Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Balance the key to undermining the mediocrity that faces us

One emerging theme of this campaign has been City’s inability to defeat teams of lesser calibre, especially when the team in question sets themselves up as hard to beat. Even when we have managed to get the goal, sometimes we haven’t pushed on and got more goals, or we’ve managed to the get a second, third or fourth but have somehow allowed the opposition to keep within reach of levelling the game.

The results

Let’s take the obvious results first – i.e. the frustrating draws that should have been wins: Blackburn at home (1-1), Birmingham at home (1-1), Leicester away (2-2), Notts County away (1-1), and most recently Birmingham away. Then we have a set of edgy wins that should have been comfortable victories – i.e. Bolton at home (1-0), Blackpool at home (1-0), Wolves at home (1-0) and Leicester at home (4-2).

I sometimes feel that we are a bit skewed tactically. If we’d have decided what were about in these games, maybe we’d have come away with more points. For me the problems emanate from wide positions and have a knock-on effect on our ability to score goals. Are playing with full backs? Or are we playing with more traditional type wingers? What is the function of Edin Dzeko?

Full back conundrums

Whilst Alexandsar Kolarov is undoubtedly good going forward he remains shaky when going in the opposite direction. We could still be seeing a bedding in period here but the Serbian certainly does seem to lack pace, which is alarming given that Mancini has bought him with an attacking function in mind. Once Kolarov gets better positionally we may see him be able to do the whole job on the left. And of course his goals will always come in handy.

I am more worried about Jerome Boateng, who does not seem comfortable playing at right back in the English game. Rarely does he venture forward, which in one sense is a shame because he can put a half decent cross into the box. On the other hand it shows that the backroom staff, or Boateng himself, do not believe that he can perform the full hit on the right. If you don’t have the pace, better to be cautious rather than push on, lose the ball and then get hit on the counter.

If we are going to set our stall out to play with wing backs, then I would suggest Kolarov and Micah Richards. The latter was the only consistent threat going forward against a weak Notts County side in the FA Cup. Richards can cause damage going forward, and his speed and strength serve him well if he gets caught out and needs to get back.

It is concerning though that we don’t really seem to have moved on a lot in the full back areas, given the money that we have spent (Kolarov £16m, Boateng £10m). These players both came to the club to perform these functions but at present they don’t seem up to the full task. Both were injured earlier in the season and they do need time to continue to bed in but the fact remains that if they were doing the job we bought them for we would be much more of an attacking threat.

Wing problems

When the full backs aren’t firing on all cylinders, we turn to the more natural wing players that we have in the squad, but this has now also turned into a problem area for us. We just don’t seem to have enough wingers.

This has been aggravated by the injury to Adam Johnson, one of our most natural wide men, who will possibly miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Our next best thing has to be Shaun Wright-Philips, who still appears to be a crowd favourite even given the lack of form that the diminutive winger has showed for months on end now. Unless SWP picks up his game, he will struggle to fill the void left by AJ.

Then we have James Milner, clearly not a natural wide man but often employed there by Mancini. Milner huffs and puffs – you will always get 100% from him wherever he plays, but he lacks the pace and trickery of a wide player. At £26m, the ex-Villa man appears to be an expensive commodity to use out on the wing at any rate. And finally we have Jo. I hate to kick a player whilst he is down, but against Notts County, the Brazilian was awful. Complete lack of presence on the field and an awful touch. We all know that he is never going to be the answer.

Packing the middle

Our inability to breakdown average teams form the flanks has led to us packing the middle. Too many players trying to do too much from central positions against opposition that is, on the whole, behind the ball. All this threatens to stifle the threat posed by our new striker, Edin Dzeko. Against Aston Villa and against Notts County, he found himself in possession in wide positions. This is not where we want the Bosnian. He may well be able to play, and from what’s I’ve seen he certainly can, but we want the lad front and centre to take advantage of the physical and aerial threat that he can pose. We have the players around him who can play. For me the Bosnian badly needs service from wide positions.

A balance that might not exist

So now that the transfer window is closed, how does Mancini get around these problems to turn an already good season into an excellent one? He may have already found part of the answer. Against West Brom last weekend, Kolarov was employed as a left winger and I must say he gave one of his best performances yet in a Blue shirt. With Zabaleta at left back, the Serbian was given licence to go forward with Tevez and Silva, and even found himself at times in the central midfield attacking position often occupied by Yaya Toure.

But the balance of the side is still not quite right. Where was the threat from the right against West Brom?

It seems to me that at present, we can’t field a fully balanced team. If we opt for wing backs, then we open ourselves up to Kolarov’s lack of pace and Richards’ lapses of concentration. A Kolarov and Boateng pairing means that one gets forward and one does not. If we opt for traditional wingers, then we only have one in the squad who is capable of beating defenders – Adam Johnson – who is currently injured.

And whilst I accept football is sometimes a game of trade offs, with the money we have spent, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps we shouldn’t be allowing ourselves to be making these kinds of compromises. Meanwhile of course, we have a £27m target man who should be attacking quality balls in the opposition box. Surely the signing of Dzeko is proof of the value Mancini places on attacking from wide positions. But strangely enough we now find ourselves beyond the January transfer window with question marks over whether we have the players to mount significant threats down the flanks.

Mancini has done well so far, no-one can deny this, but I do sometimes wonder whether the Italian has chosen the wrong system for the players at his disposal. Or rather, whether he has signed the wrong players to fit into the system he wants to play.

Only time will tell, and who am I to argue with Mancini, who has up to this point put in an impressive performance as manager. But if we fail to get into the top three this season, then we are all sure the look back at the fixture list and deduce that it was ‘our failure to beat mediocrity – that’s wot did it’. Then the next sentence will be: ‘we didn’t go for it enough’. And perhaps we don’t go for it enough because we are aware of our frailties, weaknesses that give rise to a cautiousness in our play, and that stem from having a slightly off balanced team.

If we want to be successful then this needs to be addressed. It's things like this that can prove to be the difference between a top four side and a side that vies for the title itself.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9/2/11 03:33

    Quote: One emerging theme of this campaign has been City’s inability to defeat teams of lesser calibre.

    This has been the way City have been since the 1980s, it is nothing new but obviously it has to stop if we are to take on world football and achieve.