Dzeko gives points to shapeless City
Fulham 1 Manchester City 2: Late goal earns Mancini's men a first win in four but lack of chances will be a cause for concern
Sunday 30 September 2012
Finally, Manchester City conquer, but still don't truly convince. And, after a first victory in four games, the key question is whether they should be encouraged by another late win or concerned by the way it came about. That question was encapsulated in the nature of the decisive goal. Although Edin Dzeko's turn-and-finish was exquisitely executed, it arrived thanks to an awful defensive error from John Arne Riise.
Before that, City's approach did not look like fashioning such an opportunity. One Sergio Aguero header aside, too many second-half attacks ended with the ball blazed high or wide from distance.
The general lack of shape to the team resulted in a general lack of chances. It's been a recurring theme. To give City credit, though, it isn't the only theme that has been recurred, with one of them admirably reversed.
After a trailblazing start to last season, this fixture away to Fulham was the first time City dropped points, with the manner in which they lost a two-goal lead pointing to some of the problems they would encounter later in the campaign.
Those problems have continued into this season despite the way in which they won the title but, having come back from behind yesterday, the expectation from Roberto Mancini will have been raised. That's not to say the Italian thinks there were too many problems with City's recent displays. He is more willing to put them down to misfortune.
Such was the manner of Fulham's opening goal here, he could reasonably argue that again. Arne Riise went down under Pablo Zabaleta's challenge, although there was considerable doubt about whether the incident was inside the box or contact was made. There was no doubt, however, about Mladen Petric's finish as City again failed to keep a clean sheet.
"For me, it wasn't a penalty," Mancini insisted. "We are in an unlucky moment because we have had that three times in our last four games."
The only problem with primarily putting all that down to fortune is that it ignores the issues with shape that allowed it to happen in the first place. Quite simply, it was hard to say what formation City were playing. Gareth Barry appeared to be in defensive midfield but kept drifting; Aguero seemed to be a floating attacker but remained on the fringes. The idea was undoubtedly fluidity but, for the most part, all that was evident was shapelessness.
Fulham's manager, Martin Jol, agreed. "They played 4-3-3 with three midfield players and they don't do that all the time, but that was good for us." Very good. For the first half-hour, Hugo Rodallega and Bryan Ruiz were pulling off the kind of interchanges that eventually opened the space for Riise to run into. If City have not been convincing, though, it can't be said that they don't control games. That was again the case here as, after the goal, Fulham withdrew and Mancini's team won more and more of the ball.
After 43 minutes, Aguero saw enough of it to score. Having previously missed an easy enough header, the Argentinian was alert to divert home a Mark Schwarzer parry. The trouble for City was that they did not really make the Fulham keeper do much more of that. So, with his team looking less and less penetrative, Mancini threw on more attackers.Eventually, it told as substitute Dzeko struck. It is not, of course, the first time he's done that.
One of the curious patterns of last season was that, as excellent as City often were, up until March they had only scored one genuinely match-winning goal after the hour. The general pattern was that, if they were not winning by the hour they usually did not win at all as Mancini struggled to influence games.
Clearly, that changed dramatically in the run-in. It triggered the eventual win here. If it continues to be the case, there's more cause for encouragement than concern.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reither, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Duff, Sidwell, Baird (Karagounis, 81), Rodallega; Ruiz, Petric (Kacaniklic, 65).
Manchester City(4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Garcia (Dzeko, 85), Barry (Nasri, 76); Y Touré, Silva, Aguero; Tevez (Balotelli, 65).
Referee: Mark Halsey
Man of the match: Silva (Manchester City)
Match rating: 6/10
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