Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City 1 Roma 1

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The Independent Football

Scholes not so wrong about Manchester City fans

“Hear that out there?” Paul Scholes said on ITV. “That’s the Roma fans.” He said something similar, if less sophisticated, to his observations in The Independent weeks ago: that City fans are flat on Etihad European nights. They’re currently expanding their stadium by 10,000 but need a bit more than people.

The rows of empty seats which greeted the players when they ran out bore out just what Scholes had to say. Fully 1,000 seats remained unfilled opposite the Colin Bell Stand throughout the evening, while the Romans made the noise.

City have tried in the past to manufacture atmosphere, dimming the lights before kick-off, projecting a lunar image across the East Stand and bathing the place in pale light. Perhaps some more artificial theatre is needed. Perhaps it serves City well when Scholes says what he thinks. The incentive is there to prove him wrong.

No taxi for Maicon on this occasion

He started the game in a way that bore out the way City felt about him after he had gone: that he was a too expensive luxury from Roberto Mancini’s era: a player whom the Italian demanded the club buy, against their better judgement. The game was only three minutes old when he placed a left arm across an advancing Sergio Aguero in the penalty area.

But after that we saw the Maicon whom Mancini knew: attacking with more menace to give Roma more width than City could manufacture down either flank. He struck the underside of the bar. He tested City’s offside trap to the limit – it prevailed – and supplied a visionary pass for Francesco Totti. Jesus Navas suffered so much on Maicon’s flank that he was hooked in favour of James Milner at half-time. Not quite the taxi for Maicon that he required after that night with Gareth Bale for Inter in north London, four years ago.

That’s why Chelsea sold Cole

Ashley Cole’s pre-match press conference was a charming exercise in modesty and self-deprecation and some who had watched him start in Roma’s six straight wins this season said that he is better than he claims to be. But the 33-year-old was a less potent vintage than the one we remember getting down the left, creating a dangerous flank in two shades of London football.

In truth, he had been less of an offensive threat in his later Chelsea days too – not the wing-back Cesar Azpilicueta has proved to be. But here was very much the defensive housekeeper, tidying, setting attacks in train with short but simple passes, but barely advancing over the halfway line. Cole will not set the Continent on fire this way but he evidently does not feel the need to. A few years of joie de vivre in a side who are enjoying life seems like a fine way to draw the curtain down.

Still waiting for Touré and Aguero

The City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, was indignant when Yaya Touré reaped a backlash after City’s midfield had been besieged in Munich and they were lucky to escape without embarrassment. But beyond the propaganda, the Chilean is still looking to him to set the place on fire.

Roma’s equaliser was not so much a counter-attack as a gentle stroll through City’s central space and Touré’s attempt to cut off the threat at source was feeble. There was none of that indestructibility of his, either; no powering runs through the opposition centre.

City are still waiting for Sergio Aguero, too. He is not striking fear on to this stage. He was not isolated last night, as he had been in Munich. Several chances to get into a foot race with a defender – and to destroy him – came and went. Pellegrini’s challenge to him to start competing for the Ballon d’Or this week felt subtly significant. But Touré is the one who has vanished.

Hart proves his point  on the European stage again

The fractional slip when Roma advanced on his goal in the 23rd minute was significant. It gave Francesco Totti the kind of margin of possibility that make the difference on these occasions.

But once again in Europe, Hart has proved that he is player for the big stage. A sharp near-post save from Gervinho in the first half was followed up by another instinctive stop from Miralem Pjanic as Roma looked just as likely to pose a danger.

Hart’s tetchy press conference manner on Monday was unfortunate.  He is too self-aware; too much the self-conscious superstar. But he delivered what he promised he would.

It is tempting to see Hart’s new understudy Wally Caballero, Pellegrini’s keeper of choice at Malaga, as a threat. But you know what he gets with Hart, a player not in awe of Europe. City fans sing “We’re not really here.” He doesn’t seem to feel that way.