In the tale of two Cities the men from Manchester did just enough to see off the men from Melbourne, a sumptuous volley from French international Samir Nasri with barely five minutes left on the clock enough to give the premiership side a 1-0 win in the first-ever meeting between the two City Football Group-owned clubs.
With both sides fielding a handful of first-choice players and a clutch of youngsters and fringe players this definitely had the look of a pre-season friendly about it.
But sometimes such circumstances can produce unexpectedly interesting encounters as the triallists and wannabes put their best foot forward to impress their bosses in the hope of winning, if not a first-team place, then at least a place in the squad.
Where the City from Manchester is concerned this is, for many of the youngsters coming through, a thorny issue: the club’s wealth and power means it can go shopping for the best players in the world and it is extremely difficult for even the best home-grown talent to make the grade.
In the City of Melbourne’s case it’s a different situation. The A-League salary cap and restrictions on the number of imports per club mean that youngsters can and do get a chance. And despite the quality of the opposition – Manchester City did, after all, include a World Cup winner (Jesus Navas), French internationals Nasri and Gael Clichy, Belgian captain Vincent Kompany and Cote D’Ivoire skipper Yaya Toure in their starting line-up – Melbourne coach John van ‘t Schip was prepared to give plenty of his inexperienced players a chance.
So the likes of Stefan Mauk, Paulo Retre and Wade Dekker got to start, as did former Western Sydney Wanderers discard Jason Trifiro (who has been training with City this month) as the junior club in the City Football Group helped the main outfit prepare for its International Champions Cup match with Roma in Melboune on Tuesday night.
Van ‘t Schip also gave a debut to new signing Aaron Hughes, the former Fulham and Newcastle centre back, although he was replaced at the interval by Paddy Kisnorbo, the club captain. And Michael Zullo also came on for the final 17minutes.
There was no place in the Manchester line-up for new £49 million signing Raheem Sterling, still jetlagged after only just arriving on the Gold Coast to join with his new teammates, but when you have players of the ilk of Navas and Nasri roaming in forward areas, with Toure coming from deep, this wasn’t expected to be a problem against a side like Melbourne. But City struggled to find a way through until the dying minutes. While Manuel Pellegrini’s side created the most opportunities and twice struck the woodwork in the first half (from Toure’s free kick and a Navas shot which Melbourne goalkeeper Tando Velaphi touched on to the bar) it was van ‘t Schip’s team which fluffed the most clear-cut opportunity.
That came just after the half-hour mark when Retre broke up a City attack and went on an audacious run from his own half.
The Slovenian international’s cross eluded Willy Cabellero in the Manchester goal, and the entire defence as well, before it came to Mauk, completely unmarked just metres from goal.
Somehow the Australian youth international, with the goal gaping, contrived to get his foot under the ball and lift it skywards and over the bar – the sort of miss that is guaranteed to end up on an embarrassing blooper tape later this season.
French import Harry Novillo, who looked lively throughout, also went close for Melbourne in the second half when his lobbed shot beat Caballero but went wide of the goal.
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