Manchester City take heart from strength in depth

26 February 2009 10:07
At least one Premier League manager has not forgotten that a European adventure used to be a blessing, not a curse. Alone among his peers, Mark Hughes named a full-strength side and was rewarded with an assured display which eased Manchester City into the competition's last 16.

City now stand as the best league in the world's sole representatives in Europe's second-most prestigious tournament after two Craig Bellamy goals saw off FC Copenhagen to set up a tie with Aab Aalborg in the next round. But while the former West Ham striker got the goal, there is only one man City should thank for dragging them through.

Robinho was at his electric best here. He is gradually awakening from his hibernation, starting again to unveil the tricks and flicks which lit up the early part of the season. In the first five minutes, he had dropped deep to pick up the ball and run on a heavy pitch, urging his team-mates forward.

The Brazilian, more than any other, will know the importance to the club of a good run in the UEFA Cup. Tottenham, Aston Villa and Portsmouth might have slighted their fans and the competition by failing to take it seriously – farcically, given all the energy expended and the triumph expressed in qualifying for it – but City dare not.

Hughes knows, and Robinho knows, that if the club are to attract more players of his calibre in the summer they must reach the latter stages, to prove themselves a platform worthy of the world's best. That is the only way the former Real Madrid player will be joined by the sort of team-mates he was promised on his arrival.

It seemed here that he has taken it upon himself to bring it about, as though by proving his class he will advertise the club to the likes of Kaka and David Villa. As though he can build a side around himself by himself. In the first five minutes, he was dropping deep to pick up possession and urging his side forward.

He was at the heart of everything City did. His trickery freed Pablo Zabaleta only to see the Argentine shoot straight at Jesper Christiansen from a tight angle. He hit the bar with a header after Craig Bellamy's cross was deflected into his path with the goal at his mercy. He mesmerised two defenders only to see his effort smothered by Christiansen. A one-two with Bellamy saw the Welshman's bobbling shot rebound off the post.

Their opponents offered little. Stale Solbakken, the Copenhagen manager, had promised his side would improve on their first leg showing, but they were disjointed in attack, barely causing Shay Given so much as a moment of alarm as Atiba Hutchinson fired well over both just before the break and immediately after.

Instead, they endured more torture at the hands of Robinho. He won a free kick which Bellamy fizzed to Christiansen's right as the goalkeeper continued to make amends for his howler in the first leg, and then he ignored Bellamy and played in Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose clever pass beat the goalkeeper but was too heavy for Stephen Ireland, arriving at the far post.

City eventually got their reward through Bellamy. The Welsh striker latched on to Zabaleta's long ball, watched Jorgensen help the ball into his path and slotted home. Robinho should have doubled the lead moments later – somehow sidefooting wide after dancing through the Danish defence – before Bellamy did, the Brazilian teeing him up for a simple finish 10 yards out.

Source: Telegraph