[unable to retrieve full-text content]
The Manchester City juggernaut stuttered here with a faltering performance that is hardly prime preparation for the tricky weekend trip to Swansea City in the Premier League.
Vincent Kompany’s loss early on, to a calf injury, will also concern Roberto Mancini, who said of the result: “It wasn’t a surprise because anything can happen in football but I don’t think we deserved to lose. Maybe we didn’t play well, but football is strange. We have another 90 minutes, we have a big chance to go through, it will be a different game and I think we will score.” Of Kompany, Mancini added: “We have to wait one or two days. It is his calf and a calf is a bad position [to have an injury]. I hope for Vinny it will be short â€“ 10 days, maybe two weeks maximum.”
After the back-heeled winner from the Brazilian XandÃ£o that came with a touch of Copacabana beach to beat Joe Hart, Mancini’s players will be conscious they require a far better performance in the second leg of this Europa League lastâ€‘16 tie at Eastlands next week if they are to progress.
Mancini had decided to leave Micah Richards out of the match squad “so as not to risk him” before the Swansea game, and to leave Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli â€“ who as a replacement hit the bar late on with a header â€“ on the bench. He also chose to deploy GaÃ«l Clichy at right-back, which was a puzzle: the versatile James Milner, who has played there before, may have been a better fit.
Against Portugal’s fourth-placed club, who are 14 points behind the leaders, City struggled for fluidity throughout. A quiet opening half produced a share of possession and chances with each side rallying at the close: for Sporting, Matias FernÃ¡ndez’s run into the area was blocked as he got his shot off; then a free-kick from Joleon Lescott â€“ on for Kompany after eight minutes â€“ was nodded on by Edin Dzeko before Sergio AgÃ¼ero could only head straight at the keeper, Rui PatrÃcio.
Mancini’s men had suffered the first early scare when Hart was forced to leave his area for a headed clearance. As the ball fell to Stijn Schaars an instant attempted lob had the keeper back-pedalling, yet though it was a decent effort the ball was steered wide.
As the defence adjusted to Kompany’s absence, Sporting again came at City via JoÃ£o Pereira, whose shot was saved well low down by Hart. Any smooth pass-and-move from City occurred only sporadically as their front four of Milner, AgÃ¼ero, David Silva and Dzeko struggled to surge at Sporting with convincing force. A Gareth Barry pass took Aleksandar Kolarov down the left-back’s corridor. From the corner he won, Milner niftily swapped passes with Silva before aiming in a cross from which Kolo TourÃ© drew a sharp save from PatrÃcio with a header.
There were further warnings that the visitors would concede if concentration wandered. After Diego Capel moved the ball from left to right to find Marat Izmailov, who blazed wide, moments later Nigel de Jong missed a tackle deep inside the Sporting half. FernÃ¡ndez raced forward as City reversed towards their own penalty area but when the midfielder spread the ball wide to the right he failed to take the return pass and the danger faded.
Too often disjointed, City’s best chance of scoring appeared to be from a set piece, which illustrates the quality deficit they displayed. Another Milner-Silva-Milner move from a corner created space for the Englishman to shoot, but when his miskicked effort took the ball to Barry the midfielder could not finish from in front of goal.
After 33 minutes Sporting had come close to taking the lead by the kind of fluke required to light up a so far tepid contest: a deflection from a delivery by Emiliano InsÃºa, once of Liverpool, spun dangerously close to Hart’s goal and the keeper had to move smartly to tip away the ball from beneath his bar.
There was no fortune about Sporting’s goal six minutes after the break. From a free-kick conceded by Kolo TourÃ© the delivery was pinged in on the diagonal where Hart, diving to his left, pushed the ball out. It arrived at the feet of XandÃ£o, whose initial shot was saved well by the keeper, but the Brazilian applied a touch off the back of his boot for the defender to record his first goal for Sporting.
As the decibel level from the roar inside the stadium rocketed City nearly allowed the home side’s lead to double. JoÃ£o Pereira swung over a cross from the right and as Hart came to claim the ball Lescott â€“ who picked up a groin problem â€“ stuck out a leg: the ball might have gone anywhere but, fortunately for City, a corner, not an own goal, was conceded.
Unlike their Premier League cousins Arsenal in the Champions League after their 4-0 hammering in Milan, City are still very much in their European competition ahead of the return game. But they will have to improve.