Manchester City face Hull City at the Etihad Stadium in the Capital One Cup, a competition they won in Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in-charge of the club, quarter-final tomorrow.
City registered a much-needed win against Southampton in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday, after they had gone win-less in three games. They were good in patches against Ronald Koeman’s side, but did not produce a complete performance. Defensively, they were far too open against the Saints, who were bereft of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic came on only as a second-half substitute. Tadic played the key pass leading up to Shane Long’s goal early in the second 45′, causing a bit of a panic in the hosts’ camp.
City and Pellegrini would have, however, been satisfied with the goals (3) they scored, after scoring a mere 1 in the 3 games leading up to the clash against the Saints. Having not kept a clean sheet since the 0-0 away draw against Aston Villa, should the Cityzens prioritise keeping one against Hull City?
Pellegrini’s audacious philosophy has seen City play an attractive and entertaining brand of football over the last couple of seasons, but not always solid. Solidity comes from balancing attacking and defending, and for a regular Manchester City observer, it would not at all be difficult to say that the Blues are great to watch when going forward but not so when the opposition have the ball. And their single-mindedness to attacking could also be the reason for their continued struggles in the UEFA Champions League, a competition they have yet to crack.
A home game against Hull City is not the one in which you expect City to park the bus, nor should they. But City have kept just a couple of cleansheets in their last 16 games across all competitions. Their defending has been so abysmal that even the likes of Sunderland, in the 3rd round of the league cup, Norwich City and Newcastle United have managed to breach City’s rearguard.
Fabian Delph played as City’s No.4 (defensive midfielder) in a 4-3-3 formation against Southampton on Saturday, and he wanted to get forward and make his presence felt. City, therefore, did not even have one player sitting in front of the back four and looking to just break up the opposition’s attacks. Add to that Yaya Toure’s forward-thinking mentality, and there were numerous pockets for the likes of Saido Mane and Steven Davis to drop into and dictate play when their side was in possession. And this was just one of reasons why City were so inviting for the visitors, especially in the second half.
Southampton are a better outfit than the Tigers, who you expect to play on the counter-attack. Steve Bruce will set his side up to defend, primarily, and hope to be potent when they break up the play. But that is where the challenge lies for City. The two probable fullbacks for City, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna, are expected to go through their routine of getting forward whenever City attack, possibly leaving their side vulnerable against the visitors’ counter attacks, as usual.
Of the possible changes in personnel from Saturday’s game, Fernando Reges could come in for either Delph or Fernandinho. The former FC Porto man is a bit more defensive minded than the other trio of City midfielders, and City could benefit, from a defensive point of view, if he is included in the starting XI.
Despite being a really attack-minded side managed by an uncomplicated manager, City have not always been convincing in attack over the last 40 days of their 2015/16 campaign. Yes, they have scored three goals or more three times – against Sevilla in the Champions League, Southampton in the Premier League and Crystal Palace in the pre-quarter-final of the Capital One Cup – in their last 9 games in all competitions. But have looked clueless too, on a few occasions recently. The 0-0 draw against the Villains at Villa Park; the 1-0 defeat against Juventus last Wednesday, and the 1-4 defeat against Liverpool come to mind instantly.
Because their attack has not been firing on all cylinders of late, Manchester City and Pellegrini would be wise to prioritise keeping a clean sheet in the Capital One Cup quarter-final against Hull City at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow. On the flip side, City cannot be as open as they were against Saints, and get away with it in every game they play. Therefore, it really does make sense to look at keeping a clean-sheet and garner maximum confidence before sterner tests follow tomorrow’s game against the Championship side.