Blues Grab A Bruising Draw
One of the most positive aspects of the current season for Manchester City fans has been the team's improved, confident play outside the City of Manchester. Such has been City's form of late fans might have hoped prior to kickoff Monday night that the dry, lifeless away performances of last season would soon be forgotten. However, as play began at Villa Park, City hearts sank and stomachs felt queasy as the recognition set in that it would be one of those away nights.
Theme of the match: City looking lifeless in attack, and shaky at the back. Tevez and Wright-Phillips were manhandled by the Villa defense. Mike Dean was unwilling to disrupt play with numerous foul calls, so Villa had free rein to eliminate the threat of City forwards with the ball backs to goal by just toppling them over. De Jong was the only City player to reciprocate to the full extent of the freedom allowed by Mr. Dean, and though he received a yellow card for it, De Jong's devastating tackle on Young was one of the better moments of the match for City.
Adebayor, one of the most dangerous attackers in the league, barely had a touch. Villa was only facing a draw as their forwards did pitifully little with the opportunities they were given. Pretty much the entire match they controlled the wings, especially their left/City's right. Zabaleta, who was supposedly brought in for defensive purposes, did his best imitation of the worst qualities of Micah Richards, whose failings he was supposed to remedy. He spent all of his effort going forward, past Wright-Phillips, and then had to run back to catch up to Villa's counters, and was so far out that for much of the opening period Wright-Phillips was City's right back.
Part of the problem City faced with a discombobulated team shape was due to the fact that the match featured lots of wingers, but more of this was due to Barry being distinctly not up for this performance. He was worked consistently by Dunne on set pieces, once for the 15th minute goal, and another time for a headed shot Dunne sent wide. He was not the force that Citizens have grown accustomed to this season, sitting in front of De Jong but behind the forwards, setting up the goals and occasionally winning balls. And perhaps City can take comfort in the fact that Barry's (fervently booed) performance here was unique and if he plays at his normal level City will not be this flat any time soon. City cannot, however, take too much heart from Ireland's performance for while he set up the 67th minute Bellamy goal along with Adebayor he also wasted a lot of possession and instead of driving forward at the very end he did his best to pass to Villa for a late winner.
However, it is impossible to overstate the role Bellamy has played, both mentally and athletically, in keeping this team together, and he played again like a British-record signing, the left-sided forward City wanted to set pitches alight, and his finishing ensured that what might have been a typical 1-0 away loss became a respectable 1-1 away draw (against a team that whooped City at the beginning of last season) and took City into the top four of the Barclay's Premier League.
De Jong 7
Santa Cruz 5