The last occasion the flag-waving zealots at the Estádio do Dragão tasted defeat was on February 23rd last year. Coincidentally that was also in the Europa League last 32. In the Primeira Liga their home record is even more startling having not been bested for nearly three years while last month their proud unbeaten spell of 55 domestic fixtures finally came to an end with a surprise reversal to Gil Vicente FC.
Though Porto only showed glimpses of their wondrous best last night it is not hard to see how such intimidating figures have been reached. They play relentlessly on the front foot, always seeking to unsettle with early balls and quick incisive exchanges. When not in possession they press high up, swarming in numbers and attempting to rattle the opposition into a stray clearance from which another attack can be swiftly mounted. In fact everything they do is centred on swiftness of feet and thinking and this demands a work-rate above and beyond that of most other teams.
In the event their urgency proved to be their undoing as Man City’s centre-back pairing of Kompany and Lescott remained stoic throughout while ahead of them their protection in Barry and De Jong structured enough patient periods of tip and tap to frustrate the home side into ragged harrying which ultimately wore down the energy levels.
Once Pereira had been bustled into conceding a leveller that owed largely to the keeper’s rush of blood the slick Mediterranean hit-men were reduced to panic as the realisation dawned on everyone present that City also have a formidable home record of their own to return to. Seeing Moutinho and Rodriguez try to force the issue with over-hit passes and flustered huff and puff looked all wrong, like the Fonz hitting the jukebox only to see the glass smash and cut his hand. The ensuing amateur dramatics at the slightest touch however was sadly not so surprising as a collective desperation took hold at City’s resilience.
The game was billed in some quarters beforehand as the Incredible Hulk versus the Incredible Sulk.
Six minutes from the end resilience turned to ecstasy for Mancini’s men as Aguero tapped in the late winner from a move orchestrated by Nasri who’d previously been ferreting around all evening with little reward. Between Nasri’s throughball and Kun’s simple finish was a drive into the box by the returning Yaya Toure and by God how City have missed his proactive industry.
The blues’ engine room can be ponderous at times while their fleet-footed attack line rev in frustration for a ball that rarely arrives. The burly Ivorian is City’s transmission that takes them quickly from second gear to fifth. It’s little wonder that without them they’ve been stuttering of late.
The game was billed in some quarters beforehand as the Incredible Hulk versus the Incredible Sulk and while both Hulk and Balotelli had defining parts to play in their side’s goals the stage belonged to Yaya who exorcised some of the pain from last Sunday’s ACoN final defeat with a typically imperious display.
Incidentally, 90 million for Porto’s portly front man? Surely such a ludicrous figure is weighed by the pound and includes his monstrous arse that ensures he is onside even if he loiters on the goal-line.
This extremely impressive result now makes City favourites to progress to the last 16 and granted it is ‘only’ the Continental Carling Cup; the consolation prize; the dating of Vince Vaughan after Brad Pitt, but barring an all-too-easy stroll in Villarreal and a futile battering of Bayern when all was lost this represented their first genuinely mature performance in Europe this term. It cannot be under-estimated just how much self-belief and confidence this may instil in a side that required it.
Ending Porto’s impressive home record makes a statement to European football but most of all it makes a statement to themselves.