Club Focus – Manchester City – Infighting masks improving City’s defeat of Bolton

Money can buy a football club many things. Given enough time, it will even guarantee success. However, as events at Manchester City over the past week show, no amount of money in the world can buy class. This week has been a particularly dignity-free seven days at Eastlands. Ever the firebrand, Mario Balotelli was involved in a training ground scuffle with Jerome Boateng, leading to the German full-back being dropped from the squad to play Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. The fights were not just confined to the training ground.

Things seemed to have settled. Leading Bolton 1-0 in the final moments of an open, entertaining encounter, Roberto Mancini decided to close out the game by making a substitution. He happened to pick the wrong player to substitute in the circumstances. Carlos Tevez was a picture of confusion and indignation as he trudged to the sideline to be replaced by James Milner. His manager offered a consoling arm. Tevez refused, choosing instead to confront the Italian over his decision, his fury apparent to all 47,000 in attendance.

Naturally Mancini looked to play down the incident. Whilst it is futile of him to attempt to portray their relationship as anything better than strained, the manager realises the importance of the Argentine to City’s hopes. Indeed, Tevez was once again the difference between City earning one point and three; his fourth-minute goal settling the match. “It is not a big thing,” he said. “I am happy when one player doesn’t want to leave the pitch. He is very important for the team but I took the decision and I think it was the right decision.” Whilst Mancini has attempted to placate Tevez with captaincy and downplay any distrust between the two, such a relationship between the manager and star man can only be disruptive for the club.

City managed to hold on, although in truth the game should have been wrapped up long before the substitution. Indeed, Aleksandar Kolarov’s red card in the 78th minute ought not to have earned Bolton a way back into the game. Firstly, neither challenge warranted a foul, let alone a booking. Irrespective, City should have had the game beyond doubt at that juncture. That they did not, ironically, was partially the result of some uncharacteristically profligate finishing by the usually clinical Tevez.

For the first time this season, both full-backs overlapped a narrow midfield. Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta’s enthusiasm to join attacks (and no means ability either) was reminiscent of Chelsea at their imperious best during the early months of the season. Zabaleta in particular linked superbly with Tevez, running on to a sumptuous outside-of-the-foot chipped pass only to see his shot blocked by Gary Cahill. Yaya Toure too attacked with a hitherto unseen positivity from his station in midfield, breaking the lines between midfield and attack constantly. Aside from the missed chances, contestable decisions confounded City’s ability to see off the game. Tevez and David Silva were furious with Andre Marriner’s decision to chalk off a second Tevez goal for offside. Marriner wrongly adjudged Silva to have been offside and interfering with play.

With City beginning to play the style of football expected of a team of their riches, the focus should be on whether they can make up the three-point gap on Arsenal. Disappointingly, in fighting controversy masks over City’s stylistic improvements.

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