Having frequently complained of a "difficult" close-season, Roberto Mancini did not exactly live up to his side of the bargain yesterday. An almost third-string Manchester City strolled to a 3-0 win in an underwhelming game against a League of Ireland XI at Lansdowne Road.
But then this opening match of the Dublin Super Cup was always going to be more about who wasn't here than who was. First, there was Sergio Aguero. In the stadium if not the starting line-up, the Argentinian may well make his debut against Internazionale today, according to Mancini. "He'll do training and in the morning we'll decide."
Then there was Carlos Tevez, who was such a frequent subject of questions that the City PR officer had to interrupt to stop journalists mentioning his name. Not that that helped. For his part, Mancini deniedthat this weekend would see a swap deal with Inter for Samuel Eto'o. "It's not true," he insisted.
Away from the press conference, City sources briefed that they have no interest in Eto'o and it is either "£50 million or nothing" for Tevez. If "nothing" happens to be the case, though, there is sufficient doubt whether it is even worth Mancini persisting with Tevez given the player's unhappiness.
Asked whether he was capable of motivating the Argentinian at this stage, the manager scoffed. "Why not? He will play in the Champions' League. He had a chance to go in the summer, but he has a chance to play with us and we are happy. He will come back on 4 August. It depends on how he arrives, if he is in good form. He has a programme of training and we will see."
Whatever happens, Mancini seems to have planned a side without Tevez in mind, and there were players he would have liked to have had in Dublin. One is undoubtedly Samir Nasri, even if Mancini would not say as much yesterday. "I know who we want. I can say who, but maybe other managers will be angry.
"It's not easy to find players who will improve us. We can choose between two or three. But if we get these we don't need other players. We've been working for two to three weeks. It's not easy. We need players to change our squad. It's the first time we will play in the Champions' League." Mancini did deny Italian reports of a bid for Fiorentina's Antonio Cerci.
There were a few positives from a pedestrian afternoon in Dublin. City's new central defender Stefan Savic put in a composed performance and graduates Abdul Razak, Denis Suarez and Luca Scapuzzi, who bundled in the final goal, impressed Mancini.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson were the only established players in the team. Barry set up the first two goals for Wright-Phillips and Johnson with two divine passes, although they might have looked less divine if the League of Ireland defenders had bothered marking. In the 84th minute an even better Johnson through-ball allowed Scapuzzi to finish.
According to Mancini, it was the sort of move that will keep the previously disgruntled Johnson at the club – if not Wright-Phillips. "Adam Johnson will stay, sure – 100 per cent. Shaun is a different question. He came up through Manchester City and is an important player. For me it's difficult to put him on the bench. But we have so many players it's not easy for him. I need to speak with him in the next few days."
So, today, to Inter and what Mancinipromises will be a much stronger City team. They will be his old team, and there is also preparation for next Sunday's Community Shield against Manchester United, whose similarlyreserve team defeated the League of Ireland XI 7-1 this time last year.
Airtricity XI (4-4-1-1): Doherty; Madden, Murphy, McEleney (Price, 90), Greacen; O'Brien, Molloy, Higgins (Gamble, 56), McClean (Lafferty, 82); Kavanagh (Bennett 75); Zayed.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Taylor (Johansson, 84); Veseli (Rekik, 69), McGivern, Boyata, Savic; Razak, Barry (Roman, 84), Johnson; Wright-Phillips (Scapuzzi, 80), Weiss (Suarez, 65), Guidetti.
Referee P Sutton.
Other clubs in action...
Aston Villa 0 Chelsea 2
Fernando Torres has found his scoring touch as the Premier League season approaches. Within moments of coming on as a second-half substitute, as Chelsea won the Barclays Asia Trophy, the £50 million man deflected a low shot by Florent Malouda past Shay Given to wrap up the scoring.
Torres acknowledged the goal with a thumbs up to his manager, Andre Villas-Boas, who told Chelsea's website: "Good for him, because in the end when you find the back of the net it gives you more confidence. But for us it's not important. We are happy with whoever scores."
Josh McEachran marked another promising display by scoring the opening goal after only two minutes, pouncing on a loose ball after Given had denied Nicolas Anelka and Malouda. Chelsea went on to dominate the goalscoring chances, with Aston Villa's best two opportunities being squandered by Darren Bent and Emile Heskey.
Blackburn Rovers 3 Kitchee 0
Blackburn took third place in the Hong Kong tournament with this victory over the home side, but more pleasing for manager Steve Kean was the display by Mauro Formica. The Argentinian striker scored Rovers' opening goal after 34 minutes, with a header from Brett Emerton's cross.
"When Mauro first came to the club it was difficult because he had to change not only to the method of training at the club but the intensity of the league," said Kean, whose side had previously lost to Aston Villa. "For Mauro and Ruben Rochina, I think they've adjusted to the intensity, they're working really well and it's like getting two new players because they never featured too much in the first-team last year."
Blackburn's second goal came in the 69th minute, when David Dunn lifted a free-kick into the net after Rochina had been fouled near the edge of the box. The final goal completed the misery of the home captain, Ubay Luzardo, who scored an own goal in his side's defeat by Chelsea and missed a penalty with the score still 0-0 in this game.
Seven minutes from time, he bundled over Nick Blackman and the striker got up to score from the spot himself.
Brighton 2 Tottenham 3
Jake Livermore spoiled Brighton's celebration of their new stadium by stealing a winner for Tottenham when he capitalised on dithering in the home defence.
Peter Brezovan, Albion's Slovakian substitute goalkeeper, took too long to deal with a back pass and the midfielder Livermore, who was making a rare start, stole the ball and tucked it into the net.
Brighton made Spurs work hard, taking the lead early on through Ashley Barnes, who was set up by Craig Mackail-Smith. Spurs turned the match around in the closing minutes of the first half, with goals from unusual sources.
Vedran Corluka forced his way down the right to drive an equaliser in off the far post and Gareth Bale's run finished with a cross that deflected off a defender to leave Younes Kaboul with a tap-in for 2-1. Just after the hour, Kazenga LuaLua brought a slick Brighton side level with a mazy run and a powerful shot.
Arsenal 2 Boca Juniors 2
It doesn't seem to matter to Arsenal whether it is a vital match or a kickabout in the sun to boost fitness ready for the new season – they can still contrive defensive howlers to throw away a game they should have won.
This time it was Sebastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou who produced the "After you, Claude" moments to allow Boca Juniors to score twice in four minutes, through Lucas Viatri and Pablo Mouche.
Once again without Cesc Fabregas, while the Spanish midfielder mulls a future at the Emirates or the Nou Camp in Barcelona, Arsenal appeared to take control of the Emirates Cup match with goals either side of half-time by Robin van Persie, from Gervinho's pass, and Aaron Ramsey, with a powerful shot.
Burnley 1 Sunderland 0
Sunderland can at least look to an improvement in their fitness, after losing to Championship side Burnley. The only goal of a tough workout came after half an hour, when Titus Bramble brought down Jay Rodriguez.
The Burnley striker, whose Spanish father Kiko played for Deportivo La Coruña before moving to Burnley, converted the penalty himself.