Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Friday March 9 2012
As the Pedmachine rose this morning he was wondering just precisely what there was to report about a pretty nondescript encounter at the Estadio Jose Alvalde in Lisbon last evening.
Roberto Mancini once again threw a couple of wild cards into the pack parading Clichy as am emergency right back and omitting Balotelli and Lescott. The midfield was padded out with de Jong, Barry, Milner and Silva in the absence of Yaya Toure, Aguero accompanying Dzeko up top.
Kolo Toure got his usual European outing as Mancini had clearly constructed his starting eleven around coming home with a 'positive result'.
And but for a piece of quickly thought genius I'm sure he would have got away with it, but truth to tell this was embarrassing all-round effort delivered by City against probably the poorest opposition we have faced in Europe this season.
The setting is quite something. Sporting is an all-round sports club which boasts many other types of sport emanating from the fabric of the stadium. The decor looks like the leftovers from a Villarreal ceramics factory with greens, yellows, black and white all visible both in the outside tiling and indoor seating.
But as a football team they were really on offer last night and virtually any eleven that Mancini adorned with a sky-blue shirt should have been able to go back Estoril boasting a tie-winning lead.
It was not to be because this was a lethargic performance of the type that we no longer associate with City.
Absent was the tenacity and guile offered by Yaya Toure and Barry and Silva looked a bit lost without him. Milner de Jong and Barry were all guilty of not paying enough attention to their passes and Dzeko did not seem to contribute a thing. It was perhaps most surprising that Mancini saw fit to keep him on for seventy minutes.
The match got off to a bad start with Kompany limping off with a calf strain in the first few minutes. He and Mancini must have known there was a vulnerability there.
However these days Lescott is also playing well and took over the captaincy upon his introduction.
Very little of any consequence happened in the first half. Sporting looked more 'up for it' than City but they were more than ready to defend in numbers as soon as City got the ball. The problem was that much of the time City gave it them straight back as neither Silva, Aguero or Dzeko could find anything to break them down.
Milner and Silva did take stints on the wings, but in reality City played a little too narrow and played into the hands of the massed Portuguese ranks on the edge of the Sporting box.
Kolarov tried hard to make things happen from wide, but often his crosses found no-one as Dzeko made the wrong runs and Aguero couldn't find any punishable space.
Hart was forced into one save but Sporting would have been quite happy to get to half time level in front of a passionate 35000 fans, de Jong having picked up a senseless yellow for a late tackle in the stoppage minute.
City began the second half in equal poor style and as we entered 'City time' somebody forgot to tell Sporting.
Again a needless free kick 30 yards out was drilled in by Fernandez. It wasn't saved cleanly by Hart and as it popped up in the six yard box and with Hart back on his feet there looked to be little danger especially as the nearest Sporting player had his back to goal. But that solitary Sporting player became the legend of Xandao as his cheeky back hell wrong footed Hart and finished up in the net, sending the hoards on the bancada sul into raptures.
For a while Sporting took over the game with Izmailov, Diego Capel and van Wolfswinkel all looking lively and causing City problems down the flanks where tonight there was a shortage of cover in front of Clichy and Kolarov.
Barry was replaced by Nasri in a bid to introduce more flair, but Nasri only offered up more of the same. After 70 minutes Balotelli entered the fray and straight away City started to look more dangerous and Insua was needed to keep his concentration as Balotelli himself and Silva at last began to shine, at least a little. Indeed Silva should have score put clean through by Mario and Kolarov was just wide following some neat work between Nasri and Milner.
Then a swift counter attack saw Insua spring the offside trap and set up van Wolfswinkel to swing the tie fully in Sporting's favour. Enter Joe Hart to pull off one of his trade mark saves to keep City on board.
There was a spate of late yellow cards as Kolarov, who's might have been red, Pereira and Neto followed Polga into the note book, but I think City would have been more happy to get out of there with the damage limited, rather than Sporting at only 1-0.
The starting line up should have been strong enough to take this match. As nothing was going right in midfield, Pizarro would have been a better bet than Nasri and Mario should have been introduced much sooner.
It was almost impossible to select a man of the match, but the feeling amongst the press lads on the plane home was Kolarov perhaps edged it for the threat he presented once he got going. Lescott had a fairly robust match but should have done better as Sporting scored. Kolo tried hard to rally the troops as his brother does, but it is more difficult from the back where the responsibilities are somewhat different.
City can probably put this tie right next week but need to put their systems right on Sunday when they face a tough assignment at Swansea.
Dzeko still looks short on confidence and now has the spectre of Tevez rising above the horizon. I was at Ewen Fields on Tuesday where the crowd was swelled to in excess of 1000 for the Manchester Senior Cup match with Bolton.
Tevez got a reasonable welcome from the crowd apart from two small groups who vented some displeasure. He scored a trade mark goal, looked in good shape but short of any type of Premier League fitness. The feeling amongst the fans generally was that they are unhappy with his antics and behaviour, some disappointed at his re-appearance, but the general consenus was that it is City that matters and not individuals, so we had better prepare ourselves for his re-introduction, whether we like it or not.
The bottom line is that he will re-appear in a starting line-up between now and the end of the season. There were many who said that if he scored the winner against Stretford on April 30, they would probably build a statue on the Etihad Campus, especially if that goal brought the title to City. In the same way as he came back last year at the business end of the season , here he is again!!
Date:Friday March 9 2012
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