If ever a loss were to classified beneficial it might just be Manchester City’s reverse at Aston Villa: if it persuades the grandees of Bayern Munich to lower their shields even a fraction on Wednesday, it will not have been in vain.
City’s 3-2 defeat was a result that spoke volumes for the victors without diminishing the credibility of the vanquished. Unlike the perplexing loss in Cardiff, City gave a full account of themselves and demonstrated why, despite two defeats on the road in the Premier League, they remain a fearsome proposition for any, including the next guests at the Etihad.
As well as Villa played in the second half, as much as they grew into the contest, City were so vastly superior in the first you feared a repeat of the drubbing dished out by Spurs on the same ground five days earlier in the Capital One Cup. Manuel Pellegrini saw the futility in looking too deeply into the patterns of the game to account for the result, and chose instead to speak confidently about the need to play with the same imperious swagger on Wednesday.
“This was different to the results against Cardiff and Hull. We played the way we wanted to play. Yes, the players were shocked at the result, but they have the personality to respond and get their heads up. We have to re-group and prepare for the Champions League. We have some things to work on but we are not worried. The important thing is the way we approach the game and the way we play, which is the same against small or big teams,” the City manager said.
In this Pellegrini is addressing the issues that so tried his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, the need to approach games big or small with the same mentality, to force the opposition to adjust to you, not the reverse. In the previous two seasons City manifestly failed to project in the Champions League as they learned to do at home. This year has to be different. Pellegrini’s appointment says so.
In his present form Yaya Touré is all but uncontainable. The imminent return of David Silva promises a degree of precision and a touch of the unexpected. Samir Nasri combines a little of both and the addition of Fernandinho has introduced a layer of iron insurance in deep midfield. At some point Stevan Jovetic will play his way into the side and offer an incisive foil to the power contributions of Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo.
City have fallen five points adrift of Arsenal at the top of the league but with the depth and breadth of talent in this squad the chasing down of a London triumvirate that includes Spurs and Chelsea promises to be the making of the season.
The transformation of Villa in the space of 45 minutes could turn out to be the most significant of Paul Lambert’s term in charge. There was a sense of last season’s trauma returning. The losses to Liverpool and Newcastle in the previous league games at Villa Park plus the 4-0 hosing at the hands of Spurs had forced an uncomfortable check on the positive away days at Arsenal and Norwich. Few gave them a chance on Saturday and at half-time, after a harrowing 45 minutes of mostly desperate defence, that minority had shrunk to none. It was a wonder that City led only by Touré’s side-footed goal. Pellegrini said Villa’s first goal, scored by Karim El Ahmadi, changed everything.
City argued justifiably that the goal was offside. The decision was marginal and went in Villa’s favour, El Ahmadi slotting beautifully past Joe Hart following a neat pass by Leandro Bacuna. Though City were ahead four minutes later via the nut of Dzeko, a magical belief had begun to stir.
Through the promptings of El Ahmadi, Fabian Delph and Yacouba Sylla, Villa began to contest the middle ground on something like equal terms. Bacuna’s free-kick to level was Wayne Rooney class; Andreas Weimann’s winner two minutes later was football at its intuitive, pulsating best, a quick and clever appreciation of space during a rare loss of concentration at the back for City. A great moment for Lambert but not necessarily negative for Pellegrini, as Wednesday may yet prove.
Champions League: Eye on the opposition
Holders Bayern Munich edged past Wolfsburg 1-0 at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, thanks to Thomas Müller’s first Bundesliga goal of the season.
The victory keeps Bayern, who visit Manchester City on Wednesday in Group D, on the same number of points as league leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Mancini set for Galatasaray
Roberto Mancini is close to completing a three-year deal with Galatasaray thought to be worth €5.5m (£4.6m) per year.
Mancini, out of work since he was sacked by Manchester City in the summer, is expected to be unveiled in Istanbul on Tuesday as the successor to Fatih Terim, whose third spell in charge ended last week.