Carling Cup verdict: Manchester City 2 Birmingham City 0

Goals: Hargreaves 17, Balotelli 37 for City.

No doubting the headline maker in this Carling Cup victory. Owen Hargreaves capped his City debut with a sweetly struck opening goal from outside the penalty area.

A second from Mario Balotelli ensured Roberto Mancini’s side enjoyed a comfortable evening. Birmingham clearly had other priorities this season than defending the trophy they won against Arsenal.

Rather than give youthful flair a chance in the shape of Joan Roman Angel or Gai Assulin, Mancini sent out a surprisingly robust side which featured a pair of holding midfielders flanked by full-backs in both wide positions.

The resulting lack of flair led to a great deal of possession with precious little magic at the end of it. Unusually for Mancini the formation resembled a conventional 4-4-2 for much of the game.

Thankfully Tevez continually dropped deep to receive the ball and attempted to instigate attacks through dribbles or angles passes to the right flank. Balotelli took the opportunity of a rare start to remind us of his talent with some lovely control and footwork.

Perhaps more surprising than Owen Hargreaves in a City shirt was seeing Wayne Bridge playing in the David Silva role. Nominally on the left flank, he was able to cut in with a free role as Kolarov pushed forward.

The game frequently lacked an edge as both sides seemed content with the scoreline. City moved the ball around neatly and it was good to see so many players who rarely feature looking sharp. The only concern was the handling of Pantilimon, who looks like he needs games to adapt to English football before we can be confident of him as Joe Hart’s deputy.

Stefan Savic looks an excellent footballer with great composure and passing. There may be doubts about his height as a centre-back in the Premier League, but he leapt well enough to beat Zigic in the air.

Kolo Toure also looked sharp and keen to impress. Interestingly both may be better suited to European football than the physicality of the Premier League and it will be interesting to see how Mancini deploys them.

Inevitably Hargreaves was the main talking point. He couldn’t have asked for an easier comeback, with the terrier like Razak closing down opponents next to him. Completing 49 passes in his 56 minutes shows just how involved Owen was.

Having an experienced player who can step into the side in place of de Jong or Barry is crucial for City with such a hectic schedule ahead. Mancini knows this and his disappointment at not signing de Rossi may be relieved if Hargreaves’ comeback continues in such fine style.

The match was a good workout for all the players with the only downside that we didn’t get to see any of the younger creative players. Mancini sent out a functional side, who put in a functional performance and got the corresponding result. Job done for everyone concerned.

External reports:


Player ratings: Manchester City v Birmingham City
City training (Fri 23/9/11)

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