Manchester City may have collected the win they required against Viktoria Plzen to maintain their hopes of finishing top of Champions League Group D but their defending remains a major concern
By Peter Fraser - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsPeteF. Last Updated: 27/11/13 11:36pm
Joe Hart was not given the protection he required from City's defenders at the Etihad
Manchester City simply do not appear to be learning their lessons. When the last 16 stage of the UEFA Champions League arrives, if Manuel Pellegrini's side continue to defend in the manner they produced against Viktoria Plzen, their first venture in history into the competition's knockout stages will not last long.
The already-qualified home team collected the 4-2 victory they required at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night to mean they will travel to Germany on the concluding Matchday Six of the group stages on 10th December with a chance of still overtaking Bayern Munich at the top of Group D. But they are worryingly open at the back and would have to produce a significantly improved performance.
A penalty from Sergio Aguero, who ominously had to go off injured at half-time, was followed by goals by Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko against Plzen. City as a result have now scored 22 goals in their last four home games in all competitions, with Pellegrini undoubtedly bringing the entertaining and goal-packed football which was expected following his summer arrival.
However, visitors Plzen had twice equalised at 1-1 and 2-2 through Tomas Horava and Stanislav Tecl and it underlined the problems which have haunted City's season. There were particular echoes of City's last Champions League win, the 5-2 victory over CSKA Moscow, and it is impossible to ignore their defensive susceptibility.
It is the shortcomings which meant City were humiliated by Bayern earlier this season and creates worries ahead of the game in Germany and the potential of meeting more of Europe's heavyweights in the knockout stages. The return from injury of Vincent Kompany cannot come soon enough.
Manchester City v Viktoria Plzen starting line-ups
Joe Hart returned to the City starting line-up. The England goalkeeper had lost his place earlier in November after a series of high-profile mistakes. With City already through to the last 16, Hart's return was one of seven changes made by Pellegrini, which also saw Dzeko coming in up front alongside Aguero as the City boss maintained his policy of two strikers.
Plzen had to make a late change to their line-up after David Limbersky pulled out due to a stomach virus. Roman Hubnik was the replacement left-back for Pavel Vrba's visitors.
Story of the match
City, perhaps partly due to the seven changes in their line-up which undoubtedly disrupted their organisation, again looked defensively weak throughout the game. It was therefore no surprise that the returning Hart, who did nothing wrong on the night, was not offered anywhere near the necessary protection and he has now kept only one clean sheet in his last 10 Champions League matches.
A main problem for City was in defending the flanks and the key player in upsetting the hosts in the first half was Plzen's right winger, Milan Petrzela. Against the attack-minded City left-back of Aleksandar Kolarov, Petrzela was superb before half-time, completing 11 passes in total - all in the opposition half with a faultless accuracy of 100 per cent.
Milan Petrzela had a 100 per cent success rate with his passing in the first half against City
It was a familiar weakness for City, who have struggled to defend their flanks throughout this season's Champions League - particularly down their left side. Plzen, Bayern and even CSKA have all now focused a majority of their attacks to the right when playing at the Etihad. These are wide areas which not even captain and centre-back Kompany's return will solve.
Plzen, like CSKA and Bayern, sent a majority of attacks down the right at City
Gael Clichy played instead of Kolarov at home against Bayern and CSKA but the attacks were still predominantly at City's left-side. Against Plzen's Petrzela, Kolarov struggled and was guilty of losing possession on nine occasions overall before the interval. Only Aguero before he went off at the break had lost the ball on the same number of occasions among City's outfield players.
Plzen's success down the right was perhaps a factor in Pellegrini's thinking at half-time when he decided to replace the injured Aguero with wide-man Jesus Navas, rather than a striker-for-striker swap for Negredo. The change, which meant City moved away from the two strikers which has at times seen them outnumbered in central areas, saw the more disciplined James Milner move to the left of midfield while Nasri went centrally in support of Dzeko.
Milner's presence did limit the influence of Petrzela in the second half. But City still had problems in containing Plzen. Vrba's visitors instead exploited the gaps between City's midfield and defence, with the floating Daniel Kolar, who assisted both goals, drifting into pockets where he was unmarked. Kolar created five chances on the night, a total which was only bettered by Nasri (six), and it was this exact tactic which led to Plzen's second goal.
Daniel Kolar drifted into pockets of space, as demonstrated in Plzen's second goal
City's enviable firepower, which was even lacking the creativity of David Silva, got them out of trouble through Negredo and Dzeko's late goals and they picked up a third consecutive win in the Champions League for the first time. But the positional awareness, decision-making and poor execution of defensive plans should be a big concern as City prepare to mix with Europe's big boys.
"I think we did not play well. Of all the matches we have played in the Premier League, Champions League, Capital One Cup, all the games we have played, Joe Hart has had the most work in the match. They had a lot of chances, they played well, but finally we won."
Graeme Souness' view
"Against the really top teams, I think Pellegrini needs to strengthen his midfield. You could get Negredo and Aguero dropping off and being a five in midfield. But I am not sure if either of them would relish that. Can they go with this 4-4-2 away from home against the really big teams? I doubt it. I think they will be taken apart."
UEFA Champions League
Wed 27th Nov - Group D
CSKA Mosc1 - 3Bay Munich
Man City4 - 2Plzen
Wed 27th Nov - Group A
Shak Donetsk4 - 0Sociedad
Leverkusen0 - 5Man Utd
Wed 27th Nov - Group B
Juventus3 - 1FC Cop'hagen
R Madrid4 - 1Galatasaray
Wed 27th Nov - Group C
Anderlecht2 - 3Benfica
PSG2 - 1Olympiakos
UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|3||Zenit St. Petersburg||6||7|
UEFA Champions League Group D
UEFA Champions League Group E
UEFA Champions League Group F
|2||Paris St Germain||6||13|
UEFA Champions League Group G
UEFA Champions League Group H
Man City v Viktoria Plzen
Samir Nasri admits Manchester City must solve their defensive problems if they are to progress further in Europe.
Man City's 'special talent' Joe Hart deserves a Premier League recall, says Peter Schmeichel.
David Jones and Shay Given discuss Joe Hart's performance in Manchester City's 4-2 win against Plzen in the Champions League.