Date: 2nd September 2012 at 11:46am
Written by:

As the sun shone around the Etihad plazas yesterday a warm welcome was assured for all concerned for yesterday`s match where City entertained QPR with memories still fresh from their last memorable encounter. Was it only 110 days ago?

Early arrivers refreshed their memories in City Square where a display of photographic imagery depicts the trials and tribulations of 13 May 2012, but the general feeling was that it couldn`t happen like that again.

Home sections were full to capacity but once again the visitors area was more or less deserted at Level One with QPR, similar to Southampton two weeks ago, elected to take the full allocation of 2800, only to sell 1200, but not in any kind of structure that could have left additional seats available to satisfy the growing demands of City fans and the new breed of football tourists that have now established the Etihad Stadium firmly in their sights.

During the transfer window, Mark Hughes has presided over the acquisition of almost an entire team and, of course, went nuts on the last day, finally getting some of his wishes, having already missed out on others, with five new footballers arriving on campus.

And so to football?City got into their stride quickly as QPR spent the first fifteen minutes playing “getting to know you” without the ball. Silva was playing much down the right and moving the ball around in a fashion that was absent at Liverpool last week and with Yaya and Rodwell looking tidy, the Blue Tide looked to be in full flow.

Chances had already been accumulating for City by the time that Tevez gymnastic volley from Silva`s inswinging corner was pushed away by Green only to find Yaya Toure twelve yards out and unmarked. Yaya thundered the ball into the net to give City a goal that they deserved.

This opened the floodgates, but today the fish got caught in the keep nets and not the back of the net. Virtually everyone could have scored at some point in the rest of the first half especially Silva and Nasri and Tevez, but for once Green had some luck with him rather that what he has endured so far since his move to QPR.

City pressed QPR deep into their own half but had another day of Arsenal disease trying to play one pass too many rather than despatch the ball into the net at “le moment juste”.

Stretford loanee Fabio stretched here and blocked there to keep his adopted side in the match, as did Ferdinand and Nelsen. New signing, Granero and Park were forced deeper and deeper and unable to impose anything in midfield. Our old hero SWP, warmly welcomed, as usual by the Etihad faithful , got some joy down Kolarov`s side but was often unsupported as Zamora and Johnson found themselves stranded upfield.

It was surprising that this game was not done and dusted by half time. QPR had worked hard to stay in it and profligacy in front of goal cost City a landslide and forced them into another 45 minutes of endeavour. And endeavour it was. Lescott had endured one scary moment of insecurity in the first half and then became a bit shaky as Rangers at last made some inroads into City. Granero and SWP finally found some link play and put Zamora and Johnson into play much more than they had in the first half.

That said, it was Zabaleta who was the most unfortunate in the early exchanges of the second half. His signature surge down the right saw him cut inside and hit a curling screamer with his left foot that left the defence for dead but rebounded of the bar with Green totally stranded.

This piece of fortune seemed to perk Rangers up and they at last started to put something together and in the first major foray Zamora nodded over from a chance he would normally have taken. Zamora had spotted that Kolarov was slow getting back, was not always aware of his surrounding and often seen flat-footed and ball watching in the box.

Ahead of the hour Silva needlessly surrender the ball midway into the City half and the veteran Johnson was on it in a flash. He had time to look around before Zabaleta got back and Kompany came out but his shot on goal was deflected. It did however catch Hart by surprise and his reverse parry found Zamora lurking in a space left by Kolarov`s ineffective covering, to gleefully drill home the equaliser.

The match was taking on the look of last May as City`s nerves jangled, Lescott became untidy and uncertain, Kolarov still getting caught out of position, leaving Kompany and Zabaleta at full stretch with no real cover from the men in the middle. With de Jong gone and Barry injured there is no real cover for them, or nobody able to do the “dirty jobs” and Rangers started to take advantage of that.

However their parity on this occasion only lasted three minutes. A more urgent attack from City saw Tevez once again chased a lost cause in the inside left channel, but he was fully away of the location of Dzeko as he hooked in an unlikely cross right on the Bosnian button for Edin to head in for 2-1.

Dzeko had not had the best of this match but you always had the feeling he would get one and he duly obliged here with a neat header that was too good for the cover.

Still the Rs wouldn`t let go. The pushed and harassed, forced errors and created chances which more accomplished strikers might have accepted. So Roberto introduced a new tactic that left the seating decks scratching their heads. He introduced Kolo as a third centre back. It took him another seven minutes of harem-scarem defending to realise that there was no wing back on the right because he had withdrawn Zabaleta! Quick cue for Milner, slow exit for Silva.

Milner`s newly introduced energy finally added some beef to the right side and with Kolarov detailed to push further forward to keep him out of harm`s way, City started to look more comfortable. But Red Ref Chris Foy clearly wanted City to endure as much discomfort as possible as once again five minutes stoppage time was signalled.

Once again it seemed to galvanise City as once again one or two players wriggled out of the shackles. Tevez trying to get between the lines, found the doors tightening and was forced to play back to Yaya who had spotted Dzeko intelligently pulling to the right to stretch the back line. A neat pass found him just about open and with time to measure up a shot. His attempted effort to curl it inside the far post lacked strength and pace, but Tevez had continued his run, confused the defence by getting offside and then back on before diverting Dzeko`s shot into the net with a surgeon`s precision.

At last the sigh of relief engulfed the Stadium as the blues could head for the exits and for their heart pills.

This was another tricky encounter in what is proving to be a tricky season. There is no doubt that all the teams in the Premier League are getting stronger and with the economic uncertainty around Europe established players and those of potential are heading to England to ply their trade and ensure they get paid. And QPR are no different, although most of their later signings had to watch like the rest of us.

Last season the solidity of the defensive line was the foundation upon which the title was secured, ably shielded by Barry and Yaya with their stick or twist philosophy. Not only did this deter would-be attacks on the City goal but it was also the platform from which the waves of attack were launched. Rodwell will need to settle into that role, whereas I suspect that Garica will be ready-made for it.

The line-up was essentially a derivative of 4-4-2 but it was mainly that supposed fluid looking 3-5-2 with the fourth defender joining the midfield. Missing though was the defensive line shield designed to pick up on the not so glamorous jobs. In two words Gareth Barry.

Yaya was forced to help out Rodwell and still create havoc, leaving Silva often alone on the right of the midfield and on occasion without the inside option. Nasri had an in and out time of it often guilty of the one-extra pass as the goal gaped. Dzeko looked a bit leaden footed early on but grew into the match to the extent that he nicked a vital goal. Kolarov put in some robust tackles but was caught watching as Zamora equalised for Rangers, and on at couple more occasions.

The accomplishment once again came from Argentina with Zabaleta as hard and tidy as ever and Tevez as industrious as ever, setting up two goals and scoring the other.

No doubt there will be much more experimentation as Mancini beds in his new acquisitions over the next few weeks and I suspect he will not herald in an International Week when he wants to get working with his new boys, but hopefully when we next get to league football maybe Barry will be knocking on the door to add the much-needed steel to the midfield so that everyone else can get down to the business of getting the scoreboard moving early and getting the three points in the bag as quickly as possible. I can`t help feeling that Aguero would have got a bagful yesterday!

The back line needs to tidy itself up. It has moved from the best in the country to one that looks in turmoil and this can only be down to the new tactics and them not knowing who is where and when. This forces Lescott to be stretched and therefore nervous and forces Kompany to be less imperious.

all times East Manchester

Sa 15 Sep 15h00 Stoke, The Britannia Stadium, PL
Tu 18 Sep 19h45 Real Madrid, The Bernabeu, CL
Su 23 Sep 16h00 Arsenal, The Etihad, PL
TBC Aston Villa, The Etihad, LC3
Sa 29 Sep 15h00 Fulham, Craven Cottage, PL
We 03 Oct 19h45 Borussia Dortmund, The Etihad, PL
Sa 06 Oct 12h45 Sunderland, The Etihad, PL
Sa 20 Oct 15h00 West Brom, The Hawthorns, PL
We 24 Oct 19h45 Ajax, Amsterdam Arena, CL
Sa 27 Oct 17h30 Swansea City, The Etihad, PL