x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mancini's Manchester City need to muster more for Real Madrid

That elusive away victory at Stoke continues to elude the Italian, whose next assignment pits his side against the Spanish champions, writes Duncan Castles.

Javi Garcia, second from right, heads in a debut goal for his new club Manchester City to cancel out Peter Crouch's opener for Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Adrian Dennis / AFP
Javi Garcia, second from right, heads in a debut goal for his new club Manchester City to cancel out Peter Crouch's opener for Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Adrian Dennis / AFP

Stoke City 1 Manchester City 1

Roberto Mancini has worked out how to win a Premier League; he has yet to find a way to win at Stoke City. The Italian's 1,000th day at Manchester City was not to be marked by a celebratory triumph, it was to end with a familiar result.

Four times now City have drawn 1-1 at the Britannia Stadium. The last time they won away to Stoke it was 1999 and the teams were meeting in England's third tier. Where he had applied caution in the past, Mancini elected for aggression in this early season fixture. It made no difference to the outcome.

His multiple debutants had mixed afternoons. Javi Garcia wasted few passes in his holding role and delivered an equaliser of real conviction.

Maicon looked wide around the waist, yet offered characteristically Brazilian adventure down the right wing. Scott Sinclair was removed after 74 generally ineffective minutes, too often selecting the wrong option when one-on-one with opponents.

In the week in which City appointed a contractor to build a multimillion pound academy adjacent to their Etihad Stadium, Mancini named a first eleven containing zero graduates from the current Platt Lane operation; an academy well known for its successes before the Italian's arrival.

As if to emphasise the absences, he started three of his deadline day signings at the Britannia. Maicon came in at right-back, but spent precious little time as a defensively positioned one. Sinclair was the left winger, and Javi took on the more cautious of the two central midfield roles.

Their manager clearly was not concerned about handing out debuts at an intimidating venue.

Neither was their any caution about the tactics. The Premier League champions started as such, pushing both full-backs high to attack Stoke and driving towards the home goal at all opportunities. With the aggression, however, came an inviting openness that has been evident throughout Manchester City's start to the season.

With new men filling three of their four midfield berths, Stoke did as they usually do, played for set pieces, and muscled their opponents into errors. A quarter of an hour in a Charlie Adam corner kick was not fully cleared, permitting Jonathan Walters to hook the ball back into a danger area.

Crouch demonstrated his agility in chest-turning the ball down and past Vincent Kompany. Though Joleon Lescott and Javi moved in to foil a shot, one intentional and another unintentional handball allowed the centre-forward to bundle it past both and shoot home.

This only served to provoke the visitors. Fit and focused, Carlos Tevez was mobile and inventive, drawing fouls and creating chances. Twenty minutes after Stoke's opener, the Argentine's well-flighted free kick found Javi sprinting away from Adam. The powered header was not for stopping.

In end-of-game injury time, Javi produced an even more impressive header only for Asmir Begovic to fling himself across the goal-line and divert it on to the inside of the post. The save was as inspired as the 50-yard Yaya Toure pass that earned City's corner.

With another new signing in Michael Owen on to try to steal a late winner, Stoke were almost caught once more at the death. Glenn Whelan lost possession in City's area, the ball was quickly propelled on by Samir Nasri to Edin Dzeko, whose chipped finish bested Begovic only for Ryan Shawcross to hook clear on the line.

On the balance of play, City merited three points, yet the balance of their own play remains concerning. This is a team that has yet to keep a clean sheet this season, with six goals conceded in just four Premier League outings.

On Tuesday night they will be tasked with matching Real Madrid in the European Champions League - a competition Mancini has never come to terms with and one that will increasingly become the yardstick by which his management is measured.

Jose Mourinho's trusted tactical scout was at the Britannia Stadium jotting down those weaknesses. If Mancini can't work out a way to undo Stoke, you wonder if he can uncover one for Real Madrid.

sports@thenational.ae