Teams and Tactics
There was no personnel changes and one positional change for the home side. Perhaps wary of the threat City carry down the left, Cleverley swapped flanks with Kone, seemingly with a brief to stub out Kolorov and anyone else drifting into his corridor of uncertainty. It was pretty much a flat 4-5-1 with Barkley the closest support to Lukaku. The Citizens were also unchanged from last week’s demolition of Chelsea, lining up in a 4-2-3-1.
The approach from Martinez was less direct than last week’s South Coast beano, presumably due to the physical advantage City had on us with Kompany and co. Rather than last week when Howard tried to get the ball forward as quickly as possible with his kick-outs to Lukaku, the preference here was to slowly develop play out from the back, notably down the right flank with Coleman via Stones and McCarthy.
The approach yielded mixed results.
Adversely it meant that often the service into Lukaku was slower, and for the most part the Belgian was well contained by his marker, the much maligned Mangala.
Arguably our most threatening moment of the half came when Howard decided to lump one, hoofing a first time punt towards Lukaku, His flick allowed Cleverley to arrow in on goal, only for his enterprising surge into City’s final third to be halted illegally by Fernandinho, who was doing a good job of covering his back four and his fullbacks in particular. From the resulting free kick Lukaku skimmed the bar which, along with his disallowed goal, were our closest calls of the half.
It was certainly more of a submissive home display than usual, focused on retaining shape and making it hard for City to play through us.
In the first half it worked to a point in that we were competitive and still in the game at 0-0, although by then our visitors had carved out enough clear-cut chances to be at least one up. The stand out chance ended in Howard making a smart save from Aguero after Silva had drifted over to our left side to combine well with the tireless Navas. This chance was a result of City’s focus down their right, with inexperienced third choice left back Galloway not exactly being ably supported by Kone. As good as the Ivorian was in our opening two games, here he was more of a liability from a defensive standpoint, and one bizarre dribble 20 yards from his own goal could have cost us dearly.
After the break Silva ominously began to drift more and more to our left flank and influence the contest both on and off the ball. His focus was to exploit the spaces vacated by marauding surges from Coleman in order to create overloads with Sterling/Kolorov.
With the after-taste of the half time mellowbirds still fresh in Howard’s mouth, Silva had already struck the American’s post with a stinging drive.
The imperious Spanish schemer is well-known for his majestic jinking, but his Machiavellian off the ball game management (cheating in English) regularly goes unnoticed. If you’re unsure, watch the game back and see his full repertoire of snidey pulls, off the ball blocks and one particular tug (ooh err) on young Barkley. As a fellow snide – minus the football ability – this should be applauded.
Anyway, back to the game, and here’s where the wheels sadly came off for the tricky blues.
Unsurprisingly, Silva’s two most frequent pass combinations were to City’s wingers – to Sterling (14) and Navas (10) times respectively. You know what the threat is with this cat, but dealing with it is an altogether different proposal.
The first goal came after Barkley threaded a pass to McCarthy 20 yards from City’s goal. The Irishman’s touch was heavy, and this allowed City to regain possession and break down our right flank. Silva played a nice one two with Sterling who then threaded a splendid pass through a poor defensive line -with Jagielka playing the Kolorov onside – and the Serbian duly broke the deadlock.
It was a moment of woe for Tim Howard, criminally beaten on his near post when presumably expecting a pull-back by Kolorov rather than a shot. Given that we’d created minimal in City’s danger zones, the goal felt like a terminal blow.
Martinez made changes to the shape and personnel, but apart from a Barry header there was limited tangible outputs.
With the game now stretched, another Silva inspired counter attack led to Navas stinging Howard’s gloves with a fizzing drive which the keeper repelled into touch. From the resulting throw, Nasri played a one two with the otherwise well shackled Toure, before deftly lobbing the keeper sooner than you could say JUST STARFISH HIM YOU PILLOCK. The keeper had a decent game, but it was completely undermined by these two gaffes.
Few would have any complaints that City deserved the win, in what was an impressive display by the season’s early pacesetters.
Martinez always seems to be caught between two stools with City; he’ll be cautious whilst never going Moyes uncut, and instead he’ll try to create and give them a game. The result is that we aren’t tight enough defensively and at the other end lack the numbers / craft to open City up.
It wasn’t a bad display, though, and positives included the displays of Barkley and Cleverley, however in general there was a lack of cutting edge as was shown by the shots on target count, which was 1-9 in City’s favour.
Luckily we won’t have to play sides of this quality every week, and attention will now turn to recruitment and trying to plug a couple of glaring gaps in our attacking arsenal before the visit to Spurs.