If Manchester City are to supply their long-suffering fans with success, then City boss Roberto Mancini is determined to do it his way. The have and hold approach, reminiscent of the catenaccio style of Italian football, may have worked at Inter but in the cut and thrust of the Premier League it is a dangerous game, as the Blues almost found to their cost against Wigan Athletic on Saturday evening.
After a difficult week off the pitch, following the revelation of Kolo Toure’s failed drug test, City may well have been relieved to get out on the pitch and let the focus fall back on to their football. Yaya Toure, after spending the week supporting his brother, was given a freer role than usual, in the middle of a three man line of attacking support for lone striker Carlos Tevez. With Mario Balotelli to the right and David Silva on the left, City lacked only Edin Dzeko from their “Fab Four” attacking line up. Patrick Vieira and Gareth Barry took up the holding midfield roles.
Wigan were hampered by the loss of Charles N’Zogbia, ruled by manager Roberto Martinez to be not fit enough to start, but he was available from the bench. Wigan’s formation mirrored that of City, with Victor Moses and Tom Cleverley providing the width for front man Hugo Rodallega. Wigan had Adrian Lopez making his Premier League debut at right-back, and this was an area that City targeted. Silva had a tremendous opening to the game, getting to the bye-line at will but his teammates seemed reluctant to convert his openings, seemingly wanting to walk the ball into the net rather than take a chance with a first time effort.
Despite City’s dominance, it was a disastrous goalkeeping error from Ali Al-Habsi in the Wigan goal that handed them the lead. Silva, deciding to take a shot himself rather than pass to his wasteful colleagues, saw his effort slip through the Omani keeper’s hands and legs. It would have been accepted had Wigan capitulated in the second-half – this is after all a team which conceded four to Manchester United just last week. But City are not the bold attacking force that their Manchester neighbours can be.
The home side started the second-half looking satisfied that one was enough. They immediately sat deeper and allowed Wigan to gain the initiative. Antolin Alcaraz hit a post on 50 minutes, and the introduction of N’Zogbia added to their threat. The negative approach of the home side was almost punished in stoppage time when Conor Sammon, making his debut from the bench, fired across the face of goal.
Whilst City can be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas, to save energy for the hectic period of Europa League and FA Cup fixtures to come, if they want to ensure the success demanded by their Abu Dhabi backers then they must finish teams off before relaxing. Mancini must learn that in English football, even against the bottom side, one goal is not always going to be enough.