Ton up, but soft goals annoy City

Man City 4 Cardiff 2

Ton up, but soft goals annoy City

Yes, this was yet another effortless and offensively delightful victory in a season that has brought so many for City and their supporters, particularly at the Etihad Stadium.

But Pellegrini is astute enough to know that City, surprisingly beaten by the Welsh club on their first meeting in August, are no longer comparing themselves with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s relegation-haunted side.

That defeat in South Wales was five months — and 97 goals — ago and, as City took their goal tally for the season to 103 in all competitions, they could afford to gift their opponents two of their own, confident in the knowledge that they are averaging 3.8 goals per home league game and, therefore, still statistically likely to come out winners.

Still, and with all due respect to Mutch, Campbell and Noone, City are now comparing themselves with more lofty rivals and if that trio could cause City’s defence such headaches, what are Messi, Iniesta and Fabregas capable of doing when Barcelona face the Mancunians in the Champions League early next month?

“Always if you concede two you will be a bit disappointed,” said right-back Pablo Zabaleta, the pick of City’s back four.

“We’ve conceded a couple of silly goals and we have to defend much better than that. But sometimes when you play like we are doing, trying to be an offensive team, you can get a little bit exposed at the back.”

The second Cardiff goal — although irrelevant as it came in the 92nd minute — marked the third time this season they have scored from a corner against City. As in the other two high-profile examples, goalkeeper Joe Hart was conspicuous by his absence and centre-half Martin Demichelis capped a miserable game by failing to challenge Campbell as he tapped in from four yards.

“Maybe I am annoyed to concede two goals because Cardiff did not have so many chances in the 90 minutes,” said Pellegrini.

“The last goal was in the 92nd minute and we were not concentrating, which is normal, as we were not winning 1-0. But it’s the same as happened in Cardiff, with a lack of concentration at set-pieces.”

Of course, goals by Edin Dzeko — the 100th of the season and the first to be awarded via goal line technology in Premier League history — Jesus Navas, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero had long since settled the outcome although Noone’s equaliser also exposed frailties in the home team’s back four.

The fact that City’s goalscoring feats have come, in the past month at least, without the services of Sergio Aguero, back now after a calf injury, is all the more noteworthy. Not since 1981-82 and the Liverpool trio of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Terry McDermott has a top flight team boasted three 20-goal forwards; now Aguero and Alvara Negredo each have 21 and Dzeko 16 with three and a half months of the season remaining.

Aguero remains the pick of an impressive crop, however, and has marked two substitute appearances with a goal in each game as he eases back from his lay-off. Little wonder, personnel from both sides were queuing up to sing his praises.

“We’re really happy to see him back,” said Zabaleta. “He needs to get back to his best in a physical way because he’s been out for a month. He took 30 seconds to score a goal when he came back against Blackburn and today 20 minutes. It’s so easy for him. But sometimes an absence like his is great for the squad. In football you have to be prepared for when someone important is missing or suspended. Today it was great to see him back again.

“Every time we talk about good strikers, Sergio is one of the best in the world. Probably Messi and Ronaldo at the moment are in a different world, but I think Sergio is one of the best and we are very lucky to have him in the team.”

Solskjaer concurred, even if he wisely resisted the temptation to compare the stable of City strikers with the Manchester United front four — Solskjaer himself, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham — that scored 76 goals as United won their famous treble in 1999.

“Of course they have got three top, top strikers there and they can play with little (David) Silva in behind so he has got loads of attacking options of course,” said Solskjaer. “It is a great position to be in as a manager when you can rotate and have strikers on form like they have. They have scored quite a few goals. For me, before his injury Aguero was within the top five players in the world. You have got Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez and Zlatan and Aguero in the forward role. He is a terrific little player. You are talking about a squad with top, top quality.”

MAN CITY (4-4-2): Hart 6; Zabaleta 8, Kompany 6, Demichelis 5, Kolarov 5; Navas 7 (Clichy 82), Toure 9, Garcia 6, Silva 7 (Milner 80); Dzeko 8, Negredo 8 (Aguero 60, 7).

CARDIFF (4-1-4-1): Marshall 7; Theophile-Catherine 6, Caulker 5, Turner 6, McNaughton 5 (John 68, 5); Medel 5; Noone 8, Gunnarsson 7 (Wolf Eikrem 78), Mutch 7, Whittingham 5 (Bellamy 68, 5); Campbell 7. .

Referee: N Swarbrick 7.

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