This time last year, Pellegrini and City received a lesson at this stage of the competition at the hands of then-champions Bayern Munich. That night, Fernandinho and Touré were swamped in midfield, as City’s 4-4-2 matched up unfavourably against Pep’s 4-5-1.
After that game, it seemed that Pellegrini had learned his lesson. He began to use a 4-2-3-1 with David Silva behind a lone striker in big games more often. Indeed, that is precisely what he did away to Bayern (and away to Arsenal) this season.
Here he reverted to type. And he was lucky to come away with a point.
The reassembly of the defensive structure after an attack breaks down has long been City’s Achilles heel. Time and time again last season they were punished on the counter in behind Touré and Fernandinho.
Totti’s goal was a classic example of this longstanding weakness. See below – while the defence are back in position when Keita plays the initial pass, there is a huge gap between defence and midfield for one of Roma’s three midfielders (in this case Nainggolan) to exploit. Vincent Kompany commits the classic Kompany error by getting attracted out to the ball (see his performance up against Van Persie this time two years ago for more), allowing Totti to run into the space that he vacates and score.
Now if the side had been more compact, this goal may not happen. Kompany would have been closer to the Belgian and may have closed down or blocked his first-time pass. Equally, if City had a third man in midfield, this goal may not have happened either. Either someone else would have been closing Keita, allowing Touré to pick up Nainggolan, or Touré himself would have been closing with someone else playing deeper.
It took until the 57th minute for the manager to change it, introducing Lampard for Dzeko and going to a 4-2-3-1, with Lampard in the hole and marking Keita, leaving Fernandinho and Touré free to track Pjanic and Nainggolan.
Silva’s lack of defensive nous
The overload in midfield wasn’t City’s only problem in the defensive phase. As is often the case, Silva’s narrow interpretation of his wide role on the left led to problems with the opposition right-full.
Playing a number ten wide is fraught with risk at the best of times. Just ask Arsenal and Mesut Ozil. These are players that want to be influencing the game in central areas and often forget about tracking their full back. Maicon ran off Silva twice in the final third in the early going, hitting the woodwork on one of these occasions. He was a constant threat down the right flank. Pellegrini, always creditably reactive with his substitutions, recognised this and shut it down at half-time, introducing James MIlner on the left and moving Silva to the right in place of the removed Jesus Navas. Silva was now up against the more conservatively positioned Ashley Cole.