So the five game unbeaten streak was brought to an end at Eastlands, but it was a spirited display from Blackpool with yet more of the attacking flair making for an exciting spectacle. On the balance of play over the 90 minutes, City probably just deserved the three points, but their relief at the final whistle was telling – ‘Pool had given them a test. A single deflected goal from Adam Johnson was the difference and while City had chances to extend their lead, most notably from the spot kick which Carlos Tevez hit wide, two fine saves from Joe Hart ensured Blackpool went home pointless.
Ian Holloway was forced into one change from the side that faced Sunderland, with Charlie Adam coming back from suspension to replace the injured Elliot Grandin. This meant a three-man midfield of Adam, Ludovic Sylvestre and David Vaughan – only the second time these three have started a match together, the other being at Arsenal when Sylvestre had to make way for Dekel Keinan following Ian Evatt’s sending off. From a tactics point of view it was interesting to see if this would see a return to a more standard 4-3-3, or if one of the three would occupy Grandin’s slightly more advanced role. To help examine this, let’s take a look at Sylvestre’s chalkboard of passes from Saturday.
In his 45 minutes on the pitch, Sylvestre only misplaced one of his 25 attempted passes – and that was a corner. His ball retention is excellent and it is easy to see why he had long been a target for Ian Holloway. This does however invite the question of why he was sacrificed for Matt Phillips at half-time. In the opening 20 minutes Sylvestre seemed to be occupying the ‘Grandin role’ and the majority of his passes during this period were in and around the edge of the City box in what was a strong spell of the match for the Seasiders. However, as the first half went on City began to assert their influence, pegging Sylvestre back deeper into his own half. Combined with a perceived lack of match fitness, Holloway may have decided that dropping Gary Taylor-Fletcher back into the hole and adding Phillips’ speed to the forward line was the best way of supporting ‘Pool in an attacking sense, in a bid to find the equaliser.
As the second half wore on, ‘Pool seemed to see more and more of the ball and began taking the game to their much richer opponents. Matt Phillips provided the spark of excitement, skinning Aleksandar Kolarov and then his replacement Pablo Zabaleta with his searing pace. Perhaps the key moment was the withdrawal of David Silva, as pinpointed by Man City blog The Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll. After Silva was substituted, ‘Pool enjoyed far more of the ball, with 126 successful passes to City’s 87, as shown on the chalkboard below.
Although Blackpool had more of the possession in the final half hour, the key difference between the sides was City’s ability to create clear-cut chances, where the Seasiders managed very few passes into dangerous areas, despite all their pressure. Only one successful pass was made to a Blackpool player in the City 18-yard box in the final half hour. Unlike in recent games, ‘Pool failed to find the right ball in the final third and for this reason they failed to score for the first time since their game against West Ham in mid-November.
As an overall team performance, it’s one to be proud of despite the scoreline. Manchester City are a very real challenger at the top of the table this season and to run them as close as we did was a real achievement. Unfortunately, this defeat means Man City are the first side to do the double over ‘Pool, when over the two games Holloway’s men can feel hard done by not to have taken anything off the Eastlands outfit. With the transfer window now open however, Holloway will surely look to add more attacking options to his squad to give an even sharper cutting edge when some of his frontmen do misfire.