Oh yes! Rome has fallen and against the odds, City’s patched up side have progressed to the knock-out stage of the Champions League for the second successive season, in the second season of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign. Pure coincidence to his doubters, I imagine. City’s first win on Italian soil was well-timed.
All the talk apart from whether City’s fans would be stabbed in the arse by Roma’s thuggish minority was what team would be picked – or what team would be fit to play. In the end, Kompany did not make it, Toure was suspended after all, Silva merely made it to the bench, as did Jovetic. It was not an inspiring team for such a big match, but still a very good team.
For me, the key was what Dzeko would turn up – in the end that wasn’t key at all, so there you go.
The other talk was about the fiendishly complicated permutations regarding qualification. It wasn’t that complicated at all really, though UEFA’s way of grading a table is not for me – goal difference should be king in my opinion. Anyway, Bayern Munich were never going to roll over against CSKA Moscow, though the away team fashioned plenty of chances. So I was confident that the situation was clear – City needed a score draw or better. And that’s how it panned out.
Roma started with great intent, as I expected. They pushed forward and fashioned a couple of chances (though one looked offside to me), and Hart had to be alert. With time though City settled and made some chances of their own – the half panned out as a tight affair, with no team especially dominant, but Hart saved excellently from the reborn Gervinho, a man unrecognisable from the lump that rarely graced the Arsenal shirt. Milner was thwarted at the other end as he put in his usual shift all over the pitch.
So goalless at half-time, which favoured Roma. Bayern were doing their job against CSKA, so it seemed a score draw was what City needed. They had to score.
Like so many big games in recent years, City were patient, and like many of those games, it took a moment of genius to change everything. Yaya Toure was absent on this occasion, so up stepped Samir Nasri, a giant in recent weeks, to despatch a stunning strike off the post to put City in control on the hour.
My live commentary: “Pass Nasri, pass, right, right, pass it, oh for fu……oh great goal!!!”
After that City wobbled briefly. For all of Hart’s brilliance, he missed a cross whilst Demichelis cleared off the line straight after. However, Manola’s header off the post was actually deflected off Hart’s outstretched hand, another vital intervention.
It was merely a couple of minutes of panic, but having survived it, City coasted through, and it was up to Nasri to supply Zabaleta for his block/shot to seat qualification. He kissed his badge and I wished I was having his baby. Yeah, there’s logistical problems with that, but let’s not split hairs.
This was a team performance above all, where every player did his bit. It was, at last, a textbook European away performance. Resilient in defence, picking off the opposition and leaving with three points. A turning point perhaps, though only time will tell. A coming of age perhaps, which sounds clichéd, but the team were professional and together in a vital European match and in a fiery atmosphere. From the moment Sergio Aguero turned the group on its head, the belief has been there at home and abroad. It needs to remain now, whoever we draw on Monday. Mission accomplished, now let’s see how far we can go.
A one-man team? Hardly. Even our full-backs are scoring now.
Dzeko did not impress Graeme Souness in the studio (remember when he was a great pundit? Now he just sniggers at “pulled off” jokes with Jamie Carragher). To be fair, he worked his socks off without reward (Dzeko, not Souness), and was probably operating at below full-fitness. He wasn’t key on the night, but thankfully he didn’t need to be. In the coming weeks, that might well change.
Nasri shone, as did Hart, Demichelis, Milner and Fernadinho. Everyone else was not far off – I could easily swap some of those names to be honest. No weak links, and a dedicated team performance. And what a time for Nasri’s first goal of the season. Clichy once more continued his resurgence. Demichelis was calm and collected, Mangala effective bar being beaten to the Manola header that struck the post. Navas was dangerous again at times and helped protect Zabaleta after he was overrun in the early stages. They both grew into the game and negated the threat of Roma down that flank.
And how good to see David Silva back on the pitch. Welcome back.
Good substitutions from Pellegrini too, who deserves extra credit for setting up the team well and firing them up at half-time. He is a manager who has shown he can adapt in the past, so let’s hope for less stubbornness with formations in the future.
Dare we suggest City are better in Europe without the “liability” Yaya Toure? Gary Neville has suggested so (and he’s never wrong of course), and certainly last night the two Ferns allowed a more rigid barrier against opposition attacks, but we all know what he brings to the table, and will no doubt be back in the team when not suspended.
I don’t think City have a realistic chance of winning this season’s competition (though stranger things have happened), but it was important to qualify for so many reasons: to shut up the snipers for now, to keep the big players happy, to take the pressure off the manager. And, dare I say it, extra revenue. Yuk.
Jamie Jackson: I like to feature a regular paranoia section on this blog, often tongue in cheek, but borne from some of the sub-standard, juvenile coverage that City (and every other team) gets in this country sometimes. Last night though, Jamie Jackson raised (or lowered, depending on your view) the bar for football journalism, with, and I do not say this lightly, THE WORST MATCH REPORT OF ALL TIME. Now the report may be a clear example of click-baiting, but despite that I still implore you to check it out, if you haven’t already. If you have already read it, read it again. It is a masterpiece in fuckwittery, a master class in misreading the mood, a tour de force in misreporting what actually happened in the match, a piece that puts every click-baiter in their place once and for all and requests that they bow down before their master. Lowlights? Where to start?! It’s like asking me to choose my favourite magical European night at Anfield – THERE’S JUST SO MANY. Anyway, I’ll try:
“..until Pablo Zabaleta scored their second goal, City’s had been a disjointed display against Serie A’s second-placed side, one who made City look like a band of naive millionaire footballers led by a manager, Manuel Pellegrini, whose tactical nous at this level is questionable.”
“The main charge is that the front and back can be disparate parts, as if attack and defence have been grafted together awkwardly via a midfield who impress going forward but are shaky when asked to protect.”
“This contest was studded with the sight of Rudi García’s team running at the visitors. Gervinho, Maicon and José Holebas all made hay while the Stadio Olimpico lights shone. They knifed through Pellegrini’s side with ease.”
You get the idea… amazingly Jackson is not a United fan, but his hatred for City is clear – there is no paranoia in me stating it now, it’s blindingly obvious. How he gets away with it I do not know – even fellow journalists had a go at him, one colleague stating “what was he thinking?” when reading it, according to my returning-from-Rome friend today. This was an article that Jackson seems to have written with defeat in mind, then hastily re-wrote under duress.
(Jamie, it’s probably time you unfollowed me on Twitter…it’s not worked out really..)
Anyway, onto the three-hour draw. Eight nations are represented in Monday’s draw, and UEFA representatives are already simmering those balls over a low heat as we speak. #fix #uefaisbent #cameronmustgo.
It was a banter-free zone for United fans on Facebook, their week resting on this. Ah well, you can look forward to the Dog & Duck v The Red Lion on Sunday.