Sunday, 27 December 2009

Mancini passes first of many tests

The physical storm offered by Tony Pulis’ Stoke ended up being quietly weathered at a packed Eastlands yesterday, as City saw off the Potters 2-0 in an efficient but effective performance. Coming away from the game last night, the big question for me was whether I saw anything that represented progress from the Hughes era.

Possible changes
Of course at this early stage, even if the team has improved it is difficult to put this down to the new man at the helm. More often than not there’s an upsurge in work rate when a new manager comes in, which usually translates into an upturn in form. So positives should be taken with a pinch of salt at this stage.

We felt more assured at the back and consequently that meant we dealt much better with Stoke’s physical onslaught. Kompany was a welcome name on the team sheet. Although he was initially bought for defensive midfield duties, in many ways he is a modern centre back because of his confidence in possession. I felt Kompany had a good game yesterday, much more comfortable than Nedum Onuoha’s recent nervy showings.

Sylvinho turned out his best performance so far, although admittedly the left back could only improve after his showings against Spurs, Bolton and Sunderland. Zabaleta continues to be steady and proved once again what a good crosser of the ball he is by laying on the cross that eventually lead to Carlos Tevez’s seventh Premier League goal.

Its worth noting that Tevez is now City’s joint top scorer in the League alongside Emmanuel Adebayor. Who said the little Argentinean wasn’t a goal scorer?

The most notable change for me was the way we defended corners. We packed the 6 yard box with a line of four, followed with a line of three in front, with our attackers getting in amongst the Stoke players around the penalty spot. Not sure if this was a Mancini tactic or not, but it seemed to work against Pulis’ towering attackers. If anything, it served to give Shay Given the required space to better judge the cross, as opposed to Stoke players being allowed to crowd the small keeper.

Offensively, Mancini adopted a clear change in formation, partnering Robinho with Tevez up front and bringing Petrov in on the left side of midfield to fill the gap. I liked the look of this on paper because theoretically it gave the team more defensive cover down the left flank. After watching the game though, it must be noted that Petrov is not much better than Robinho when it comes to defending, and with Sylvinho wanting for pace, the left side is a definite weak spot that only begins to look stronger once Bellamy is in place.

Definite constants
Of course there were errors in our defensive game. In the first half Tuncay went clean through on goal, and were it not for the sheer quality of Given’s reactions Stoke might well have been heading into halftime 1-0 up with a very different game in prospect. In the second half the Potters began to ask more questions of the City backline and became more of a threat from set pieces. James Beattie in particular went close to the mark, but Given again proved to be more than equal. So although there were improvements at the back, its fair to say that this area will probably remain our weak spot for many more games to come. Only time (and hopefully more of Mancini’s double training sessions) will put this right.

I suspect one of the main talking points of this game will be none other than our erratic little Brazilian. There was certainly little evidence that a change in manager had produced the desired change in Robinho’s mentality that everyone wants to see. If it isn’t already, this will soon turn into one of Mancini’s most pressing problem: how to solve a problem like Robinho?

Unfortunately the lad was useless today. At best, his scuffed shot inadvertently lead to Martin Petrov’s tap in. At worst, his presence became a liability to wider efforts of the team. And let’s face it, football is, at the end of the day, a team game. At times the Brazilian’s body language was all wrong. When his passes went astray, it was always the fault of another blue shirt. When his shots dribbled off target, he was all eyes to sky and hands placed together, praying, though for what I cannot imagine. The frustrating thing is that Robinho requires no such divine intervention. He already has all that he needs at his feet. Its just that he refuses to use it.

It has been brimming for a while, but the crowd’s reaction to Robinho was also telling yesterday. With each additional pass that went astray, Eastlands become more and more exasperated with the little Brazilian’s wastefulness. When Mancini moved to Robinho’s aid by substituting him for Craig Bellamy, the Brazilian made it worse for himself by trying to take the applause that Eastlands crowd had so clearly reserved for the its talismanic Welshman. This sentiment was thrust home to Robinho when Bellamy ran onto the pitch, greeted by the roar of the home crowd.

And yet in all of this, I still believe that the lad does care. The petulant kick of a water bottle as he exited the stage can of course be interpreted in many ways, but I see a player who still wants to be loved by the Eastlands faithful.

I strongly advise Robinho to listen to the crowd that he paid to entertain. Within the rapturous applause given to Bellamy lies a message for the Brazilian: toughen up, increase your work rate, up your concentration levels, and whilst you are doing of these things, keep on producing the magic that only a handful of players in the world are capable of producing.

Perhaps it is a pipe dream to ask these things of Robinho, but if we do not see these improvements I fear one of the most talented players we have ever seen at City will be dropping off the Premiership radar for pastures new. And that will be seen as a clear failure by the likes of Mansour, Khaldoon and Cook because of the fact that Robinho cuts much more than just a footballing figure at the club. He remains the club hierarchy’s marquee signing, their statement of intent that City should be looked upon as one of the big movers and shakers of the world game. The media are sure to interpret his sale as an indictment on the club’s true aspirations.

On to Wolves
Overall I was pleased with the way Mancini’s City team (if we can call it so) despatched Stoke. It clearly could have been a lot worse given our recent defensive outings. Mick McCarthy’s Wolves will provide a slightly different test, away from home support of course, and will reveal more clues as to the direction in which we are heading in the post-Hughes era.

1 comment:

  1. The defence looked a lot secure, still very early days, Its worth noting that Mancini quickly changed formation when things were'nt going to plan, something that was lacking during the tenure of Hughes. Good report in todays mirror regarding Bellamy, all that supposed dissent was a load of nonsense. Come on you blues !!!!!!