LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05: Yaya Toure (2nd left) of Manchester City rises above Danny Gabbidon (left) of Queens Park Rangers to head the ball past Paddy Kenny the Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper to score the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City at Loftus Road on November 5, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
It is widely assumed that the mark of a good side (and certainly one who have aspirations of winning the Premier League) is having the ability grind out results when not on top form, i.e. winning ugly. This was certainly the view yesterday as City at times laboured to victory as opposed to swatting their opponents aside. The numbers certainly back this out and the passing and territorial advantage City usually have was not in evidence, in fact they recorded their lowest team and individual passing numbers of the season.
It was interesting therefore to see David Platt's comments post-game then, in discussing City's struggles at Loftus Road:
"The important thing is that when we're not quite at it, passing-wise, and not cutting through teams, we can still win football matches."
This is a good point that Platt makes and evidences quite why City are such a potent force this season. Despite not enjoying a stellar day in terms of passing the football and having ceded territory and initiative to QPR, the side still had the ability to score three times on the road to see off a side that was confident and willing to test them. An important stat? It is now thirteen consecutive games (including the final two games of 2010/11) where City have scored at least twice. With a return like that it is no wonder the side has dropped so few points.
A further trait that I do think the game showed was that this is a side that possesses plenty of character. Even after City's start this season, there was those who still held the view that the side was a collection of talented individuals as opposed to a cohesive unit; a side who is united in their aims and ambitions. Anyone who has watched City at close quarters knew that this ascertion was an incorrect one but in falling behind for the first time this season and then letting QPR back in the game, the team still dug deep to come up with a winner. Would other City sides of the recent past have come away with the win?
Were City surprised by QPR's approach? Loftus Road has hardly been a haven for goals this season with QPR winning just once and scoring only three goals in the five games before yesterday, but QPR came at City early, and came at City hard. Adopting a more attacking approach than previous games in adopting a 4-4-2 formation they were prepared to get at City from the midfield onwards. In some ways this was similar to the approach that Wolves took in the game at The Etihad Stadium recently, but QPR possessed a greater threat with both Alejandro Faurlin and Joey Barton impressive (reflected in their numbers). They also possessed a wide threat with Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips and were prepared to get balls into the box to the pairing of Heidar Helguson and Jay Bothroyd. The absence of Vincent Kompany left a big hole but the absence of Nigel de Jong (in hindsight it seemed the type of game that was ideal for him) was equally as important as without his presence - that both shields the central defensive pairing and provides additional security for the midfield - QPR had the upper hand in the midfield battle.
With all sides around City also winning, it was important for them to take the points heading into the international break. With two tough Champions League games against Villarreal having been played recently in addition to the Premier League fixtures its timing may be no bad thing. When City resume in two weeks time, they will face four important games in just ten days: at home to surprise second-placed side Newcastle ahead of the vital Champions League game with Napoli before heading to Anfield the following weekend to face Liverpool and then rounding out against Arsenal in the Carling Cup. Suddenly the squad Mancini has at his disposal doesn't look so big.