BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Samir Nasri of Manchester City scores to make it 3-0 during the Barclays Premier League match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City at Ewood Park on October 1, 2011 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Given the midweek meltdown at Munich and the media stampede following City, an away match in the Premier League would surely test the squad's mental strength and resolve to bounce back. It's a schedule the players will have to get used to with 4 competitions to fight for and plenty of distance to travel. There were many of questions to answer, and answers were found. Edin Dzeko seemed to be on good terms with Mancini again as he was on the bench for the match and came on in a late substitution to get a few minutes under his belt. The performance itself was much brighter than Tuesday's Champions League match against Bayern, most notably the defense which never buckled under the pressure or lost focus.
One thing that I've used as a barometer of City's progression over the past 2 or 3 years has been comparing Premier League results against what they would have been a season ago or two seasons ago. Last year, City drew against Blackburn 1-1 at home and won 1-0 away. City have certainly looked much stronger so far this season than most of last season, but at the same time Blackburn also look like one of the worst teams in the league, with a fanbase that regularly broke out into chants against their manager, Steve Kean, in the second half of today's match. There was potential for this to be a tricky fixture (as nearly all away matches in the league are), but it was still one that City were expected to win, probably by a comfortable two goal margin at the very least. In some sense it was like the match at White Hart Lane against Spurs; an on-fire City against a team in shambles (Spurs unsure over Modric, lack of team spirit, poor display against United). So it is important to not get too carried away with this result as it should have been expected.
With Tevez likely to not appear in sky blue any time soon and Dzeko being benched, Mario Balotelli had a great opportunity to impress, and he did not waste his chance. He was the most impressive player on the pitch, expanding his qualities in a great all-around performance. Aguero limped off early on with what appeared to be a groin issue, substituted by Nasri (a striker for a midfielder? Oh dear, how negative!), making Balo the lone striker and arrowhead on each attack. However, not only did he lead the line well, but he even dropped back every now and then a la Tevez and helped out a fair amount on defense. Passing was crisp and on point, mentality was inventive and careful, and behavior was calm (even a smile when he scored in front of the travelling City fans).
Although City's performance had bright spots all around, the first half was an area of concern. Blackburn never really got a grip on the game, but City's constant probing was unable to produce a goal. If I remember correctly, a graphic shown about 35 minutes through the first half showed that an unbelievable 61% of the game's possession had taken place in Blackburn's defensive third of the field, and yet City were empty handed. Aguero's injury obviously did not help City's chances of scoring, but what held the attack back was the inability to find the 'killer' ball to unlock Blackburn's back line. Christopher Samba played well, but for a while it seemed like it would be one of those frustrating games that City would end up drawing. Starting slowly was an issue during last season's campaign, and if it resurfaces this year, crucial points may be lost in the league and in Europe. The second half performance did more than make up for it, but against a squad like Blackburn, it's an issue that shouldn't have to rear its head.
Looking forward, City have 2 weeks off until their next match home to Villa. With 2 weeks off, the dust should settle on the Tevez situation, which is exactly what the club needs right now. Rest is also paramount after the recent slew of fixtures, most importantly for the wizard David Silva. Mancini will have a tough time (as we should all hope) in selection for the next match, as Balotelli, Aguero, and Dzeko are all in form. Adam Johnson's wonder goal will boost his resume, as well as Samir Nasri who came up big with 1 goal and 2 assists in a strong back bounce performance from his recent average games. City remain tied on points at the top of the table with United, back by just 1 on goal differential. With the derby coming up on October 23rd, every point is going to be crucial.
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