One of the most positive aspects of the current season for Manchester City fans has been the team’s improved, confident play outside the City of Manchester. Such has been City’s form of late fans might have hoped prior to kickoff Monday night that the dry, lifeless away performances of last season would soon be forgotten. However, as play began at Villa Park, City hearts sank and stomachs felt queasy as the recognition set in that it would be one of those away nights.
Theme of the match: City looking lifeless in attack, and shaky at the back. Tevez and Wright-Phillips were manhandled by the Villa defense. Mike Dean was unwilling to disrupt play with numerous foul calls, so Villa had free rein to eliminate the threat of City forwards with the ball backs to goal by just toppling them over. De Jong was the only City player to reciprocate to the full extent of the freedom allowed by Mr. Dean, and though he received a yellow card for it, De Jong’s devastating tackle on Young was one of the better moments of the match for City.
Adebayor, one of the most dangerous attackers in the league, barely had a touch. Villa was only facing a draw as their forwards did pitifully little with the opportunities they were given. Pretty much the entire match they controlled the wings, especially their left/City’s right. Zabaleta, who was supposedly brought in for defensive purposes, did his best imitation of the worst qualities of Micah Richards, whose failings he was supposed to remedy. He spent all of his effort going forward, past Wright-Phillips, and then had to run back to catch up to Villa’s counters, and was so far out that for much of the opening period Wright-Phillips was City’s right back.
Part of the problem City faced with a discombobulated team shape was due to the fact that the match featured lots of wingers, but more of this was due to Barry being distinctly not up for this performance. He was worked consistently by Dunne on set pieces, once for the 15th minute goal, and another time for a headed shot Dunne sent wide. He was not the force that Citizens have grown accustomed to this season, sitting in front of De Jong but behind the forwards, setting up the goals and occasionally winning balls. And perhaps City can take comfort in the fact that Barry’s (fervently booed) performance here was unique and if he plays at his normal level City will not be this flat any time soon. City cannot, however, take too much heart from Ireland’s performance for while he set up the 67th minute Bellamy goal along with Adebayor he also wasted a lot of possession and instead of driving forward at the very end he did his best to pass to Villa for a late winner.
However, it is impossible to overstate the role Bellamy has played, both mentally and athletically, in keeping this team together, and he played again like a British-record signing, the left-sided forward City wanted to set pitches alight, and his finishing ensured that what might have been a typical 1-0 away loss became a respectable 1-1 away draw (against a team that whooped City at the beginning of last season) and took City into the top four of the Barclay’s Premier League.
Typical top-shelf reflex saves, can’t fix poor man-marking on set pieces but maybe he’ll need to start punching more on crosses.
Good defensively when he stays back, does not have enough pace to get back if he gets caught forward and Villa played to his side often.
No goals allowed besides Dunne’s, but shares fault for defense’s amicability toward Villa’s offensive movements and corners allowed.
Didn’t do too much wrong but like Lescott was not without mistakes.
Definite improvement from previous matches, solid passing, solid going forward but didn’t linger.
De Jong 7
A bruising force, I loved his clattering tackles on Young and others. Taken out for Ireland for tactical purposes.
Hard to fault the guy for a disappointing performance in front of his old fans, but definitely can and does do better.
Lots of work, lots of smooth working of defenders, but why so many poor crosses, and why the bad touch in the box?
Hard to find room to criticize, as he gives his all and he’s generally very good. However, responsible for several bad passes which ended promising attacks.
Great work from him in the classic left-winger mold, finished off attack for the only City goal. Only criticism: why does he, like seemingly everyone on this team, send in so many low crosses?
No service meant no touches. Almost made something happen the few times a ball was sent his way, and helped for the goal, but largely anonymous.
Set up goal, but wasteful and bizarre play towards the end.
Santa Cruz 5
Why does Hughes sub him for Tevez, it seems not his role.
Poor. I am a huge Hughes backer, but he made some bad decisions and needs to correct several problems. Number one, How can we be a threat in the air if every corner and cross goes right into the body of the first defender in line? And number two, where is Petrov? He has been nothing but excellent of late, whereas Wright-Phillips and Ireland have not. Play 4-4-2, with Bellers and Ade up top, Petrov out left, Tevez out right, and there you go.