Match Report: Europe is still the missing ingredient as Manchester City gain over West Brom from what Roberto Mancini leaves out
West Bromwich Albion 1 Manchester City 2
This was an easy one for David Platt, three points on the road at the end of international week, he could talk all day about that. With 12 minutes to go his boss, Roberto Mancini, was singing from a different sheet. Manchester City were a goal and a man down and the West Bromwich substitute Peter Odemwingie was threatening hell and damnation down the left.
Who knows whether Mancini is great, or lucky, or both? The resource weighted in his favour mitigates against a definitive judgement. What we do know is, in times of difficulty, he can whistle to the bench and replace one multimillion superstar with another. Hey presto, the champions turned calamity on its head and dumped the disappointment at Steve Clarke's door.
But that does not tell the whole story. Mancini returns to Champions League combat this week in Amsterdam needing to demonstrate progress is being made at the Etihad. Defeat in Madrid, and a fortunate home draw against Dortmund, do not look great on paper. On the pitch, City were second best in both encounters. At The Hawthorns, they dominated even with 10 men and, though Odemwingie's introduction shifted the balance, City could respond.
In this environment, City expect to win. West Bromwich shared that view as demonstrated by a line-up with only Shane Long up front. This morning, Steve Clarke occupies sixth place, a spot he would die for come next May. In the end, this was a classic ambush avoided by Mancini, his biggest headache being which ego to disappoint with the team sheet.
Edin Dzeko's two-goal riposte to being left out advances his claims for the visit to Ajax. It is a problem Platt welcomes. "By coming on and getting two goals, when you start looking at your next game, he goes right to the forefront of your mind," he said. "A lot is made of players here being left out of the team – Lescott, Kolarov, against Sunderland, Aguero, Nasri on the bench. What they should do when they come on the pitch is perform in a way which says, 'It will be tough for you to leave me out in the next game, or the one after that.'
"But there's a great deal more to our team selection than what we think our best 11 is today – travel, what they've played before, the opposition etc. It was evident in the dressing room afterwards there were players who didn't get on the pitch as buoyed and happy as those who did. The manager has to pick 11 players but his biggest headache, the thing he hates the most, is leaving 11 players out."
Clarke is unapologetic about setting his team up defensively in this company. He understands his side's present position is unlikely to endure. Introducing Odemwingie presents his defensive rationale with a real challenge. West Bromwich were far more threatening, and City under greater duress, with the attacking flair Odemwingie brought. The result is misleading in that regard. Just because West Bromwich lost to City here does not mean defending deep against them, or anyone else, ensures the best chance of a result next time.
Clarke insisted: "We keep the same focus and targets, we know we need to make sure we're in this league next year. People can see we're progressing and we take the compliments."
Clarke believes City will retain their crown. There was a solidity and belief about them which suggests he might be right. This was a game they might have lost against a team in form. That they didn't was a result of a deep squad but also confidence and belief.
Ajax are next. This is City's next step in their rise towards Europe's top table, to negotiate the Champions League as easily as the Premier League.
WBA: FOSTER 7/10, TAMAS 7, McAULEY 7, OLSSON 6, RIDGEWELL 6, MULUMBU 7, YACOB 7, MORRISON 7, DORRANS 6, FORTUNE 6, LONG 7
Man City: HART 7, CLICHY 6, LESCOTT 6, KOMPANY 7, RICHARDS 6, MILNER 5, BARRY 6, Y TOURE 7, BALOTELLI 7, NASRI 6, TEVEZ 7
Goals: WBA Long 67. Manchester City Dzeko 80, 90. Substitutes: WBA Odemwingie 7 (Dorrans, 63), Gera (Morrison, 72), Lukaku (Long, 81). Man City Aguero 7 (Balotelli, 63), Dzeko 8 (Barry, 79), Kolarov (Tevez, 82). Booked: WBA Long, Tamas, Yacob, Fortuné. Man C Balotelli, Y Touré, Dzeko. Sent off: Man C Milner (23). Man of match Dzeko. Match rating 7/10. Poss: WBA 39%. Man C 61%. Attempts on target: WBA 8. Man C 13. Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham). Att 24,891
Champions League: eye on the opposition
* Ajax's preparations for Wednesday's Group D visit of Manchester City ended in disappointment, after two late goals held the champions to a 3-3 draw at Heracles. A Ben Rienstra own goal and a strike from Lasse Schöne gave Frank de Boer's side a two-goal interval advantage, before Mike te Wierik halved the deficit on the hour. Tobias Sana immediately restored Ajax's two-goal superiority, only for goals in the final 10 minutes from Thomas Bruns and Luis Pedro to earn the hosts a point and give Ajax, still unbeaten, a fifth league draw from nine matches.TOM PARFITT
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