Manchester City headed for Hong Kong from South Africa after losing their first two pre-season games under the management of Manuel Pellegrini.
City lost both games in South Africa, going down to Supersport United (2-0) and AmaZulu FC (2-1). City, who along with fellow Premiership teams Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur, were invited to compete in the Barclays Asia Trophy with Hong Kong side South China FC. The Barclays Asia Trophy is a 4-team tournament consisting of 2 semi-finals on one day, followed by a 3rd place playoff and the final a few days later.
In front of a 40,000 strong audience at Hong Kong Stadium, City came up against South China with the winner of the game being rewarded with a match against Sunderland in the final after the Black Cats beat Tottenham 3-1 in the earlier semi-final.
A torrential downpour that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Manchester, cast doubts over the matches going ahead, but in the end both games went ahead with 40 minute halves being the only change to the set-up. Despite the games going ahead, City and South China took to a standard of pitch that many of the players wouldn’t have played on previously, Sunderland manager, Paolo Di Canio, later labelled it a “killer pitch”.
In a match lacking in quality, James Milner put in a Man of the Match performance on the right hand side and it was Milner’s cross that allowed Edin Dzeko to head home the only goal of the game in the 21st minute.
Summer signing Fernandinho started the match for the side from Manchester, and looked assured in the midfield before being replaced by Javi Garcia after an hour. Another summer purchase, Alvaro Negredo, showed signs of why City paid Sevilla £20million for his services in a 30 minute cameo which included a scissor kick that nearly ended up in the back of the net.
The 1-0 victory against South China was enough to earn City a place in the final against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon. The pitch, which had had 2 days to recover, still showed the scars from the games played on Wednesday and the standard of the match was affected by these conditions.
Sunderland, who started the game with 4 summer signings including Jose Altidore, began by pressuring City high up the field. However, it took only 9 minutes for City to break the deadlock, in what was their first attack of the game. A lofted ball into the box by David Silva, aiming to pick out Zabaleta who had made a run from his right-back position, was headed clear by Wes Brown only to pick out Dzeko on the edge of the box. The Bosnian then unleashed a half volley that flew past Vito Mannone in the Sunderland net, before clipping the inside of the post on its way in.
Midway through the 2nd half, by way of a Ba handball, Dzeko found himself stepping up to the penalty spot to increase the lead for his team. The end result however was high, wide and no so handsome as Dzeko blazed it over the bar. The penalty miss wasn’t costly as City ended their stay in Hong Kong with the first piece of silverware of the season, along with Dzeko picking up the Player of the Tournament award for his 2 goals in 2 games.
The match against Sunderland came at a cost for defender Matija Nastasic as he was stretchered off with 15 minutes to go, which left Pellegrini unsure as to whether the 20-year old would be fit for the start of the season in just under 3 weeks’ time.
City, who start their Premier League campaign at home against Newcastle United, now head for Munich where they will join Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Sao Paolo to compete for the Audi Cup. In a similar set-up to the Barclays Asia Trophy, City will face some familiar faces in Nigel De Jong and Mario Balotelli when they come up against AC Milan in the semi-final on Wednesday evening.
This could also be the first sighting of Stevan Jovetic in a City shirt as he looks to get minutes under his belt before the season starts. City will no doubt be on the hunt for a 2nd piece of silverware in Munich, to cap their pre-season off in style.