Stones and Sterling impress; Pep with work to do
After a summer filled with new arrivals and all the hype surrounding the new manager, Manchester City kicked off the new season with a surprisingly familiar sort of victory against a dogged Sunderland side. True, there were innovations. Outlets such as Match of the Day were hypnotised by the formational twists, with the fullbacks coming inside and many of the side constantly flitting between different positions in a fluid tactical system. Also, two of the players under the biggest pressure impressed. Stones looked composed having been thrown into the first team days after signing, while Sterling hopefully began to put a miserable last few months behind him with one of his best ever City performances.
Following in David Moyes’ footsteps, Jose Mourinho opened his “competitive” account as Manchester United manager by winning the traditional season curtain raiser at Wembley, the Community Shield. Mourinho was presented to the press a month earlier, as he embarked on an epic one hour press conference which included thinly veiled digs at Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger, as well as a Rafa Benitez-esque rant about his history of developing youth team players. If anything, Mourinho’s press conference proved one thing: Manchester United are still the biggest draw in town, blowing Pep Guardiola’s unveiling a day prior out of the water.
With under a fortnight left until the recommencing of the new Premier League season, it has almost been lost that Manchester City have had a summer of major change. The recent drama surrounding their local rival’s pursuit of Paul Pogba could give the impression that it is only United that have undergone an off-season of significant transformation. This may have come a lot from how City, much like when Pellegrini replaced Mancini, did much of their big business early on in the summer. Before the Euros began, and bringing to a close one of the most obvious will-he-won’t-he sagas in recent sporting history, Pep Guardiola was announced as the club’s new manager. City’s owners and former Barcelona board members have long expressed their interest in recreating Catalonian success in East Manchester, and had been courting Pep for years before he eventually signed at the end of last season. And now, with such a short time to go, how much has changed? The short answer: it’s unclear.
In June 2016 Chile defeated Colombia 2-0 in Chicago’s Soldier Field to advance to the final of the Copa America Centenario. The game, which was stopped for over two hours due to a severe storm, was settled with goals by Fuenzalida and Aranguiz. Mike O’Neill was there to watch the action.
In the fan zone, pre-match
New York Cosmos, famous for fielding Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s under a previous incarnation, now ply their trade in the North American Soccer League (NASL), classed as the second tier of soccer in the United States. Cosmos beat Jacksonville Armada 3-0 in front of a crowd just under 4,000 to maintain their perfect start to the season. Mike O’Neill went along with his camera.
The home fans look on from the stands
The dust has settled and although it seems like a lifetime ago it has only been one calendar month since Iceland knocked England out of the European Championships. Going into the tournament in France the majority fans and media alike shared the attitude that England couldn’t win it, but would “have a good go” and do the nation proud. For once, and refreshingly, the attitude wasn’t one of demanding expectation. Some of the older and more established players had retired or been ditched, and Roy Hodgson was putting his faith in exciting young talent such as the Spurs quartet Walker, Dier, Kane and Alli.
A view of Penang, including the stadium
On Saturday 23rd July, Penang played host to Selangor in a Malaysian Super League encounter, the top tier of Malaysian football. The setting was the 20,000 capacity Penang City stadium which is situated in Georgetown, Penang state. Georgetown is famed for the range of food they have to offer as well as the street art which brings the city to life. However, the art of football in Penang perhaps needs resurrecting.
In Part Two of Mike O’Neill’s tour of U.S. domestic “soccer” he headed to Canada to see Toronto FC host Chicago Fire in the MLS Eastern Conference on Saturday 9 July. In front of a healthy 27,934 crowd, Toronto won 1-0 to edge back into play-off contention.
The BMO stadium Just before kick-off
On Friday 1 July Detroit City FC and fellow Michigan side Grand Rapids FC played out a 0-0 draw in front of 5,024 fans. In the first of three domestic games watching during his trip to the states, Mike O’Neill went along to the Keyworth Stadium to watch the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) action.
The Northern Guard, Detroit’s largest supporter group, on their march to the stadium
Tales from the Top Flight, Chris Darwen’s third book, is a review of the 2015-16 Premier League season in a diary format. Anyone familiar with the author’s first two books, the fictional series following the career of “Johnny Cooper”, manager of Mansfield Town in Chris’ Championship Manager saves, will be aware of the format as it follows a similar pattern.