Europa League verdict: Lech Poznan 3 Manchester City 1
Goals: Injac 30 min, Ardebola 86 mins Mozdzen 90+2 min for Poznan. Adebayor 51 min for City.
City slipped to defeat in another game of missed chances that saw them ultimately punished by late goals from the Polish champions after Emmanuel Adebayor had equalised at the start of the second half. The pressure ratchets up another notch on Roberto Mancini as qualification from the Europa League group stages may now require the blues to get a result against Juventus.
As expected Mancini made a host of changes from our last Premier League side, and thankfully returned to the more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation. It was good to see Shay Given start, in a move that will give Joe Hart chance to refocus on his game following a busy spell both on and off the pitch.
The back four saw everyone in their preferred positions, though Richards gave a performance that showed signs of mental tiredness. His positioning and passing were poor and it would be no surprise to see Boateng in the right-back slot at West Brom.
Mancini’s faith in Boyata once again went unrewarded, with the youngster failing to get enough height on his clearing header which rebounded off Ardebola to give Poznan the killer second goal.
This was another example of City’s recent vulnerability from set pieces. It’s beginning to look like teams have sussed out the zonal defending, which Mancini brought in last season. This is a concern as the improvement in defending set-pieces was a key part of the Italian’s early success.
With the likes of Lescott, Adebayor, Vieira and Boyata, we had a height advantage that gave us great strength in attacking set-pieces. This should have lead to the opening goal in the first half when chaos from a corner resulted in Johnson crossing for Boyata to head weakly into the keeper’s arms.
Our equaliser came from another corner as Adebayor climbed well to direct a powerful header goalwards. The goalkeeper could only parry the ball back to Ade who rifled it home.
The Togolese had a reasonable game given the mixed quality of the service he receieved. His movement and link up play were satisfactory until the final 15 minutes when he looked in need of replacing. Unfortunately our substitutes were required elsewhere and he offered little threat in the final minutes as we chased a second equaliser.
Once again the centre of midfield was a concern with the importance of de Jong further underlined. City had started brightly with Vieira and Zabaleta pushing forward.
When Poznan overcame their initial poor passing, Zabaleta didn’t have the positional discipline to sit and close down opponents when the ball was being moved forward. Vieira was stranded upfield repeatedly as he lacked the pace to get back. It was surprising Mancini allowed them to go on in this manner for so long.
Only with our final substitution did this look to be rectified, when Kompany steadied the ship. It looked to have worked until Boyata’s fateful header.
As with the previous defeats, Mancini had sent his side out to attack from the off. This is a reversal of his previous policy of keeping the game tight in the opening period. Prior to the sending off against Arsenal, and the opposition’s opening goals in the other two games, we have looked good every time.
It’s strange that when we need to keep things tight, we now look unable to do so. It will be fascinating to see how the team starts against in-form West Brom. Will Mancini revert to keeping it tight initially, or will the need for a win see us once again start on the front foot?
City are currently playing with more attacking full-backs in Bridge, Boateng and now Kolarov than we were earlier in the season, when Lescott was deployed at left-back. Thus far we’re yet to reap any rewards offensively and look more vulnerable at the back.
In our promising start against Poznan it was noticeable how Wright-Phillips and Johnson were on their natural flanks. We were able to stretch the Poles, move the ball around, and created an early chance for Milner.
Once the wingers switched flanks, the width was reduced and Poznan were better able to close down our play. Wright-Phillips in particular struggles when asked to come inside. His game is better suited to going round the outside of full-backs and utilising his pace.
Milner did ok in the central role, but Silva clearly did better and provided the change in momentum that was required after we’d fallen behind. This shouldn’t spell the end for Milner in this role as he offers more in terms of closing down the opposition.
Prior to the game, a draw followed by a victory over Salzburg would have seen City qualify regardless of our result in Juventus. Now we could be heading to Turin needing something from the game and Mancini would then need to take a strong team. This is a headache the manager could have done without as our subsequent Premier League match is against Everton.
Hopefully this will be the only price we pay for defeat to Poznan. The manager is clearly under pressure but he had a better game than the debacle at Wolves. The team selection made sense with most players appearing in their best positions. The players were happier in 4-2-3-1 and the substitutions made sense, each strengthening the side.
He ought to have instructed either Zabaleta or Vieira to sit deeper, and Wright-Phillips might have benefitted from being switched back onto the right in the first half. Once again it was our failure to take clear chances that ultimately proved costly. If our clinical edge returns along with Tevez and de Jong, then positive results should return.