Manchester City handle business with 2-0 defeat of Leicester City
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts from the Etihad Stadium after Manchester City claimed a 2-0 victory over Leicester City on Wednesday.
1. Manchester City back to winning ways
This was the calm after the storm for Manchester City. They had suffered twin defeats to Barcelona and Liverpool. A third successive setback would have rendered this their worst run since 2010 and heightened the scrutiny on the under-pressure Manuel Pellegrini. Yet at times such as these, the easiest fixture on paper is a home game against the team rooted to the foot of the league.
City got it and won it, not without a couple of alarms, but deservedly. They did not look like champions in waiting, but nor did they really resemble a club in meltdown. They remain five points behind Chelsea, and the advantage lies very much with the leaders.
The principal difference between the top two lies on their own turf. As Pellegrini has admitted, City's home form has deteriorated this season. Burnley, who sit second from bottom, had already taken a point at the Etihad, and Leicester could have emulated their relegation rivals. Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a quarter of an hour remaining. Instead, substitute James Milner scored a second goal as the wealthier of these two Cities recorded just a second win in six attempts at the Etihad.
It came courtesy of talismen with contrasting attributes. The tenacious Milner provided the late clincher after the classier David Silva's close-range finish took him into double-figure league goals for the first time in his career. While some of his teammates have been less prolific this season, he has stepped up his scoring. The Spaniard played some wonderfully incisive passes but others' radars were not attuned as acutely and chances were missed.
The prime culprit was the Premier League's top scorer in 2014. Wilfried Bony's belated first start came almost two months after he signed with the club. He made up for lost time as he had an unfortunate ubiquity.
He almost marked it with a goal inside two minutes, but Esteban Cambiasso hacked his header off the line. He could have had a hat trick before half-time, but Mark Schwarzer saved one shot and then, when Silva scooped a pass over the Leicester defence, the newcomer blazed over.
Admittedly, Bony's night could have been worse. Brute strength forms part of his appeal. It might have cost his new side when he thrust an arm into Jeff Schlupp's face, the winger went to ground and, to Leicester's annoyance, referee Bobby Madley did not point to the penalty spot.
Nevertheless, when Bony was substituted, it was to the inevitable chorus of "What a waste of money" from the travelling Leicester support. Time will tell whether they are correct, but if City spent an initial 25 million pounds on Bony for him to influence the title race, Pellegrini's reluctance to pick him and the Ivorian's inaccuracy in front of goal means he is yet to do that.
2. Kompany out as Pellegrini does it his way
If, as is increasingly likely, Pellegrini is fighting a losing battle to keep his job, he seems intent on going down fighting. The Chilean's decisions have been ever more idiosyncratic of late, from persevering with his 4-4-2 formation against Barcelona and Liverpool to his willingness to dispense with some of his biggest names. He is doing it his way.
Pellegrini's blandness is concealing his boldness. His selection showed a ruthlessness. Yet while there were five changes and while Samir Nasri and Fernandinho were axed from the 18 altogether, one exclusion merited more attention than the others. Vincent Kompany's decline from being the best centre-back in the league to only the third finest in the City squad has been swift and undignified. It was hard to argue he was rested with City's next game coming 10 days later.
In short, for the first time since Mark Hughes made the misguided decision to pair Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott ahead of Kompany in 2009, he was not deemed part of City's first-choice defence. His improved showing in the second half at Anfield was not enough to save his spot.
Perhaps this could have been a restorative occasion for an out-of-form centre-back. Instead, Martin Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala were chosen. The Argentine executed a fine early tackle when Schlupp threatened to slalom through and the Frenchman was increasingly dominant. On the right wing, meanwhile, the recalled Jesus Navas presented problems with his pace and created Milner's goal with a wonderful cross. Despite Bony's misses, Pellegrini is entitled to argue his changes were justified.
For the fourth game in a row, he played 4-4-2. For the second time in that run, it wasn't an issue. City can afford the luxury of two strikers in home games against Newcastle and Leicester. As he ought to have learned, they can't against Barcelona or away at Liverpool. It is a formation that allowed them to destroy the weak as they scored a century of league goals last season. Had they been more clinical, this could have been another rout.
3. Safety-first approach might not bring safety for Leicester
If Pellegrini proved unable to combat a unique formation at Anfield on Sunday, he encountered a side with a similar shape. Not that this was a case of Nigel Pearson studying Brendan Rodgers' blueprint at the weekend -- he had reorganised his team before then. Yet while Liverpool's system is 3-4-2-1, Leicester's is more 5-4-1. Paul Konchesky and Danny Simpson can't be called wing-backs and, whereas Rodgers' side are decidedly cavalier, Leicester are more cautious. The plan is for seven outfield players to protect Schwarzer's goal and the talented, speedy trio of Schlupp, Mahrez and Andrej Kramaric to spring counterattacks.
But unlike Liverpool, they do not find flair players in space between the lines and it leaves them over-reliant on the front trio. It worked at Goodison Park, where the introductions of David Nugent and Jamie Vardy enabled them to score twice. The two Englishmen came on again at the Etihad Stadium. This time, however, a more defensive player -- Konchesky -- was replaced, as Pearson recognised he needed more possible scorers.
And the early evidence is that, while Pearson was aiming for solidity with the new shape, Leicester may not have enough potential match-winners on the field for a side seven points from safety. They have played it four times, lost three and drawn once. It is not an auspicious omen.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.