Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Manchester City 3 - 2 Southampton

What a start to the season by Southampton as for the first five minutes they laid siege to Joe Hart's goal. This was achieved by up to seven(!) players from the away team pressing the City back line very high up the pitch. Is this Chievo Verona we're watching?

The first significant foray by City into Southampton's half led to an injury sustained by Kun Aguero from ex-Crystal Palace Nathaniel Clyne's (clean) tackle. It seems like the City striker will be all right if the latest reports are to be believed.

Dzeko came on for Aguero and had the type of match one has come to expect from him: good movement but with a seeming inability to do simple things like score into an empty net .. until he did score in the second half. He changes City's shape when he plays: he is reliably up front as a focal point, unlike when Aguero and Tevez are the "front" pair, then the team seems to have a forwardless Spain look about them.

One can imagine being a midfielder or a back for City, under pressure from opponents, having Dzeko there gives the option of direct play – not that there's much of that from the ball-playing Manchester City these days. It's easy to think that those half chances that might have been converted by a better finisher, Robin Van Persie say, and that these misses might in the end come back to bite City if goal difference is going to be important to the outcome of the 2012-13 Premier League. We may come to the conclusion that Manchester United's purchase of RVP, an atypical purchase of such an old player by Ferguson, was negative in purpose: keep him out of City's squad. Great movement by Tevez led to the opening goal by the Argentinian: fired in low near post past goalkeeper Kelvin Davis. 1 – 0.

There has been a spate of near post goals lately: the striker dribbles in towards the near post, the keeper dives early towards the far post hoping to save with his feet shots that may come in at the near post. This technique leads to the keepers diving out of the path of the ball coming in at the near post. Among other examples, Butland did this for team GB in the Olympics, and Chelsea's opening goal against Wigan was similar. Goalkeeping coaches need to correct this to make keepers stay in the ready position at the near post even as the shot comes in to force the shot far post; the current trend for keepers to 'cheat' into the centre just isn't working.

The second half started with Dzeko, Clichy, and a creaky Da Silva all missing great chances in front of goal. Those who had made bets that Southampton would go straight back down to the Championship by the end of the season were licking their chops. But then coach Nigel Adkins brought on Championship Golden Boot winner (31 goals last season) Rickie Lambert in place of Rodriguez. Four minutes later he scored after a tight and pretty one-two with Guly do Prado in the City box. 1 – 1.

That sure-bet-for-the-drop didn't look so certain all of a sudden, and Lambert's excellent movement and great touch gave the Saints such a fillip that they scored a second. After City pressure, the ball broke to new boy Rodwell in a high sweeper position, and, although he had crossed himself on entering the pitch, made a sloppy diagonal that was easily cut out and a three-on-three break became five-on-three as the lively and fit-looking Soton players outsprinted their counterparts. Sub Steven Davis finished expertly inside the far post past a marginally slow Joe Hart. 1 – 2. Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin are both catching the eye in this game, but it was City who scored the equalizer in the 71st minute as the ball broke for Dzeko at the far post and he thrashed it in. 2 – 2.

Southampton not only look like but actually are a team that is used to winning, and a minute after the Dzeko goal Puncheon's shot is blocked, and a minute after that Balotelli refused to acknowledge that he has a left foot and missed a chance at the far post. Open and end-to-end skillful football. 76th minute: Dzeko's header just wide. Nasri's influence on the game, considerable throughout the encounter, is increasing at this point and when Clichy's too-big ball from the left is headed inexplicably by Daniel Fox back onto the penalty spot, there is Nasri to smash it home. 3 – 2.

Southampton continue to appear to be puzzled at the meaning of the word 'defeat' and striker Billy Sharp comes on for Puncheon. City hang on for the win, but which manager is the happier?

Peter Rodd

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