What to make of Saturday?
I've mulled the game over a little now and it is a tough one to judge and to some degree, there has been a sense of an over reaction to the defeat. That is not to say the defeat didn't highlight problems, but often a defeat brings closer analysis and greater inspection than a victory where three points can often gloss over potential issues.
In fairness, it wasn't essentially a bad performance; City passed the ball well enough, dominated in terms of possession and territory (particular so as the game wore on) as Villa were happy to retreat further and further as the game progressed. They were unlucky too; how de Jong's shot stayed out almost contravened the laws of physics and looking through the Twitter timeline from Saturday it is clear that on the balance of the game, if City had equalised the smart money would have been on grabbing all three points.
Perhaps that makes the outcome all the more of a frustrating one.
The area most discussed in the wake of the game is the lack of chances that were created over the course of the ninety minutes. Despite enjoying the possession and territory, Villa were able to crowd space and restrict opportunity and City often repeated the same approach ad nauseum, playing extremely narrowly and not trying to stretch Villa's defence by utilising the width of Kolarov (first half an hour or so excepted - when he was the only offensive threat), Johnson (after being introduced) and Boateng (who played as an auxillary wide midfielder but drifted inside too often).
Too often the side were predictable. When getting possession back they took the same approach and despite the presence of both Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko were constantly rebuffed by a resolute Villa defence. This graphic from Zonal Marking illustrates matters perfectly; 541 succesful passes in open play, but no more than a dozen played into the box. Perhaps Dzeko was caught by surprise when he put his header wide late on.
Joe Hart has received some criticism for his role in the goal, but Darren Bent deserves credit here. Far from a poor piece of handling from Hart, it was excellent anticipation from Bent and it was a smart finish, typical of what we have seen from him in recent times.
There was plenty of movement by the front players of course, the expectation of Silva or Tevez for instance to conjour something up was always there but as a trio, Tevez, Dzeko and Silva looked disjointed and unsure of their positions which Roberto Mancini constantly changed mid-game. It was noticeable how deep at times Tevez in particular was and there were signs that it will (naturally) take some games to gel. I'm not going to be overly critical given how smooth the transition the week before against Wolves was, a game in which the side netted four times.
Of concern though was the inability yet again to overturn a losing position. In contrast to the dominant record when scoring first, only the victory against Wolves saves the side from having a winless record when falling behind. A footnote to this is that City have not come back from losing position at half time in the Premier League since 1995, a remarkable stretch of time.
The signing of Dzeko was supposed to be the remedy for this but on first glance it was familiar problems that hurt the side once again.
Food for thought for Mancini.