Mancini rules out Balotelli replacement despite Manchester City's lack of cutting edge
Queen's Park Rangers 0 Manchester City 0: For one last time, all the questions were about Mario Balotelli but in the coming days and weeks, for Roberto Mancini the focus will switch to the thorny issue of the Premier League title race and Manchester City's place in it.
The Mario show has moved out of town, and in its wake is a City team who are struggling to find their rhythm and could yet be seven points off the lead if Manchester United beat Southampton at Old Trafford tomorrow night. Balotelli will dominate the narrative for another 24 hours, but there was no getting away from the sub-standard performance of the defending champions at Loftus Road.
Sure, the conditions were poor with a swirling wind upon which was borne a fine relentless rain. The opposition were well-motivated and tightly-drilled by Harry Redknapp, a world away from the side that capitulated to Liverpool at the end of last month. But even so, these are the games that have to be won on the long slog to a Premier League title.
In spite of all the resources that have been lavished on City's attack they seemed jaded. Samir Nasri was substituted before the hour, and rightly so. Carlos Tevez did not last the full game, replaced by Jack Rodwell. Only David Silva looked like a real threat right up until the last moments when yet another fine save from Julio Cesar denied him.
The departing Balotelli is, after all, a £24m striker and when City's attacking options are compared to United's there is no doubt that it is the league leaders who are the stronger. Yet Mancini said that it was unlikely his club would be replacing Balotelli before tomorrow's deadline and might at best be able to sign a defender as cover with Vincent Kompany still injured.
Against the team at the bottom of the Premier League, City enjoyed plenty of possession. They were denied by an inspired performance from Ryan Nelsen, who was given a guard of honour by his team-mates at the end of the game his last for the club, as well as Cesar. Nelsen's defensive partner Clint Hill was also excellent. QPR scrapped for everything and for the rest they relied on their Brazilian goalkeeper.
For Redknapp, a bigger test is Norwich City at home on Saturday where his team has to win. “We've given everything,” he said. “They [City] are a fantastic team with great players, look at their quality, so you have to give everything. Norwich on Saturday's a massive game, and one we have to try and win, but we've put ourselves back in touching distance.”
He will miss Nelsen, who departs to take up a coaching job at Toronto FC. The list of possible arrivals is long and ever-changing but a priority is a centre-half with Anton Ferdinand out on loan at Bursaspor. The key target, as Redknapp admitted, is Christopher Samba, the former Blackburn Rovers defender now at Anzhi Makhachkala.
“It's a bonus point, a great point,” Redknapp said. “City rip teams to pieces, home and away, don't they? I don't think it's the end of the title race. But it was a great result for Fergie tonight, for sure. They're missing Yaya Touré, and his power in midfield, and Kompany but they're still a team full of quality and will be right up there.”
City struck the post with Pablo Zabaleta's header on 20 minutes when Silva carved a bit of space down the left channel and chipped the ball back to him. That aside there was a shot from Gareth Barry that Cesar pushed wide of the bar and otherwise a deficit of decent chances for the away side in the first half.
For Loïc Rémy – the QPR striker making his home debut – one of his most significant contributions was a ball cleared out of the stadium. QPR's best attack was on the break in the 39th minute. Adel Taarabt found himself one-on-one with Gaël Clichy, a step-over and a burst of acceleration took him into space and only a fine save from Joe Hart saved City.
Just before the hour, Mancini withdrew Nasri who had barely made an impression and sent on Edin Dzeko. His presence was felt immediately with a header and a nice exchange with Silva that created the time and space for the latter to hit a shot. But as time slipped away, City seemed to have fewer ideas about how they might break QPR down.
That was not to say that QPR had much idea of how they might score a goal of their own. There was a tragic dive from Rémy that deserved a booking when he ran at Joleon Lescott down the right side of the City penalty area.
Eventually, James Milner was replaced by Scott Sinclair as City tried to break through. There was an appeal for a penalty for a tackle by Nedum Onuoha but he played the ball. There was one more save by Cesar and QPR were home and dry.
Man of the match Nelsen.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).