After warning his players what would happen if they did not learn to adapt to his tactical changes, Roberto Mancini was rescued by a man who last season proved himself utterly inflexible. Carlos Tevez's refusal to warm up in Munich drove Manchester City into a crisis which almost wrecked the club. Now, after an hour of largely aimless, turgid football, Tevez made the breakthrough that propelled the champions to within a point of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Towards the end of a match, which became the longest in Premier League history, City were, incidentally, operating with three central defenders, the formation that had caused all the problems against Ajax.
However, this was not a victory without cost. With a little less than a quarter of an hour remaining, Micah Richards was carried off with what appeared a very serious knee injury. Having only managed two clean sheets in 14 matches this season, Manchester City cannot afford many more defensive problems. Had Tevez not scored and Mancini not altered his formation at half-time, this would have gone down as one of the worst displays Eastlands had witnessed. However, the goal itself – and the sight of the fourth official holding up a board indicating a record 12 minutes of stoppage time – would linger in the memory.
The Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, did not even class it as a chance. It came from a square pass, played by Gaël Clichy in front of the Swansea 18-yard line. The ball seemed to run under Tevez's feet but the Argentine recovered, looked up and drilled his shot gloriously into the corner of Michel Vorm's net. As the goalkeeper stretched to the limit to keep it out, he tore a groin muscle, an injury that will keep him out for at least a month. His replacement, Gerhard Tremmel, faced one serious shot, from Mario Balotelli in the 102nd minute. Next week he will face first Liverpool and then Chelsea.
Twenty years ago, Laudrup had been part of the Barcelona side that had overcome Mancini's Sampdoria in the European Cup final and this was a defeat that, by comparison, barely stung. "We knew that after what happened at Ajax they would want to come out and put on a show," Laudrup said of the City performance. "They had one chance and that was not even a chance – a shot from outside the area But I really think that we deserved a little more."
What had angered Mancini in Amsterdam was that his players had complained about his tactics and for an Italian manager there can be no worse insult. Joleon Lescott, whom Mancini had singled out on Wednesday night, watched the bulk of proceedings from the bench – as would anyone else who is unable or unwilling to alter their game to their manager's orders.
If you adapt Mancini's observations to any other branch of the entertainment industry, then he has a point. Bob Monkhouse, who had smarmed his way through The Golden Shot and Family Fortunes, was once asked to play a sinister, corrupt businessman for a television drama and did so brilliantly. It is more of a career shift than being moved from right-back to centre-half.
Yesterday, Aleksandar Kolarov, who had been bought from Lazio as a left-back, was employed as the nearest City came to a right winger. He performed there sufficiently poorly to be substituted after a first half that ended with the home side booed off. In the television studio, their former manager, Kevin Keegan, talked of a team that lacked: "width, pace and desire". Thereafter, Manchester City appeared more like a side that had not lost at home for 22 months.
Swansea, who had begun their adventure in the Premier League with a 4-0 defeat here last season, first smothered the champions and then began to counter-attack with an increasing threat.
The most dangerous move saw Ki Sung-yeung measure a brilliantly-judged through ball for Miguel Michu, a striker who has something of Fernando Torres about him. He was denied a breakthrough by Joe Hart, the one Manchester City player whose reputation has increased during their abject foray into the Champions League.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards (K Touré, 81), Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Y Touré, Barry; Nasri, Tevez, Kolarov (Balotelli h-t); Aguero (Lescott, 90).
Swansea City (4-3-2-1): Vorm (Tremmel, 64); Rangel, Williams, Flores, Davies; Ki Sung-Yeung, De Guzman, Britton (Graham, 72); Hernandez (Dyer, 77), Routledge; Michu.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match: Tevez (Manchester City)
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content