Thursday night`s on ITV1 had finally arrived in the shape of the Europa cup and it seemed City had drawn the short straw facing the current holders Porto away from home in a stadium that Porto had been unbeaten at all season.
The Porto side was full of strength with players such as Maicon, Moutinho, Gonzalez and Hulk and were not to be taken lightly. With this in mind Mancini changed his squad and set up from the one that beat Villa on Sunday, with Yaya Toure and Balotelli coming back into the side as City set up with one man up front and the familiar attacking three of earlier in the season. The team sheet read as follows: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, De Jong, Barry, Silva, Yaya, Nasri and Balotelli. On the bench were: Pantillimon, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, Pizarro, Dzeko and Aguero.
City lost the toss and Porto kicked off the match playing right to left. City though, were soon in possession of the ball and from early on in the game, the Porto players seemed to dive at every opportunity.
The opening five minutes had a similar story as City prodded and probed only for their play to be broken up by a foul. Whilst in possession, the Porto players would look for a free kick at every opportunity, diving at the merest hint of a challenge.
On the stroke of seven minutes the first glimmer of class from City after Silva wrong footed his marker near the opposition centre circle and played a lovely weighted ball between centre half and full back for Yaya to run onto. The resultant shot was blocked, but it was a lovely bit of skill.
Porto started to come into the game around the ninth minute as they enjoyed a spell of possession, moving the ball around neatly attacking with everyone but the full backs. City were showing great concentration marking up well and winning the ball with ease. The way Porto were attacking, it looked like there could be goals in this game.
Porto were pressing City very high up the pitch which could possibly leave them open to counter attack. As long as the defensive players were up to scratch, the attackers should get plenty of chances.
First corner of the game came on the fourteenth minute and was awarded to Porto. City were caught napping by a short corner which if not for the intervention of Clichy`s boot, may well have been in the back of City`s net.
The Portuguese side were enjoying the better of the opening fifteen minutes and were playing most of their football in the City half. It was true Joe Hart hadn`t yet been tested, but one mistake and it could be trouble for the Blues.
First yellow of the game came unsurprisingly to a Porto player as Toure went on one of his trademark runs. He burst past two players and the third, the full back Danilo brought him crashing to the ground with a late tackle. Yaya was unhurt, but the Porto player seemed badly injured in the tackle and was stretchered off the pitch. The resultant free kick was played long and seemed an easy catch for the keeper, who fumbled the ball. City nearly capitalised but ended up with a corner which Porto dealt with.
In the 21st minute, City nearly scored when Nasri broke past Maicon and unleashed a great shot which the keeper did well to parry round the post. City`s corner was poor and Porto broke with great pace and looked equally as dangerous on the break as City did.
First yellow of the game for City was given to Yaya after he was crowded out by three players. As he lost the ball he pressurised the Porto player who went down holding his leg in agony. After a little look to see the referees reaction, the player continued to roll around until the card came out. Speaks volumes when a team uses tactics like this to try and win a game.
First goal of the game came out of nothing. A quick break on the left and a cross that Kompany should have stopped was in put low into the City six yard box. Varela lost Clichy and put the ball under Hart to make it 1-0 to the home side.
Within seconds of that, Balotelli had the chance to draw City equal, but his shot was easily saved by the Porto keeper. City were once again being profligate in front of goal. They were creating enough chances, but just weren`t converting them.
In the thirty forth minute after a poor foul on Richards was missed by the ref, Nasri left Moutihno writhing in agony after he caught the Porto player on his follow through. When play resumed and the Porto player had miraculously recovered City once again went looking for a vital goal.
It was Porto though that were looking the more likely team, as with each City attack, a Porto player managed to break up play and counter attack with pace.
With four minutes of the first half left, Clichy found himself in space on the left. He floated an inviting cross into the box which just eluded the advancing Balotelli. City then earnt a free kick on their right side just by the penalty box after a Porto handball. But as with the rest of the half, Porto dealt with the ins-winging Silva ball.
The first half must have been frustrating for Mancini as Hart had not had a save to make barring the Porto goal and the Porto keeper had a string of fine saves to his name as City counter attacked well. If anything was wrong with the City play it was that Balotelli was being left isolated up front at times as none of the other attackers offered support in the box.
The second half kicked off with no changes coming from either side. Could Porto keep up the incredible pressing game that had kept City for the most part on the back foot or could Mancini`s charges find that extra gear and get that all important away goal?
City kicked off the half and looked to attack early using the pace of Balotelli as Silva twice played balls over the top for him to run onto. Neither were successful and the half started as the other ended, littered with fouls and players rolling around in apparent agony.
On the stroke of 49 minutes, City put a wonderful move together, playing pass after pass until Silva, on the edge of the Porto box spotted the run of Richards. His cheeky flick found the City full back who beat the full back to the ball and struck a great shot which cannoned back off the post. City`s best move of the game.
The opening seven minutes of the second half were dominated by City as they maintained possession and worked the ball across the pitch in a much more progressive style than they had in the first half.
Next yellow card of the game went to Pereira of Porto for a hand into the face of Balotelli. With the next kick of the game, the ball was in the back of the Porto net. The free kick awarded to City was played long toward Balotelli, but it was Pereira who under pressure, headed the ball into his own net. City had that all important away goal. Could they go one better and take all three points?
In the 58th minute, Kompany went into the ref`s book after winning the ball on the ground with a solid challenge. The Porto player actually screamed as he went down but miraculously recovered when the card came out. Up stepped Hulk, but now it was De Jong`s turn to go into the book for infringement. Hulk stepped up again and hit a magnificent swerving shot which saw Hart scrambling to punch the ball out for a corner. .
Two minutes later and it was Barry in the book again for a late but soft challenge which saw the Porto recipient downed like a shot of rum on a Saturday night. Once again we saw a miraculous recovery once the card came out. I wouldn`t have been surprised if the pope ordained the referees yellow card for the miraculous healing qualities it appeared to have.
After the succession of yellows, Porto started to show more self-belief and were enjoying more of the ball than they had in the opening fifteen minutes.
In the 68th minute after a gentle tug by De Jong, Hulk went down holding his face as if punched. The ref blew immediately for a free kick to Porto and this time without the might of the yellow healing card, Hulk got up and took the free kick. Hart gathered the ball easily and earnt a free kick in the process.
The dynamics of the game had changed now as Porto seemed to have become frustrated and were playing with almost too much urgency, whilst City were playing a patient build up game and enjoying a lot more possession.
On 74 minutes Nasri became the fifth City player in the book and this time it was deserved after he clipped Hulk`s heels when the big man went past him. Hulk`s reaction was once again pathetic as he rolled around as if seriously hurt, again with one eye on the ref.
The first substitution of the night was made by Porto in the 76th minute as Varela was replaced by Kleber as one Brazilian replaced another.
A minute later and City made a change as Balotelli was replaced by Aguero as Argentinian replaced Italian!
With ten minutes left of the match, it was City that seemed to become the dominant force in the game as the Portuguese side appeared to run out of ideas. The game was being played with tempers flaring as the City players became annoyed with the diving and cheating of Porto`s players.
City`s next substitution took place in the 82nd minute as Kolarov replaced Silva. It looked like Mancini wanted to shut up shop. Strangely though, it was City that were pressing the game and it was through pressing that they took the lead in the 84th minute. Yaya won the ball in the final third on City`s left. He broke into the box and played a square ball for Kun Aguero who side footed into an empty net. 2-1 to the Blues against the tournament favourites and a team that had been unbeaten at home in Europe since 2008.
Final substitution of the game for City came with two minutes to go and it was Zabaleta who replaced Nasri. Porto also replaced Mangala with Dafour. This was now into nail biting time. City had four full backs and two centre halves on the pitch and it looked like they would die for the cause as the clock ticked down.
I don`t know what Mancini said to his charges at half time, but this truly was a game of two halves. The first dominated by Porto`s pressing play and rapid counter attacking. The second dominated almost totally by City who passed the ball patiently looking for the openings and found them they did. The home side seemed to run out of steam and ideas and City just grew and grew. A great result by the Premier League leaders.
Joe Hart – 8
His kicking was excellent tonight and he almost saved the goal from an impossible position. Looked reliable on crosses and corners.
Micah Richards – 8
Had an excellent game tonight and his attacking runs were things of beauty.
Vincent Kompany – 8
Solid in the air and on the ground. Unfairly booked for a good challenge.
Joleon Lescott – 8
Looked back to his best after a couple of errors in previous games. Beat Hulk a number of times in one on one races.
Gael Clichy – 8
Looked good going forward and put in some nice crosses.
Gareth Barry – 8.5
Another great game by City’s unsung hero as he rarely put a foot wrong.
Nigel De Jong – 8
Did give the ball away once or twice but looked better than in his last game. Put in some good challenges.
David Silva – 8.5
Made the game look easy. Played some unbelievable passes and was once again playing like a magician.
Yaya Toure – 8.5
Considering he hasn’t played for City for a while he looked amazing. Went on some of his trademark runs and was unlucky not to have a goal and set up Aguero’s winner. What a player.
Samir Nasri – 7.5
Linked up play well and rarely gave the ball away.
Mario Balotelli – 8
Created the first goal by putting the defender under pressure. Was racially abused by certain members of the crowd but kept his cool and played well.
Sergio Aguero – 8
Scored a goal within ten minutes of coming on. Looked quick sharp and potent.
Aleksander Kolarov –
Too late to mark.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 8.5
What a win at a stadium that hadn’t seen a home loss in Europe for four years. Put’s his team in the driving seat for the home time. Wow!