For as many times as Richard Dunne and Shay Given collided today, you might have guessed that they had never played together before in their lives.
Dunne’s defensive woes today nearly overshadowed the lightning-quick start to Manchester City’s season. In the third minute, Emmanuel Adebayor served up a through ball from the center circle that released Shawn Wright-Phillips far down the right wing. Wright-Phillips then served up the onrushing Adebayor, who finished spectacularly. At that moment, it seemed Man City would be worth every penny they spent.
It would be another 89 minutes before Man City would score again and clinch a 2-0 win. As you would expect, Blackburn Rovers refused to lie down on a soggy day at Ewood Park, but this game proved to be as much of an indictment of Blackburn’s finishing as Man City’s defensive issues.
The attacking pressure from Sam Allerdyce’s side often exposed the shakiness of Man City’s backline. Blackburn’s set pieces, including a number of long throws from Morten Gamst Pedersen, kept the black-shirted Citizens scrambling for clearances. Shay Given remained solid in goal, and Kolo Toure did fine work in one-on-one situations, but Dunne’s mistakes — including a very fortunate non-call for a handball in the box at the end of the first half — highlighted why Man City is pursuing Joleon Lescott so doggedly.
Blackburn controlled the tempo of the game for much of the first half. Mark Hughes’ side, however, looked stronger in the second half and showed glimpses of great attacking prowess, serving up classy through balls and attack runs that put players in great position to score. The pace of Craig Bellamy up front and Robinho and Wright-Phillips on the wings put the screws to Blackburn all day, while Gareth Barry looked strong in a more defensive role, Carlos Tevez threatened to score just moments after he replaced Robinho in the 68th minute, and Stephen Ireland’s late game-clinching goal was top shelf stuff.
Hughes deployed a 4-4-2 for this match, rather than the 4-1-2-3 I had predicted he might use, but with attacking players moving off their lines to set up opportunities, it proved effective. Regardless, Hughes clearly has the personnel to be very flexible in his lineup decisions, so we’ll likely see him use different formations to exploit different oppositions’ weaknesses — and to satisfy all the talent on his bench.
After today, however, Hughes’ biggest concern might be getting Dunne and Given on the same page. You’d think two guys who had been playing together for the Republic of Ireland for the last decade or so would have done a whole lot better than this.