The fixture list can be a right bitch sometimes. Due to our World Club Championship commitments, we have three games in hand over Premier League leaders Liverpool. Three games that we have the right to play fresh, you would imagine. But no, in their wisdom, thems that run the fixture computer have decided we start the new year with a game on Saturday and Monday. Awesome. Fortunately I shall have some new toys to play with come the Leeds game on the Monday. By new toys, I mean new signings.
Anyway, before that, Southampton. I made a single change to the side that hammered Newcastle 4-0 the other day, Jovic back in for Auba. I was up against Mark Hughes, who had been there a fortnight. We left it very, very, very late. Big Ben, off the bench, headed home Dards’ cross and it looked like we had nicked a 1-0 win. Not on your nelly. They went up the other end and levelled straight away. I went ballistic at them after the game, safe in the knowledge I had four new faces turning up in the morning.
The draw actually saw us tumble to 4th place, but we still had the 3 games in hand. Next up, Leeds. Before that, the welcome to the new signings. Actually, before that a goodbye to Lewis Cook. I signed him for £4.8m and he never really put pressure on for a starting place. He is heading back to Leeds for £3.8m, a disappointing £1m loss. Oh, and Hervin Ongenda won the Balon D’Or! Without underplaying it, that is a stunning achievement by someone that PSG put on the scrapheap and then took three years to really get going for me.
So coming in, for £14m is Arsenal’s Alex Gilbert. He can play anywhere in midfield, but I see him becoming a longterm DLP for us. He has 31 U21 caps and I think he could really push his career on here. He can also play right back, which might be used at some point.
Next is Deivid, from Santos. He is the classic Brazilian wing back and will go straight into the side on the right hand side. He has 7 full caps for Brazil and cost me a large fee, £17m.
Then we have Fabian Cejas, a Uruguayan central defender. He was cheaper at £5m but I think provides strong cover for us defensively. He is 21 and will develop.
Finally, I invested £24m in the current Brazil captain, Xuxinha. He looks exciting and can play anywhere down the middle, though I see him as an advanced playmaker. He could be a match winner, though at that price he really wants to be.
Leeds were bottom of the table coming into the game. Deivid was straight into the starting line up as Big Jim was suspended. Aubs shifted to the middle. Everyone had recovered quickly from the game just 48 hours ago, so no other changes were needed. Xux and Gilbo were on the bench. Lewis Cook was named as their “key man.”
We were off to a cracker after just five minutes, Jovic cutting in and slotting home. Georgi Yanev doubled it after sixteen, languidly drifting into the box past two players and scoring. A clever move saw Hagi playing in Otta in the box and he was brought down. Clear penalty! Jack Goodwin belted it down the middle for 3-0. Leeds were on the ropes now, and were pretty much knocked out when Yanev drove into the left hand side of the box and smashed home the fourth! We led 4-0 at halftime. We eased up in the second half, and the other two new lads got on the pitch for the first time. It was a simple win all in all.
There were a few days to rest, thankfully, before the FA Cup game at Charlton. Although I was most keen on the League Cup and Champions League titles this season, I was not going to turn down another FA Cup trophy so I planned to name a strong side. Therefore just one change was made, Big Jim back in for Aubs with Deivid keeping his place after a promising debut.
We went behind, hit on the counter. In fifteen minutes he had shots firing in, and they defended with their bodies on the line and just hit us on the break. They grew into it and we retreated and were lucky to come in just one behind. Words were said at halftime, and then bang – Afobe got us level, on for Hagi. Otta hit the post, we could do without a replay! Then we had the break. Xux smashed one from distance, it hit the bar then hit the Charlton ‘keeper on the backside and rolled over the line. That killed them off and then Otta finished it with the third in injury time. It was a bit of a scare, but we got out of there in one piece. Well, almost one piece – Dards picked up a hip injury that will keep him out for two months. Fortunately I have Xux and Reidy is nearly fit again too.
If a trip to a lower ranked Championship side nearly turned into a nightmare, our next run of games was going to be very challenging! City, United, City (League Cup), Arsenal, City (League Cup), QPR (easy one there) and then Chelsea. Well, if we come out of that in good nick then we are on for another title!
City were down in 8th but still capable of beating anyone on their day. Otta was exhausted, so I gave him a rest, starting with Big Ben. Except I learned on match day that they were both off to play international games, which left me fuming. Auba came in after all, and Hagi shifted to the middle of the three attacking midfield slots.
In the first half Joe Hart must have made seven top rate saves, and we had also hit the post. City changed formation at the break and then scored with their first attack. We fought back and again Hart was equal to everything. We lost, and it was a defeat that hurt. We have only lost twice since going strikerless, and we had dominated both games. We had a five point gap to close down and two games in hand, so we were still hanging in there but we could not afford many more defeats.
United came to Molinuex and I made a couple of changes. Out went Xux, who still needs to be introduced slowly so he can adapt to the Premier League midfield wars, and Addo. In came Reidy and Aubs. It could well be Aubry’s last game for us as Real Madrid have offered £25m. It will mean I need another backup right back as I have also agreed to sell Izu for £1m after bringing in Deivid. Actually, scrap that – the other new lad from Arsenal, Gilbert, can play there if needs be.
We had a terrible start, Van Osch fumbled a shot and Fierro followed up for 1-0. Then on the stroke of halftime Whiteley chopped the goalscorer down and we were down to ten men. Second half we saw how good Reidy is, he levelled with a hell of a free kick. Ok, it felt like we had missed out on a game in hand, but United were second so with ten men it was a good result. Liverpool are going to be tough to catch anyway, so we will just keep chipping away.
The final game of today’s run was against Manchester City in the first leg of the League Cup Semi Final. Big Jim was banned, so in came Rejas who had done very well off the bench in the last game. I also brought back Addo for Aubs and threw in Xux for Goodwin. I could really do with Ongenda being fit soon as we are lacking a cutting edge all of a sudden. With Otta and Afobe at the African Cup of Nations we seem a little toothless.
Before the game we waved goodbye to Aubs, Real Madrid prepared to pay £25m for the lad I signed for £800k. Profit! I did not feel confident in the game though, we did not look strong to the naked eye.
It was looking like the Joe Hart show again, save after save. This time though, Reidy gave Hagi a chance he could not miss. 1-0! Five minutes after halftime Luka stole in at the near post to make it 2-0. An own goal made it 3-0 and I could smell Wembley. We held on and it was a fine performance. A decent performance up at the Etihad and we would be in line for another cup final.
So that was it for today – a mixed bag really. Some wins, some draws and a loss. Some sales, some signings and plenty of absences through injury and international tournaments. At this stage do I feel we will win the league? Maybe, but Liverpool are going to need to start messing it up a little. We will start tomorrow seven points behind them with two games in hand. We have Cardiff in the FA Cup 4th Round, Schalke in the next round of the Champions League and basically all to play for.