Mismatch of the Day
THE paupers meet the princes at the salubrious City of Manchester stadium tomorrow(Saturday)for the financial mismatch of the Premier League season so far (KO: 3pm).
Burnley's maximum player wage of £15,000 per week is exactly ten times less than City's Emmanuel Adebayor earns for his efforts, which so far this season have included kicking opponents in the face and running the length of the pitch to deliberately antagonise opposing supporters.
In fairness, he's also scored some excellent goals, and after a period on the sidelines, looks set to spearhead a Man City attack that looked particularly blunt in last week's moribund 0-0 draw at Birmingham.
City were fortunate to steal a point, thankful for a desperate James McFadden penalty kick and an inspired display by £15 million goalkeeper Shay Given. The result followed an equally average outcome at home to Fulham when City threw away a two goal lead to draw 2-2.
The elasticity of the Premier League payroll has surely never stretched quite this far between two teams facing each other on the same pitch.
City owner Sheikh Mansour is committing half a billion pounds to the City playing pool over a four year period. Such sums demand success - and surely will be achieved in the fullness of time. Whether this occurs under the leadership of Hughes is less certain. One thing is for sure, tomorrow's mis-match with Burnley, presents a tricky fixture for manager Mark Hughes to negotiate. The visitors simply have nothing to lose. City don't win and Hughes feels the heat.
The jury is still out on the ability of the former Blackburn boss to deliver in a surreal world of meglamanic wealth. The job he performed at Ewood Park on a relative Premier League shoestring was admirable. But at Eastlands, he's never looked truly at ease.
His first season was riddled with farcical situations. From the too hot-to-handle petulance of Robinho to the ill-conceived pursuit of Kaka, Hughes, a hitherto pragmatic and unflappable character, looked uncomfortable and hardly in control of club affairs.
Compared to certain City managers before him, he has been treated well and rightly given time. The eloquent Mansour has been quick to publicly endorse his manager at every opportunity.
However, two away wins throughout the whole of last season was frankly, a wretched return for a team built on such resources. Yes a team can take time to gel but it took Owen Coyle precisely three away matches when he took over at Turf Moor to better Hughes' season-long away-win return.
Hughes built his team at Blackburn around strong defence, a policy that has stood Rovers in good stead ever since. Strangely, he never appeared to make that a priority at City in his early spending which seemed at odds with his nature.
This season he seems to have gone too far the other way. £18million on Nigel De Jong - surely a world record spend on a spoiler - and a combined £36 million on a central defensive partnership of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott.
Throw defensive midfielder Gareth Barry in the mix for £12million and all of a sudden City seem to have the makings of a solid backbone, looking more like a team in the Hughes mould.
What seems bizarre as this season takes shape is the role adopted by last season's player-of-the-season Stephen Ireland. The free-scoring Irish midfielder is exactly the kind of player who would present Burnley problems with his ability to drift between midfield and attack at will. He's been used sparingly of late, making only substitute appearances since the 4-3 defeat at neighbours United. This has annoyed City fans and he might well be in line for a recall after his team's lifeless performance at Birmingham last Sunday.
It all goes to show the difficulty 'Sparky' has in striking up the right balance in his team. Too many ego's and unnaturally overblown resources does not always make for harmonious team spirit. What Owen Coyle's Burnley team has in spades, money can't buy.
John Motson looked forward to the match on 5Live's 'Monday Night Club'. He is at the match to commentate and scrutinise in his own inimitable fashion. He made reference to City's recent tendency to play within themselves and how interesting it will be to see how the big spenders will approach the division's on-the-road whipping boys.
It was noticeable how little credit the Clarets received for last weekend's 2-0 win over Hull. The media focus was exclusively reserved for Phil Brown and some incredible stuff was revealed about Hull, apparently the seventh highest payers in the Premier League (this point was also argued on the Monday Night Club but as it came from the mouth of the distasteful Steve Claridge it is perhaps best taken with a pinch of salt).
While perhaps we shouldn't get too excited about beating Hull at home, our record of five wins and one defeat at Turf Moor is bettered only by Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal. As far as our home record is concerned, we are challenging the big four!
As long as we've kept clear of the swine flu, I don't expect any changes in the Burnley line-up. I believe Owen Coyle has hit upon his most effective team formation and line-up with the players available to him at the present time. Kevin McDonald and David Nugent make excellent substitutes.
Graham Alexander will need to carry on from where he left off last weekend if we are to compete. Not only did he score his brace but he read last week's encounter impeccably and only made a couple of errant passes over the course of the match. Whether he can perform that way in Goliath's manner with the likes of Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips running amok is another question. Clearly, we could be torn to shreds if City's slickers hit their stride, but there's some fiery characters in the City team and if we can keep them at bay early on, something we have failed to do in any of our games away from home, then the stage could be set for the shock of the campaign thus far (let's face it, the league needs one!).
If courage and discipline will be key virtues, exploiting width could be the key tactic. I felt Chris Eagles had possibly his best game in a Burnley shirt last week and the ex Man United man will relish the opportunity of tormenting Wayne Bridge or Pablo Zabaleta. The right side creativity of Eagles, Mears and Elliott has the potential to carve out an opening or two at least. Steven Fletcher has surely made the lone front man role his own after the quality of his last two performances.
Back down to earth and the price of 14 / 1 for an away win suggests little chance, but at least we travel in hope of seeing some enterprising Burnley play at the Premier League's richest palace.
How different matters were 50 years ago when Burnley went to Manchester City's Maine Road in front of 65,981 and came home with the League Championship. May the current crop of Clarets be spurred on by the heroes of the past and come away feeling they have at least done themselves justice. I think we'd all settle for that.Cuban Claret