Wednesday 5 August, 7.45pm
Goals: Novo 20, Miller 53, Weir 90 for Rangers. Ireland 27, Petrov 52 for City.
City scored two excellent goals but they weren’t enough to prevent a last minute defeat that was a damning indictment on a shoddy defence.
Hughes named a strong starting line-up with Adebayor as a lone striker flanked by Robinho and Etuhu. Ireland was positioned in front of Barry and De Jong. Richard Dunne and Micah Richards both played their first 90 minutes of pre season while Toure, Bridge and Given made up the rest of the defence.
After a quiet opening, Robinho sprung into life with a backheel to Bridge who crossed for the Brazilian to flick a shot that was blocked by Bougherra.
At the other end Rangers were starting to create chances and scored the first goal with the City defence all at sea. Toure was out of position at full back and couldn’t prevent a cross to the far post where an umarked Rangers player had a shot which ricocheted around City’s box before falling to Novo who slammed it home.
City replied with Robinho narrowly offside as he produced a delightful finish to lob the keeper. The Brazilian was causing plenty of problems down the left hand side and linking up well with Adebayor. Another Robinho run saw him play the ball in to Etuhu, who with one touch moved it on to Adebayor, who played in Ireland for a cool finish, passing the ball into the net.
Robinho cut inside for another shot after 30 minutes as City took control for the remainder of the first half. City’s record signing then put Adebayor clean through, but the Togoese had the ball taken off his toe by a last ditch tackle.
We continued to press high up the pitch to get the ball back. It looks impressive until the opposition get beyond this, and then there is way to much space at the back with defenders frequently being left one on one. This was a trademark Hughes tactic last season and proved to be Dunne’s downfall. The question remains of whether Lescott or anyone else will fare any better in such a system.
Unfortunately half-time saw what proved to be a pair of kamikaze substitutions. Both Barry and De Jong departed to allow Petrov to come onto the left flank, while Robinho moved inside as a second sriker and Ireland dropped back into a midfield two with Zabaleta.
The defence was no longer being given any protection from the midfield and Bridge endured a nightmare start to the second half with balls continually being played into space behind him. He’s clearly encouraged to get forward, but someone needs to drop in and cover when he does. Nobody appeared to want to play left sided centre back. We know from last season that Dunne can’t play there and Toure also prefers the right hand side.
Suddenly a great ball over the top to Petrov sent him scampering away. The Bulgarian cut in and rifled it home for City’s second. Great goal.
Immediately Rangers went straight down the middle with a long ranger effort from Davis that produced a fingertip save from Given. City failed to heed the warning and shocking defending followed as Miller ran from deep without being tracked by midfielders, went through a cavernous gap between Toure and Richards, and lobbed the completely exposed Given.
Ben Haim came on for Ireland and at least he looked willing to play on the left of central defence. The downside to this was Toure, signed as a central defender, moving to central midfield alongside Zabaleta, signed as a right back. The lack of positional discipline was clear for all to see.
In the final substitution Weiss came on for Robinho and immediately produced a fabulous run, gliding past a pair of defenders and teeing up Etuhu who saw the ball taken off his toe.Ã‚Â The youngster then played a beautiful pass through for Petrov to race onto.Ã‚Â Frustratingly, he overhit his pass to the unmarked Bellamy and the chance for a City winner was gone.
Sadly the chance for a Rangers winner was still to come. A corner which Ben Haim headed partially clear landed at the feet of unmarked forty year old, David Weir, who fired home with the aid of a slight deflection. There was still time for Etuhu to hit the post before the referee blew for full time.
Amongst the post match platitudes, Hughes did speak of working on the defending:
“It is more about working with the back four and midfielders as a unit, [than signing a new player].
“That opportunity has really only come up now because Richard Dunne missed a week’s training. We have got to bed down the pairings, it is a week on Saturday that we think about, not this evening.”
With the complete lack of organisation in defence, it looked essential that we play two of Barry, De Jong and Kompany in front of them if we’re to have any hope of solidity. When bearing in mind that every one of our defenders on show have looked decent players under different managers, this asks a lot of questions of the current coaching and tactics.
If City continue to defend like this, they’ll struggle to be in the top half never mind challenge for the top four and Hughes ought to be mindful of Guus Hiddink’s potential availability in the Autumn.
Goals on YouTube