At last City tried what all the pundits have been advising: pack the midfield, don’t try to win straight away, protect the back four and above all, be patient. Pellegrini couldn’t face having to admit that this was a new and appropriate way to play against top European sides and after the game seemed to say that it was mostly due to form returning to some players. Improving form helps of course but you need the right plan for European games and this was it at last.
This was arguably our best performance of the season. Not only was it very unlikely we could win in Italy against a Roma side which has played consistently well at home in Serie A, we would need to score at least one goal to have a chance while praying that Bayern didn’t field a load of youngsters and surrender to CSKA.
City did everything right. As the home side you would expect Roma to get some chances and they did at the beginning of the game. City survived and Joe Hart showed that he has the skill and mental strength for these high pressure occasions. Gradually City gained confidence creating a few chances themselves. Navas started penetrating on the right, Milner was getting forward on the left while the whole team tried their best to close down Roma players in possession when we had lost the ball. Fernando and Fernandinho both had outstanding games, Nasri provided the creative spark up front and even Dzeko, short of match practice, looked so much better than the few minutes he had played at the end of the Everton game.
0-0 at half time but in the 60th minute the usually solid Roma defence gave Nasri a glimpse of goal. He sent in a cracking shot which hit the inside of the near post and shot across the goal into the net on the other side. The Roma keeper had no chance. There was a bit of a reaction from Roma to try to save the game because they now needed two goals to go through. Bayern were, as expected, beating CSKA. City didn’t panic, exerted control and slowed the game down.
Roma players looked dejected and their manager Garcia took off Pjanić who had played so well in Manchester and the iconic Totti. The Roma subs made a bit of difference but not that much and in the 85th minute Nasri placed a slow one metre pass sideways into a small space near the edge of the penalty area just as Zabaleta came thundering in like an runaway freight train the make it 2-0. A beautifully crafted goal. There was little reaction for the Italians who looked beaten and City saw the time out for their best away win in Europe since winning the Cup Winners Cup in the pouring rain all those years ago.
It gets even better though. In the last third of the game, David Silva came on and looked surprisingly sharp as did Jovetic and Kolarov. Kompany, we were told, will be fit for the weekend and Touré of course is available for the game on Saturday against Leicester too. So for the next six matches against Premier teams in the bottom half and then against Championship side Sheffield Wednesday who we beat 7-0 in the Capital One Cup earlier with a less on-form side, we could well have everyone fit except Aguero who could well be out until the end of January.
It may sound strange to say we won’t miss Aguero but in our current form that could be right. We may well not get quite as many goals but I do expect us to perform well and make progress as a team improving in solidity at the back and like last year, get goals from different players.
Well played City, great win, superb team display.
Man of the match: all of them.