industrious, covers the ground of an all action midfielder, presses high up the filed, rarely gives the ball away and a superb passer of the ball. The 23 year old from Macclesfield is a former Birmingham City and Everton ladies player, with already vast experience, and impresses me more every time I see her.

What have we learned from City’s Pre-Season tour?

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The modern trend for several years now has been for Europe’s top clubs to head around the world to prepare for the new season. This season City headed to Australia with a stop off on the way home in Vietnam. Australia brought wins against Adelaide United, Melbourne City and a penalty shootout win against Roma before a heavy, and well publicised, 4-1 defeat against Real Madrid. The game in Vietnam against their national team produced a comfortable 8-1 as well as a fee of £1 million.

What have we learned? It would be unfair to get to excited by the wins or too upset by the defeat to Real Madrid. No disrespect to Adelaide, Melbourne or Vietnam by these are the kind of sides that half strength City sides should be beating. At the same time it’s no shame to lose to a full strength Real Madrid side let alone when you’ve a central defensive partnership with exactly 0 Premier League appearances between them.

In fairness the games have produced the opportunity for the EDS players to play alongside the first team. Several have stood out, Kelechi Iheanacho. Manu Garcia and Jason Denayer have been the main stand outs. Kelechi wowed people last pre-season but couldn’t get a work permit but was influential in beating United’s U21s on the final day of last season when he bullied the United defence all afternoon. Manu Garcia has seemingly come from nowhere, similar to Michael Johnson and Steve Ireland when they made their debuts, and has been a revelation on the tour. Lastly Denayer, who has already collected his first winners medal with Celtic and his first Belgium caps, has looked assured and accomplished and could be pushing Mangala and Demechelis for a spot in the starting line-up. At 20 years old, with a new 5 year contract recently signed and City still short a homegrown player or two it seems as good a time as ever to give him first team experience.

A Special mention must go to new signing Raheem Sterling who has notched three goals already and scared every supporter chasing back to half way and put in a terrific challenge with the score at 3-0 only to stay down clutching his back for his troubles. Sterling’s speed, width and desire to shoot first time inside the penalty area is everything that City weren’t last season and its sure to be exciting.

Coming Up:

A busy week for me personally as a trip to Knutsford and Holyhead Hotspur with West Didsbury & Chorlton sandwiches a trip to the Academy Stadium on Wednesday night for City v Durham Women in the Continental Cup. Manchester City head to Stuttgart on Saturday for their final friendly whilst New York City are at home to Montreal Impact. City’s women complete the weekend with a tough trip to Arsenal on Sunday night.

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