Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Shaky City resembling Hughes vintage
Richard Jolly, City of Manchester Stadium
Manchester City are the moneyed club who are keen to dispel the nouveau riche's normal assumption that the past is irrelevant. Theirs is a team who, in a classy tribute to past heroes, took to the field in a 1960s red-and-black kit, commemorating their last FA Cup victors and, in particular, their match-winner, the gravely ill Neil Young.
• Man City 4-2 Leicester
• FA Cup Gallery
Yet when the action commenced, the clock was turned back, not to 1969, but to 2009. The trademark sky blue shirts had replaced the anachronistic replicas but, rather than resembling Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison's venerated team, they looked like a more recent vintage: Mark Hughes' side. The Welshman's reign ended amid a surfeit of goals and, when Roberto Mancini was being cast as football's premier puritan, a 21st-century George Graham, a repeat appeared unlikely.
But the last three games have produced 17 goals; 10 at the right end, seven at the wrong. The glut can be a sign of the assortment of attacking talents gelling, but the generosity displayed to Leicester and Wolves, in the lower half of the Championship and the relegation zone of the Premier League respectively, is less explicable. Perhaps City have simply reverted to type; perhaps the most expensive team in the history of the FA Cup merely prioritised entertainment; perhaps a more miserly approach will be adopted against more esteemed opponents.
That is certainly Mancini's hope. "I prefer 4-1 or 1-0 or 2-0," he said. "If you don't concede a lot of goals, you win something for sure. We should improve. I think that it is only concentration but it is better we start to work hard again on defensive things."
The infamous double training sessions may be back but progress was secured. Mancini just about bested his mentor, Sven-Goran Eriksson, to set up a trip to another of the Swede's many former clubs, Notts County. Terrific at times in attack and notably nervy in defence, they cast off the shackles rather more easily than they saw off Leicester. If the chant of "boring, boring City" wasn't aired, it may have been because their lead often seemed too fragile to induce complacency.
"We should be rather proud of what we have done in the two games against Manchester City," said Eriksson. "We scored four goals and we were in the game until the last two minutes, which I think is good."
It was an indirect compliment to the Championship side that Carlos Tevez played the full 180 minutes in the two matches and worrying for the hosts that he was required to do so. That had something to do with a penalty Tevez drilled against Chris Weale's legs, but the way the captain won it himself meant he could be excused the aberration.
His 16th goal of another fruitful season was, like Saturday's first against Wolves, one to savour. His blend of power and direct running enabled him to identify a gap where none appeared evident, burst through it and send a rasping shot into the top corner.
Mario Balotelli's typically modest assertion that City's potential forward line of himself, Tevez and Edin Dzeko is better than Barcelona's attracted attention. The nearest equivalent to a Barca player at Eastlands then excelled as the home side scored twice in 77 seconds.
David Silva guided a shot past Weale but not the sliding Sol Bamba on the goal line, though Patrick Vieira was on hand to poke it in from two yards, his celebration almost apologetic because the finish was so simple. Then, having spurned an earlier one-on-one with Weale, Adam Johnson was altogether cooler when Silva's defence-splitting pass granted him a second chance.
Yet it was not one-way traffic. Self-inflicted problems have been a theme of the last 10 days for Mancini's men, from Joe Hart's uncharacteristic error at the Walkers Stadium to Joleon Lescott's rashness in granting Wolves a penalty. Another spot-kick was conceded by Vieira, tripping Lloyd Dyer, as Paul Gallagher levelled four minutes after Tevez's opener.
An awkward finale beckoned then when the electric Dyer outpaced Lescott to meet Yuki Abe's through-ball with a fine finish. Aleksandar Kolarov belatedly saw off Leicester with a first goal in England, something his enthusiastic long-range shooting had promised for a while.
Signed from Lazio, the Serb was the third Biancocelesti at Eastlands. Mancini pitched up for the end of Eriksson's press conference, parking himself next to his old employer and declaring: "Thank you, my teacher." With a glint in his eye, the Italian declared: "I thought it was important we beat Sven." A night for old friends was one where Mancini will nevertheless hope City don't turn into an old team: the accident-prone unit he inherited.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Carlos Tevez - With Dzeko ineligible until the next round, he was impossible to omit. Thereafter, as usual, he was impossible to ignore. Another display of incessant commitment brought its reward.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Mancini only made four changes but there were signs that Nigel de Jong's bite was missed in midfield, while Lescott appeared an unconvincing deputy for Kolo Toure. City can lose their solidity when some of their spine, whether De Jong, Toure, Vincent Kompany or Gareth Barry are absent. More positively, Silva oozed class on his return to fitness while the gifted Johnson had his moments.
LEICESTER CITY VERDICT: There is much to encourage Eriksson. Weale was in fine form in goal, while the speed and skills of Dyer made him a threat on either flank. Leicester acquitted themselves well in both matches even though their high-profile signing, Yakubu, was not able to play. They look well capable of ending the season in a play-off place.
NO HENRY: Eriksson denied that Thierry Henry will join Leicester on loan. "I asked the manager of New York Red Bulls, Hans Backe, when the league finished if he had some good players he could give me on loan for two months and he said he hadn't," he explained.