Manchester City slowed down at Fulham by Roberto Mancini's tradition of complicating matters
Fulham 1 Manchester City 2
You could feel the frustration at Craven Cottage. Yaya Touré could only blaze over from distance, Roberto Mancini could only berate his players. As the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, Manchester City were dominating Fulham but could not do much with it. Until, finally, Edin Dzeko eased the pressure in a manner that has become quite familiar.
Ahead of a hugely testing Champions League fixture with Borussia Dortmund, though, the big issue for City is why that situation has become so common. Because this was not really the kind of ferocious late siege typical of champions. There was an odd flatness to it more reminiscent of the performances that let Manchester United back into the title race last spring.
A certain anxiety was understandable then because of the sheer pressure of chasing a first title in 34 years. Given the way they eventually won it, however, the reasonable expectation was that City would have kicked on with new confidence this season. Look at the swagger their arch rivals, United, adopted between the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons.
That has not happened with City but it might be down to more than the players. There is a possibility that Mancini has counter-productively attempted to force that evolution with tactical alterations, as on Saturday, rather than let it happen naturally. He has done it before when needing to step up another level, especially in Europe.
In fact, a trend of Mancini's management career has been that he reaches a certain point with a team only to then overcomplicate things or get overwhelmed. You only have to scan his Champions League history with Internazionale. Having dominated Serie A with ease, his side never once got past the quarter-finals. And, despite the fact that meant he played fewer truly top-tier teams, his match record was mediocre – in 52 fixtures, a win ratio of 48 per cent.
A common factor has been the Italian attempting something different only to get overturned. It was certainly the case with City last season. The Napoli game away from home was a classic example. Though City had been given warning of Napoli's searing pace at Eastlands, they still offered up plenty of space to lose 2-1 away and ultimately go out.
It will be interesting on Wednesday to see how Mancini battles with one of Europe's brightest young coaches, Dortmund's Jürgen Klopp.
Something slightly different from Saturday will be required. Again, an element of overcomplication was evident. Although Fulham made it even more difficult by sitting back so doggedly after Mladen Petric's disputed penalty, we never really saw Sergio Aguero or Carlos Tevez interchange in the manner that was so dazzling last season. Instead, it was almost as if Mancini pulled them further away from each other in a lopsided formation that left a number of players not really knowing what position to fill.
Even the scorer of the initial equaliser, Aguero, acknowledged this: "We have to think about the job the coach has to do. He has lots of important players and it is hard to identify 11 to play on the pitch. He tries to do the best he can, just as we do."
Aguero, however, had another point to make: he feels referees can too often give the benefit of the doubt to home players, as City's international attackers had a few appeals for fouls turned down. "It happens everywhere," he said. "There is a little bit of privilege with players who come from that country."
Reus on a roll for Dortmund
Marco Reus was the instigator of Borussia Dortmund's return to form as the defending champions crushed his former club Borussia Mönchengladbach 5-0 to keep Manchester City's Champions League opponents within sight of the top of the Bundesliga table.
Coach Jürgen Klopp rested striker Robert Lewandowski but the champions did not seem to miss last season's top scorer as Reus scored the first and the third before setting up the fourth for Ilkay Gundooan. Neven Subotic and Jakub Blaszczykowski were also on target in a rampant win.
Fulham: SCHWARZER 7/10; RIETHER 6; HUGHES 6; HANGELAND 6; RIISE 6; DUFF 6; SIDWELL 6; BAIRD 7; RODALLEGA 7; PETRIC 8; RUIZ 7
Man City: HART; CLICHY 6; NASTASIC 6; KOMPANY 7; ZABALETA 6; SILVA 8; BARRY 6; TOURE 7; GARCIA 6; AGUERO 8; TEVEZ 7
Goals: Fulham Petric pen 10. Man City Aguero 43, Dzeko 87. Subs: Fulham Kacaniklic 6 (Petric, 66), Karagounis (Baird, 81). Man C Balotelli 5 (Tevez, 66), Nasri (Barry, 76), Dzeko (Garcia, 86). Booked: Man C Kompany. Man of the match Silva. Match rating 6/10. Poss: Fulham 29%. Man C 71%. Attempts on target: Fulham 3. Man C 7. Ref M Halsey. Att 25,698.
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