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Manchester City: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

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There is a sense of irony that it took a home match against Sunderland for the Manchester City of late 2012 to finally start looking like the Manchester City of earlier in the year.

The Mackems were the only team to leave the Etihad Stadium with more than a cup of tea and a sense of regret in the Premier League last season, with late March’s 3-3 draw serving as the only home league match of 2011/12 that City didn’t win.

They would have experienced defeat back then had first Mario Balotelli and then Aleksandar Kolarov not struck in the final five minutes to earn a point which ending up proving vital in the title race, but there was only one way that the meeting between the same two clubs a week-and-a-half ago was going to go once Kolarov scored a trademark free-kick just five minutes in.

The Serbian was playing in a City team which was made up entirely of players who picked up league title winners’ medals last season, with first Sergio Aguero and then Gael Clichy emerging from the bench to make it a lucky 13 champions on show for Roberto Mancini.

Only after James Milner had made it 3-0 with his deflected free-kick did the City boss turn to one of his summer recruits, with Jack Rodwell climbing off the bench to enter the contest after the 90 minutes were up, ensuring that he didn’t have time to make the kind of error seen in the matches against Southampton and Borussia Dortmund earlier this season, when stray Rodwell passes led to opposition goals.

This isn’t singling out the former Everton man, but City’s troubles at the start of the campaign seem to have stemmed from their desire to integrate summer signings into their plans.

In a transfer window which saw Chelsea buy Eden Hazard, Arsenal bring in Santi Cazorla and Manchester United acquire Robin van Persie, City – fresh from a first title in 44 years and no doubt determined to build upon it – signed Rodwell, Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair, Maicon and Matija Nastasic.

Garcia, an expensive arrival who lists Real Madrid and Benfica on his CV, is undoubtedly a fine player whilst Nastasic, at just 19, showed immense promise at Fiorentina, but neither were signings to get City fans out of their seats, whilst Maicon’s best days are as far behind him as Gareth Bale was a couple of years ago, and Rodwell and Sinclair are young talents who aren’t likely to get the playing time at City that they would have got elsewhere.

Last season – right to the very last kick of it – was of course one of perfection for Mancini, City and their fans, and in the task of improving upon perfection City might just have come up short. They’re not alone in that though of course, it happened with The Godfather sequels as well.

This particular Italian figurehead has seemed to have complicated things for himself in the early weeks of the season, with the signings of Nastasic and Maicon in particular seeing Mancini switch to using a back three instead of the back four which saw City to success last season.

The result has been uncertainty at the back whatever way City line up, with two goals conceded in both of their first two league games of the season against Southampton and Liverpool, three against Real Madrid in the Champions League and four as they exited the Capital One Cup at home to Aston Villa. Only the heroics of Joe Hart kept Borussia Dortmund down to one in the Champions League two weeks ago, as the defence in front of him resembled an absent Polish roof letting everything through.

Mancini’s mood after that match indicated that he was ready to abandon the back three experiment, and so it proved when City looked back to their old selves against Sunderland as they kept a first clean sheet of the season.

Going back to improve in the future seems to be the way forward for Mancini, and whilst his summer signings can’t be written off as duds just yet, the boss might just have to make them work a bit harder for their places in his plans.

Those who were in them last season deserve that at least.

@Mark_Jones86

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Everton: Whatever you do, don’t look down

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There’s a curious phenomenon which involves not thinking about something, because if you do then you automatically lose.

I won’t go any further into it for fear that you’ll all join me amongst the ranks of the defeated, but the frankly quite annoying craze does raise the question of just how far you could go if you managed to keep the negatives and their consequences out of sight and out of mind.

Death, taxes and the continued popularity of Justin Bieber can’t be avoided whatever you do of course, but sometimes it is better just to not think about where your actions are taking you because of the added pressure that they create. Success breeds success, but it also breeds expectation.

Everton’s fine start to the season has got some of their supporters thinking about a Champions League place already, just weeks after those same fans were facing the prospect of potentially losing manager David Moyes to Tottenham – one of at least half of the clubs in the Premier League who are better financially equipped for a top four place than the Blues.

That’s not to say that there are at least 10 better teams than Everton in the league at the moment, because clearly there are a lot less.

Second at the start of October is a superb and deserved position for Moyes’ side to be in, with the club’s success a testament to the fine signings made by the manager in the last two transfer windows and his ability to keep hold of his key players.

Outsiders may have seen the summer sale of Jack Rodwell to Manchester City as a severe weakening of Everton’s playing resources, but offer any Goodison Park regular the choice of selling him, Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines or Nikica Jelavic and they’d have driven Rodwell down the East Lancs Road to Manchester themselves.

That one of those players probably needed to be sold is due to the still curiously unreported financial situation at a club which, despite the progress on the pitch, is standing still off it under the ownership of Bill Kenwright.

The theatre impresario made a cameo appearance on Coronation Street earlier this year, and the majority of Everton supporters have long since come to view his insistence that there isn’t a suitable party out there to buy the club and invest in it as a tired old act.

It is for this reason and not for anything that they are doing on the pitch that Everton should just try to keep things ticking over at the moment. Getting up to the higher reaches of the table has been one thing, but staying there will be another once the might of the usual suspects kicks in.

Of course this would be the perfect time for investment to arrive at a club with a talented playing squad, passionate fans and a committed manager determined to succeed for both, but those supporters have long since grown tired of Kenwright’s caution and aren’t expecting radical changes any time soon. In the meantime they can just enjoy the fine football their team are playing.

And they could well go on playing it.

Visits to Wigan and QPR in their next two matches either side of the international break are unlikely to faze this Everton side, and neither will the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park at the end of the month – although the Blues do seem to have a knack of coming up short against Liverpool when many consider them favourites.

That is a negative thought though, and such things should be banned from entering Everton heads. Right now they are one of the big boys of the Premier League and they should go on thinking like that.

‘Taking each game as it comes’ is one of the oldest and most useless phrases in the football handbook, but as long as those games are approached positively then there’s no reason why good runs can’t be extended to be become good seasons.

Just try not to think about what’ll happen to Moyes, the players and the club if it doesn’t though.

@Mark_Jones86

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