Date: 25th February 2011 at 12:08pm
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One of the most amazing experiences ever at Eastlands last night witnessed an attack-minded Mancini selection effectively take brave Aris apart.

The Greeks came in their thousands bedecked in bright yellow an illuminating the South Stand in a way never seen before. They danced, leapt and sang their hearts out for more than ninety minutes, never once flagging in their fervent support of their team. But sadly for them they were unable to influence the result.

With Level 3 West embarrassingly empty our Greek counterparts showed us how it was done off the field, even at a cost of 695 euros each.

On the field though was a different story. With resources depleted by injury Mancini sent out the most attacking line-up seen since his tenure began. Big-money-guns Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli were all paraded and the dividends paid off within the first 12 minutes when the tie was put to bed.

After 7 minutes Dzeko latched on to an error by Lazaridis and planted a right foot shot into the bottom corner. Five minutes later a dream of a move involving Silva (who else?) and Tevez saw Dzeko cut inside and hit a left foot shot into the same corner. Sifakis didn’t have a prayer.

Did that deter the yellow peril in the South Stand. Not likely. If anything it spurred them on. Their songs rang out into the night as Eastlands braced itself for an avalanche of goals.

That the goals did not come was as much a credit to some brave defending as City’s profligacy in front of goal. Dzeko could have had five and should have taken the ball home after beating the offisde trap but getting the ball caught under his feet as he homed in on goal enabling the keeper and a defender to save the day.

Balotelli hit the post in the second half following a move and shot that was once again a dream and deserved to go in and Tevez was at his inspiring best prompting and opening up the defecne without getting close enough to add to the 50 goals shown on the scoreboards on the lead-in to the match.

The only bad news was the loss of cente-back colossus Vincent Kompany seemingly with a hip injury on the half hour. He would indeed be a sad loss if out for any length of time. The upside was that it gave Boateng more time at centre back, for me his best position. Boateng is deceptively quick to cover ground and gets in some well-timed tackles in key areas.

In the midfield Yaya tried to play like a quarterback, moving the ball more quickly than usual to his wide receivers and Silva was in a world all of his own with his masterclass of bewlidering passes and slide rule injections into damaging areas. Barry did the donkey work and had one of his best games for a while.

If the Aris army lit up the stands, Silva, Tevez, Balotelli and Dzeko lit up the field with movement, goals and at times a consistent level of quality keep ball. Macini bemoans the fact that they took their foot off the gas and let Aris have a sniff but the result was never in doubt especially when Yaya hit one from about 30 yards after 75 minutes and ended the Aris story on the field but never in a million years off it.

This was an accomplished Europa League performance but more than this will be needed for the visits to and of Dinamo Kyiv who executed Besiktas 8-1 on aggregate. The big names are still in this competition (oh…and Rangers) and as we head into the last 16 this looks the most lively Europa League/UEFA Cup effort for some time. Yes, some of the teams will clearly eliminate others and the pennies could fall into the slots as the business end approaches, but we need to be assured against Kyiv, home and away.

There is considerable threat from Russia, Holland and Portugal although it was sad to see our good friends from Poznan head for the exit door as our fans continue to share the delights of their goal celebrations.

What was most encouraging that in having to shuffle his pack considerably, Mancini delivered another line-up that did the job and this looks good going forward.

I’m glad Dzeko got a couple, his confidence should start to soar, but he does need to sort out 1-2-1s when clean through. Tevez always draws the ball to one side then wrong foots the keeper, Dzeko has twice run straight at the keeper looking for a chance to offload rather than take the responsibility and hit the back of the net. What he has shown though is that he can get clear and generate problems for defenders. In other matches he will find Richards and Johnson in support, as well as Tevez and Silva. I suspect though we’d like to see Balotelli make the runs and get himself open and get amongst the goals.

Fulham, next and Hughesie will be keen to pit his wits against his replacement on home soil…..be part of it!!!

Finally a big ‘get well soon’ to Gunnar Nielsen and Tom Smith who endured broken legs in Wednesday’s EDS match against Bolton. Two great lads, both doing well. I hope their progress is not interrupted too much.

 

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