The f(atigue) word has been the topic de jour of late and last nights defeat may well have been the culmination of this, with the fixture list finally catching up with the side.
Up against a fresh side (just back off winter break) with a spring in their stride, the technically competent Dynamo Kiev grew into the game and were increasingly confident and accomplished as the game wore on, particularly after grabbing the lead midway through the first half.
It was a performance as frigid as the conditions, by a side looking listless and lacking cohesion across the pitch. Both goals conceded were poor from a defensive standpoint, with Aleksandar Kolarov and Micah Richards guilty of poor positioning and a lack of anticipation. In fact, with their tails up late in the game, only a smart save from Joe Hart prevented it being more.
Only Carlos Tevez of what could be considered the strongest side was left out, although hindsight suggested Nigel de Jong's influence would have been key, but if there were concerns regarding the quality of the pitch then it made sense to leave him out.
There was no doubt the side missed their industry and infectiousness though and there was a noticeable spark and lift to proceedings when Tevez was introduced, with City forcing a couple of decent half-chances that if converted would have radically altered the outlook of the tie.
Pablo Zabaleta was the man entrusted in the de Jong role; enthusiasm and energy on his side but at times appeared lost and overwhelmed and failed to influence or control the game. Gareth Barry too struggled (perhaps without Patrick Vieira?) and is far less effective when pressured as he was last night. The glaring aspect of the midfield though was the positioning (tactical or circumstancial?) of Yaya Toure: playing far too deep and as a result was neither helping defence or attack.
David Silva, as ever, was the spark in the side yet even for him the final ball or pass somehow wasn’t quite there. As part of a front three though he was the only member who was effective in any way as both Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko failed badly. Dzeko lacked the penetration and ability to be a target that he was beginning to offer, whilst Balotelli’s evening was summed up with the farcical sight of him wandering on to the pitch late following the re-start, only to be substituted minutes later after reportedly suffering an allergic reaction to the grass.
The result also continued the unwanted run of City failing to overturn a lead: one win, five draws and seven defeats when falling behind in games and the sense far the majority of the game was that City were very much on the back foot.
At 1-0 down in European ties, the thought is whether to go for a crucial away goal and risk conceding again or stand pat and take a 1-0 defeat. With a second being conceded, City have left themselves a mountain to climb now and if they concede next Thursday there really is no way back in the tie. An added difficulty is that a full side will have to be fielded in what will likely be a physically demanding an exerting game (think Hamburg 2008/09) and even the possibility of extra time: all some three days before the crucial trip to Chelsea.
The recent post on when goals are scored and conceded illustrates the problems City had when falling behind last night, but does offer a glimpse of how City can turn the tie around. 29 out of the 78 goals City have scored this season have come within the first half an hour. Fast starts have been the key to successes and victories this season. Kiev will no doubt look to come and be cautious, sitting on the lead achieved yesterday, so realistically City need to have the tie on level terms by half-time next week; anything less and it will be a desperate battle to undo the damage inflicted in Kiev.
The immediate hope now is that a win against Reading on Sunday can at least provide the spark of momentum that is required to help achieve this.