Sunday 19 November 2017

Too little, too late for City as Mancini's men rue early slips

Manchester City 1
Real Madrid 1

Henry Winter

If only Manchester City had played like this earlier in the group. If only they had performed with the sort of concentration and conviction that coloured their second-half exertions, when they were inspired by David Silva, they might still be in the Champions League.

Recovering from Karim Benzema's early strike, City tweaked tactically, and charged with increasing energy at Jose Mourinho's side. Sergio Aguero equalised from the penalty spot but City could not force a second for all the elegant touches of Silva. The game ended on a sour note with Mourinho and Roberto Mancini failing to shake hands.

Initially poor, City had rallied only in the second half, really taking the game to Real. Judging by events early on, City's players had clearly not read their manager's programme notes, a plea for more concentration defensively following failures late on at the Bernabeu and during their home and away meetings with Ajax.

They were also taken apart by Borussia Dortmund here in this group of woes. Mancini's tactics hardly strengthened the barricades, a switch to 3-5-2 soon abandoned. Not before Real had scored, though. City were far too sluggish in responding to the clear threat of an attack after 10 minutes. City's left flank, and Aleksandar Kolarov in particular, simply watched as Angel di Maria controlled the ball.

Di Maria had so much time he could have lit a cigar, signed a few autographs and checked his stocks and shares. Untroubled by City players, he calmly lifted the ball left-footed into the box.

Benzema ghosted in, totally ignored by Maicon, and turned the ball right-footed past Joe Hart from five yards. Pablo Zabaleta, who had started as the right-sided of the three centre-halves, glared at Maicon.

Then Cristiano Ronaldo began to show, leading Vincent Kompany a merry dance at one point, leaving the defender with twisted blood. Sami Khedira wasted one chance, then headed a Ronaldo ball into the side-netting.

City responded. Aguero was lively, demanding a smart save from Iker Casillas but Real continued to cut Mancini's back-three to little light-blue ribbons. Xabi Alonso then released Khedira, Kompany and Matija Nastasic reacted like sleepy night porters, and the German international darted through. Only Hart's quickness from his line denied Khedira.

Their game-plan in bits, City switched to a back four, Zabaleta moving over to left-back with Maicon withdrawn to right-back. Yet the Brazilian was soon advancing, racing through the middle, poking a shot wide. Silva wove his neat way down the inside-right channel, losing Fabio Coentrao, but Edin Dzeko's touch was poor.

City were raising their game, although the score flashes coming in from Amsterdam made gloomy reading and Ronaldo was still a threat. Even though the Portuguese flier was not at his rampaging best, his pace and touch continued to bemuse City. Yaya Toure resorted to illegal measures to stop his progress, earning a booking that removes him from the trip to Borussia Dortmund. Some City fans chanted "cheat" at Ronaldo, an affront to a special player. "You're just a –– Lionel Messi,'' a few serenaded him with.

Ronaldo's calibre was respected by the City players and Aguero raced back 50 yards to dispossess him.

Mancini twisted again. Javi Garcia was sent on for the second half, Kolarov being withdrawn, and the new arrival allowed Toure to push on. City looked slightly sharper, Silva sending Aguero through but the Argentine overran the ball. Silva was lively, testing Casillas.

Then Ronaldo came charging down the left, firing in a cross that Khedira should have done better with. Sensing Real's rising menace, Mancini sent on Carlos Tevez for Samir Nasri.

City were giving their fans hope, playing with more fight and pride.

They began hunting an equaliser with greater hunger. Maicon swept in a cross from the right, gifting a wonderful chance for Aguero, but his shot was too close to Casillas. Aguero's next move was more telling, running into the box, going to ground under a challenge from Alvaro Arbeloa. The Italian referee, Gianluca Rocchi, pointed to the spot, angering Real who felt it was the softest of decisions. With Arbeloa already booked, the former Liverpool player had to walk. Aguero increased the punishment with a cool penalty.

Even with only 10, Real still gave City some worrying moments. Ronaldo sped through the middle, beating his palms on the floor with frustration when challenged by Kompany. Mourinho was similarly annoyed, eliciting a stream of abuse from City fans. Mourinho was in quixotic mood, giving a huge smile to a ball-boy.

City at least were going out with a fight. Silva was terrific, working overtime to work the ball to Toure, who delivered a fine pass to Maicon.

The Brazilian met the ball first time, crashing it into the box and only Coentrao's positioning rescued Real.

Ronaldo's every touch was booed but City still had to keep a respectful eye on him. As Real ran down the clock, Mancini changed again, sending on James Milner for Aguero.

When the fourth official indicated five minutes' added time, Mourinho clapped ironically, bringing some laughter from the City fans. Maicon, who had a good second half going forward, set up Toure, whose shot was wretched.

Then Tevez ran into the box, but Casillas was too sharp and City's challenge finally ended. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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