SPORTING LISBON 1, MAN CITY 0
Nervous Manchester City will again have to overcome a one-goal deficit at home in the Europa League after going down to an opportunistic back heel from a central defender.
City were hit just after the break by a cheeky goal from on-loan Sporting central defender Xandao after Joe Hart had twice parried a 30-yard free kick by Fernandez. Xandao followed up his own parried effort from the rebound with an audacious backheel after he was forced wide to flick the ball past the prone Hart and into the back of the City net.
Roberto Mancini made 6 changes from the game against Bolton last weekend but City had to come to terms with the blow of losing their captain Vincent Kompany to a calf injury in the eighth minute. Already without talismanic midfielder Yaya Toure and forced to field left footed Gael Clichy at right back, City failed to raise the tempo in the first half and gave their hosts increasing confidence to play their passing game despite neither side showing effectiveness in the final third.
Edin Dzeko was especially ineffective for City while David Silva’s distribution proved as below par as his team mates as City’s midfield lacked the driving influence of Yaya Toure and the calming presence of Vincent Kompany. Despite the languid start, City could look to first half chances gone begging by Kolo Toure and Gareth Barry.
Sporting had come into the game towards the end of the first half and their goal early in the second half signalled the beginning of a period of dominance for them during which Ricky van Wolfswinkel could have handed City a mountain to climb when he received a pull-back from Stijn Schaars with the goal at his mercy only to hit a tame effort which Hart gratefully leapt on.
City kept going, however, and a cross from the left by Kolarov skidded off the top of the crossbar while substitute Mario Balotelli tried an elaborately staged cross for David Silva that the Spaniard hit wide.
Balotelli, fined a weeks’ wages for breaking a club curfew last week, had already made his presence felt for City as he offered more of a goal threat, attracting fouls from a worried Sporting defence and winning free kicks in increasingly dangerous areas.
The Italian provided City’s best chance of the second half in the last few minutes with his looping header hitting the bar late on from a David Silva corner.
The closing stages saw Kolarov booked for retaliating against Pereira – the Sporting defender knew he was going to miss the next leg and moments before deliberately tried to stamp on Sergio Aguero.
The return leg will see the return of arguably City’s man of the season and the home crowd will still surely believe they can win the tie with the return of Yaya Toure at the Etihad while Roberto Mancini will hope that Vincent Kompany’s injury will not impact on the title race which resumes on Sunday at Swansea.