Game in a Sentence

Roberto Mancini panics after Man City go down 2-1 from a badly-defended corner, puts out three at the back, and then concedes again to a very attractive Ajax side under Frank de Boer.

Observations

  • Ajax took a very interesting shape, a quasi 4-1-4-1 that more resembled a 3-6-1(ish) at times as Christian Poulson dropped back between the two centrebacks and Blind and Rhijn, the ostensible fullbacks, hugged the touchline almost as wingbacks. Eriksen was the nominal forward, but he effectively interchanged with Babel and frequently dropped well back, while Sana and Shoene played more on the wing, particularly on the right. Normally 4-1-4-1 is a more defensive formation, but Ajax’s possession school, plus City’s general approach to the game following Nasri’s opening goal, allowed Ajax a healthy amount of time in the City half.
  • Man City meanwhile trotted out the old 4-2-3-1. When City was in attack, Ajax’s midfield dropped deep enough to separate the mid three from Dzeko up front, who effectively dropped out of the game at times. Toure in the middle seemed to pick up a knock early, and he seemed to switch duties with James Milner.
  • The opening stages seemed to follow the script. Ajax were very comfortable on the ball, at least in passing, although the wide options were well cut off and for a time. Ajax played too narrow up front, and City were more than comfortable defending narrowly as well. And so they often turned to shots from well outside, which almost paid off as in the 9th minute when Eriksen’s shot narrowly missed on the right.
  • City, who were more than content to concede possession within their own half (it was 63-37 for Ajax at the end of the first half) on the often-justified belief that Ajax did not have the technical ability to work out a way past Kompany and Lescott, found their moment in the 22nd minute. Micah Richards in left back sent a pass which found Milner surging up the middle, who passed neatly to Samir Nasri on the left who curled a shot past Vemeer in goal.
  • At that point, City were quite content to drop deep and let Ajax try and find an opening. The strategy for the most part seemed effective until the end of the half when Shoene, who had already threatened before wide on the right, sent in a searing cross to Siem de Jong, who slotted neatly past Joe Hart on the right. 1-1 and the half time whistle blew.
  • City came out in the second half with a little more attacking intent, but Ajax were quite skilled at retaining the ball. It played to a detente of sorts in the midfield for the first ten minutes of the second half, until Sana won a routine corner on the right. Whipped in by Eriksen, it was headed in on the left by the centreback Moisander. This in turn sparked a long-winded rant by Gary Neville against zonal rather than marking, but it can’t be ZM’s fault when the City defenders—who have a significant height advantage—don’t freaking jump. Anyhoo, 2-1.
  • THREE AT THE BACK TIME! Mancini panicked responded immediately by introducing Kolarov for Lescott, moving Clichy into left back, Micah Richards to RB, and Kompany in the middle. Clichy didn’t want to do it. But he tried.
  • The change was a disaster for Manchester City. None of the players seemed comfortable with the switch. Kompany didn’t press Eriksen in attack, Ajax exploited the space opened up on the flanks, and Eriksen took a shot that deflected off—yup—Clichy, past Joe Hart. 3-1 Ajax in the 68th minute. Shortly after, Clichy went back to right full back and Kolarov moved back into leftback. Four in defence.
  • It also forced Mancini’s hand in attack. He brought Tevez on for Barry in the 71st minute, and then things really got interesting when Balotelli came on for Milner in the 78th. With Aguero and Toure also out there, it was a very progressive midfield. City began to kind of sort of carve out chances, but Ajax were hardly panicking under pressure, and indeed looked on one or two occasions like they might nick a fourth goal on the break.
  • Despite some pressure in the end, it ended in a dreadful away loss. With Real Madrid going down 2-1 to Dortmund, City are five points behind Real in second and six in first. There is simply no way City will get out of the group. Meanwhile Ajax remind observers what Frank De Boer’s team is capable of.
  • Three Stars

    1. Siem de Jong
    2. Christian Eriksen
    3. Niklas Moisander