CSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2 (HT 2-2)
What a shambles of a second half that was as City threw away a two goal lead in an inexcusable fade out.
Even with the dodgy penalty award to CSKA Moscow, we got exactly what we deserved. After leading 2-0 at half time, there was no intensity from City in the 2nd half until it was too late. We can’t throw two goal leads away against anyone, let alone mediocre opposition, especially when we badly need to win. We had enough warnings in the first half which City started off like a slug on tranquilizers. We were ceding far too much space in midfield, and Musa and Tosic went close with long range efforts. Lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Dzeko resuming his partnership with Kun Aguero, we were soon outnumbered in midfield and CSKA got at us too easily.
After this slow start, City stepped up the energy levels and pressed CSKA better, and chances started to come. From a clever Yaya pass, Zabaleta struck a left foot shot a yard wide when well placed in the 13th minute. With City up and running, and looking sharper, at last, we took the lead in the 29th minute. Zabaleta tenaciously won a challenge on the right, and Yaya fed Silva who lofted a beautiful pass for Dzeko to run onto, clean through. Unselfishly, the Bosnian giant drew the keeper to him and squared the ball to Aguero who gratefully swept the ball into the empty net. Dzeko also had a shot saved seven minutes later before City went 2-0 up in the 38th minute. Yaya lofted a diagonal pass which Zabaleta headed back for Aguero, whose cross shot was swept in by Milner gleefully at the far post.
We should have had a penalty straight after when Dzeko was clearly tripped inside the box before Milner hit the outside of the post, but curiously referee Vad remained unmoved.
It looked like we had the game in the bag. It should have been a platform to kick on and win even more convincingly against a team that had lost its last 6 Champions League games.
But, wince, and squirm, nay growl in irritation (not to mention frustration), this is City in Europe. Hexed and underperforming against teams we should be beating.
The proverbial slug came out from the dressing room at half time, groggy and immobile, as CSKA upped the ante. There was little or no pressing as we ceded midfield to them. It was only CSKA Moscow. As poor as they have been in the Champions League they had won their last six domestic games, including a 6-0 win last weekend. CSKA punished us for our complacency, our lack of intensity and with their superior numbers in midfield, and Kolarov’s lack of speed and defensive awareness, they got at us easily down our left particularly. We could have done with Milner down that side, rather than the right, but the damage was done before that swap was made. Pellegrini was too reactive rather than proactive in this match.
In the 65th minute a defence splitting ball left Mangala and Kolarov standing (though at least the former showed some urgency), Musa ran onto the ball, crossed and Doumbia outpaced Zabaleta to sweep in at the far post. The goal had been coming in all truth.
With CSKA getting behind us, and causing us problems, Pellegrini tried to batten down the hatches, replacing Dzeko with Navas, and then Silva with Fernandinho, but to no avail.
Yaya had a speculative effort from distance saved, but City failed to exert any real control over proceedings, and without being outstanding, it was CSKA who looked more likely to score.
In the 86th minute, low cross came in from the left, just inside the box. Kolarov made a tentative movement towards it, Doumbia made sure his leg made contact with City’s left back, and toppled like the proverbial dying swan. At best it was 50-50 contact: the sort of challenge that should result in playing on, but the Hungarian referee knew “better”. It was the wrong decision, but Kolarov should have known better and held his ground. Natcho gave Hart no chance at all with the penalty.
Suddenly City showed some desire to score, but it was too late. Way too late.
It is extremely irritating to see our team play so insipidly, as if the job was done, then suddenly play with intensity that had been lacking. Where had they been for the previous 41 minutes? When will our players learn? Furthermore, they had started the game poorly too. It shouldn’t take 13 minutes for us to get going. City should be up for it from the off.
City would possibly have won, but for the unfair award CSKA’s penalty, but no one could bank on it. The point is that penalty should not have been irrelevant. We should have continued to play at a high tempo, with desire to stop the opposition and score more goals.
It is, though, not all about the players. Tactically, we got this wrong, again. Whilst, as Pellegrini maintains, too much is made of formations, the fact is we were again outnumbered in midfield as we played two out-and-out strikers. This allowed CSKA to get at us, and Pellegrini was too slow to change things. Again, he was reactive rather than proactive in Europe. We are not learning from our mistakes in the Champions League, where sustained possession is often the bedrock of victory.
Pellegrini’s selection of Kolarov was also a mistake. Clichy’s better defensive qualities would have given us a far better chance of stopping the tricky Tosic down our left.
We really needed to win both games against CSKA Moscow. Even with Roma getting gubbed 1-7 by Bayern, it is going to be very hard for City now to qualify for the knockout phases of the Champions League. The increasing likelihood is that we will need to beat CSKA at home and Roma in the Stadio Olimpico, and at the very least, take a point against Bayern, who may well have qualified by the time of our final match.
The Premier League, as tough as it is, with Chelsea looking very strong, is our best chance of winning a top prize this season. Retaining our title should be our first priority, but we must improve significantly, and do our best to qualify from this Champions League group.
Att: It should have been ZERO, given CSKA’s RACIST element, but I could swear that the TV feed had a picture of 500 CSKA fans, and you could hear them making a noise. UEFA should throw them out of the competition for not abiding by the punishment handed down. We needn’t hold our breath there, though…
Next page: Match details and player ratings