Europa League verdict: Dynamo Kiev 2 Manchester City 0
Goals: Shevchenko 25 mins, Gusev 77 mins for Kiev.
Roberto Mancini fielded a strong line-up and suffered from a lack of freshness as City slipped to a two goal defeat. It could have been worse as the team pushed forward for an away goal and were nearly caught on the break in the closing stages.
Once again Balotelli drew the headlines, though not for his contribution to the game. Apparently he has an allergy to certain types of grass, and missed the start of the second half as he was receiving anti-histamine shots. With a swelling face he soon departed and in hindsight Mancini would have been better off leaving the Italian at home and playing Jo.
Balotelli made way for Tevez, who had been the only senior player rested by Mancini. Nigel de Jong was also on the bench, but it can be assumed he isn’t yet ready for a full ninety minutes.
The game started with a high tempo as Kiev attacked with enthusiasm. City’s primary outlets were Kolarov, playing on the left flank, and Richards, who was pushing on from right-back.
Silva was picking up the ball well, but struggling to find his usual touch on the hard surface. The reduced level of pressing in European football suits Barry and Yaya. After his poor showing at the weekend, this was a more composed performance by Barry in particular.
In attack Balotelli and Dzeko struggled to make an impact around the penalty area, and there was only a routine shot from Kolarov to show for our first-half efforts.
At the other end, there was more pace and cohesion to the Kiev attacks. Just when City looked to have survived the early threat, Shevcheko demonstrated the goal-poachers art to give Kiev the lead.
The ball was whipped in to the edge of the six-yard box and Kolarov was caught on his heels as the Ukrainian nipped in ahead of Joe Hart to poke the ball home.
The pattern of the game didn’t change greatly until the introduction of Tevez. His arrival galvanised our attacking play as he dropped deep, then took the ball into dangerous areas. Dzeko in particular benefitted from the extra space created by the Argentine’s movement.
Yaya, Lescott and Silva all had shots as we finally put concerted pressure on Kiev’s penalty area. Then Tevez started to give the ball away, and Kiev hit us on the counter.
A deflected cross benefitted Gusev and he controlled the ball excellently off his chest and volleyed home before anyone could close down the space. From then on, City went cavalier in an attempt to secure an away goal.
It all became very un-Mancini with Lescott and Kompany taking it in turns to charge forward, along with the full-backs, and leaving us outnumbered on the counter.
Thanks to a last ditch Lescott tackle and Joe Hart spreading himself to thwart a one-on-one we didn’t concede a third. The ball never fell for our forwards and it proved another frustrating game where we don’t seem to be functioning as the sum of our attacking parts.
A particular disappointment is the lack of a threat from set-pieces. Kolarov has the quality of delivery, and we have enough height to dominate any penalty area. The Serb needs to improve his consistency and it appears more emphasis is required on this area of our game on the training pitch.
“Kyiv are a good side, but I felt we deserved a goal at least on the night.
“We didn’t pay enough attention at vital times and they took advantage so we have made life difficult for ourselves.”
So where does this leave City? After arriving back at 5am, the immediate priority is the FA Cup game against Reading. Win this and we’re off to Wembley and only two games from a trophy. However Reading are on a roll, and there is a real danger of an upset if we’re suffering too much fatigue. It still sounds a lot simpler than the Europa League.
Next Sunday we have a huge league game against Chelsea. There is a case for prioritising this over the secong leg against Kiev.
Yet Mancini appears determined to play strong sides for every match. Scoring three against the Ukrainians isn’t impossible, though there is a real danger of conceding an away goal to this sharp counter-attacking unit.
If the manager rests players in readiness for the Chelsea game and gets knocked out, then criticism by media and fans will be harsh. Yet if we were to secure third place in the league and win the FA Cup the vitriol would soon be forgotten.
Looking at the potential fixture list if we stay in both cups, then our chances of securing a Champions League place would be slim, based on current performances. The next three games could shape our season, and defeat to Kiev alone may not be the worst outcome.