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Mission Accomplished. (Timişoara 0, City 1)

19 August 2010

Vincent Kompany congratulates Mario Balotelli on opening his City scoring account with a massive goal.

City went to Romania with one main objective: get an away goal. For those of you new to these sorts of cup ties, away goals are used as tiebreakers, so a 1-0 win prevents a scenario whereby City could go out with a 1-0 loss or a scoring draw at Eastlands. Now any sort of result in the second leg will see City through to the group stage –they can even lose 1-0 and still go to penalties.

As City’s official match commentator noted, Roberto Mancini started as strong a side as possible, given the players available. My main disappointment upon seeing the team sheet was the continued inclusion of three defensive midfielders. I understand that selection for an opener at White Hart Lane. But for an away leg of a Europa League qualifier against Romanian minnows? Come on, Roberto.

Adam Johnson should have started in place of one of the three defensive mids. Gareth Barry would’ve been my choice to sit in favor of the young winger. Nigel de Jong is City’s Javier Mascherano, breaking up opposition attacks before they get going and enforcing in the midfield. Yaya Touré is the box-to-box player who provides a link between the defense and attack. Barry, on the other hand, does a number of things well, but isn’t elite at anything. Anyway, when Johnson finally did come off the bench, he looked impressive as usual.

The big news in this one was the debut of Mario Balotelli. The Italian is a beast, giving the Timişoara right back all sorts of difficulties. He’s skilled enough on the ball to play on the wing, as he did on the left side for City in this one. He could’ve scored shortly after coming on, when Carlos Tévez’s attempted overhead kick squirted wide to Balotelli, but he flashed his shot into the side netting. In the 71st minute, he did manage to get on the scoresheet, edging in front of his marker to tap in what was either a really wayward shot or a beautiful square ball from Emmanuel Adebayor, giving City the crucial away goal.

A worrying moment came deep in stoppage, when Balotelli was tackled while attempting a shot in the Timişoara box. The City physio appeared to be looking at his knee, but the club’s match commentary claimed it was a problem with his calf. Either way, let’s hope the injury isn’t serious.

After City got their goal, I was able to relax quite a bit and watch the rest of the match with a strong sense of curiosity to see whether we would see Typical City or New City out there. Typical City would’ve given up a cheap equalizer late in this one, ensuring they still had work to do in the home leg. New City would’ve ruthlessly punished the home side, who were then pushing forward for a goal instead of playing 11 men behind the ball like before. In the end, the answer was somewhere in between those two options: there were some hairy moments in City’s box, and and Mancini’s men squandered some excellent chances to grab a second at the other end.

The home leg of the tie will take place next Thursday, August 26, so it’s back to league action now. Monday Night Football comes to Eastlands when City host Liverpool in another crunch fixture right out of the gates, so there’s not much of a chance to catch their breath.

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