Roberto Mancini wasn’t ready to grant an audience last night. Manchester City’s manager is still bristling about a week or so of criticism, though the explanation for his absence was that his private jet to Italy awaited.
It was a shame, because this was an afternoon which revealed him to be a man in charge of his own destiny. His substitutions won the game. The shift to a three-man defence when his side went 1-0 down worked as much it did for Roberto Martinez at White Hart Lane last weekend. He could also comfortably dispense with Mario Balotelli, who was given no part in a fixture which ended last season as a pantomime, with the young striker playing the villain.
“We’re not playing to answer questions about us, but to win matches, Mancini’s assistant, David Platt, said. City’s late turnaround did both.
It wasn’t a command performance from the Premier League champions. They looked short of a creative nexus for a long time and Sergio Aguero was often isolated because, against this level of opposition, Mancini dared not risk deploying Yaya Touré in a more advanced position.
For a side of such attacking talents, the challenge Tottenham presented was also shockingly thin, despite the efforts of Emmanuel Adebayor. On paper, there really should be no contest when a team with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon on the flanks plays one in which Aleksandr Kolarov and Maicon are the converted wingers.
But though Tottenham’s supporters chanted Bale’s name when full-back Maicon arrived from the bench, no taxi was required this time. The Brazilian was dangerous. And then came Edin Dzeko – a man likened to Juan Mata and Oscar by Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham’s manager as he compared City’s comeback against his own side to Chelsea’s in last month’s 4-2 loss.
Dzeko has railed against the notion of being a “supersub” but six of his seven goals this season have been as a substitute and his finishes have so far salvaged Mancini nine points.
City fans loathe the name “Manchester United” cropping up in chronicles of their matches, but it is impossible not to compare the way that they are displaying that champion quality of coming from behind to win – something they have achieved four times this season, to United’s eight in all competitions. And in the Bosnian, they also have the equivalent of United’s effervescent substitute Javier Hernandez.
“Against Chelsea, individual brilliance made the difference and, to have a player of so strong as Dzeko to come on in the final minutes, is to their great credit,” Villas-Boas said.
The praise was merited because Dzeko was more than a poacher. His decisive goal should not obscure the immaculate first time back-heel which diverted a throw-in into Sergio Aguero’s path, seven minutes from time, requiring Brad Friedl to save well with his legs from the Argentine.
Dzeko also made the opportunity he scored – racing 15 yards towards goal, finding David Silva and disappearing to receive the return pass to finish.
If the finale provided an echo of the midweek draw against Ajax, then so did the set-piece goal which sent City behind. Mancini would not have been delighted to hear Glenn Hoddle, the former England manager, explaining from his television studio seat at half-time about how mending the holes in his defence simply entailed putting out four cones in training, but City have now conceded more than five to set-pieces. Liverpool, Arsenal and Ajax, twice, have all capitalised.
“We always mark like that but it’s just that we have got get our head on the ball first,” said Platt, in defence of City’s zonal system.
However, there were enough serial offenders to raise questions about the value that is being added by Mancini’s defensive coach Angelo Gregucci. When Tom Huddlestone’s excellent measured free-kick was lofted in, Kolarov was facing away from Steven Caulker, who easily peeled away to thump in the header, ahead of Matija Nastasic, which goalkeeper Joe Hart might have blocked.
City would have been level by the interval had not two good penalty shouts, for a William Gallas handball and Tom Huddlestone impeding Pablo Zabaleta’s progress into the Tottenham area, been turned down. Platt thought the first was a penalty, the second merely obstruction.
A desperation was entering City’s play in the second half when Spurs’ slackness contributed to their own downfall, Kyle Walker diverting an over-hit Silva pass into Touré’s path. He found Aguero who delivered a slide-rule finish to equalise. Dzeko then stepped up to do the rest.
“This shows that there is a belief that we don’t go under,” Platt said. “We don’t get motivated because people say things.” But Mancini had proved a point, even if he was not willing to say as much.
Bookings: Manchester City - Zabaleta. Tottenham - Walker, Adebayor
Man of the Match Silva
Match Rating 7/10
Possession: MC 62%. Tot 38%
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland)