The term ‘don’t fix what is not broken’ is no longer applicable in football. Each title-winning team cannot expect to win their league the following season unless they improve and develop their squad – a glance across at our neighbours is affirmation to this. Therefore the fact that Roberto Mancini was unable strengthen last summer has forced him to experiment with his team – resulting in mixed success. The fact that we stood still ensured our opponents realise they are still facing last years team. All this has led to a hugely disappointing campaign and the fact that we will finish this season with less than last year’s 89 points is evidence to our regression.
Therefore Mancini is right to sample the 3-5-2 formation. Our current style of play simply doesn’t work in Europe. We are far too narrow and unable to dominate the ball, and susceptible to high pressing. The fact that the only two teams we’ve beaten in Europe are Villarreal (who got relegated that same year) and a Bayern Munich B team, who were already through, is testament to how out of our depth we are in Europe.
And this problem is now affecting us in England too. From the moment Mancini first implemented our current style it back in August 2011 against Swansea the results were spectacular – we carved through them like a hot knife through butter and steam-rolled past nearly every team till December. Teams simply didn’t know how to cope with our movement around the box and our on-form 3 strikers. Unfortunately this kind of play is simple unsustainable. We saw glimpses of this last season but it is very much common this year – teams realising how to play us and sitting back resolutely. This not to say they didn’t do this last year, rather, that they now sit back effectively. Our fullbacks are extremely pivotal to the team and if they do not drag opposition defenders out of play then the space around the box becomes too congested for our attacking quartet. Teams now just don’t bother defending out wide because a) They know they’ll open space for more dangerous players like Silva and Aguero and b) Our fullbacks are really lacking with their final ball. It’s no surprise to see Zabaleta enjoying his best season yet, it’s because he’s a full back with an end product. He’s contributed 6 goals and assists this season because of the space given by the opposition. If we only we could clone Pablo because there are serious underlying problems with our other full-backs. Kolarov finally convinced even his biggest fans at Everton that he is a woeful fullback. He is slow, lazy and has an extremely over-rated final ball; poor at LM in a 3-5-2 and even worse at LB – offloading Aleks should be one of the Mancini’s primary objectives this summer.
Then we have the curious case of Gael Clichy, undoubtedly a great LB, extremely energetic and pacey he seems the exact opposition of Kolarov. However most of his criticism stems from his final ball or lack of it. Opposition players allow him space because they know he cannot whip in a cross or shoot like Pablo. Despite not fitting in a 3-5-2, Clichy still excels in his favoured position – the classic LB role and can expect to be an integral part of City’s future.
As for the rest of our right backs, Richards can potentially be brilliant; he possesses all the attributes that Maicon had at Inter under Mourinho and by God was Maicon an absolute Tour de Force back then. Still Maicon is well past it and his only contribution before he leaves this summer should be teaching Micah a few tips and tricks. Mancini attempted to convert Micah to a center back this season with reasonable success and he would slot comfortably on the right side of the back three when he returns from injury.
This system has worked on occasions, such as the Spurs game where Mancini brought on Maicon and stretched play excellently to our advantage. However, the execution of the formations is where blame can placed at Mancini’s door. Against Everton he deployed Garcia and Barry in the middle two, a poor choice considering both players are both extremely slow and possess zero dynamism. In fact we don’t have any classic all round midfielders on our books bar Milner and Yaya. If only Mancini was allowed to spend big last summer and acquire De Rossi or Javi Martinez than maybe with the right players his desired system would work.
Mancini has become a victim of his own success; it would be completely unfair to sack him at the end of the season. Understanding City’s progression is key to understanding Mancini’s footprint on the club. He took us to the Champions League in his second season at the club and won the title the season after. He transformed the shambles of that Hughes team into a sturdy defensive team and then again into an all guns-blazing title-winning side. Then when the new additions that were desperately needed never arrived he was forced to play around with his formation in a desperate attempt of preserving our unpredictability. Last week, City chief executive Ferrano Soriano labelled Mancini a “Champion,” indicating he still has the board’s vote of confidence. Next year Roberto must prove his doubters wrong; and with correct investment I have not a single shred of doubt that Mancini will confirm himself as City’s greatest ever manager in the coming years.
written by Anis Bazza