Maximus Tacticus – Manchester City
Manchester City has opened the age-old debate of “can you buy a trophy?” With the cash deposit at their disposal, the Blue side of Manchester is taking galloping strides in English Football. It is a testimony of their strength that everyone, if given a chance, would have avoided them in the Champions League group stages. Rarely a newcomer to the elite club competition of Europe has got such an admiration from its rivals. With Roberto Mancini at its helm for barely 15 months, a top 4 finish in the EPL, if not a top 2, is a certainty according to most of the pundits. It is really something – to break into the coveted Top 4 in Premier League and cement its own place. In doing so, Man City have not replaced any top teams, rather they have created a new place for themselves. Having said all these, let us have a look at how they are likely to shape up this year with all guns blazing.
Manchester City has added a plethora of options going forward. Actually they have been blamed for taking in too many players. Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Philips, Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy, Roque Santa Cruz, Steven Ireland, Jo – all of them have been bought in and then subsequently shown the door. May be it is lack of planning, vision or something else which is beyond explanation. However, surprisingly, they seem very lightweight at the back. Joe Hart is a very good shot stopper and he is getting the finer aspects right with every game he is playing. But they do not have a decent #2 as a cover. Stuart Taylor has a long history of Premiere League experiences, but none of them are worth mentioning. It is albeit strange, considering they once had Shay Given in their ranks as the second choice shot stopper. Contrasting options are available on the attacking third – many suggest their 2nd XI would be good enough to secure a top 6 finish! Without a shadow of doubt though, those players would feature regularly in most of the EPL sides.
Mancini is spoilt for choices in the attacking front. To add to that, everyone let alone the owners, want to see Man City winning the league this season. So, this is what seems like the preferred line up for Mancini.
Free Flowing Man City
This is a variation of 4-2-3-1 formation where one of the holding midfielders, Yaya Toure, will be playing further up front. Sergio “Kun” Aguero will play as a classic No. 10, dropping into holes, drawing out opposition centre backs. With Carlos Tevez unsettled, Edin Dzeko has grabbed the opportunity with both hands to cement his place as the focal point of attack and he will continue to do so. David Silva will be the main playmaker enjoying maximum freedom. Samir Nasri will add flair on the right hand side, cutting inside, laying out delightful through balls, making it quite like an inverted winger. It is not surprising, after all, he is French and hails from Arsenal aka a certain Arsene Wenger. This system has the potential to capitalize on the slightest of mistakes from the opposition. This was showcased in the Premier League game against Tottenham – they did not opt for a holding midfielder and City ran riot through their back line.
I Love Diamond
Mancini had a successful spell at Inter Milan, deploying a 4-4-2 diamond system. It seems he will try his hands with this beaten-to-death strategy this time too. It means less protection on the back four, more pressure (or, freedom as one may call it) on the full backs to supply the crosses as there are no other wide midfielders/traditional wingers. So Man City may field such a line-up in domestic cup matches or against lower-mid-table league oppositions. Kolo Toure will be used after his long layoff from the game, giving some much needed rest to Vincent Kompany or Joleon Lescott. Mancini has admitted he can rotate his wing backs at will and he will definitely do so at every given opportunity. More expressive options like Aleksandar Kolarov will be heavily involved under these circumstances. Nigel De Jong or Gareth Barry, if he is preferred, will be the only defensive screen in front of back four with James Milner joining Yaya Toure as a central midfield playmaker. Their duty will be to hold the ball, pass it into triangles and look to feed in the front runners as the pivotal point of attack. When they lose the ball, both of them can slot in beside De Jong to have a more compact midfield line in front of the back four. This formation will be very interesting if Tevez and Aguero play together up-front. Both of them like to drop in the hole or drift to the wide areas, making the formation as fluid as 4-6-0. Mario Balotelli can be used in this system also if Mancini wants to see how his team performs with one player sent off during a tight game.
Manchester City has qualified for the Champions League this time round. They will be a bit watchful as the competition demands a bit of cautious approach, especially for big away matches. Mancini, a veteran of European clashes, will be trying to be compact at the back even at the cost of missing some of the flair going forward. This is a classic 4-2-3-1 formation. Fullbacks are more expressive in this system than the flat 4-4-2. They will not only add width to the system but will also compel the opposition players to drop back, thus allowing them to play a high back line. This is something Barcelona play to perfection – attack aggressively and retrieve the ball high up the pitch if they lose possession of it. The defensive midfielders can drop back and spread a bit to create a pseudo four-man defense. They will also be forming a lot of triangles – between the centre halfs as well as the lone central midfield player. The two wide men will not be classical English wingers, but rather more contemporary inverted wingers. They will cut inside, and shoot at every opportunity (a la LM10 or CR7), leaving the crosses to be delivered by the wing backs. Having players like Silva, Nasri, Aguero, Tevez certainly helps – they are intelligent, can play on both wings and their link up play is flourishing day by day.
One problem which Mancini may face in the coming days is the lack of width. Barring Adam Johnson, Man City does not have any natural winger in their squad. Most of the midfield players like to play or drift into central positions. This will make the pitch narrow and rule out wing play to unlock defenses. Defensively also, this will pose a big threat to their two side-backs against teams who indulge in overlapping fullbacks to go with flying wingers.
Triangles all over the field
Crazy Crazy World
Mancini was ruing the fact he lacks squad depth. One may wonder what else he needs even after having a reserve bench capable of beating any top side on a given day. But I believe the maestro has something unique up his sleeves. Don’t be surprised if he fields a team as below one day:
Where are my back-up players!
Just imagine what would happen if someone in the attacking front gets injured – the poor lad does not have anyone to call up! So one can understand why the Italian desperately needs to add to his existing squad.
Man to Watch (1) – David Silva
David Silva is pivotal to Man City’s success – he will definitely be the first name, along with Joe Hart, to be picked by Mancini for any match. Silva’s first touch is excellent – receiving the ball on the move facing the opposition goal, and his short passing is a joy to behold. His technical ability makes him a regular starter for the current Spain squad which has the players of the calibre of Cesc Fabregas warming the bench. It is important to note that Silva was equally impressive with his passing in the games where Man City went rampant or where they failed to impress. The following graphics – blue lines for accurate passes and red lines for the rare miss passes – show that he had an incredible passing accuracy of 90% in both the matches.
David Silva Pulling the Strings
He is a prized asset for Manchester City – a player who can play wide as well drift inside so as to share the work load with the central playmaker. Even better, he can be similarly effective from either flank – or play in the central midfield role.
Silva started 15 times on the left flank and 14 times on the right, last season. Mancini would love to pair him with a proper overlapping full back. In the role he plays, Silva will drift inside very quickly and hence he needs the cushion of a constantly overlapping full back to stretch the opposition, and find acute angles to thread a killer ball for Aguero or Dzeko. This is why, Gael Clichy, accustomed to play a short passing game at Arsenal, would be a perfect foil for Silva down the left. Aleksander Kolarov, though is equally expressive, but his passes are more direct and hence predictable.
Man to Watch (2) – Kun Aguero
Aguero has arrived and he has announced his arrival in a big way. He has formed a deadly partnership with David Silva. They are on their way towards becoming one of the legendary partnerships up front, reminiscent of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres during their Liverpool days. Liverpool narrowly missed out on the title that season – Eastlands will hope to better that.
As is evident from the graphic, Aguero likes to drop deep and links up well with the creative midfield trio of Silva, Nasri and Toure. To add to that, he has a lethal touch in front of the goal. 8 goals from 5 matches is an ominous sign for things to come. The most important fact is that he has gelled really well into his new team. He works off the front man, can lead the line (though it is less likely that he will be asked to do so), has the trickery to bamboozle his marker and has some real venom in his shots. He is a dream number 10 and Mancini certainly could not have asked for more. Such has been his imminent impact that last season’s top goal scorer, and City’s talismanic captain, Tevez has been sidelined – though he has only himself to blame for this, but that’s a different story altogether.
Debojyoti Chakraborty is a follower of English Premier League and European football. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org