Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Five things we learnt about Manchester City on European stage

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 24: Joleon Lescott of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax v Manchester City at the Amsterdam Arena on October 24, 2012 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 24: Goalkeeper Joe Hart of Manchester City is down and out following a goal from Siem de Jong of Ajax during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax v Manchester City at the Amsterdam Arena on October 24, 2012 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Ajax player Niklas Moisander, left, clears the ball in the penalty box before Sergio Aguero, right, can score during the Champions League Group D soccer match at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday Oct. 24, 2012. Ajax won the match with a 3-1 score, bottom is Manchester City player Edin Dzeko. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

1. Samir Nasri's technique

There are things you can question about Samir Nasri, but you cannot question his technique. In his Manchester City career, Nasri has produced some good displays and quite a few anonymous ones, But he has barely ever miscontrolled the ball, misplaced a pass or mishit a shot. So it was last night. Nasri played 21 quiet minutes on the right wing before receiving James Milner's pass on the left hand of the box and clipping it perfectly into the far corner. If he could just match his technique with Milner's work ethic, City would have quite a midfielder.

2. It's a team game

If the match just came down to individuals and budgets, City would have won well. But football is a combination game and Ajax's interplay, trust and movement were beyond anything City could muster. Abjuring a conventional No 9, Frank de Boer chose Christian Eriksen, a delightful little inside-forward, to lead the line. Eriksen was supported by Siem de Jong and Lasse Schöne, who exchanged passes and positions with him throughout. With Christian Poulsen passing the ball crisply, Ajax had the system to move the ball quicker than City, despite their deficit on paper, and cut through them at will.

3. Is Joleon Lescott the problem or the solution?

Roberto Mancini has never been keen to play Joleon Lescott in Europe, preferring Matija Nastasic so far this season. Last night Mancini reverted to Lescott, hoping to recreate some of that regular domestic solidity. It did not work. Lescott was part of the back four dragged too deep as City sat on their early lead, allowing Siem de Jong to equalise. When Eriksen swung his second-half corner in, Lescott did not attack it and Niklas Moisander darted in front of him to score. It was an individual error. Lescott was withdrawn.

4. What about the back three?

While there is something to be said for zonal marking, there may not be for 3-5-2. Roberto Mancini's desire this season to use a system which seems to work only in Italy might not have the support of his players. Mancini used it for around 11 minutes last night, deploying Aleksander Kolarov as a left wing-back. Gaël Clichy, though, had to join the back three and did not like it. Eriksen soon shuffled past City's back line and shot, deflecting off Clichy and in for 3-1. Mancini returned to 4-4-2, with Clichy at right-back. Despite being left-footed, Clichy preferred it.

5. Mancini's desperation

For the final 13 minutes City had Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez on the pitch. Even when they were chasing the Premier League title against Queen's Park Rangers in May, they only ever had three of them on the pitch at once. But that was how desperate Roberto Mancini was in the final minutes. Defeat meant City need to win their last three games to have a chance.

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