Thursday, 22 September 2011

League Cup 3rd Round: City V Birmingham Report

It is fair to say that the League Cup is hardly the most inspiring of competitions, maligned by many and ridiculed by some there is a definite argument that the competition is in desperate need of a shake up, and in truth last nights game was little more than a training exercise with City never needing to get out of 2nd gear let alone find 4th or 5th.

5 years ago City would have fielded one of their strongest teams and entered the competition a round earlier, it was something that we took seriously but we have come so far that last night the team fielded was a real mish mash of the good (Tevez, Balotelli & Zabba), the bad (Bridge) and the ugly (OK, who am I to judge?!).  On paper it could have been a mouth watering tie as it pitted the 2 domestic cup winners against each other, Birmingham were victorious in the League Cup last year beating Arsenal in the final but since then their fortunes have slipped and surprise relegation has dumped them back in the Championship, and the defense of their title never really got going if the truth be told.

City of course won the FA Cup and it has left us all with a taste for more success and no matter what we think of it, this is a competition that is definitely there for us to win and therefore I hope we treat it seriously as we progress.  Understandably it was a weakened team last night, and they got the job done with relative ease but if we are drawn against more challenging opposition next time out I would like to see us field a stronger side and really go for it.

The home team controlled the game throughout and youngster Abdul Razak and debutant Owen Hargreaves marshaled the defense well sitting in front of a back line that contained a returning Kolo Toure, Stefan Savic, as well as misfits Wayne Bridge and Nedum Onuoha.  Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli functioned to a reasonable level upfront, supported by Zabaleta and Kolarov providing width.  

Hargreaves was fiery and hard working on his debut and he seemed to be well up for the challenge, he managed to play 60 minutes he kept things simple and tackled cleanly and well.  The most important challenge on the night for the player was coming through unscathed, anything on top of that would have been a bonus, the cherry on top however was the stunning goal he scored that gave City the lead.  He picked up the ball outside the box and swept a stunning strike into the back of the net just out of reach of Colin Doyle in the Birmingham net.  It was a sign of what the former England international is capable of, and when he was substituted on the hour mark to a standing ovation things were looking good, a few more run outs as a substitute and Hargreaves could really begin to offer something.

There was not much of note other than that really, City extended their lead through a well taken goal by Mario Balotelli who swept home a pull back from Kolarov, of course there was no celebration, it was efficient and the job was done.  The game descended into a period of keep ball, and other than a goal line clearance from captain for the night Toure after debutant keeper Pantilimon made a hash of a cross there was no real threat from the visitors.  Tevez went close in the second half but the Birmingham keeper pulled off a good save in a one on one position, the Argentine also went close with a free kick late on that narrowly skipped past the post.

It was a competent and comfortable performance from City played out in front of a slightly disappointing 25,000, but the important thing is that we are into the next round and whatever that might be bring, now onto the numbers:

Costel Pantilimon: 6 - Mixed debut for the giant keeper, really struggled with crosses which is odd considering his height, he did make a couple of smart saves though and his distribution wasn't too bad, whether he is adequate backup for Hart however is unclear.

Nedum Onuoha: 6 - After being frozen out for a long time it was a solid return for the defender.  He was deployed at right back and he assisted the attacking unit well, often overlapping Zabaleta.  His pace was always a threat and he was rarely threatened defensively to be honest.

Kolo Toure: 7 - A strong return from the Ivorian, he lead well and worked incredibly hard.  He was dominant in the air and made some good lung bursting runs through the middle as well.  Offered a solid steadying hand to debutant Savic too.

Stefan Savic: 7 - Showed why the club think he has immense potential, he showed confidence above his years, passed the ball well out of defense, his positioning was good and he also showed good pace to get across the ground, an impressive first start.

Wayne Bridge: 5 - To be honest he did nothing to push himself back into first team reckoning, he tried and toiled but he didn't really have anything to show for it.  Some passes went astray and the attacking side of his game is as poor as ever.

Abdul Razak: 8 - Great debut and one of the best youngsters i've seen at City for a while.  Not ready for the big games yet, but gets a high rating for his potential.  He did exactly what was expect with no fuss or errors, broke up play and moved the ball well, very impressive.

Owen Hargreaves: 7

Pablo Zabaleta: 6 - Played a much more advanced role than normal and didn't really do anything wrong, but didn't really do anything too special either.  Very neat and tidy and was always available to take the ball, never lacks enthusiasm and commitment but creativity isn't his game.

Aleksandar Kolarov: 6 - Set up Balotelli for his goal and as with Zabs he was always willing, but again he isn't exactly a wing wizard but he did show endeavour and his work rate has definitely improved since the start of his City career.

Carlos Tevez: 6 - Full of energy and buzzed about the pitch as we all expect him to do, but there was very little final product, nothing really came off and he tended to lose the ball on occasion.  He looked short of confidence with the one chance he did have hitting a tame one on one right at the keeper.

Mario Balotelli: 7 - Some nice touches and flicks and he did just about enough to get the 7.  If it wasn't for his goal he probably would have rated the same as Tevez, he showed more effort than I thought he might, be he really needs to work on a goal celebration.


James Milner: 6 - Replaced Hargreaves and did a perfectly adequate job in the City engine room.

Karim Rekik: 6 - The 16 year old Dutchman made his debut and looks assured.

Luca Scapuzzi: 5 - No real time to mark, barely had a touch of the ball.

As I have said it was a very straight forward victory but for me the most impressive display came from the young Ivorian Abdul Razak.  Until he got cramp late on he gave it everything he had and was wanting to impress, he did exactly what the holding role required of him, he won the ball, closed players down and moved the ball tidily and efficiently when he had it.  There is great potential there and I think more first team substitute appearances will follow.

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