Reading ‘Park the Bus’ but Barry gets on top of it to reach the other side.
Reading came into this match after being thoroughly mauled by Arsenal in their previous fixture, and many expected a similar turn of events against the champions of England. All those were proved completely wrong as Reading came close to pulling off an astonishing result at the Etihad Stadium. A moment of hesitation was all that made the difference on an epic night for Reading Football Club.
Youngster Karim Rekik got a rare start at left back as Clichy and Kolarov were unavailable. Roberto Mancini went for three defensive minded players in the midfield, Javi Garcia, Barry and Yaya Toure forming a triangle with a double pivot. Silva, Tevez and Aguero were playing in the attacking third while continuously exchanging each other’s positions. So the Man City formation setup was a 4-2-1-3ish shape.
Brian McDerrmot opted to go with the strategy of ‘parking the bus’ as his team from the first minute stayed deep in their half and hoofed the ball forward whenever it came to their legs. Their shape was a 4-5-1 with a flat back line and midfield. Occasionally, it became a 6 man backline, and resembled much of those tactics used by Chelsea and Inter against Barcelona. Pogrebnyak was completely isolated and was working hard to retain possession, but remained high up the pitch waiting for long balls his way.
Man City had the ball 74% of the time in the half with a total of 11 shots, 2 on target. Their passing was unmatched, with an accuracy of 90%. The Reading keeper and the defense stood resolute, keeping out most of the attacks and clearing dangerous balls. Man City had 8 corners. Most of them were defended well, but both the central defenders, Mariappa and Pearce, got themselves booked and were holding on to that fine line. There were some decent chances for Tevez, Aguero and Silva but the nimble trio were out of options as they tried to break down a mean Reading defense. They were not allowed any sort of space between the lines and the wide players of Man City were blocked out by McAnuff and Kebe. Reading was the winner of the first 45 minutes. Most of the possession which Reading had also included the time for which the ball was traveling in the air, So technically, they had much less time on the ball.
Nothing changed much after the break as Reading players chose to sit back again, defending deep. Man City have gotten themselves a huge task of keeping a cool head while effectively breaking down their opponents defense. There was always the chance of getting caught on the counter as Kebe and McAnuff were finding their striker with the clearances. Nothing much changed until Dzeko was introduced for Javi Garcia. Now Man City had all their 3 strikers on the pitch. Yaya Toure moved beside Barry.
Mancini ordered to pull the Reading players out of their half by not playing forward balls, and this was paying off. The shape of Reading got disrupted many a time as they went high up chasing the ball. But City were poor in capitalizing those resulting spaces ahead of Reading back line. Occasionally the defense was broken, but there was no one at the end of the ball to convert it into a goal. Manicini brought on Sinclair and Milner and went into full attack mode in the final quarter hour. Reading had a few chances of their own, when Yaya Toure gave away a freekick at the edge of his box.
The endurance and the old time wasting tricks didn’t help Brian McDerrmott as his team conceded a late goal in injury time, Gareth Barry heading in a Silva cross. It was a spirited performance from the Reading players, but they just couldn’t hold on till the end.
Shots on Target
This match reminded those legendary nights of Champions League football which saw Barcelona bow out to similar tactics from their opponents. But it was slightly a different story today as the game approached the end. Reading made a statement by playing such football, and we can expect similar strategies from bottom half teams against the big clubs. Adrian Mariappa put in a commanding performance as he organized his defense and was crucial in breaking down City’s attacks. He is PIE’s man of the match, despite of Barry getting that late winner.