Lee Dixon: What City can really learn from Chelsea: new money need not mean a new identity

The Weekend Dossier
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When Manchester City and Chelsea run out at Eastlands at lunch-time today it would be easy to lump the two clubs together; the meeting of the nouveaux riches in the Premier League's chequebook battle.

But that would be doing Chelsea a disservice. For all the money spent on getting them where they are today, they have something I fear City are losing. Manchester United have it too and so do Arsenal – the big three all still possess a true sense of identity.

There is more to a club than 11 good players, a clued-up manager and a state-of-the-art stadium. Players need to have an affinity with the club they are representing. You need to know the background – what being a Manchester City player is all about. It's important to keep some sort of Manchester feeling. When the Adams era ended at Arsenal, that ethos was handed on to the likes of Patrick Vieira (it does not have to be someone born and bred at the club). He passed it on to others, ensuring that there was always that core at the club. It is something that Arsène Wenger has been very conscious of ever since he arrived at the club as an outsider himself.

That could prove a problem for City. Do they recognise the importance of retaining, or even rebuilding, this core? Some players, like Carlos Tevez, appear to. It won't necessarily make them successful, but look where Chelsea, United and Arsenal finish up most years. I am not talking about kissing your badge in front of your fans when you score as if you are trying to prove a point. That means nothing.

When I joined Arsenal, the north London players were the life blood of the club and they passed on the traditions and that all-important identity to someone like me, an outsider from Manchester. If you care about something, really care, then you will go that step further. It is a special thing to have and can become a massive strength. The newcomers become indoctrinated in the ways of the club and that is something that has become diluted at many teams, particularly City with a new ground, new owners, new players and new manager.

For all the massive changes at both, United and Chelsea have managed to retain a real sense of identity, certainly when it comes to the players on the pitch. They still have that solid base who have come through the ranks, or been at the club long enough to understand what it means to pull on the red or blue shirt. There's Terry and Lampard at Stamford Bridge; at Old Trafford take Scholes and Giggs for a start. And it is not just the players, the backroom staff play a leading role in nurturing the connection with a club. Pat Rice has a massive responsibility at Arsenal, a club that has lost much of its home-grown talent. It is an area that clubs can disregard too easily, but it matters. It really matters.

City have let players like Stephen Ireland, who have come through the ranks, go too easily. Their list of senior pros now – Kolo Touré, Gareth Barry, Tevez, Vieira and Co – have not been at Eastlands long. Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips have served their time, but neither stands out as an obvious leader in the dressing room, certainly not in the same vein as a Terry or a Neville.

If a team loses its identity, it can never, ever get it back. Manchester City have a huge history. I have written before of growing up in the city and the impact of great names like Colin Bell and Franny Lee. Of course the game has changed hugely, and for the good in so many ways, but clubs must not let go of their past.

As for City's progress on the pitch, there have been times this season when they have played with real freedom and been good to watch – they certainly have players who can score goals. But they don't seem to have found their natural game yet. They were very, very good against Liverpool but the defeat at Sunderland was a more revealing result as it's that kind of game that gives a title bid momentum. That was the sort of game where a United or a Chelsea would scratch out a win despite not playing well. City are not doing that.

Everything is covered over by the result – win, and all seems well, no matter what the performance. To have that strength of character to win whatever the performance is a huge element to have in a dressing room, and often that strength of character emerges from players who have a true stake in the club.

Five Asides

1. Cycling in Pyrenees was my biggest challenge

I have spent the last week cycling up and down 33 mountains across the Pyrenees. It is the biggest challenge since I hung up my boots, in fact I think it was the hardest thing I have done in my life – a real physical and mental challenge and overall a brilliant experience.

2. TV sofa can become a bit too comfortable

It's going to be interesting getting out of the saddle and back into the Match of the Day studio. When I sit on the sofa I never want to try and pretend I am always right, it is about my opinion – what I see in a game. Sometimes TV pundits can take their position a little bit for granted and there are times when they could be better informed, but then we have all been guilty of slip-ups.

3. Liverpool's ownership gives Hodgson time

The bigger the club, the quicker a manager comes under pressure and there are not many clubs bigger than Liverpool. But their current situation may actually give Roy Hodgson more time to get things right – when/if a new owner comes in that will quickly change.

4. Wenger will protect his players to a fault

The Arsène Wenger/Sam Allardyce spat seems to go round in circles. They always seem ready to have a go at each other. Wenger is determined to protect his players, always has been and that will never change – and as a player you are grateful for that. The problem is that it can sometimes make him come across as blinkered.

5. Premier League looks more exciting than ever

I still think this season is nicely set up to be an exciting one with all the mini-leagues within the Premier League looking more wide open than for some years.

Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Manchester City v Chelsea

Dixon's verdict Chelsea will miss Frank Lampard's influence against what is a physical and powerful City midfield. I expect goals with these two and it should make an exciting start to the weekend's games.

Kick-off: Today, 12:45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: A draw – 2-2

Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion

Dixon's verdict Arsenal are missing a few key players – Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Vermaelen, Robin Van Persie, Theo Walcott are all injured – but they should still have far too much for West Bromwich, especially on home turf.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Victory for Arsenal

Birmingham City v Wigan Athletic

Dixon's verdict Under Alex McLeish, Birmingham have become extremely difficult to beat on their own patch and although Wigan have tightened up they will struggle to avoid defeat.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: All three points for Birmingham

Blackpool v Blackburn Rovers

Dixon's verdict Blackpool are good or bad and nothing in between. They will lose plenty but may also snatch enough wins to survive – whichever way it goes, it will be good one for the neutral to watch.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Having said all that – draw

Fulham v Everton

Dixon's verdict I've been surprised by Everton's poor start and it got even worse at Brentford. Fulham are decent at home but are without two strikers in Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele – and Everton are getting desperate.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: A surprise away win

Liverpool v Sunderland

Dixon's verdict It has been a dire week at Anfield – losing to the old enemy at Old Trafford never goes down well, but losing at home to Northampton is something else all together. Roy Hodgson needs a positive response.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Sports 1, Ireland only; Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: A timely home win

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur

Dixon's verdict This really is a big game for both sides. West Ham were much, much better against Stoke last weekend, while Tottenham have become almost impossible to predict at the moment.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: So here goes then... a draw

Bolton Wanderers v Manchester United

Dixon's verdict United have not had the best of starts to the campaign but this is a chance to close the gap on Chelsea, and they will be bolstered by having Rio Ferdinand back with Nemanja Vidic in the heart of defence.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, noon (ESPN; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: A win for United

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aston Villa

Dixon's verdict A difficult first assignment for Gérard Houllier on his return to the Premier League. Wolves have done what all clubs at their level must and built up a decent home record – expect it to continue.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 2.05pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

Newcastle United v Stoke City

Dixon's verdict Newcastle have had a real week to remember with excellent victories at Everton and then at Chelsea. But Stoke are just the sort of side capable of bringing them back down to earth.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4.10pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home frustration – draw