Manchester City 4 Viktoria Plzen 2.
City came through a nervy match with the three points and another four goals to add to their rather impressive home tally, but it was a hard-fought victory against the group’s whipping boys who gave as good as they got, and more, for most of the match.
The line up was hard to predict, and it still managed to carry a few surprises, with Sergio Aguero the main shock as he started the match, along with Fernandinho. For reasons that few could explain, Kolarov was named captain. Spurious rumours were spread that Kolarov had been hitting the bars on Saturday prior to the Spurs match, but it turns out Samir Nasri has got that particular skill mastered.
So with seven changes, it was hardly surprising that the team rarely lived up to Sunday’s star billing, especially with the stakes so much lower. As is seemingly always the case with City, when significant changes are made, the performance dips alarmingly, but here was a team that contained many players whose time could soon be up at the club, and it was a performance that reiterated why City often start matches with little or no English representation in the team. Throughout the match there were gaping holes in the midfield and defence, and City were often carved open at will. Thankfully the returning Joe Hart put in a commanding performance, and along with sloppy finishing, City escaped enough times to gain a victory due to their constant goal threat at the Etihad.
With a second-choice back four, perhaps we should not expect too much from the unit, but they were at sea for much of the time. Demichelis was especially poor, caught out of position repeatedly, and in tandem with Joleon Lescott and Aleksander Kolarov, there was an element of the Keystone Cops about much of the defending. Micah was his usual 2013-self, bombing forward, ambling back, some bits good, some bits bad, a reminder that he is behind Kyle Walker in the England pecking-order. Maybe all this was a cunning plan by Pellegrini to work Hart to the bone, and thus improve his confidence. Inspired.
The other problem though is that City’s second-string drag the first-teamers down with them. Fernandinho was ill-at ease (though not poor) having to partner the cumbersome Javi Garcia, who helped contribute to the ample room given to Plzen’s attacking players. Only Nasri rose above it, once more covering Silva’s absence admirably in his 100th match for the club and he was a deserving winner of Man of the Match.
The paranoia merchants (all of us) had plenty of ammunition as the Tyler/Quinn double-act continued to scrape barrels on commentary duty with fevered passion, Tyler’s high-pitched voice attracting cats within a 10-mile area every time Plzen got near the City area. Once he had spat out the words “Slamir Nasri” after the Frenchman had hit the woodwork, I knew we were in for a long night.
City had threatened from the start, and after his re-acquaintance with the bar, Nasri missed a much easier chance after great work from Aguero. It took a soft goal for City to break the deadlock, a penalty given for handball, and duly despatched by Sergio. Personally I think most handball penalty decisions are ridiculous, and this was no different, as whilst the defender’s arm was slightly outstretched, it was clearly not deliberate, and he had no time to move out of the way. Still, any gifts were gratefully received and City’s premier striker notched his 16th of the season.
At the other end though two glorious chances were spurned and it was no surprise when the equaliser went in close to the break, and it was all-square at the break.
Even less surprising for typical City was their best player seemingly picking up an injury in a game he didn’t need to play. Pellegrini was immediately heavily criticised for playing Aguero against Plzen, but it’s easy to be wise after the event. The fact is Aguero could pick up an injury at any time, even climbing the stairs. If we are really going to be so protective of him, then perhaps he shouldn’t train either. City might have qualified for the knockout stage but this was still a Champions League game, and people have paid good money to watch it, so we shouldn’t be complaining about the best players getting time on the pitch. If they get injured, that’s just bad luck.
As it happened, it was more misinformation from Sky anyway. Aguero was always going to play just one half, and he is fine. Panic over, for now.
But what was clear is that Edin Dzeko is a player shot of confidence, a man clearly unhappy, who may need to leave for everyone’s sake. His understanding with Aguero was a million miles behind what Negredo has with the Argentinean, and as soon as Negredo came on, we saw the difference in performance levels. Still, this was typical Dzeko – balls bouncing 10 yards off his leg, disinterested, nothing coming off and then of course he scores, and maintains a very healthy goal ratio. Nobody is better at headed goals whilst facing the wrong way. Try smiling Edin, you might enjoy it.
There was just time for Yaya Toure to pick up the yellow card that will see him miss the final group game, a suspension that Martin Tyler had alerted the world to, so expect stiff action against the club now as no player has ever executed such a blatant act before.
But job done. Another four goals in the onion bag even if it was a score that was harsh on the plucky full-timers from the Czech Republic, and the crowd saw Edin Dzeko score the 41st goal at the ground this season. It’s like Brian Horton never left.
So City can still top the group, needing the small matter of a three-goal victory away to Bayern Munich, which should be easily attainable, I think we can all agree. It’s unlikely that Pep Guardiola will play a scratch side as the league is already going their way, and they will want to cement the top place, so ahead lies a hugely difficult knockout match. That’s in the future, for now let’s just hope that we get a near-fit squad back as soon as possible
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