Verdict: Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester City 1
Goal: Dzeko 75 mins for City.
Edin Dzeko was the hero after coming off the bench to score the only goal with virtually his first touch against a Blackburn side who ultimately proved stronger opponents than many had anticipated. The result increases the likelihood of a Champions League place with the lead over Spurs extended to four points.
It was no surprise to see Roberto Mancini stick with the side which defeated United, and City made a point of starting the game strongly. We completely dominated possession and David Platt confirmed afterwards that the manager had wanted to avoid a repeat of the opening at Anfield.
Confidence was coursing through the side and we nearly went ahead after three minutes when a David Silva shot struck the inside of the post. It felt like only a matter of time before we would score.
It wasn’t to be and it’s worth looking at why. Balotelli rarely received any decent service and this ought to be a concern for Mancini. It’s not as though Mario wasn’t making any decent runs or attempting to get free from markers. He does.
Mancini’s preferred style is the steady build-up, where we control possession in the midfield and move the ball around until an opening is engineered. This suits Tevez who can bustle through with a neat exchange of passes and snaffle a goal.
With Mario we need to utilise his pace, get the ball forward quicker and make more of his ability to get beyond defenders. Our failure to test Paul Robinson eventually gave Blackburn the confidence to try and establish a foothold in the game.
With two mobile front men in Benjani and Roberts, the match became an interesting contrast of styles – our patient approach play versus their direct balls into the channels and over the top. During the second half, Rovers approach was looking increasingly dangerous, while we were struggling to create genuine openings.
After initially looking very comfortable in the absence of Carlos Tevez, this increasingly came to resemble the kind of scrappy game where the captain would drag us through with a goal. In the event Dzeko did the job, but the performance in the second half was unsatisfactory.
Dzeko’s hold up play after scoring again let him down. The worst was when he came back onto pitch after receiving treatment. Hart cleared the ball in his direction to relieve the pressure and he conceded an utterly needless handball, with no-one around him. Even if he’d let the ball go out of play for a throw-in we would have been better off.
If Tevez does go, then there is no-one at present who can lead the line and carry us through games. Drogba has done a similar job for Chelsea, particularly during the Mourinho era, and such players are hard to come by.
Blackburn reverted to their Sam Allardyce ways as the game wore on, and we stood up to the challenge well. Mancini has certainly learnt from the troubles he had against Stoke last season. Joe Hart showed good judgement in when to come and catch the ball. Kompany and Lescott are both big enough to deal with the high balls, and at set pieces we could call on Yaya, Dzeko, Vieira and Boyata. Kolarov is also 6 foot.
The clean sheet here bodes well for both the Cup Final and league game against Stoke.
However there is a concern regarding Hart’s distribution. After gathering the ball at a corner or free-kick he often runs to the edge of the box looking for a quick release, doesn’t see one and gets frustrated. Then comes a long kick that too often either goes into touch or straight to an opponent.
Work needs to be done on the training ground to improve this. Either Johnson, Silva or Kolarov should look to receive the ball and carry it forward before releasing Balotelli, as Gerrard used to release Torres in Benitez’s Liverpool.
For the second game in succession we successfully closed a game out and this is where Mancini is proving his worth. In many ways this was a United style result – lacking fluency, but keeping it tight at the back before hitting opponents with a clinical finish.
Mancini’s City have rarely come up with late winners and when it happens it’s a sweet feeling. The value of the points seems all the greater.
“It was a very big win, especially as it was away from home, because at this stage every game is difficult. In the first half we played some great football and should have scored two goals.
“We scored in the second half when we had some problems because Blackburn played long ball.
“Sometimes a top squad needs to find different ways to win and that’s what we did.”
The league table now looks a lot healthier thanks to the continuing stutters of Spurs. They visit Chelsea this weekend while we’re at home to West Ham. Increasing the cushion would be welcome before we head to Goodison.
With Chelsea hitting form, overhauling Arsenal is now our best chance of securing third place, and avoiding a Champions League qualifier. If Wenger’s side lose to United at the weekend, then who knows how they’ll peform in their remaining games.
With Dzeko having broken his duck in the league, it’s to be hoped there’s more to come. Any goals scored now increasingly look like they could be taking us into the Champions League.