This is the first test for Mancini`s men of facing the rigours of high level Champion`s League football midweek followed by a Premier League game at the weekend. As they visit Fulham the Blues know that if they are to have any chance of winning the Title this season, it is games like this where they must pick up points. The stats support City who have not lost in their last five visits to Craven Cottage and this term have scored fifteen goals in comparison to Fulham`s poor return of two.
With a win in mind, Mancini brought back what appears to be his League ‘A` team as Richards and Clichy returned at full back and Dzeko returned to the attacking line up with Tevez finding himself relegated back to bench warming. The team in full read: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure, Barry, Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Dzeko.
City kicked off right to left and instantly pressed the attack. If they won today it would be their best run of form for ninety nine years.
First mistake by City came on four minutes when Kompany fluffed a simple back header to Hart and put the ball out of play for a corner. The defence dealt with the inswinging ball with ease and City were quickly on the attack. Clichy, Richards and Toure were constantly foraging into the opposition half as the Blues sought to stamp their authority on the game. .
On six minutes Nasri found Dzeko on the edge of the Fulham box. They played a neat one two and Dzeko was clean through on goal, but had moved a shade early and strayed into an offside position.
Three minutes later and Richards found Silva on the right side of midfield. Silva broke with pace and played a cross-field pass to Nasri. Nasri continued toward the Fulham box and played a slide rule pass back to Silva who shot low and just wide. The whole move took only seconds and looked truly amazing .
City earnt a free kick on the left side of defence after Clichy had been injured on the fifteen minute mark. Hart stepped up to take it a long way from goal and mis-kicked straight to a Fulham player. City were very lucky that Fulham failed to take advantage of this guilt edged chance. .
On the seventeen minute mark, City started to build up play on the right. Richards found Dzeko who had drifted wide. Dzeko played the ball across the eighteen yard line to Silva. Silva looked up and saw Aguero running through between the two Fulham centre halves. One pin point pass and Aguero had the goal beckoning and only the keeper to beat. He opened his body up and stroked the ball into the net. One nil City.
City nearly had another goal seven minutes later when Nasri now on the right found Aguero. Aguero crossed a lovely ball toward Dzeko, now in the centre. Dzeko went up with the keeper and forced a fumble. Luckily for Fulham Kelly was on hand to clear. City were definitely starting to purr. The pace and accuracy of the passing in the Fulham half was world class. Full of imagination, vim and vigour. .
Dzeko nearly scored on the twenty seven minute mark when Clichy found Silva running through between the ful back and centre half. Silva jinked between two players and cut the ball back to Dzeko on the penalty spot. Dzeko struck the ball almost two well and the ball beat both keeper and cross bar. The chances were coming thick and fast for City.
Toure was at the end of a nasty stud rake by Danny Murphy on thirty six minutes. The ref completely missed the incident and Murphy was lucky to have not received a card. .
Two minutes later and it was City in the shape of Nasri who were the offenders as Sidwell was blocked off at the edge of the box. The ref raised his arm to signal an indirect free kick. City were quick in charging the ball down and seconds later had earnt a corner at the other end of the pitch.
As half time approached City were firmly in control of the game but hadn`t turned the possession or control into as many goals as they should, Similar to the first half against Napoli. Hopefully the coaching staff could help them improve upon this in the second half. To draw on the positives, City enjoyed nearly seventy per cent possession and looked unlikely to concede a goal as Hart had little to do.
As the second half kicked off there were no changes to either side. Dzeko started on the right. The ball was pulled back to Clichy who played a long cross field pass which was met by the head of Dzeko. The ball fell neatly to the feet of the advancing Aguero who took one touch on the edge of the Fulham box and struck a curling shot to his left, past the keeper to make it two nil. Ten seconds from start to finish.
It was nearly three nil and a hat trick to Aguero when Dzeko once again fed the ball through to Aguero. On this occasion though, the linesman`s flag was raised to signal offside.
City were looking a dominant force as Fulham dropped deeper and deeper. The possession game was filling Fulham with nerves and they were allowing Aguero and Dzeko too much of the ball.
On fifty five minutes, against the run of play, Barry lost his man in midfield and Kompany was stood too far from Zamora. The ball found Zamora who turned on the spot and unleashed a snap shot which beat Hart and bulged the City net. Two one and Fulham had their dander up.
The Fulham fans had found their voice and were cheering on their team. Each time a Fulham player was on the ball the sound was intense and loud.
Just past the sixty minute mark the first yellow card of the day was issued to Barry as he came across the Fulham player and although he appeared to get the ball, the referee adjudged Barry to have taken the man first.
Hart was forced into a drastic save only seconds later as the Fulham number ten was afforded far too much room on the edge of the City box. The shot looked an almost certain goal until Hart`s intervention.
Fulham seemed to have gone up two or three gears as they increased their possession and penetration and the mighty City defence began to creak.
Hart was called upon again to save a point blank save from a bullet header after City had conceded a corner. Mancini would appear to have had enough of the lack of bite City had had in their midfield since scoring so early in the second half and readied Zabaleta to enter the fray for David Silva. A brave move that could easily back fire should Fulham score a second. Silva looked bewildered. This was back to the formation that City played against Fulham last year.
It was City that were now sitting deeper and deeper and Fulham that were creating chance after chance. It was Riise who nearly scored next for Fulham after making an overlapping run that Richards failed to follow. His shot though was high and wide.
Seventy four minutes in and with a little help from the ref Fulham had equalised. The ball was played out to Dzeko who was poleaxed from behind. No free kick was given as the ball was played through to the Fulham striker. Hart appeared to have had the shot covered, but a wicked deflection sent the ball the opposite way into the City net. Two all.
With ten minutes to go Mancini was forced into another substitution as Johnson came on for Nasri as City went searching for the all-important goal that would earn them the three points. Two minutes later and Tevez replaced his compatriot Aguero. .
City`s passing game had disappeared and was replaced by a miss-passing game as they continuously misplaced passes and found White instead of Blue shirts. Time was running out for Mancini`s charges and they seemed to become increasingly frustrated. A far cry from the well-oiled machine that had performed so well in the first half.
There was definitely a lesson to be learnt here as City gave away a two goal lead despite having the lion`s share of possession. Mancini`s defensive substitution backfired on him as City were left with a lack of width and creativity and an inability to regain the impetus they had so easily lost. This was most certainly a case of two points lost rather than one point gained.
Joe Hart – 7
Made some good saves and beaten by a wicked deflection for the equalising goal. Inexplicable mistake from a free kick nearly cost City in the first half.
Micah Richards – 7
Wasn’t covering for Fulham’s first goal but did make some great runs down the right side. Was unlucky not to set up a goal.
Vincent Kompany – 7
Lost his man for Fulham’s first goal. Other than that didn’t have a bad game. Is definitely not looking as good as he did last season.
Joleon Lescott – 7
May have been at fault for Fulham’s equaliser as was too far from the player that scored. Other than that was as consistent as usual.
Gael Clichy – 7
Got forward well but his crossing wasn’t up to par today. Was wasteful in the second of and his selection of pass or shot was often wrong.
Yaya Toure – 6.5
Was not as dynamic as in previous games. Didn’t muscle the midfield as we have become accustomed.Left the defense exposed at times.
Gareth Barry – 6.5
Didn’t have the best of games and got caught out of position a number of times. Also guilty of leaving the defense exposed. Initially lost the player involved in the build up of Fulham’s first goal.
Samir Nasri – 7.0
Played well in the first half as a fluid member of the attacking midfield trio. Disappeared in the second.
David Silva – 7.5
Was bemused when substituted as he was far better than Nasri
articularly in the second half.
Edin Dzeko – 7.0
Held up the ball well and was involved in all that City did well in the first half. Almost certainly deserved a free kick when fouled just before Fulham’s second. Set up City’s second goal and had a hand in the build up for the first.
Sergio Aguero – 8
Two goals and could have had three. A wonderful addition to the City squad and forming a great relationship with Dzeko.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6
Asked to play in defensive midfield and didn’t look comfortable. Not quick enough to get back and his forward passing was wayward.
Adam Johnson – 6
Had little if any impact on the game when he came on. Looked reticent to cross and kept cutting inside then giving the ball away.
Again had little impact when he came on and looked strangely reminiscent of the Amish people with his new beard.
Roberto Mancini – 6
Lost two vital points today by making a panicked substitution which stifled City’s creativity and damaged their chances of regaining the three points after Fulham had equalised.
Martin Jol – 7.5
Had his players really fired up for the second half even after conceding a second so early. Let’s face it Fulham had been pretty rubbish for the first forty five but looked a different prospect after the break.