LISBON, PORTUGAL - MARCH 08: Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 between Manchester City and Sporting Lisbon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on March 8, 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Down, but by no means out. Far from it in fact as given their home form over the course of the season City should have plenty of reason for optimism despite suffering defeat in Portugal. One of the aspects I thought contributed to City's undoing in the Champions League this season was a degree of naivety in their approach: namely focussing too narrowly on the task in hand and not looking at the overall bigger picture. Granted, the performance lacked the drive and initiative often seen but within the loss as not too much evidence that Sporting would carry an undue in the return leg. City, you still feel, very much hold their destiny in their own hands.
With all the talk of how seriously City are taking the competition with their ambitions two-fold as opposed to solely focussed on the Premier League it was something of a surprise. Not included in the starting line-up were Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli, whilst Yaya Toure was also absent through suspension. The starting eleven selected looked to have been made definitely with an eye on a tricky looking fixture at Swansea this Sunday with Roberto Mancini perhaps content to win the game back at The Etihad Stadium next week. Undoubtedly a risk but one the Italian deemed necessary as he tries to contend on two fronts heading into a crucial stage of the season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in terms of selection though was with a player who did start: Gael Clichy, who was deployed at right-back (with Aleksandar Kolarov on the left). I wrote recently over at EPL Index how integral City's full-backs are to the style of play and how much they contribute in an attacking sense. Clichy - whilst no means struggling - certainly looked stifled to some extent and unable to contribute going forward as he has done on the left hand side. The midfield and forward lacked natural width with the team selected and perhaps Kolo Toure as a right back (with Lescott starting alongside Kompany) would have provided more in this regard.
With Yaya Toure out through suspension, Mancini opted for the industry of the Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and James Milner trio as opposed to the more creative talents of a Nasri, Johnson or David Pizarro. Whether as a direct consequence or not City's midfield did not have the impetus to break Sporting down, with David Silva failing to impose himself on the game in the way needed. There were passages of play reminiscent of some of the Champions League struggles where City came up against organised sides who are able to restrict the time and space that City's creative talents thrive under. It was only really when Balotelli was introduced (for the again ineffectual Edin Dzeko) that City troubled the Sporting defence to any great degree; his presence amongst their Portuguese defence drawing in others around him and City did threaten an equaliser late on. One to ponder for the coaching staff ahead of next week.
The loss of Vincent Kompany is undoubted a huge blow. His absence last night did not impact greatly on the game but minds are fresh with regards his absence back in January (through a four-game suspension). 10-14 days out is the early post-game diagnosis as confirmed by Roberto Mancini and whilst this would rule him out of the trip to Swansea and the second leg against Sporting, City may well be fortunate that the Chelsea game has been pushed back 48 hours due to their involvement in the FA Cup - meaning that he may recover in time. It will be touch and go but Kompany has been such an instrumental figure this season that City will want to mitigate as much as possible the time he spends on the sidelines.