Saturday, October 27, 2012
Hairdryer needed to revive Man City
Richard Jolly, Etihad Stadium
It is not just on the field that Roberto Mancini aims to emulate Sir Alex Ferguson. There has long been the sense that the Italian envies the Scot's dictatorial powers. The Etihad autocrat is not one of life's conciliators and, on Friday morning, he was discussing his concept of man-management.
• Blog: A team of two halves
"I talk with my players, with my hairdryer in my hand," he said, with a smile on his face. As with many of Mancini's remarks, his sense of humour was evident. Nevertheless, Manchester City's awkward evening against Swansea suggested that, while the Italian insisted he stayed calm, Mancini's version of the hairdryer treatment and his brand of tough love have an impact.
It was not merely that Carlos Tevez, who can testify to the Italian's uncompromising approach after his six months on the sidelines last season, delivered a crucial winner in a 1-0 victory. It was the way City rallied after an abject first half, and 15 minutes in Mancini's company, to raise the tempo and the level of their performance.
The other catalyst was Tevez's comrade in controversy. Mario Balotelli's City career has been an idiosyncratic mix of the brilliant and the bizarre. In as much as he has displayed consistency in anything, however, Balotelli is invariably laidback. Ever the contrarian, he lent urgency in his cameo.
The two miscreants made the difference. Tevez met Gael Clichy's pass with a perfectly-placed shot to find the bottom corner of Michel Vorm's net and earn his manager's praise. "Carlos played well and worked hard for the team," Mancini said. "He scored an important goal." Balotelli, meanwhile, almost added to it, clipping the top of the bar in the 103rd minute.
The drama was extended because of injuries - to Vorm, out for four to six weeks with a groin problem, and Micah Richards, potentially a long-term absentee after his knee gave way - but it was also delayed. The first half was utterly uneventful. City had no attempt on goal of any description for 38 minutes. It was a game that would have benefited from a Mancini or a Michael Laudrup in his prime, someone with the class and creativity to fashion or accept an opening.
Instead, their involvement came from the touchline. Mancini, the man criticised for forever interfering, had to act after his players mustered a solitary shot and pretended he turned marksman. "I only shot three or four players," he joked. His measures were less draconian but certainly decisive. Off went Aleksandar Kolarov, whose parting contribution was the highest of free-kicks, and on came Balotelli. Sergio Aguero exchanged a place in attack for a role as a roving left winger.
Swansea, hitherto so assured, were suddenly put under pressure. City, previously lethargic, had a flurry of opportunities and then, after a lull, Tevez converted one. "It wasn't even a chance," lamented Laudrup. "I really think, coming here, playing against the champions, when they only create one, clear, clear chance in 90 minutes and you create two or three, you can think you deserved a little more."
His argument was persuasive but if Laudrup had a point, his team left without one. For that, they could curse Joe Hart. Twice the predatory Michu could have scored but the man with six goals from eight previous Premier League shots on target found the England keeper at his agile best. When the Spaniard did defeat Hart, he had long since been flagged offside. "Joe Hart made some great saves," said Laudrup. Less charitably, the ever demanding Mancini said: "He is there for this: to save."
The goalkeeper's acrobatics brought him just a second clean sheet of the season, although his manager opted for caution to secure it. Blamed for removing a central defender in Amsterdam, Mancini finished with a phalanx of them as Kolo Toure replaced the injured Richards and then Joleon Lescott came on for Aguero in a bid to shore City up. It was a sign of Swansea's excellence that the result was in doubt until the last, and that was rather later than scheduled. It was the longest match in Premier League history and, metaphorically, it has been one of the longer weeks of Mancini's reign, but the Manchester martinet finished it with his troops marching up to second in the league.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ki Sung-Yeung. The South Korean looked composed in possession and provided a series of penetrative passes, one sending Michu clear on goal. His signing from Celtic looks an astute piece of business by Laudrup.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: They were miserable in the first half, lacking the spark and speed to unlock the Swansea defence. Mancini blamed tiredness, arguing that, with six players out, he was unable to rotate. But Balotelli made a marked difference and Tevez, as is his wont, never stopped running. But with three midfielders injured, another suspended and Kolarov, who started on the left wing, removed, it illustrated how quickly Scott Sinclair, an unused substitute, has become City's forgotten man since signing from Swansea.
SWANSEA VERDICT: For the second successive season, they were luckless at the Etihad. Last year, they earned plenty of plaudits in a 4-0 defeat. Once again, they impressed but departed pointless. Plenty of Swans excelled, from Chico Flores and Ashley Williams in defence to Michu, a predatory presence in attack, but two of Laudrup's recruits, Ki and Pablo Hernandez were perhaps the most promising. "I want to only see the positive things because there are so many," the Dane said, but there is a major negative with the loss of his in-form goalkeeper.