High ball horror for Mancini’s Manchester City ahead of FA Cup final

Following Manchester City’s loss away at Everton, serious questions will be asked of the defensive capabilities of Roberto Mancini’s side. From what seemed like a comfortable position at half-time City were undone by two high balls into their box.

Vincent Kompany has been one of the outstanding centre-halves in the Premier League this season but his partnership with Joleon Lescott looked very shaky in the second period at Goodison. However, there is no doubting the introduction of Tim Cahill played a huge part in the outcome of this match. Before the Australian ran onto the pitch City’s defensive rearguard looked comfortable and untroubled but as soon as he was introduced the gaps started to appear. With Cahill’s ability in the air, and the fact David Moyes’s Plan A of getting Jack Rodwell in possession in and around the City area proved fruitless, Everton suddenly started launching more balls into the box. This proved a masterstroke as City failed to deal with these balls for both the Toffees’ goals.

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This fact is sure to worry Mancini. City are starting to regard themselves as a top Premier League team and with fourth place still likely to be secured this is understandable. On top of this, some of the football played in the first-half including the link up play between David Silva and Yaya Toure certainly justifies this belief. However, when sides play against the top teams in the league set pieces and high balls into the box are a tactic often adopted and this must be dealt with. Looking at both Manchester United and Chelsea, their centre-half partnerships are too wise and have too much about them to be outdone in this way. If City are to challenge for major honours next season this aspect of their game must improve.

More worryingly for Mancini is that when City line up against Stoke City for next Saturday’s FA Cup final this is sure to be a tactic that Tony Pulis’s men will look to exploit. Rory Delap’s long throw is of course something that City will have to deal with as well as an improvement on the way Sylvain Distin was able to pull away to head home from a set play. Stoke, however, will also be a danger from open play. Jermaine Pennant will have no hesitation in looking for the head of Kenwyne Jones at every opportunity, meaning Kompany will have to improve vastly on being beaten all ends up by Leon Osman if he is to cope with the threat of Jones.

This certainly wasn’t the performance Mancini would have wanted before both the Cup Final and Tuesday’s showdown with Tottenham. There may be some positives to take from this game but the Italian may be pinning his hopes on the return to fitness of Carlos Tevez. If his side put in a similar defensive performance to this he may well go against his natural managerial instincts and decide that defence is the best form of attack.

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