Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Message to Mancini: Please don't revert to last season's set up.

I'll start off by saying that this is not me having a go at any players, not in the slightest. Neither is this me thinking I know better than Mancini. However, I do not believe Mancini should put Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong and Yaya Toure in the starting 11 together in the final push for the Premier League title.

When Mancini first elegantly wafted into the hot-seat at City and during last season, we saw the team transform from one that leaked goals with its seive-like defence to one that was very hard to break down. In doing so, Mancini took a lot of criticism for fielding a 'negative' team as Barry, De Jong and Toure lined up on the pitch together.

As it happens and I'm sure you are aware, this so called negative team scored more goals than Harry Redknapp's wonderfully entertaining Spurs who played delightfully free flowing and attacking football. Not only did City score more, they conceded less, in fact they had the best defence in the league.

Despite scoring more goals though, City did find it difficult to break teams down if they decided to sit back and defend. Although Toure offers a moderate creative ability and can cause havoc with defences on the break, he is the kind of player who creates the foundation for an attack near the centre of the park and slowly works it forward.

When you then add 2 defensive players to the mix, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong, what this does is slow the overall tempo down dramatically when you have extended periods of possession, and one of those players takes away a place from a more attack-minded player. Although it makes your team harder to break through, it hinders your own creative and attacking ability.

Teams approached City last season as though it was a cup final, the big spenders from the City taking on the working class man and they were not going to go down without a fight. City needed to be hard to beat, they needed a midfield and defence that felt like the other team were running into a solid brick wall every time they tried to go forward because of this attitude.

To be honest, Mancini didn't have too many viable options available to him in attack either. Santa Cruz and Adebayor simply didn't fit into his plans, or style he perceived for the future. Bellamy never saw eye to eye with Mancini and, along with RSC and Ade, had been sent out on loan with several other players who were brought to the club by managers past.

Balotelli was bought in the Summer but was (and still is in a few respects) a rough diamond. He was totally unused to the league and just a little bit too crazy on the pitch to be able to rely on for an extended period of time. Dzeko came to the club in January and took a long time to settle in also.

That left just Tevez as a viable and consistent focal point of attack while the squad was slowly moulded together by Mancini. And to be fair to him, he did the business for the most part.

But then the summer of 2011 came, qualification to Champions League football had been gained as well as a shiny new trophy in the form of the world's most respected domestic cup competition, the FA Cup. The transfer targets were identified, Savic and Clichy came in to bolster the ranks of defence, and Sergio Aguero and (eventually) Samir Nasri were also added to the squad.

By now Dzeko and Balotelli had settled into the squad and City had plenty of attacking options to choose from.

Despite this, the first game of the season arrived (albeit without Nasri at this stage) and Mancini opted for last season's set up to start off with. De Jong and Barry as holding mids and Yaya Toure pushing further up the pitch.

Swansea put in a good showing and City did create a lot of chances in the first half, none of which were put away. Swansea were largely caught on the counter as they began to commit forward, which fell straight into the game plan with De Jong and Barry breaking up play and Yaya ready to break forward into space working a treat.

In fact it was a slick counter attack which broke the deadlock on 57 minutes before Mancini was forced into making a substitution when De Jong picked up a knock.

Instead of swapping like for like, or near to it, he decided to bring on Sergio Aguero forcing Toure to drop a little deeper. This really was the spark of an astonishing run of games that saw City tear teams to shreds as their confidence soared.

Teams then slowly began to drop deeper and deeper, hoping to grind out a draw and maybe snatch a goal for a win, and in some cases forget about the draw altogether and just limit the number of goals they lost by. If they did attack there was more pace and vision in the side to quickly punish it.

For the most part, Toure was lining up with Barry while De Jong was injured and working his way back into contention, and this gave an extra place for attacking players. City were controlling possession, the tempo of the game, grinding down teams to the point of capitulation and then smashing them apart.

A combination of either 2 of Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko (while Tevez was playing golf) was enough to keep teams guessing. But the point isn't the different qualities each of those brings, it's that City usually had 2 strikers on the pitch, because the 2 defensive midfielders had been ditched in favour of a more fluid 1 holding midfielder in Gaz Baz and a roaming/box-to-box player like Yaya.

Despite still being everyone's Cup final, teams are no longer looking to attack City, and if they do they make damn sure they also defend in numbers. A formation that requires 2 defensive midfielders is almost totally redundant in the Premiership.

It worked at the start of the season against Swansea because they tried to attack so much (although we only scored the 1 goal while Barry, De Jong and Toure were on the pitch and 3 when only 2 of them were on), and against Villa who were hopelessly pathetic that day, we simply don't need that kind of cover anymore. City have effectively become victims of their own attacking ability.

The last (and only other) 2 games those 3 players have been on the pitch together were Sunderland away and Swansea away. Each time Mancini realised that it was the wrong decision and duly took one of either Barry or De Jong off for an attacking player.

Combining those two games together, those 3 players were on the pitch for a total of 83 minutes. In those 83 minutes, City created a rather meager 11 chances compared to a season's average of 19 per every 90 minutes of play.

Don't get me wrong, City may well not have won either of those games had they started with a different 11, but the way in which Mancini changed the team early in the game suggests that he knows City would have had a better chance of winning had he not reverted to 2 defensive midfielders.

And why is this? Because sacrificing creativity for defensive solidarity when teams are simply sitting behind the ball with 8,9 or even 10 outfield players  (even when they are the home side) is pointless and gives teams the opportunity to gain a foothold in the game. 

City haven't needed that extra defensive player at any point during the season and still have the best defensive record in the league because other teams have hardly had a sniff at goal while City dominated the games with that extra attacking player.

I don't particularly want to see either of these 3 players left out, but in keeping them all in, you're then leaving out one of Aguero, Balotelli, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri, Milner, Johnson, and even Pizarro now he's getting up to speed and Tevez if he is to make an appearance. All of these players are players who have the ability to create and/or put away chances.

The vast majority of teams left to play aren't suddenly going to start attacking because they know how dangerous City are going forward. They will continue to sit deep, try and counter attack and snatch a goal.

So Mancini, change the starting 11 to keep players fit and to keep teams guessing if you wish, but please, please stick to the style you have so beautifully implemented for the majority of the campaign, home and away.

If we are to really push for this Premier League title, don't go out to play the opposition, make them play us. 

Twitter: @MikeWalshMCFC or @mcfcDSLeftFoot
Facebook: David Silva's Left Foot


  1. Great blog as usual. The thing I admire most about you is your regular updates, as opposed to some other blogs that have been dormant for years.
    To be honest, I was expecting a piece on Savic. I don't really think he has a future at City after this. He's effectively put us out of the Carling Cup and possibly the EPL title. The only point in his defence is that he's never started a game with Kompany, always Lescott/Toure. If he STILL bombs, I say ditch him and use Boyata/Rekik as our 4th CB
    In addition to City I also back Inter in Serie A and I've started to observe Napoli a bit. I think their 3-4-3 could work for us. Imagine:
    CB: Savic, Kompany, Lescott
    RWB: Richards
    LWB: Kolarov
    CM: Toure, Milner
    RF: Silva
    LF: Nasri
    CF: Aguero

  2. Mike, great blog, as always.
    The problem with only 1 def mid, is that Yaya can't get forward often enough to support the lone striker (Mancini's preferred formation) where he is most effective. And let's face it, Yaya is the heartbeat of the team and we sorely missed his drive during ACON. Also, I desperately hope Merlin rediscovers his scintillating early-season form for the run in... we're going to need it!


Comments containing abusive, foul or discriminatory language will not be published.