Bloated by a goal glut hitherto never seen in English football’s top flight, it was business as usual as Manchester City fired in four goals at Fortress Etihad.
It was Czechmate and Czech-out time for Czech champions Viktoria Plzen as the giddy goal getters in Sky Blue made it 41 scoring strikes in 10 games on home soil, and yet it was a strangely underwhelming experience.
Here was a Manchester City team, comfortably qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League – a competition that was light years away prior to Sheikh Mansour’s investment – and yet there was a certain sense of blasé about proceedings.
The gulf between Manchester City circa 2013 and the City side of just six years ago is immeasurable.
Shorn of a few shillings, City entered 2007 with a 2-1 win over Everton at the then City of Manchester Stadium, with a brace from Georgios Samaras. His manager, Stuart Pearce, when acquiring him for £6 million from Heerenveen in the Netherlands, described him as a ‘rough diamond’.
With a net return of just eight goals in 54 appearances, City fans later found out that only half of Pearce’s appraisal was true.
After the heady heights of their New Year’s Day win, Samaras and his team mates conspired to see out the rest of their Premier League campaign at home with an average of zero goals per game – not one, nada, zilch, not a sausage, sweet – actually not-so-sweet – FA!
Eight games without so much as a sniff of a goal in their own backyard. The drought was eventually broken an incredible seven-and-a-half months later, when Sven Goran Eriksson’s team, courtesy of rising ‘superstar’ Michael Johnson, beat Derby 1-0 on August 15th.
Contrast that with 26 PL goals in just six home games and the contemporary City fans simply have to realise they’ve never had it so good.
The 4-2 win, which gave City a record Champion’s League points haul, was not as straightforward as the score line might suggest. Perversely the post game focus was on City’s porous defence and the performance of Joe Hart, returning in goal after an undesirable five matches on the bench.
Goals from Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko, disguised a lack lustre showing from a much changed line up that had chilled Tottenham’s not so hot spurs last Sunday.
Plucky Plzen twice plugged back City leads, making it 1-1 and then 2-2 with the host’s back four of Lescott, Demichelis, Kolarov and Richards looking as secure as Paris Hilton’s G-string in a naughty home video.
It wasn’t so much that the massive majority of the 41,000 crowd moaned, booed or berated their team, it’s just that the expectations levels at home are now so ridiculously high.
Oh my, what the average City fan of 2007 would have done for four goals in eight matches, let alone 90 minutes? The closest they came to the euphoria of a goal, never mind a winner, was a scuffed Darius Vassell penalty against Manure in the last home game, before Baconface’s boys sliced a lean cut 1-0 win over the less than noisy neighbours.
Six years on, following the seismic 6-0 stuffing of Spurs and the fact City had already qualified from Group D – the ‘D’ denoting doddle rather than death for once – it was always going to be after the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Sergio sustained his astonishing strike rate with a first half penalty before Plzen from Pilsner lager land, served up a fizzing riposte with the goal of the game – Tomas Horava’s spectacular strike whizzing past a blameless Hart.
Samir Nasri had earlier struck the bar with a shot that would have bettered Horava’s howitzer, had it beaten Kozacik in the visitor’s goal.
City’s French midfield maestro – now displaying the form that persuaded Roberto Mancini to shell out £24m to Arsenal – restored the advantage with an elegant finish just after the hour.
Plzen still refused to accept their fate and had the temerity to equalise in the 69th minute when a guy sounding more like a computer geek than a footballer – Teci – scored from close range. Once again Hart was visibly hurting, let down by the dregs of what was masquerading as a defence.
The Beast was introduced for Nasri in the 75th minute and within 180 seconds scored his 11th goal of the season. It was left to Mr Bosnian Body Language, Dzeko to finally put matters to rest with a header one minute from the close.
The difference between Negredo and Dzeko is almost akin to City’s goal famine of 2007 and the feast of 2013. It pains me to say it but Edin has had his days in the sun at the Etihad.
He looks disheartened and downbeat, whereas the swashbuckling Spaniard is all verve, vitality and measured aggression. One frightens opposing defenders, the other carries all the threat of a crème brulee.
The slow burning encounter was fired up by the introduction of Yaya Toure for Fernandinho in the 64th minute. Toure immediately established his presence and power in midfield and provided the springboard for the eventual win.
He also managed to collect a booking for a non malicious foul which now rules him out of the away encounter with Bayern Munich. City will have to beat the European Champions by three goals in the Allianz Arena if they are to forge past the Germans and top the group.
A pragmatic Pellegrini might do well to put out a decent, but not full strength team in Bavaria, preferring instead to plunder the valuable six PL points to be had at Southampton and then Arsenal, either side of the fixture.
It would be nice to think that keeping goal in all of those games would be one Joe Hart. He produced a couple of fine saves and is clearly superior to Costel Pantilimon, albeit the giant Romanian has done nothing wrong in his five appearances.
If City can run up away wins at WBA, Southampton and Fulham it will be business as usual, and that has in the past, has usually been achieved with Joe in goal. Let it be so once again.
By David Walker