Europa League verdict: FC Timisoara v Manchester City
Goal: Balotelli 72
City opened their Europa League campaign with a victory in Romania thanks to super Mario playing the super-sub role. Roberto Mancini demonstrated his Italian heritage with a cautious opening giving way to an attacking finale that could have seen the blues score more.
With uncertainty over Shay Given’s future, Joe Hart started in goal and kept the Irishman from being cup-tied. Zabaleta replaced Micah at right-back and it will be interesting to see which of them starts against Liverpool. Was this rotation or was Micah dropped after his struggles against Gareth Bale? Only Mancini knows.
Joleon Lescott made his first City appearance at left-back and put in a solid showing. It was good to see him looking to get forward in the second half even if he inevitably lacks the skills of a true wing-back. Alongside Vincent Kompany the two of them provide a formidable physical barrier. If Dirk Kuyt plays on the Liverpool right on Monday, Joleon may well be our best bet.
Once again Mancini went with de Jong, Toure and Barry to lock down the midfield. This resulted in limited options for Tevez, Silva and Adebayor in the first half. The Spaniard in particular struggled to get into the game. Stephen Ireland would no doubt have been able to sympathise.
With our attacking full-backs missing, new signings to assimilate and others still building up their fitnesss it was no surprise to see Mancini show his Italian heritage and keep it tight in the opening period.
This was a turn of the screw performance as we knocked the ball about without looking like either scoring or conceding. Gradually as the opposition tired and the game started to open up, Mancini brought on the players to take advantage.
First Balotelli appeared, taking over from Barry. This gave us pace, skill and strength on the left flank. Adebayor was no longer so isolated as Balotelli looked to get into the penalty area.
Next came Adam Johnson in place of David Silva to provide natural width on the right flank. Now the opposition were being pulled apart and Yaya Toure was playing the role of box-to-box midfielder. The game was transformed by this change in strategy and the goal duly came when Adebayor played the ball across for Balotelli to fire home.
Jo came on to give Tevez a rest and we continued to create chances in the closing minutes. While many observers might have criticised the dire spectacle of the first half, Mancini would probably have been more annoyed at the failure to kill the tie with additional goals in the closing minutes.
As an attacking force the midfield had a lovely balance with Balotelli and Johnson on the flanks, while de Jong anchored and Yaya Toure provided a dynamic centre. Yaya is a key figure with strength and skill, adept at tackling deep, while also getting forward to fire off shots.
With Tevez in a roving role there was to much for the opposition midfield to contain at this point. It will be interesting to see the team against Liverpool. Balotelli may continue to be eased in with a place on the bench, while Milner could come in for Barry. Silva will probably be given another chance to build up his match sharpness though Johnson gives the directness we need for a cutting edge.
“He had a great debut and I am happy that he scored. He is a good player.
“He needs to improve of course and get to know everybody. It was the first time he had played with the team.”
In some ways this felt like an additional pre-season game as the manager looked to improve players fitness and familiarity with one another. It may not have been a great spectacle early on, but it was a professional performance and leaves us well placed to reach the group stages.