The most withering assessment of the night came from Paul Scholes, who surveyed the pre-match empty seats in the Etihad from his ITV studio and suggested that Manchester City supporters were, to put it bluntly, “not arsed” about their club’s Champions League adventure.
The concern at half-time was that the indifference was spreading to certain individuals in the team.
In Europe, City remain a mystery: a gilded collection of players who should be challenging in the latter stages of this competition but with a single point from two games in danger of not making it out the group. They faced a Roma team ravaged by injury, took a lead over the Italian side in the first four minutes and then seemed incapable of converting it into the solid victory that they needed having lost their first Group E game in Munich.
After such a stuttering start there can be no such mistakes later this month when they play CSKA Moscow in Russia. The Champions League belongs to them in Manchester this season, with Old Trafford dark and empty on these great midweek nights, yet for much of the evening City seemed utterly incapable of seizing their chance.
Manchester City 1 Roma 1 player ratings
Manchester City 1 Roma 1 player ratings
1/9 Joe Hart
A slight slip may have cost him when Totti scored, but was solid throughout, making a couple of good saves in the second-half. 6
2/9 Pablo Zabaleta
Arguably the best right-back in world football, but might have spotted Totti’s run for the goal a fraction earlier. Involved in an entertaining back and forth battle with Gervinho. 6
3/9 Vincent Kompany
Completely lost Totti for the goal, getting caught in no man’s land between Nainggolan and the striker. 5
4/9 Jesus Navas
A defensive liability well marshalled by Ashley Cole in the first-half; substituted by Pellegrini at half-time for James Milner. 4
5/9 Yaya Toure
Outperformed by the men in black, and Keita in particular, Toure again struggled to impose himself in football’s biggest competition. 5
One of City’s better performers, the Brazilian worked tirelessly to battle an impressive Roman midfield. 7
7/9 David Silva
Did his best to pull the strings for City but failed to deliver the decisive pass – should have scored in the dying minutes but turned his shot wide. 6
8/9 Sergio Aguero
A bundle of energy up front, Aguero was let down by a lack of service, though he slotted his penalty away confidently. 6
9/9 Edin Dzeko
Failed to hold the ball up when it was fed to him, Dzeko barely had a kick all night before being replaced early in the second-half by Frank Lampard. 4
It got better after the break when Manuel Pellegrini brought on James Milner for the ineffectual Jesus Navas, which shored up that left side of their team and also gave them an attacking threat. Edin Dzeko’s slow trudge to the touchline before the hour left little doubt what he felt about his substitution but once again, Frank Lampard, the replacement, gave City some zip. The Englishman was afforded a much more advanced role than he ever was in his later years at Chelsea.
The worry remained however, that the big guns in City’s team were not delivering. Yaya Toure was not pushed further forward later on with Lampard preferred in that role. Sergio Aguero, who scored the penalty that gave City the lead, could not deliver the second. David Silva did not shirk his responsibility – he always wants the ball – but his probing did not deliver the goal his team needed.
For Roma, the first four minutes suggested it could be a nightmarish evening on a par with another they experienced across Manchester in 2007 when United put seven goals past them. Their Brazilian right-back Maicon wrapped an arm around Aguero in the box as Silva’s chipped ball came in and was lucky not to be sent off.
It was a booking and a penalty for City – which Aguero scored – and one’s mind turned to all those Manchester cab firms filtering calls ordering taxis to the Etihad for Roma’s embattled full-back. Rudi Garcia’s team were missing their first choice goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman among six injured first-team players. This had all the makings of a rout.
As it turned out, that opening salvo was about as well as City played all first half. The Italian side recovered admirably and dominated much of it until the break. A subdued Etihad stadium, not nearly full, seemed to collectively slump back into their seats. The same could be said of a City team that, certainly in the first half, failed to raise the temperature in a match they badly needed to win.
Within minutes of his foul on Aguero, the full-back Maicon struck the bar with a shot attacking down the left side of City’s defence, a route that proved profitable for the visitors. The former Arsenal striker Gervinho was released through the middle and Joe Hart did well on that occasion, 18 minutes into the game, to spring out and get his body behind the ball.
At left-back Ashley Cole seemed to have much more license to attack. But the pick of the lot in the black away shirts was the 38-year-old Francesco Totti who would later break Ryan Giggs’ record as the oldest Champions League goalscorer. In those unforgiving modern football shirts, the great Roman looks a little bulkier around the middle these days but there is nothing amiss with that right foot of his.
He proved it with the equaliser running onto a very well-judged pass by the Belgian Radja Nainggolan and lifting the ball over Hart with the outside of his right foot. It was the kind of precision chip that would take you from the sand-trap to the pin in one and executed by Totti at full-stretch. At times he resembled nothing less than the archetypal Sunday league veteran; the kind with a little padding and a wondrous touch.
There was another stabbed Totti throughball that almost had enough backspin to hold up for Gervinho later. The goal itself, which began deep inside Roma’s half with the midfielder Seydou Keita exposed the gaping holes through the heart of City. Hart seemed to slip as he pushed off to close down Totti. Otherwise the City goalkeeper, reinstated after two games on the bench had a good game, saving from Gervinho a few minutes before the break.
The effect of Milner, on at half-time, was immediate, but it could not disguise the problems elsewhere. Hart once again did well to save on 52 minutes when his back four had conspired to give the ball back to Miralem Pjanic having initially defended poorly. The goalkeeper did well to get in front of the ball from close range.
For all City’s effort it was the substitute Lampard who really threatened. He had a shot deflected wide on 67 minutes and his runs from deep into the area were a worry for Roma. With seven minutes left, Pellegrini gave up wondering whether Aguero might score him another goal and replaced the Argentine with Stevan Jovetic for one last push.
Cole, always a good man to have when your team is under siege, proved important in those closing stages as City tried to find their way through. Silva put Pablo Zabaleta’s cross from the right the wrong side of the post deep into the five minutes of time added on.
The worry for City is that they now have just one point from two games and are third in a group that Bayern Munich look likely to run away with. For City it already looks like it could go down to that last game in Rome on 10 December which is certainly a match they will not win unless they are, to put it mildly, well and truly the sum of their parts.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Navas, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva; Dzeko, Aguero.
Subs: Milner/Navas ht, Lampard/Dzeko 57, Jovetic/Aguero 84
Roma (4-3-2-1): Skorupski; Maicon, Manolas, Yanga-Mbiwa, Cole; Pjanic, Keita, Nainggolan; Florenzi, Gervinho; Totti.
Subs: Iturbe/Totti 72, Holebas/Florenzi 83, Torosidis/Maicon 89
Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands)
Match rating: 6/10
Man of the match: Radja Nainggolan
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