Manchester City look out of shape and seem to have to run out of ideas too, as they continue to underperform as a unit in their 2015-16 campaign. With their defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday, City have made it really difficult for themselves to go on and become the champions of England.
In fact, Manchester City are no longer in control as far as the league title is concerned, having already played against the Foxes and Spurs – the teams that are first and second, respectively, on the Barclays Premier League table – home and away this season. Despite boasting a world class squad with title-winning experience, Pellegrini’s Manchester City have looked a really ordinary side during the last fortnight, and performances against Leicester and Tottenham could have dire consequences for the remainder of their season.
Read on, as we dissect the reason(s) behind their poor form.
Reason behind Manchester City’s poor form
Manuel Pellegrini must have got an idea of his side’s deficiencies after they went down by 1-2 to Tottenham last Sunday, if he was not already aware of them. Manchester City never really got into the game and were starved of possession easily by a vibrant and exuberant Spurs side. At one stage in Sunday’s game, City had seen just a little more than 35% of possession, the kind of stat that is unheard of for the modern City.
And it is their inability to play with the usual flair and swagger, that is integral to City’s prevalent problems. During the 2013/14 and 14/15 campaigns, a vast majority of Premiership teams feared visiting the Etihad. The reason was that City were utterly incisive going forward and had more than one attacking weapon up their sleeve. Teams could not just think about Sergio Aguero or David Silva, they also had to contend with an Alvaro Negredo or Edin Dzeko. They also had to be mindful of Jesus Navas’ blistering pace on City’s right-hand-side, while Samir Nasri and Silva provided finesse and control on the left.
In the last couple of months at least, City have not had such luxury. Pellegrini, for some reason, does not want to deploy his side in the conventional 4-4-2 formation and Aguero is well and truly the Chilean’s solitary and most reliable goal scorer. Yaya Toure has been a fantastic player and an orchestrator from City’s engine room over the last five years, but has proved a genuine liability time and again this season, to be played ahead of the backline.
Pellegrini, therefore, has had to play the imperious Ivorian in the position (No. 10) where he would normally field Silva. The game against Spurs was yet another instance of Pellegrini opting for this blueprint that failed to bring City the desired rewards, once again. And, Toure is not the player you want to drop. He is a metronomic passer, reliable with the ball at his feet and capable of coming up with worldy moments in games.
It was shocking to see Pellegrini’s City as ineffective as they were on Sunday, against Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Raheem Sterling could not affect the game positively for City, while Silva was played on the right and given defensive responsibilities. The Spanish playmaker drifted inside on numerous occasions whenever Spurs ceded possession and tried to orchestrate things from near the ‘D’. He, however, had to come over to the flank and provide support for Pablo Zabaleta, as City did not keep hold of the ball enough to let Silva weave his magic.
Unfortunately for City, they could not turn to Navas and Kevin de Bruyne, who are the sole natural crossers in their arsenal. Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov, when they play in their respect right and left fullback positions, usually complete their attempted crosses and provide another dimension to City’s attack. But without them in addition to the aforementioned duo of attacking midfielders, City could not pose enough threat to Spurs, from wide areas.
The problem with City is their inability to go direct when their intricate, systematic build-up play isn’t having the desired effect. Rationally speaking, though, Aguero is very good at holding the ball up and linking play, but it is not his forte. He is the sort of striker who looks to make runs beyond the opposition defence and create space for the likes of Silva and Sterling to occupy the central areas of the pitch. That point brings in Joe Hart and the way he has struggled, mostly, to find a City player with his goal kicks this season. With so many short players in the City ranks, City’s opponents have been able to bully them in the air while jostling for possession.
Against Spurs, Since Sterling and Silva were played on the flanks and looked to drift inside at every possible opportunity, City could not make the pitch big enough and stretch the Tottenham defence that stayed narrow and defended the 18-yard box. Playing Toure at No. 10 has not come to fruition too, at all times when he has been deployed there this season. The reason for that is the Ivorian’s propensity to not drift into wide areas and cause problems for his marker; unlike when playing as a No. 6 or No. 8, Toure sticks to his position when played behind the striker.
Although most followers of Manchester City and football pundits have blamed City’s rearguard for the goals they have conceded, I do not entirely agree with that opinion. Yes, City have conceded some cheap goals this season – like against Arsenal, a game in which Eliaquim Mangala unnecessarily gave the ball away before half-time and the home side scored what proved to be the game-clincher. Nicolas Otamendi’s mistake in not picking up Enner Valencia, who ran onto a long throw-in and toe-poked West Ham United’s second goal in their 2-2 home draw against City, was also an elementary defensive error.
But look at the number of games in which City have not scored this season. It is not a secret that under Pellegrini, Manchester City have largely outscored their opponents and seldom been watertight at the back. They have not scored in six games across all competitions this season, with five of them coming in the Premier League. If they continue being so blunt as an attacking unit, they can forget about clinching any silverware this season.
What is the way forward for City, for the remainder of this season?
Pellegrini has got to find a way to restore City’s usual incisiveness in attack. He has probably got to gamble on 4-4-2, as well, again, and pair Aguero with Kelechi Iheanacho. That would be one way of going back to basics in order to rediscover the goal scoring touch City seem to have forgotten. Given that City are struggling to score goals from open play, they also need to prioritise set-pieces and try to score from corners and free-kicks. That way, they can bring in their taller and stronger players into the game and make things happen.
City will definitely be short on confidence after the defeat to Spurs, though Vincent Kompany was defiant and said that he and his team are just not going to give up. Given City’s overall ineptitude at present, it is going to take something special from them to turn around what is fast turning into a catastrophic campaign.
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