Manchester City’s season is hanging in the balance. Humbled at the hands of Newcastle, City are now out of one competition and the likelihood of the Champions League and Premier League following is looking highly plausible.
The squad is enraptured with a wealth of talent that is arguably as good as Chelsea’s, a manager that reinstalled the attacking philosophy that was missing under Mancini and the experience of winning the title only last year. There are several answers for why this season has gone against the script.
One of those factors is the unfamiliarity in the defence that has been caused by the signing of Eleqium Mangala. A dreadfrul debut own goal and all round performance has never been truly forgotten because he hasn’t allowed it to be. Gary Neville commented that the Portugese league allows time on the ball and you don’t get that in the Premier League and he is right. A scapegoat at one stage last season, Martin Demichellis became an ever present and consistent performer in the end and should feel hard done by in being replaced by Mangala.
The midfield can be exhilarating to watch in full motion although the likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Fernandinho have underwhelmed this season. Bemoaning a lack of pleasantries on his birthday was very pretentious in view of his opinion of himself. Barcelona had no problem in ousting him from their team and Man City could do the same. In full song he is almost unplayable, at West Ham it was Song himself that outshone Toure. When he is off form, Yaya Toure looks disinterested and cumbersome, a hindrance to the team and the heavy touch to boot.
At West Ham they held 70% of the ball which coincidently is 9% above their league average for the season. At Stoke they held 72% of the ball in their only other Premier League defeat. Defensively the Champions were resolute last season but this time around they have one clean sheet in their last eight games.
Gerry Francis emphasised that City are in a predicament when he questioned ”are they still as hungry?” and went on to say that ”he (Mangala) is naive at times in his defensive areas and has struggled to adapt”. Sam Allardyce team targeted the City newcomer and the boss said, Allardyce said, ‘I think they leave him exposed. He’s only just joined. They don’t protect him and he’s only just got here. Vincent Kompany is used to it, he’s been at this level for such a long time. This lad’s not, he’s finding his feet and we made big strides down the left and caused them lots of problems.’
Fernando and Fernandinho have scored no goals from a midfield that has notched it’s total of seven from the experience of Frank Lampard and Yaya Toure. This isn’t good enough even if they are more defence minded players.
Fernando is more defensive minded than Fernandinho albeit with less prerogative to join the attack. I think we saw the true value of Fernando at St James’ Park, but he has been a bit below that level in recent games. He will take time to settle and stay consistent. It is rare a player does what Fernandinho did and settles straight away. The energy they both have in the midfield means that they look to win the ball back quickly, but Fernandinho is also interested in getting forward and can create chances whereas Fernando’s strength is in covering the pitch defensively.
The issue for City is that implicating the current system is that the whole team need to be operating the same way. We press high up the pitch with real intensity to win the ball back. Even Chelsea struggled to keep it because we were all over them. It’s what the best sides in Europe do. The issue we have is that sometimes for one reason or another the whole team don’t operate this way and that can leave us in trouble. Against Spurs and Moscow we were very open centrally. Yaya was pressing further up the pitch but there was space where Fernando was leaving a bit more room. That can cause problems. The answer is; it depends on the opposition. Can they play together? No. And in my opinion the ”octopus” as Fernando has been dubbed for defensive reasons, should instigate a protection mechanism in the way Makele did for Chelsea. Sit in front of the back four and pass it simple. Then Fernandinho has licence to probe further forward and will have the hunger from a more prominent role in the team to formulate a partnership with his fellow Brazilian.
Home advantage dictates that Manchester City are usually the favourites to win matches and the derby against City rivals United will be no different. That said, Louis Van Gaal’s team didn’t play in midweek and don’t even have the Champions League as an alternative. For them it is a game that could propell them into the shake up and earn them the all important bragging rights too. Win or lose on Sunday, Man City look a shadow of their former selves!