Verdict: Manchester City 1 Fulham 1
Goals: Balotelli (26 mins) for City. Duff (47 mins) for Fulham.
A disappointing draw with Mark Hughes in the dugout at Eastlands is hardly a new feeling, rather an unwelcome reminder of how we are yet to fully evolve into a top side. Mario Balotelli provided the one moment of real quality with a superb strike, while Fulham warranted their draw as City put in a jaded performance.
Mancini paid the price for playing strong sides against Notts County and Aris. The eight goals scored without reply in those two games now looks like overkill after we failed to get a second against Fulham.
With Kompany, de Jong, Silva, Johnson and Richards missing from our defence and midfield City were always likely to lack fluency. Add to that the tiredness elsewhere from having to play midweek cup games and the ingredients for a weak performance were there.
Only in terms of strikers were we at full strength in terms of fitness, if not freshness. This didn’t help, as without Silva and Johnson we were unable to provide service of sufficient invention. Instead there were hopeful long balls out of defence that were meat and drink to Hangeland and co.
Milner might have helped our tempo in the middle had he been fit enough to start. Instead Zabaleta was asked to do a job in a role where he supplies endeavour if not the required quality of passing.
Boateng and Kolarov were at full-back with neither able to prevent Fulham putting in crosses. Fortunately Lescott combined with a weak Fulham attack to keep Joe Hart from a busier afternoon.
While Mario Balotelli’s goal stood out as the afternoon’s moment of brilliance, the goal we conceded was more in keeping with the general performance. When Hangeland played a ball down the channel for Johson and Kolarov to chase there was only going to be one winner.
Worse was happening on the other side of the penalty area where Duff came from behind Boateng and then Kolo to get on the end of the cross. Kolo should have been first to the danger while Boateng should at least have been in the vicinity.
Mancini’s decision to replace Dzeko with Vieira when we were looking for a winning goal looks questionable on the surface. However it was a reasonable tactical decision with Dzeko failing to make an impression against the Fulham defence.
With Balotelli only involved sporadically, one of them needed to come off to enable us to get a stronger foothold in the game. Tevez also needed to be restored to his position as an out and out striker. He thrives on the responsibility and looked a greater threat than Dzeko.
Vieira’s introduction did see our best spell of the game. Milner then provided width on the right but not the cutting edge that Johnson possesses. Once again a late winner for City looked fanciful and failed to materialise. Good sides, including Spurs, get these and it’s something Mancini needs to address.
Liverpool also played in the Europa League on Thursday and they lost 3-1 to West Ham. Last week Tottenham followed up a victory in Milan with defeat at Blackpool. Prior to that Chelsea were also held by Fulham. In the light of those results this doesn’t look so bad.
“I’m disappointed by the result, but this is what happens when you play every three days and you don’t have many players, like we don’t at the moment.
“It’s important in the next days we recover and have Nigel [De Jong], Vinny [Kompany] and James [Milner] 100 per cent. We need more options when we play every three days.”
It leaves us is in a three way battle for third place. This was a chance to pull clear and put pressure on Spurs and Chelsea to win their games in hand.
City aren’t good enough to play cup games during the week, then be sure of the win in the weekend league game. The old ‘big four’ used to be able to do that, but the difference in quality between Premier League sides isn’t as great now.
It leaves us in the uncomfortable position of wanting United to win against Chelsea on Tuesday. Our games away to Chelsea and at home to Spurs are looking increasingly like season deciders.