The Ped Report City 1-0 Swansea
A crisp, clear bright day awoke us in Manchester yesterday. With City brooding after a poor performance in Europe in midweek and the storm clouds seemingly gathering above Roberto Mancini's head, football to replicate the weather was the order of the day.
Selecting an interesting line-up that would see of all people Kolarov playing the free midfield role, leaving the more natural Nasri tied up on the right in Milner's role, one could see the question marks above the heads of the faithful as the images appeared in City Square as well as the giant scoreboards ahead of the match.
Mancini returned to the dependable ground attack, however, with the still-injured Silva missing. Zabaleta was also on the injury list and Richards got yet another chance to unimpress. Lescott paid for his indiscretions at Ajax with Nastastic lining up alongside Kompany. Barry and Yaya were to provide the platform. Edin Dzeko was returned to the bench.
City began perhaps almost as brightly as the sunshine, but the early exertions did not really reveal a threat to a tidily organised Swansea side, who were clearly not here to make up the numbers and carried more than an average goal threat themselves.
Tevez quickly established himself as a man of the match contender with tireless running, endless endeavour and all of the other features for which he was brought to the Etihad.
Stories were reverberating around the concrete walls of player power coming to bear on Mancini, an open forum where players were asked to vent their concerns but were simply drowned out by the Manager's pontifications and a series of one 1-2-1s, notably with Yaya, where once again the conclusions were far from understood.
And that is precisely what this performance looked like. Neat and tidy in non-dangerous areas, no Silva to connect the killer pass to the hungy forwards. Nasri started well but fell into the trap of misplaced passes which were the trademark of Yaya, Barry et al for this match.
Tevez started the chances, but many of the rest fell to Michu, the Swans Spanish forward who has shown a penchant for finding the back of the Premier League nets this season. Ahead of the break he forced a superb save from Hart after he was put clear by Ki. Hart read the danger much quicker than Kompany or Richards and his big-body star shape did the rest.
The spark just did not seem to be there as the players looked as though they had the weight of the world on their shoulders to impede any sense of freedom.
After the break, with Kolarov pulling up lame Mancini sent on Balotelli with instructions to ignite the match and almost immediately he slipped in Aguero who perhaps should have done better. Next up he appeared in the inside left channel, but his first touch was uncharacteristically heavy and took him wide, whereas one of his deft flicks might have been enough.
The negative build up was directing itself at the inevitable...a Tevez goal. The go to man opened himself some space around 25 yards out to the right from where he drove an arrow-like shot into the corner of the net. This signalled the end for the heroic Vorm who inured his groin badly in the way that he landed after diving for the shot.
This should really have lit things up for City, but in reality it did not. Still lethargic in the middle with Yaya seemingly reluctant to have a run. A lot of sloppy surround play by the support cast and an eagerness from Swansea to deny space and still pose a threat themselves.
The expected avalanche didn't materialise and following a serious knee injury to Richards the match lined itself up for 12 minutes of stoppage time. This seemed to give Swansea heart and as they tried to get forward in numbers Mancini treated us to his latest piece of tactical genius. Off came Aguero and on came Lescott as City went to 5-4-1 to batten down the hatches, close off the channels and keep the Swansea threat 35 yards away from goal. But it didn't work. There were far too many heads in there as Dyer tried his luck in prising open space out wide supported by de Guzman and Routledge trying to likewise in the middle.
That the score remained 1-0 to City supposes that the rearguard action was a success. It was not a success on the seating decks as the mystified supporters were left scratching their heads.
I have said on several occasions this season that this same group of footballers played one of the best brands of football ever seen in the Premier League last season. And here we are with a defensive coach who can't speak English delivering new tactics that are not even double-dutch. You can sense the uncertainty amongst last season's best player, Vincent Kompany, the confusion in the mind of Lescott, the fear in the mind of Richards, who once again proved that a defender he is not and on one occasion when he did get clear down the right he delivered a delicious cross that Andy Carroll or Peter Crouch would have loved but when your forwards are Aguero and Tevez...need I say more?
Only 2 players emerged from this event with total credit. Joe Hart and Carlos Tevez. Tevez scored the winner and never stopped running. He lead the line, ran his socks off, played as a striker and then dropped off into the midfield to close down space. That Mr Richards is adaptability, that Mr Richards is how you get to be a world class footballer, not by bleating on the telly that you don't understand tactics.
Joe Hart made at least 2 critical saves which galvanised the defence and determined the outcome...and delivered his second clean sheet in succession at home! It also helped push City into second, now only one point behind Chelsea who today will feel pressure for the first time this season against Stretford's finest.
After this showing, immediately on the back of the Champions League disaster it is clear that all is not well at the mill. It is one thing Ferguson, over time having issues with Keane, Cantona, van Noodle, Beckham and Stam. It is totally another if Mancini is having issues with Balotelli, Richards, Kompany, Dzeko and Yaya all at the same time. I suspect that Mancini will find just how hard the cruel commercial world has become if he doesn't pull this around immediately.
If we see that over the last 3 months City have "acquired" Ferrari Soriano and Txiki Berigistain from the top echelon of Barcelona's management structure, and the Evening News suggesting that the next step would be to claim the two leaders amongst the La Masia project, it is quite clear what the vision is as far as the owners are concerned. And the spectre of the fully-rested and maybe re-inspired Pep Guardiola, must be visible on the ceilings of the corridors of the Etihad.
City failed in Europe last season, at least in the eyes of the Club Management. They have been abject this season in the Champions League which leaves me thinking that the players share my view that they should make the opposition make decisions and that City should not make them for them. Couple that with a poor campaign in the NextGen last season, which cost Andy Welsh his job and City perhaps needing to beat Juventus to get through this season, all cannot be said to be rosy in the garden.
Mancini is a genius in domestic football and has proved this in Serie A and the tougher environment of the Premier League. The Champions League will remain a mystery to him as long as the the tactics are a mystery to his players.
Yes a world-class footballer should be able to understand any set of tactics that are put in front of him. Tevez, Aguero, Yaya and Silva can all adapt. But it is this defensive confusion that is causing the hurt at the Etihad. Maybe it is the defensive coach who should be returned to Bergamo on the Ryanair in order to restore order at the back.
Four or five years ago, around the time that City bought Kompany, I told people around Mark Hughes team that the best centre back to play alongside the Captain would be Coloccini, who was new to the Premier League and a little raw looking. He has developed into a thinking centre half who reads danger well, marks space well and is very robust in everything else. On top of that he is another Argentino. I bet he can adapt to change. January is here soon, Roberto. Offload that coach and get in the Newcastle man.