3 things we learned from Manchester City’s 2-0 win over AS Roma
Manchester City edged Roma into the Champions League knockout phase.
Manchester City recorded a crucial 2-0 win against Roma on Wednesday, as they edged their Italian hosts into the Champions League knockout phase. It was far from a perfect performance from Manuel Pellegrini’s side, though a briliant second half strike from Samir Nasri was followed up by a late Pablo Zabaleta goal, ensuring they join group winners Bayern Munich in the next round.
Roma made a pulsating start to the match and created the first clear-cut chance after just five minutes, when José Holebas slipped the offside trap before being denied by Joe Hart from point-blank range. Moments later, Holebas’ teammate Radja Nainggolan drilled the ball across the penalty area, though Gervinho couldn’t quite make enough contact to divert it into the back of City’s goal.
It took the visitors 20 minutes before they seriously tested Morgan De Sanctis for the first time, when James Milner’s low shot from the edge of the area was beaten to safety by the Roma shot-stopper. The giallorossi surged up the other end of the field on the counter-attack moments later, though Hart again was on hand to deny Gervinho after a blistering run.
As the half wore on, the chances began to dry up and the pace of the game began to drop. However, with City being the side in need of a goal, Roma were more than happy to pack men behind the ball and look to strike on the break. They did so once more before halftime, though Gervinho’s fired tamely at Hart’s goal after a raking Nainggolan pass found him in space behind Gaël Clichy. City, meanwhile, looked impotent.
Manuel Pellegrini’s halftime team talk seemed to finally imbue his side with a sense of urgency, though despite moving the ball a little quicker, they failed to give De Sanctis an early test. Indeed, the second period’s first stop was at the other end of the field, when Hart dived to push Miralem Pjanić’s venomous drive away from danger.
Then, just short of the hour, City equalised from nowhere. Samir Nasri, who had been pretty quiet for much of the match, lashed a spectacular effort from the edge of the penalty area against the post and into the back of the net. It was a perfect finish, and a goal that completely changed the complexion of the game. Suddenly, it was Roma who needed to not just score, but score twice.
With 20 minutes remaining they very nearly pulled level, though Kostas Manolas’ header on a free-kick agonisingly flicked off the post after a crucial touch from Joe Hart. After that, Roma dominated proceedings, but left themselves exposed at the back. With less than five minutes remaining, they were made to pay the price, as Pablo Zabaleta popped up unannounced to slot the ball home for 2-0.
AS Roma: De Sanctis; Holebas, Yanga-Mbiwa, Manolas, Maicon (Florenzi 79′); Nainggolan, Keita, Pjanić; Ljajić (Iturbe 67′), Totti (Destro 71′), Gervinho.
Manchester City: Hart; Clichy, Mangala, Demichelis, Zabaleta; Milner, Fernandinho, Fernando, Navas (Silva 67′); Nasri (Kolarov 89′); Džeko (Jovetić 78′).
Goals: Nasri (60′), Zabaleta (86′).
1. Roma made to pay for their profligacy
Roma set up to hit City on the counter-attack in this game — something they did pretty well in the first half. Indeed, with the chances they created in the first six minutes alone they could have been out of sight. As it was, their profligate finishing ensured that the Citizens escaped their early scare, and eventually score a spectacular goal from nowhere in the second half. Roma failed to take their opportunities, and were made to pay a heavy price.
2. City unspectacular in victory
Given that this victory has earned City a place in the knockout phase of the Champions League, it is obviously a great win. But even isolated from all context it would be a great win. Roma are a very well-drilled team; the Olimpico a very tough place to go. However, it’s a strange win, as City achieved it without actually attacking very well. Rarely was Morgan De Sanctis given a save to make, and only a single moment of brilliance from Nasri bailed them out — assuming Roma wouldn’t have left them so exposed if they weren’t chasing the game at 1-0. It was a great, but undoubtedly fortuitous victory.
3. Radja Nainggolan is ensuring Roma don’t miss Kevin Strootman
One of the game’s top performers in this match was Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan, who continued his recent fine form with a typically industrious display in the heart of Roma’s midfield. His passing was brilliant, his defensive play almost as good, and his energy second to none. If he continues like this, Kevin Strootman could find it a challenge to get into the Roma team when he’s fit. Perhaps flogging Strootman to Manchester United for a massive fee wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all …