Silencing the Estádio do Dragão last Thursday was a tremendous and unexpected coup for Manchester City. Considering no other team had come away from there victorious in over a year it was a feat that should not be under-valued and especially so because it required a fortitude and inner-belief that City have lacked of late with a squad splintered by injury, suspension and African absentees.
My niggling concern however is that so much emphasis was placed upon the plundering of Porto’s majestic home record there may now be an undercurrent of complacency for the return leg, a collective delusion that the job is mostly done. It isn’t and not by a long chalk.
A slender lead – no matter how impressively attained – can soon be undone by the sparkling talents of Moutinho and Rodriguez and a line-up that is conditioned to play on the front foot throughout, relentlessly seeking out openings with quick, incisive exchanges. Their movement on the break would be a joy to watch if it was against anyone else – an electric hum of darting runs and intent – and you feel there will be plenty more opportunities to exhibit this ninja-style attacking away from the fierce encouragement of home.
All that and a front man in Hulk who has been so incredible over recent seasons that he carries the ludicrous price tag of £90m every time he bustles onto a pitch. I assume the exaggerated sum is stored in his monumental arse that is so monstrous in scope it ensures he technically remains onside even if he loiters on the goal line.
In Portugal Joleon Lescott shackled the magnificently named, supremely arsed prowler save for one instant of respite that the burly Brazilian capitalised upon to set up Porto’s opener. That’s the potency and danger the man possesses. The true mark of a marksman.
With a full-strength squad at his disposal Mancini’s team selection will be a revealing insight into how important he views the Europa bid.
Even so it was an imposing, physical performance by Lescott and round two should be an intriguing spectacle. Though both players fought hard but fair with barely a trip or shove in sight such battle of brawns is a rare treat these days and I for one, who looks back fondly to the days when strikers had blood on their elbows while the grizzled centre-back may as well have worn a butcher’s apron, can enjoy a bruising match-up as much as a fancydan flick or sprayed forty-yarder.
Lescott remained resolute and will need to do so again.
So much attention was given over to Porto’s formidable home record prior to last week’s encounter and now the same props should be duly afforded to Manchester City for making the Etihad an impregnable Premier League fortress for the same period of time. It should be remembered though that this invincibility on home turf does not extend to cup competitions with a loss to the Salford boys swiftly followed by a reversal to Liverpool during a sticky post-Christmas period. Balancing this out is the fact that Porto have never beaten an English side away in European competition.
And this is a competition that City now dearly want to win. Yes after the glamour and glitz of the Champion’s League it suffers in comparison. Yes it can be viewed as a consolation prize; a continental Carling Cup; the dating of Vince Vaughn after Brad Pitt. But progressing past a prized scalp in Porto to reach the last sixteen would be a significant fillip to a club that’s weathered a storm or two of late to find themselves still favourites for the title run-in and crucially with key personnel back in contention. Of those Yaya Toure stands out as the most influential returnee; in a sometimes ponderous engine room he is City’s transmission, driving forward and going through the gears. Balotelli too will be looking to stamp his mercurial authority on games rather than Brylcreemed crowns.
It should be noted that both these players were subjected to vile racial abuse in Portugal.
With a full-strength squad at his disposal Mancini’s team selection will be a revealing insight into how important he views the Europa bid. For the first leg he had the luxury of a free weekend to follow and consequently played the big guns but with Blackburn three days hence will he do likewise again?
A few months back I derided this tournament but following cup exits and a few bumps in the road there has been a reassessment. I really hope he does.