Group D of this year’s UEFA Champions League is undoubtedly the toughest group in the history of the competition. City’s campaign got off to a difficult start after a 3-2 defeat away to Real Madrid. Here, we look over some of the major talking points from last night’s game.
1 – The omission of Joleon Lescott
This was an odd one for me. A match of this magnitude required experienced heads and solid partnerships. Last season, the Lescott-Kompany central defensive pairing was the rock on which City’s success was built, helping to keep 17 clean sheets in the Premier League alone. For whatever reason, Mancini opted to drop Lescott for this match, preferring to give a debut to Matija Nastasic, the 19-year-old Serbian who has just one season of Serie A football to his name. It was certainly a shock when the teams were released.
In truth, Nastasic played well and looks an excellent purchase. Whereas the man he has replaced in the squad, Stefan Savic, was utterly atrocious and scared of the ball, Nastasic looks commanding and classy in possession. Despite his notable performance, I still feel Lescott should have started last night, if only to ensure experience and rhythm in the defensive unit was maintained. We lost our heads defensively at times towards the end when a more familiar defensive set-up may have coped better.
2 – Yaya Toure is unplayable
We’ve seen this before. City are lacking rhythm and finding it difficult to get a foothold in the game, yet there’s a huge Ivorian in the centre of the park who can pick up the ball and cause havoc. Yaya Toure can take a side from backs-to-the-wall defending to all out attack in seconds. Real Madrid could not deal with him. When Yaya turns the burners on, there’s very little the opposition can do other than retreat. The only times in the first-half we looked remotely dangerous was the occasions he darted into the heart of their defence, and then, fittingly, our first goal came as a result of another Yaya surge. Class.
3 – Maicon was poor
I don’t want to come down too harshly on Maicon after playing only a couple of times for the club but he looked well short of the level required last night. Eyebrows were raised when we bought a 31-year-old right-back given how well stocked we are in that position already, with Zabaleta and Richards, for me, the two best right-backs in the league challenged only by Kyle Walker. I saw the signing of Maicon as a clear sign that Mancini definitely wants to give the 3-4-3 formation a proper go this season, with Micah Richards shifted inside to right sided centre back. Whatever the reasons for doing the deal, this isn’t the kind of performance Mancini had in mind.
He looked old and off the pace, unable to contribute to the attacking side of the game with the same verve that made him so feared during his pomp at Inter. It’s early days and his fitness and understanding of City’s game will grow, but this was not good enough.
4 – Barry is back and his passing is still bang on
Gareth Barry started the match after playing half an hour in the 1-1 draw with Stoke at the weekend. You realise just how important Barry is when he’s not there. Tidy and disciplined, you can give him the ball anywhere and he tends to retain possession.
Last night, he did look slightly off the pace, a given considering the intensity of the match and his lack of action. He may need a few games to really get back up to speed.
However, his passing stats were outstanding. He had the best pass completion rate of any City player – 86% – which is extremely impressive given the quality of opposition. The age old adage, banded around from fans of rival clubs and, worryingly, the odd ‘journalist’, that ‘Barry is shit’ is now so tired and useless it’s become a cliche. If they can’t see his qualities, fine, but City fans can and he adds a lot to our game.
Match of the Day punters may disagree, but Barry is a vitally important part of this City side.
5 – Mancini’s post-match interview
Roberto Mancini’s post-match comments were a mixed bag. His assessment of City’s defending was encouraging. Although it doesn’t take an expert to see our problem so far this season has been our defending, it’s still nice to hear him condemn it with such clarity.
Sometimes we go too deep. We made some mistakes and I don’t want us to continue defending like this.
In the first half, they played better than us but in the second half we played well and scored two goals.
When you score two goals here and are 2-1, you should pay more attention.
However, then we had the bizarre situation of him criticising Joe Hart for the comments he made in his interview prior to Mancini’s.
Hart had said to ITV:
We dug deep, got a lead twice and we lost it, so we can only blame ourselves.
It’s hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive. I’m really sorry.
We’re not a team that should come here and pat ourselves on the back for doing well. We’re a team that gets results.
All fine and sensible but Mancini responded with:
I agree but I think Joe Hart should do his job. I can criticise the team not Joe Hart.
Joe Hart should stay as goalie. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.
Now, it could be argued that Mancini has a right to exert his authority but Hart’s assessment was bang on and, as a fan, hearing him acknowledge our shortcomings was refreshing and I welcomed it.
6 – Bloodied but unbowed
Overall, we were outplayed by Madrid – the match stats show that quite clearly. Real had 29 shots (16 on target) to City’s 8 (5 on target). They also saw more of the ball, with 54% possession.
There are a few positives to take but generally, it was a poor display. When you lead a side, as we did here, and you throw away 2 late goals to lose the match, it’s difficult to offer up too much praise. We were in a winning position and should have held out.
It’s far from game over though and we have to regroup and prepare for the next match at home to Dortmund where taking 3 points is now almost essential.