City begin to defend their title
The journey for the 2011-2012 Premier League Champions Manchester City has not been an easy or straightforward trek, but rather an emotional rollercoaster ride for the club and its supporters.
MCFC is a club that resurrected itself from the second division of English football at the beginning of this century transforming themselves into league champions after a drought of 44 years. The club, now has its direction and its investors plus long suffering supporters are thirsty for a deluge in the form silverware domestically and in Europe. They believe that they have strategy and a squad to do just that.
The cast of characters on the City show is a diverse crowd: the polarizing and unpredictable Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, the “spirited” Joe Hart Samir Nasri and the grounded Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Agüero.
Despite any personality disorders or triumphs that define the City lineup, manager, Roberto Mancini is enigmatically able to make that motley a cohesive and functional unit; the trademark of a brilliant tactician. Despite Mancini being stifled by the lack of activity during the summer transfer window due to the requirement of unloading some salaries via transfer or loan, most importantly Emmanuel Adebayor’s permanent move to Tottenham and others such as Vladimir Weiss (to Delfino Pescara - Serie A), Ahmed Benali (Brescia Calcio - Serie B), Wayne Bridge (Brighton & Hove - Championship), Greg Cunnigham (Bristol City - Championship), Stuart Taylor (Reading), David Pizarro (AS Roma – Serie A), and Owen Hargreaves (unsigned, though training with QPR at time of article), the fundamental club characteristic is quality - the factor paramount in importance and abundant from previous transfer windows.
The attacking front third runs the gamut with important attributes to the strike force: Agüero (pending speedy recovery from his knee-injury acquired during the cracker of a season opener against newly promoted Southampton F.C.), a now present, extremely fit and enthusiastic Tevez, Euro-weathered Balotelli and hungry for playing time, Edin Dzeko, provide speed, creativity, force and height. Most importantly that strike quartet provides competition for those starting spots improving overall quality. They have proven and effective chemistry in any combination up top.
The midfielders are serendipity for the attackers centrally and thrust delivery from the wings.
Silva and Nasri dart around flowing and pushing the ball toward the attack and are more than capable of striking. Though Nasri may have taken some time to adjust while transitioning from London to Manchester, his performances and goals in the Community Shield and season opener indicate a settled and deadly force to be reckoned with in terms of striking and delivery.
Yaya Touré holds possession and distributes centrally, and versatile, is a devastating attacking threat running at the 18 yard box when a Silva or Nasri is subbed for a holding/defensive midfield presence such as Nigel De Jong or newly acquired (£15M speculated fee, though undisclosed) Everton youth product Jack Rodwell, (to replace the departing Owen Hargreaves or De Jong should he leave). If Jack can avoid losing the ball when not under pressure like the glaring giveaway passing between midfield and the final third in the season opener against Southampton that resulted in a Saints goal and replace it with consistent, solid distribution he will be a valuable addition to the squad. Adam Johnson and James Milner a physical presence is midfield and will bomb the wings regularly to provide overlapping runs for delivery or outside the box striking ability.
The backline is steadfast and led by Kompany teamed with Joleon Lescott Stefan Savic, or Kolo Touré centrally. The center of defense is flanked by wingbacks on the right Gaël Clichy or Aleksandar Kolarov and on the left Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta.
The other pieces to the puzzle in terms of strategy, discipline and psychology will include: Avoid losing points in the second half of the season as they did in the 2011-2012 campaign with losses to Sunderland, , Swansea and Arsenal coming as unwelcome additions in the new year. Compare that to one loss in the first half of the season to Chelsea. City will also need to retain the fortress mentality and the resultant immaculate home record that they had during that same campaign – City did not lose a single game at home during the Premiere League title race and conceded only one draw against Sunderland at Etihad Stadium.
The sum of its parts, the City squad has the depth to mitigate the demands of domestic cups and European competition in principle, but execution is not as straightforward as demonstrated by City’s disappointing early exit from UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions during the 2011-2012 campaign.
To improve on this, Mancini will need to essentially operate two solid squads to field the heavy duty of pursuing silverware on all fronts. That means more backline and defensive midfield discipline to field the driving counters of the likes of Napoli and storming wings of Bayern Munich. Mancini is doing so by introducing a second formation 3-5-1 to swap with its 4-4-2 in these cases. It emphasizes stopping the opposing possession in the midfield before reaching the backline. This was brilliantly executed by Mexico against Brazil for Olympic gold and by City for the first time against Chelsea during the Community Shield.
That formation delivered silverware in those instances and will be a critical part of City’s 2012-2013 campaign to secure even more accolades.