Date: 19th August 2012 at 9:39pm
Written by:

After Saturday’s fixtures being bathed in sunshine, it just had to rain, didn’t it, as City began their title defence at the Etihad this afternoon. Newly-promoted Southampton were the visitors and as the home areas bursted at the seams, once again an over-ambitious Saints insisted on taking their full allocation of 2800 tickets and only sold around 2000. Not for them to sell then in the suggested sequence, which would have left an additional block for disappointed Blues fans, but to sell them in random fashion leaving huge gaps in the upper reaches of Level One.

I do not like Southampton. I have never forgiven them for their antics on the last day at Maine Road, where once again they insisted on receiving 3000-plus tickets when their history was bringing only around 250 to Maine Road. City fans will recall that City only sent them around 1100 in the Gene Kelly Stand of which they sold less than half. They then had the audacity to take City to Court and it cost us £50k. So it was pleasing that their inadequate attention to detail today meant that they had to pay in excess of £30k for unsold tickets.

And so to the field. With big scores around all over the place yesterday surely a 6-0 thrashing of a newly-promoted Club, to take City to the top of the table wasn`t out of the question..was it? The eleven starters seemed to think this would be a gift. They set off meaning business but lacked the urgency shown in the pre-season and at the end of last season.

The early stages looked predictable enough and the stage looked set for an “if we score one we’ll score half-a-dozen”. But the Saints were giving it a go and not always within the laws of the game. Quite how Clyne escaped any kind of admonishment from “Equaliser” Webb when he executed Aguero by executing a gruesome lateral tackle and potentially putting him out of work for a couple of month remains a mystery. Also how despicable is it that those ungodly creatures referred to as “scummers” by Portsmouth fans clapped, cheered and threw coins as Aguero passed the away section on a stretcher? Oh how I hope they are relegated by Christmas.

But it was no mystery when a few minutes later Tevez turned neatly on the edge of the box and Hooiveld applied the sickle to cut his feet from underneath him. Everyone wanted to take the penalty that light the fire under the new season. Tevez and particularly Nasri were in contention but although he had the ball, Nasri succumbed to the desires of Silva, whose tame shot was easily saved by Davis the Southampton goal. The magic wand looked more like Sooty and Sweep than Paul Daniels. So City missed the “One” and an endeavouring period followed to try to redress the balance

Southampton were not in the same class really, but were making a fist of it with their tireless running to cover at the back and to try to counter-attack. But sitting in the final third is a dangerous game to play against City and after a couple of chances came and went, a delicious ball from Nasri opened up the Saints back line and Tevez was off like a hare to finish emphatically and accept the adulation of a crowd that on the face of it has re-accepted him to the fold.

Saints didn’t pack up. They needed to get back in the game and at times looked lively by getting the ball forward early and then joining up from their deep positions. Time and again they got to the edge of the box but didn`t seem to carry the threat. Guly do Prado looked a handful and for me was their best player, but he couldn`t crack the nuts at the back for City.

I suspect both sides were happy to get to half time. Saints because they had limited the damage and City so they could re-group and work out how to unlock the heavy traffic in midfield.

City had started off with what looked like a 4-2-3-1 formation but this was re-designed for 3-5-2 once Dzeko entered for Aguero. The idea was that if the attack was down the right, than Clichy dropped to make up the 3, if play was with Clichy, Zabaleta dropped back. It was a bit like watching the sliding defence in Australian Rugby League. This essentially only works where one-on-one marking is tight and effective and the only true exponent of this in City`s defence is Zabaleta, who nearly always gets in a telling tackle when he has to.

The second half brought in “City time” and we thought this would provide the lift off platform. City continued to be profligate, getting in good positions but then playing the “Arsenal” pass, which was one too many and the attack broke down. It looked as though they thought they could win without trying too hard.

The rude awakening when just before the hour a “harem-scarem” piece of wild defending induced by there only being a back three, forced Lescott into a hurried clearance which found its way to substitute Lambert who drove a cross-shot past Hart and inside the far post. The away end jumped up and down as City heads jumped down.

After 65 minutes Nigel Adkins made his second inspired replacement introducing Steven Davis. City were on attack with a corner on the right. It didn`t find any City player aerially and was cleared as far as the hitherto impressive debutant, Rodwell. His sideways pass was short and Saints broke out of defence like the proverbial bat out of hell, outnumbering City 3 to 2 then 4 to 2 on the counter. For some reason Rodwell, instead of trying to shepherd his opponent towards the touchline conceded ground to the edge of City`s box where an attempted shot was blocked but found its way to Steven Davis, who again struck a neat cross-shot past Hart. This time the away tribunes went mad as They clearly thought that this was to be this weekend`s shock result.

At last City came out of their slumber. With their win bonuses in danger on non-payment, their talismanic and iconic striker on his way to hospital, the midfield output of Toure waning as we watched, City really needed to get on terms quickly and four minutes after going behind Kompany drove in from the edge of the box. The shot was blocked and found its way to Balotelli who intelligently played in Dzeko who fired in the equaliser.

Cue the onslaught. City stepped up a gear and almost immediately the best move of the match saw them flow in unison from one end to the other and from a pinpoint Toure cross Balotelli fired inches wide.

Still the Saints kept coming. You’d have thought they’d be happy with a draw, but, no. they fancied all three points. They had proved to themselves that they could exploit City at the back and had a go. For their part, City now had the bit between their teeth. Balotelli had added a new dimension and sees the starting eleven calling with Aguero`s imminent rest and it was from another neat move and link play that the ball found man-of-the-match Nasri just inside the box and he drilled home the winner in the 80th minute.

Rather than go out with a bang city seemed to settle for 3-2 and invited Saints into their parlour for the much of the last ten minutes. The defence held despite a couple of hairy scares as City were happy to get off the pitch with 3 points.

The line-up looked fluid enough to start with. Hart could do nothing about the goals, both of which were pitched carefully out of reach. Lescott seems to struggle in a back 3 like Dunne did in the Kevin Keegan days. Kompany had to be on his toes as Clichy and Zabaleta lead the wider raids.

In the midfield Yaya seemed to have missed the petrol station and looked jaded around the 70 minute mark, Rodwell until his poor pass which resulted in Saints scoring for 2-1 had an excellent match and will fit into City’s formations. He may have to some of Gareth Barry`s “dirty work”, but may expedite the exit of Johnson and de Jong. On the subject of Johnson, I saw him walking around the box level as City scored their first goal, but he didn`t seem intent on joining-in the celebrations. He looked like seen his own back-side in a mirror.

Silva looked terribly out of sorts, his penalty miss affecting the rest of his play. I don’t like left-footed players taking penalties. If you examine England’s defeats in shoot-outs it is nearly always the left-footer who fails to convert and as soon as he took the ball off Nasri the doubt crept into the mind of the Pedmachine.

Nasri played well. He was what Silva wasn’t. He linked play well, got into some excellent positions. At times he tried one pass too many but finally got the goal his play deserved. Aguero looked as though he was just getting going before his injury, feared to be medial ligaments, ended his afternoon and probably first 2 months of the season. Tevez was as industrious as only he can be and he too deserved not only his goal but the ovation afforded him as he was replaced for the last few minutes by Kolarov.

Dzeko started slowly but grew into the game, giving the Southampton defenders back what they were dishing out and I`m glad he too troubled the scorers, as he once again hauled City back from the brink against a Southern team in red and white.

I thought it was harsh that Milner didn’t get on. He played well in pre-season, even better in the Community Shield and put in a shift for England. Maybe playing for England in midweek cost him his place today, but with Silva out of sorts I think he would have made a more telling contribution out right. This was the kind of game where his endeavour would have been more suitable that the silky Silva.

The Blue Mooners might have gone home happy at collecting 3 points, but this was far from the demolition of Swansea last season and more care will need to be taken as teams shut up shop and give us a kicking. If 3-2 is to be City’s default score this season, after 3-in-a-row, then we will need to keep taking the pills!

all times East Manchester

Sa 25 Aug 15h00 Liverpool, Anfield, PL
Sa 01 Sep 17h30 QPR, The Etihad, PL
Sa 15 Sep 15h00 Stoke, The Britannia Stadium, PL
Su 23 Sep 16h00 Arsenal, The Etihad, PL
Sa 29 Sep 15h00 Fulham, Craven Cottage, PL


The draw for the 2012/13 Champions League Group Stage will take place in Monaco on Thursday, 30th August. The opening round of games will kick off in the week commencing Monday, 17th September.