Europa League verdict: Manchester City 1 Juventus 1
Goals: Iaquinta 11 min for Juve. Johnson 36 min for City.
This was a game where both sides appeared to start out believing the other was there for the taking, before realising a mutual respect that saw them settle for a draw.
Aside from Del Piero cracking a free-kick against the bar, the competitive edge to this game was to be found in the first half. Juventus defied talk of their demise by flying out of the blocks with some slick passing and movement, the like of which we’re unaccustomed to in our domestic football.
It was a bit of a shock and City took a while to respond. By this time we were a goal behind thanks to Jerome Boateng standing off a striker and Joe Hart failing to get down quickly enough. Iaquinta’s shot was a good one, but either Joe or Shay would normally be expected to turn it round the post.
Joe had already needed to be alert to Juve’s sharp shooting, which contrasted with our wayward efforts in the early part of the game. In the past City teams would have been overawed, but what we saw instead was Mancini’s team gradually asserting themselves and pushing the opposition back.
A flicked header from Barry that came back of the post was a signal we were getting closer, and shortly afterwards came the equaliser. Yaya showed one of those moments of quality that he just drops into a game every so often.
His pass split the defence and a teriffic run by Johnson saw him burst free of a tightly organised back line to score with two quick touches. Manninger committed himself, making the finish a little easier than Buffon might have.
Roared on by the crowd, City enjoyed their best spell for the remainder of the first half. There was some slick passing and interplay between our midfield and forwards, which never quite managed to secure another breakthrough.
Despite the goal Johnson had a frustrating night as Juve were quick to double up on him, and add a third defender if required. His quick feet were often matched by defenders with a better tackling technique than we’re used to seeing in the Premier League. The match should have been an education for the Wearsider and hopefully he will be better for it.
David Silva is more used to these close attentions and possesses the technique and trickery to match. With Juve showing a defensive organisation that belied their recent frailties, it became increasingly apparent that the Spaniard was the player best equipped to find a way through.
Unfortunately Silva was being partially rested for Sunday’s fixture and his arrival came when the dynamism of the game had expired. It was interesting to note the pace with which the early part of the game was played. Both teams appeared to concentrate their efforts on victory in the first half and the second period was comparatively sedate, punctuated by unforced errors.
There was the feeling that had this been a Champions League game, both teams would have given more during the second period in the quest for victory. The Europa League is a clear second to the domestic league for both sides.
It was still a valuable exercise in integrating players back into the team. Adebayor had a start and began the match in determined fashion. Playing as a lone striker against Chiellini and co is no easy task however, and the Togolese wasn’t helped by a sometimes wayward first touch.
Elements of the crowd grew frustrated with his failure to make a breakthrough, but the difficulty of the task became clearer after he departed. Initially we literally had no-one up front, until Tevez moved into the central role. The Argentine fared worse than Adebayor and was quickly reverting to the flanks or dropping deep to see the ball.
Mancini is right when he says Ade needs a goal, and it’s to be hoped it comes against Newcastle. Regardless of what his long term future may be, Ade is currently essential in providing an alternative to Tevez in leading the line. If he can find a run of form, then we could secure our place in the top four.
The other player returning from injury was Jerome Boateng and it proved a mixed night. Defensively he was at fault for the first goal, not getting tight enough to Iaquinta. In the second half he switched to left-back and there were fears Krasic might have a field day if the young German continued to stand off. Fortunately Juve had slipped into defensive mode and Krasic was eventually taken off.
Boateng shows great composure on the ball, even if some of his first time passing was wayward. The most exciting part of his game is the sweeping long balls that change the angle of play. This is a new dimension to our game and bodes well for adding much needed variation to our attack.
On one occasion Boateng sprinted back to take the ball off Del Piero as he threatened to break free. Pace is another valuable quality to his game along with good timing of tackles. Once Mancini tightens up his defending, Jerome should be a real asset.
With both teams recognizing they are the strongest in the group, a draw was a diplomatic result. Having won away at Salzburg, City now need to negotiate the next two fixtures against Poznan to position themselves for qualification. If Juve do the business in their subsequent fixtures, then a draw in Turin will be no surprise.
The satisfying thing for City is that we are now considered on an equal footing to the established European sides. That’s quite an achievement already, and we are only going to get stronger.