Verdict: Manchester City 2 Portsmouth 0
Goals: Adebayor 39, Kompany 45+1.
A jaded performance wasn’t helped by an unlikely midfield formation, but City came through thanks to a quality of finishing that Portsmouth were unable to match. Emanual Adebayor struck a spectacular opener and Vincent Kompany followed shortly afterwards with a powerful header from a Martin Petrov corner.
Maybe Roberto Mancini was looking to prove a point to Brian Marwood and Garry Cook that we need another central midfielder and a winger. The left flank was a mess until Craig Bellamy came on, while Gareth Barry looked like he was sleepwalking in the middle.
Mancini attempted to show his tactical acumen by starting the game with a 4-3-1-2 formation that had Petrov playing in a free role behind Adebayor and Tevez. Nigel de Jong was flanked by Gareth Barry and Stephen Ireland in the middle. With Micah Richards having failed a fitness test, Zabaleta moved to full-back, while Kolo Toure returned to partner Kompany and give Boyata a well earned rest.
It was soon clear the midfield wasn’t working with everyone looking confused about the role of Petrov. The Bulgarian was quickly moved out to the right wing.
There seems to be the idea that Garrido has to be protected by the person in front of him. As a consequence Petrov and Robinho haven’t been allowed to play in their best positions recently. In the first leg against United, we saw Zabaleta start off on the left wing. It failed as he drifted infield and didn’t track Rafael.
For the first half against Portsmouth we ended up with Barry nominally playing on the left flank. His woeful lack of pace gave us no attacking threat and he also drifted infield. The Pompey left-back was able to attack at will.
In the second half, Barry thankfully moved back into his usual position and Ireland was moved over to the left. It’s his least effective midfield position and Garrido again had little help as Stevie tended to drift inside or get caught upfield.
Petrov may not be the best tackler, but he does at least have the positional sense for the left flank and would surely have done a better job. Playing him on the right, where he had stronger defenders behind him, undermined us as an attacking force.
When he’s plays on the left, he can drive down the wing and offer genuine penetration. Playing him on the right nullifies this. Allied to the lack of an attacking flank player on the left, we were never able to get behind Portsmouth. Barry is either exhausted or not fully fit, so de Jong was having to get through a lot of covering against a muscular and mobile Pompey midfield.
Ireland has yet to find his best form under Mancini, and doesn’t seem as comfortable with the patient build-up play. One attempt to play a long pass early resulted in a rollicking from Mancini, while his forward bursts went unnoticed by team-mates who chose the less ambitious pass.
As a result there was little service to the front two, and none of the midfielders were able to get forward sufficiently. It was the confused midfield set-up as much as any tiredness from Wednesday that undermined this performance.
Rather than Adebayor’s exquisite goal, the game was better summed up by a pair of chaotic substitutions. First, there was an inordinate wait while Zabaleta got treatment on his nose, before it was decided to bring Onuoha on at right-back. During this confusion Portsmouth hit the bar and emergency right-back Ireland was attempting a goal-line clearance like a little boy lost.
The second substitution saw Vincent Kompany struggling with a groin strain when he received the ball. Rather than kick it out and go down, he attempted a pass and City continued to play on. The resulting loss of possession left us vulnerable to a goal as our best defender was out of action.
In the second period it was noticeable how both Adebayor and Tevez didn’t drop back to assist the midfield, even when we were getting overrun. There was surely a case for Tevez to drop deeper, but Mancini stuck to his guns.
The plus points from the game were the return of Toure and Adebayor. Both put in decent performances, with Toure making some excellent interceptions, while Adebayor worked hard and got his reward with a goal.
“It was an important win for us. If we want to be in the top four then we know that we need to win these kind of games.
“At the start of the season we dropped a few points to the lower teams. But we are strong as a team and we defended well today after the two goals that we scored.”
While the match was undoubtedly flat, the three points were vital, and this result is arguably more important than that against United in the Carling Cup. Getting into the Champions League is the main aim this season, and we are now handily placed a point behind fourth placed Spurs with two games in hand. There were lessons to be learnt here, and if they are, then we should continue to go from strength to strength.
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