Date:Tuesday January 29 2013
City's line-up had an odd feel to it as they came out at Loftus Road, the tight Subbuteo pitch of a stadium neatly packed away in Shepherds Bush. With VK confined to barracks and the armband given to Zabaleta, the actual formation was anybody's guess.
Would Zaba tuck into a back three or was Garcia going to play centre back? And would Milner play right back, as a holding midfielder or would he become Yaya for a day? The berths further forward were occupied by the ground attack, Nasri restored as Dzeko headed for the bench.
QPR were clearly instructed by 'Arry to get amongst City and try to set the tempo and prevent the Blues from getting into their stride. Maybe use their wide players to get the ball into new-boy Remi and take advantage of the absence of Kompany. It forced City at times to play unaccustomed long balls to nobody really as the swirling rain took hold of events. There looked to be too much distance between defence and attack, with no real presence in the centre of midfield. Garcia looked to be playing in the centre and Milner helping out Barry just in front. The attacking links had to come from Silva and Nasri as Tevez and Aguero started to look isolated.
Early possession stats favoured City but it was ineffective possession and when a neat move down the left sent Aguero into the box he ignored the better placed Tevez and his shot was deflected wide. This resulted in an unfruitful barrage of corners as City pressed forward. After the fourth QPR did get the ball back wide but a superb piece of acceleration by Silva eased him into the box and his pinpoint pass found the head of Zabaleta who was unfortunate not to add to his goal last Saturday. Indeed he looked as if he was the only Argentine that would as the Tevez/Aguero axis looked shorn of teeth and Nasri looked effectively ineffective. QPR looked big at the back and maybe Dzeko would have been the right call as QPR set out to block off the channels in the way they did for 93 minutes 20 seconds at the Etihad last season.
City were stepping on the gas without really causing too much concern although as the half drew to a close a curler from Barry was ably turned away by Cesar and Tevez again turned provider-in-chief to set up Nasri whose shot had a powder-puff look to it.
Taarabt gave the Blues a scare as he got himself clear in the inside left slot. Lescott lost the ball thinking he had Balotelli on the edge of the Rangers box and the sweeping move set up Taarabt. Hart made a truly excellent save to keep the scores level and deny QPR an unlikely lead.
By half time Rangers had got to their first finger post but City would be wondering how with the possession and corner count so heavy in their favour, there was nothing on the scoreboard. Rangers blockages owed much to the Brazilians one of which of course is the less curly of the Stretford twins.
Rangers came out for the second period determined to get on the front foot and they buzzed around quite ably retaining the ball, but in similar vein to City, were not really hurting anybody. City misplaced several passes to help the Rs and it took the sight of Dzeko warming up to remind City that there was business to be done...
When the replacement board arrived it seemed inevitable that Nasri's number would be up as he had contributed practically nothing to the night's events. Mancini was looking nervous in the knowledge of the importance of a victory here tonight, but could City find an advantage?
Dzeko seemed to be making a difference immediately as he commanded a marker, whereas until then a zone looked adequate for QPR. Usually when Dzeko takes up a players attention chances open up for Aguero and with Silva donning his pointed hat chances started to arrive, but a goal still looked a long way off.
In the next move Remy made contact with Lescott outside the box and dived in like a try scorer but for once Phil "The Red" Dowd waved play on.
He waved play-on too much later when substitute Sinclair looked to have been tripped from behind by City old-boy Onuoha. That one looked a bit more like it but Dowd had to think about his red-nosed bonus.
The game had turned into the Dzeko and Silva supershow as the Bosnian set up the Magico twice and the thunderous figure of Cesar kept him out before Nelsen nudged the second away with his arm.
Although Rangers didn't offer anything else in terms of threat, they somehow held out for a creditable 0-0 draw against the reigning Champions, who might have dealt Stretford a trump card, but then again, they did last year didn't they?
City will be disappointed not to have taken their full quota home with them today. It wasn't for the want of trying, but in leaving out Dzeko from the off Mancini missed a trick as the QPR big boys, Nelsen and Derry were comfortable and undisturbed at the back in the first half and mountainous towards the end. For me it was this Bermuda Triangle in front of their net which included Cesar who put in the best goalkeeping performance against City so far this season. He was immense in every meaning of the word. Most keepers would be heading for a massage after the chances City created and couldn't take, but this giant of a man, a smiling version of the hulk glued the paper together for his team today and for me was easily man of the match.
That says it all really. On another day City would have clocked up two or three and headed for United Road (the M1) happy, but today they came up against the pillars of Hercules planted in front of a set of goal posts.
The gamble of playing Garcia in the back line worked ok. He didn't look troubled there although some of his long clearances looked a bit unnecessary as they give the ball back to the opposition. Lescott was sound enough and Clichy and Zaba were brilliant.
Barry was simply Barry. Who else can do his job? And Milner alongside was as energetic as ever driving City forward at every opportunity.
Up top I think it's time for a break for Tevez and on Sunday it is Aguero and Dzeko for me. Nasri was awful. Silva was my man for City. He seems to have found an extra yard of pace as he ghosted into spaces that didn't exist only to find nobody home with him, as Aguero had invariably gone deep and Tevez once again didn't look sharp enough in front of goal.
There will be lots of high fives going down in a different part of Carrington tomorrow but I still see enough in City to know their time will come.
With Balotelli not even in the squad, it was clear that today was a "Yes he's going to Milan day". If that is the case, then it is David Villa for me. He can score goals and he will get the ones we need before the end of the season. I bet he's itching to resume his telepathic relationship with Silva after Arsenal today got nowhere in trying to prise him off Barcelona.
all times East Manchester
Su 03Feb 16h00 Liverpool, The Etihad, PL
Sa 09Feb 17h30 Southampton, St Mary's, PL
Sa/Su 16/17Feb Leeds United, The Etihad, FAC5
Su 24Feb 13h30 Chelsea, The Etihad, PL
Mo 04Mar 20h00 Aston Villa, Villa Park, PL
Sa 09Mar 15h00 Wigan, The Etihad, PL
Sa 16Mar 12h45 Everton, Goodison Park, PL
Sa 30Mar 15h00 Newcastle, The Etihad, PL
Date:Tuesday January 29 2013
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