Verdict: Manchester City 0 Birmingham City 0
A second successive goalless draw at home left the crowd frustrated and criticism of Roberto Mancini is back on the agenda. Had we taken one of our 21 goal attempts then this would have been deemed a satisfactory week.
The three games in six games caught up with City in the area of finishing. We may not have battered Birmingham, but there were sufficient chances to score and one of them would surely have been taken had the team been fresher.
Tevez was the most culpable, while Johnson and Kolarov were also wasteful. David Silva wasn’t sharp enough with his passing and didn’t provide the incision we needed.
As a result the game will go down as a failure, yet there were positives to be taken. This was the first time we’d started with the imposing back four of Boateng, Kolo, Kompany and Kolarov.
This is likely to be Mancini’s first choice and there were good signs. Boateng is looking more at home, while the central pairing continued to snuff out any danger. Kolarov demonstrated good quality on the ball and should be more of an attacking asset than the many others who can play left-back.
Seeing de Jong and Yaya line up together in the defensive midfield positions was also interesting. They dominated their area of the pitch and Yaya looked a lot more at home. He was better able to display his passing game. Hopefully we’ll get to see this pairing again as it could prove to be our best.
This back six had quality throughout and Birmingham never threatened while they were together. The problem lay further forward.
Against an excellently drilled Birmingham back-line, we weren’t able to fashion as many clear cut chances as we would have liked. The main weakness in Mancini’s selection was the lack of height when Silva plays behind Tevez.
Our preferred method of attack is to build up play from the back. Birmingham knew this and were able to press high up the pitch, knowing that if we attempted to hit it long, the ball would be won by their defenders.
To avoid this Joe Hart tries to kick the ball to the flanks, but this is less effective and difficult to get consistently right. The ball can simply sail out of play, or our winger is closed down by the time the ball reaches them. Frustrataion mounted and Joe took to making hurried clearances and conceded possession.
With Birmingham sitting deep, we needed an alternative point of attack, so it did make sense to bring on a taller forward. With Adebayor and Balotelli out, Santa Cruz was the natural choice in theory. The reality was that his lack of match practice meant he had little impact.
The level of criticism for the substitutions has been excessive, with the crowd’s anger born out of frustration at the failure to break down Birmingham. However the latter two can be questioned.
Kolarov may have been tiring, but bringing on Zabaleta wasn’t going to significantly impove our chances of scoring. The Argentine offers little in the way of attacking quality from left-back.
Tevez was having a poor game, particularly in terms of his finishing, but he was still more likely than most to force a breakthrough. He may not have been 100% fit, but he could have lasted another 7 minutes. His reaction to seeing his number go up told us that.
We needed more radical substitutions and Jo, as the most attacking player on the bench, ought to have made an appearance. It needs to be remembered that we were without 2 of our top 3 strikers and the other was having an off day on account of not being fully fit.
It made for a wholly frustrating climax to the match. A situation which had seemed increasingly on the cards as the chances went begging. Stephen Carr’s goalline clearance at the start of the second half felt like it might prove crucial.
“We work as a team, so we must attack together and defend together. Defence at the moment is good, but attacking is not so good. We must score more goals, but that’s not just about the strikers and midfielders.”
City weren’t the only one of the top teams to put in a poor performance and heaven knows what the Mancini headlines would have been like if we’d lost 3-0 at home to Sunderland. United also put in a worse performance than ourselves while Liverpool lost.
However the victories for Arsenal and Tottenham were reminders that we need to keep on winning. The pressure is now on for Mancini to beat Mark Hughes’ Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The good news is that Tevez has a week to recover. Fulham away won’t be easy, but it would only need an improvement in the finishing for the team that played on Saturday to come away with a victory. Once again the pressure is on Mancini to achieve one.