The Ped Report Aston Villa 0-1 City
Villa Park was the stage for tonight's important match which City needed to win to at least keep somewhere on the tails of the Stretfords. Having easily disposed of Norwich over the weekend and driving themselves fifteen points clear of their rivals nearest in every sense, City needed to get themselves established in this game quickly.
Mancini probably once again fielded his best available side, for some reason loading the midfield with Garcia, Milner, Yaya, Silva and Rodwell, leaving Tevez to forage alone up front. Aguero apparently picking up an injury in training.
Zaba, Kolo, Nastasic and Clichy selected themselves as the back four plus of course Hart between the sticks.
The home side made the better start with Agbonlahor, our thorn in the Capital One Cup prominent and eager to get crosses in to Benteke, knowing the City defence was devoid of his fellow countryman, Kompany and indeed a little short on height. The early crosses were wayward but he did get in an excellent header from a corner which had 'goal' stamped all over it but Tevez was for once at the defensive end of the field and cleared off the line.
City didn't have a meaningful chance for the first quarter hour, but then began to get some possession. And shortly after the Benteke effort, Rodwell struck a good shot pushed over by Guzman. Straight away though the former Evertonian signalled for help as he headed for more time at the Bridgewater. He must have a season ticket for that place!
The enforced change signalled a formation change with Dzeko pushed into the fray. City had hardly created anything up front and his height and robustness could just be what was needed. So for now it was effectively 4-4-2, although the Blues still looked narrow in midfield with only Milner really capable of playing as a winger. Maybe the plan was to play 3-5-2 pushing Clichy further forward on the left. In the end it was Milner left and Zaba right with Clichy slipping into the back three. I don't like this formation because I have long held the belief that Zaba is the best exponent of a back three player and moving Milner to the left deprives City of a locked-down right hand side. I suspect we will see Kolarov at some point to try to feed Dzeko.
Having said that Zaba was next to show for City fastening onto Silva's pass but Guzman got a bit of luck tipping it onto the inside of the post. Milner was wasteful seconds later when free in the box but fired his shot over. Should have been the opener!
But just when it looked like one of those nights when the opposing goalkeeper was going to rule the day, Dzeko robbed and outmuscled Clark, drew the next one and slipped the ball to Tevez, who danced around the rest of the defence before drilling the ball home on the stroke of half time. Carlos has definitely rediscovered his shooting boots and it's a killer of a time to score. Clark went running off to Mike Dean but it would be to no avail.
City looked as though they were finally getting into gear as the second half started and with 55' on the clock the outcome should have been beyond doubt. Once again, Dzeko forced himself on to the ball and once again freed Tevez, who once again scattered a couple of defenders trying to get open. By the time he was clear the Villa defenders had recovered ground and with an unmarked Silva screaming for it ten yards out, Tevez went solo and his shot was blocked.
Villa were trying to step it up now. Benteke does look dangerous. He can hold the ball up well and is robust when he has to be, but it was Agbonlahor who could have equalised with a header from a right wing cross. Nastasic was once again showing his value.
After 65 minutes Lowton hit a first time rasper from around 25 yards which was just wide but Hart might just have had it covered. Villa were trying to get the ball into the box early so that City's defence wasn't set and it took all the guile of Nastasic and Zabaleta to field it all. Yaya's passing had become profligate forcing more pressure on the back line. City needed to re-establish the bridgehead and get back on the front foot. Tevez had dropped into midfield and Yaya was hanging around at the defensive end of the midfield when he was really needed further up. Then when he did go up he opened the door by hitting a killer drive against the post for the clearly offside Dzeko to slot home.
The Bosnian didn't fool the officials and Villa lived to fight another day and Benteke certainly did that throwing one elbow too many and getting a yellow.
Then came a Mancini masterstroke - taking off your goalscorer and replacing him with...Nasri!
It was end to end stuff with no end product. Nasri once again didn't read Zaba's run which is now a major feature of City's attack. The Frenchman looks as though he couldn't read a newspaper or twitter for that matter.
Don't you just hate going into the last 10 minutes only one-up. It's nailbiting stuff at the best of times. Villa didn't really look dangerous but it only takes a comic cuts bit of defending...I thought Garcia should have done better from Silva's corner on 83' but in fairness he did have to fish the ball from behind hooking a tame shot nowhere in particular.
Villa were making a fist of chasing the game with some City-esque one-touch stuff that looked threatening without threatening. Garcia was doing his best work helping out at the back as Villa looked left and looked right but didn't cross the road.
A fluid move from City ended with a tidy save from Guzman from Milner's cross shot that had a static looking Dzeko waiting and wishing. And so with two minutes left it was creator-in-chief Silva off and locksmith-in-chief Barry on to try to keep tabs on the door for the remaining minutes. Villa were pressing but mainly sideways, unable to penetrate the neatly arranged City defence and as City got away on the break Delph handled and became probably the first Villa player to hit double figures this season...in yellow cards that it. Number 10 for him and a 2-match rest on the way for key matches against QPR and Reading.
That effectively saw City through to the whistle and the nail-release ceremony began. There wasn't a shining star today, but Nastasic was excellent at the back and Kolo continues to have his best matches for City. His elongated run is doing a lot for his confidence and his strength is helping him through when faced with big opponents like Benteke.
Villa didn't tire and surrender like they did against Stretford or indeed City at the Etihad. They played some good stuff but there is something creative missing. They move the ball well and quickly from back to front but there isn't always a second-phase product and that is where they have lost matches this season, because once they surrender possession, teams often get a free run at their back line.
City will be glad to get off the field with a win at a stadium they seemingly love to visit, regularly collecting points even if only by the merest of margins. They are still on course for handing over the title at the derby in April unless they can get a win there or of course Stretford have a fit and lose in the interim.
When he came on Dzeko did some unheralded work and provided the chance for Tevez plus another that would have left the Blue Mooners feeling a lot healthier. But the Blues got to the tape and can focus themselves on getting past Barnsley in the FA Cup this weekend.
all times East Manchester
Sa 09Mar 17h30 Barnsley, The Etihad, FACQF
Sa 16Mar 12h45 Everton, Goodison Park, PL
Sa 30Mar 15h00 Newcastle, The Etihad, PL
Mo 08Apr 20h00 The Rags, The Swamp, PL
Mo 15 Apr 20h00 West Brom, The Etihad, PL
Su 21 Apr 13h30 Spurs, White Hart Lane, PL
Sa 27 Apr 12h45 West Ham United, The Etihad, PL
Sa 04 May 15h00 Swansea, The Liberty Stadium, PL
Su 12 May 15h00 Reading, The Madejski Stadium, PL
Su 19 May 16h00 Norwich City, The Etihad, PL
City vs Wigan To Be Rearranged