What a strange, strange game.
I’m not even sure how to begin or what to write about. The inherent irony of Mangala going from hero to zero in the space of one Premier League match is the obvious narrative of choice. Equally strange though, was Yaya Toure’s response to recent criticism in the form of one his better defensive efforts in a City shirt. Even the way the scoring occurred, with each side scoring two in a row and City doing it twice, seems strange enough.
Tactically though, the match went rather as expected. Hull made little to no attempt at keeping the ball through the first twenty minutes and seemed destined to be run off the pitch. So naturally, an own goal and a penalty (both by last week’s hero) allowed Hull a comfortable way back – an escape route they willingly accepted by finally showing an interest in the match.
Indeed, with better luck, Steve Bruce’s side might well have gone into halftime with a lead as they ended the first half in a much more determined manner of attacking City. Following Mark Hughes’ (a confession: just typing his name makes me uncomfortable) widely distributed “How To Beat City and Play Boring” Steve Bruce set up in a 4-4-2 with Jake Livermore (honestly, the furthest thing I can think of to a winger) on the left side of the four man midfield. Up top, it was Football Manager legend, Abel Hernandez, paired with Nikica Jelavic. The defence was marshalled by my nomination for slowest centre-back in the Premier League, Michael Dawson, making this match a salivating treat for hungry City supporters.
And after just 11 minutes, that looked to be exactly the case. Aguero scored a delightful opener, followed not five minutes later by an even better goal from Edin Dzeko. I’d describe it for you, but out of fear of spending 500 words (most of which would be nothing but adjectives that showed up under curling’s entry in the thesaurus) on what would eventually just read like a love letter to the Bosnian striker, I’ll just link you to a gif for you to watch on repeat – you’re welcome and enjoy.
Then it all came apart: Clichy’s worst moment since he had to defend Callum McManaman that one time we shouldn’t talk about, followed by Mangala’s own goal, followed by Yaya’s miserably bad pass, followed by Mangala’s even worse kung-fu challenge, and bingo bango, Hull were level. And from there, their tails went up.
The second half – which had the potential to write just about any narrative one could think of – became the Pellegrini show. I’ve written before about Pellegrini’s substitutions and tinkering, and at times, I think he’s gotten it wrong. But make no mistake, against Hull on Saturday, he got it all right.
With 25 minutes to go and the scoreline still reading 2-2, he brought off his holding midfielder in place of a speedy winger. The result? Dzeko’s winner just two minutes later. From there, he waited just three and a half minutes to gain even more control of the game, moving from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1, removing Aguero for (
Chelsea City-legend) Frank Lampard. And he waited to see Steve Bruce’s positive changes before using his third, countering the additions of Ben Arfa and Ramirez with Demichelis for Silva.
Interestingly, Pellegrini seems intent on closing out games by adding a defensive midfielder; in this case that proved to be Demichelis, while in previous matches, it’s been Fernando/Fernandinho – admittedly an obvious tactic, but one that he was less willing to make in the earlier portions of last season, and one that has so far paid dividends.
It was a strange match; one that should’ve been comfortable, was comfortable, then wasn’t comfortable, then ultimately was again. A match almost as strange as that sentence.
Meanwhile, tomorrow brings Roma to Fortress Etihad, in a match that might, even with just one group match gone, decide City’s Champions League fate. So nothing to worry about, then.