The fallout from Manchester City’s Carling Cup quarter-final victory over Arsenal may have centred on the non-existent handshake between Mark Hughes and Arsene Wenger, but of greater significance to the City boss will have been his side’s first win since the last round of the tournament in October.
The victory over Scunthorpe was the Blues’ only triumph since a 3-1 defeat of West Ham in September, as seven consecutive Premier League draws raised doubts over Hughes’ future as manager. But a successful Carling Cup run could be enough to convince City’s billionaire owners that Hughes is the right man to be leading the Eastlands project, and having seen off Arsenal’s collection of youngsters and fringe players, the next stop on City’s road to the final is a two-legged fixture with local rivals Manchester United.
City’s victory came as a result of the fast and furious tempo they set, exemplified by Emmanuel Adebayor and especially Carlos Tevez, who deservedly opened the scoring in the 50th minute with a stunning strike. The little Argentine, together with his equally diminutive Welsh teammate Craig Bellamy pressed Tomas Rosicky into conceding possession, and Tevez burst into the Arsenal box, skipped away from a number of challenges and lashed a soaring shot into Lukasz Fabianksi’s goal. Shaun Wright-Phillips doubled the advantage 20 minutes later with an effort possibly better than Tevez’s, while teen prospect Vladimir Weiss added a third in the dying minutes. And with their much-maligned defence standing firm in the face of Arsenal’s intricate passing, it was a night to savour for the boys in blue.
Attention now turns to Saturday evening, as Chelsea pay a visit to the City of Manchester Stadium. And while Kolo Toure and co were able to cope with an attack led by Carlos Vela, Chelsea’s forward line of Didier Drogba and ex-City striker Nicolas Anelka will be a much different proposition for the Citizens’ back line. The City captain told Sky Sports: “We now have a big game against Chelsea (in the league). We have been really unlucky with late goals but tonight we kept a clean sheet which is really good for our season”. Going into the Chelsea game on the back of a clean sheet may galvanise the City defence, and Hughes feels this is the time when his players will show their worth. The former Blackburn Rovers manager said: “Every team of mine is stronger in the second half of the season and I am convinced that will be the case again because of the quality and strength in depth we have.”
With just weeks to go until the January transfer window opens, speculation on who will be next to arrive at Eastlands is growing. The latest names to be linked to City are 17-year-old Brazilian striker Neymar, currently with Santos, CSKA Moscow’s Milos Krasic, Gregory van der Wiel of Ajax and a perennial rumoured target, Yaya Toure, brother of Kolo and Barcelona’s midfield enforcer. Toure’s agent Dimitri Seluk told The Sun: “If a club like Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City are interested in the transfer window, then we are open to negotiation.” Dutchman van der Wiel, a full-back, has been touted as part of the solution to City’s defensive troubles and his representative, Hakim Slimani, told Voetbal International, a Dutch publication, that although no offer has been made by City, one may be forthcoming. Slimani said: “There is no official contact between Ajax and Manchester City, but I cannot deny that his performance has been closely followed by Manchester City.” Slimani, however, added that any bid for his client is unlikely to be successful: “Greg is not concerned with a transfer to another club. He has just broken through at Ajax last season. This season he has set himself the target of being a major player at Ajax.”
A current City right-back has spoken of his frustration at not playing more regularly. Nedum Onuoha has been on the fringes of Mark Hughes’ squad this season and told The Independent that his progress as a player has stalled. Onuoha said: “It is disappointing not to play, given what I did last season and compared to then I do feel I may have gone backwards. I don’t think it is impossible to get back to where I was.”