When trying to pinpoint Roberto Mancini’s most valuable player, the candidates inevitably include Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tévez. But topping that list is Yaya Touré. The Ivory Coast international is the fulcrum on which City revolve, and he is hitting top form at the start of the new season – an ominous sign for Chelsea and Manchester United. During a three-year spell at Barcelona, Touré managed just four La Liga goals as Pep Guardiola largely deployed the towering midfielder in an anchor man role or alongside Carles Puyol in central defence. Mancini, for all this conservative ways, has transformed the former Monaco star into a goal scorer – he has netted 12 Premier League goals over the past two seasons. And Touré took his tally to two for the current campaign when he drifted unmarked to the far post at a City corner and half-volleyed his strike past Rob Green on Saturday. Is there a more complete player in Europe? It would appear not.
Green will have been desperate to prove a point to Mark Hughes after QPR’s blockbuster signing of Internazionale goalkeeper Julio César on Thursday. The England goalkeeper arrived at Loftus Road on a free transfer in July, expecting to usurp Paddy Kenny as the club’s first-choice keeper. The Republic of Ireland international moved on to Leeds Untied, paving the way for Green to become Hughes’ undisputed number one. Green famously made an error in England’s 1-1 draw against the USA in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup, permanently denting his reputation, and familiar questions were raised after an error-strewn performance in a 5-0 defeat by Swansea City a fortnight ago. Undoubtedly, his Loftus Road debut only served to spur Hughes forward and sign the five-time Serie A champion César. For City’s first on Saturday, perhaps hindered by a lack of confidence, he was unwilling to leave his line and claim David Silva’s cross, allowing Touré to finish from close range. Green did make amends with a super reaction save from Silva after the Spaniard had breached QPR’s defence. The Hoops goalkeeper was helpless to prevent Dzeko’s headed goal in the six-yard area and Tévez’s quick footwork outwitted Green for City’s third. It appears it is only a matter of time until César dislodges the Englishman in the QPR goal.
Inevitably, much of the preamble to Saturday’s late kick-off focused on the dramatic conclusion to the title race in May. City’s bid to win the inaugural Premier League crown looked to be evaporating after QPR came from a goal behind to lead heading into added time. Of course, Dzeko and Aguero came to the rescue to deny United a 20th title. And, for two brief minutes in the second half against the Hoops on Saturday, it looked as if the unthinkable was about to happen – again. The Citizens failed to extend their lead, mainly down to Dzeko’s wasteful finishing, and the home side were duly punished in the 59th minute. Andy Johnson’s meandering run resulted in a shot which was parried by Hart into the path of Zamora, who simply nodded his header into the empty net. The Etihad Stadium fell eerily quiet, but frustratingly for the visitors, City moved ahead minutes later, with Dzeko heading Tévez’s cross past Green. The remaining half-hour was edgy for the home side as Ryan Nelsen twice had an opportunity to level from set-pieces.
Hughes handed starts to six of his 11 summer signings on Saturday: José Bosingwa, Nelsen, Fabio da Silva, Park Ji-Sung, Esteban Granero, and Andy Johnson. QPR’s South Korea midfielder produced a characteristically tenacious display, while his former United team-mate Fabio was on hand to make a vital block when Silva broke free in the first half. Ex-Chelsea defender Bosingwa was solid at right-back, and Nelsen’s experience will prove a vital commodity for Hughes’ men moving forward. Meanwhile, up front, Johnson was his customary sprightly self, looking to run in behind City’s defence and find space. The 31-year-old played a role in QPR’s goal, cutting in from the left unchallenged, and unleashing a powerful effort which drew a top save from Hart before Zamora guided the rebound into the net. But it was QPR’s signing from Real Madrid, Granero, who may have excited the travelling supporters most. The Spaniard’s technical ability was on full display, and he also possesses a superb set-piece delivery. But, unsurprisingly, the playmaker struggled with City’s physicality and was caught in possession on a number of occasions, while his decision-making in the final third was erratic.
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