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Manchester City: You Can’t Buy Class

Manchester City: You can’t Buy Class.

By Phil Gregory

The game last season that really opened my eyes in regards to City’s flaws as a team was Hamburg away in the UEFA Cup. One glance at the team sheet told you the team was going to be horribly lopsided (a midfield and attack of Zabaleta, Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Sturridge, Bellamy and Robinho).

I’ve genuinely no idea how that team was intended to line up, but in reality it was bound to turn into some form of 415: Zabaleta is really the only one had any natural defensive instincts, and he was a right back playing in midfield. It was simply in the nature of all those players to attack, so the “formation” was bound to go out the window fairly quickly, and it did. All this was away to Hamburg (who at the time were challenging for the Bundlesliga title). Lack of balance? More like lack of sense, Sparky.

Has this issue been addressed since?  Somewhat. Barry now seems to be the designated holding player, but I’m still looking at their recent teamsheets and wondering exactly where everybody slots in.

Barry and Ireland seem to be the only “midfielders” in the typical starting 11, with Wright-Phillips, Robinho, Tevez/Bellamy and Adebayor the “forwards”. Granted, they don’t play a 424, it’s more fluid than that, but I can only see it working with players like Tevez and Ireland playing week in, week out due to their outstanding work rate.

Wright-Phillips in particular offers nothing defensively, and needs someone to do his shift for him and while Robinho has improved in this respect somewhat, he’s no Kuyt just yet. It’s the whole idea of balance: are there enough grafters to make up for the flair players? So for me, the jury is still out.

Touré and Lescott seem a decent enough central defensive pairing, given time to gel they should be reasonable but nothing more than decent in my eyes. Once Touré was sold, and us Gunners could look past the whole “last member of the Invincibles” and “wore his heart on his sleeve” side of things, I think we accepted his defensive shortcomings and in time, City fans too will see past the hype and want him replaced.

Lescott as one of the world’s most expensive centre backs? Come on! I’m unconvinced by Richards too, still having nightmares of his buccaneering runs from right back for England against Croatia at Wembley leaving swathes of space behind him that the Croats brutally exploited. He’s always seemed more of an athlete than a footballer. Again, time will tell, but no team hoping to win the title in the next few years can afford an average right back, despite Liverpool’s efforts to the contrary.

The attack is an interesting one. They have some stellar names in Adebayor, Robinho and Tevez, and some capable understudies in Bellamy, Benjani etc.  That said, I was bemused when they started splashing the cash on all these attackers. After all, this is the team who came tenth last season, yet scored significantly more league goals than anybody else in the league bar the top four.

So yes, they have some very good individuals up front, but will they significantly improve City going forward? No, because goals weren’t the issue last season. Yet where did they spend the majority of their funds?

Let’s also have a proper look at these individuals too. If Adebayor keeps scoring it’ll be impossible to criticise him, despite the £25million price tag. I won’t miss him, Bendtner on the bench can be our plan B and won’t be constantly offside but I digress.

Doubts remain over Adebayor’s motives for the move, and as a player, he seemed to lose all desire and work rate after being awarded a new contract at Arsenal. Robinho will be an excellent player for them if he can go back to his early 08/09 season form, but again, is his heart in it? A of ifs there. And Tevez, to me, is one of the most criminally overrated players in recent years.

A poor goal average despite playing for the Champions for two years is barely redeemed by his work rate. Probably the most amusing football statistics I’ve ever seen were published in the Times last season, showing Tevez and Berbatov’s distance covered per game. Berbatov’s was actually higher, contrary to popular myth which just goes to show what we don’t see off the camera. I know Fergie can be a bit of a clown in the transfer market on occasion, but when I read he was ready to pay Tevez’s extortionate fee I nearly choked on my breakfast.

Finally, a lot of the pundits are banging on about City’s sublime start to the season. Let’s not get carried away here. They’ve beaten a poor Portsmouth team by a single goal (we put four past them while resting players), a Blackburn team who seem set to be stuck in the bottom half despite Big Sam’s knack of punching above his weight and a Wolves team who are amongst the favourites for relegation. The defence is apparently fixed now after four clean sheets against poor opposition. We’ll see on Saturday.

The fixture list has definitely done them a favour – at times they haven’t appeared cohesive in attack, but the lack of quality opposition has meant this hasn’t been punished yet.

Yet expectations have been stoked now, perhaps fatally. Let us assess their prospects after the Arsenal and United games. I fully expect us to slice them apart if we have Captain Fantastic and our little Russian back fit. The defence can cope with their forward line (I look forward to Adebayor getting marked out of the game by Vermaelen). Would someone beating Touré in the air for the winner be too much to ask? I’d put a fiver on it, but my last bet was for three goals in the second leg against Celtic and we all know how that went.

Going into prediction territory, I’m going for them to come 5th this season. It’s a considerable jump from 10th last season, but I’m confident that they’ll manage it now they’re somewhat better balanced in the middle of the park. I don’t doubt their future top four credentials, but I think 5th is the best they can hope for this season. I just don’t see top four quality anywhere the defence.

Arsenal-City eleven (433 seems to make more sense in this case):

Given

Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy

Song

Fabregas Ireland

Arshavin                             Robinho

Eduardo

Subs: Almunia, Toure, Bridge, Barry, Adebayor,Tevez, Van Persie.

No controversy in the back five I’d say. Plumped for Song for the holding role as I’m not a fan of Barry: he’s a reasonable passer, a reasonable tackler and reasonably strong but that doesn’t make a top class holder for me. Song’s on roughly the same level, but younger so I settled for him.

Can’t imagine any other complaints from the midfield, though attack was difficult. Settled for Eduardo as I like my strikers intelligent, and I can’t see there being too many crosses in this team bar the fullbacks. Touré gets the nod over Lescott for the bench slot as I’m yet to be convinced of Lescott as a centre back. Bridge instead of Richards as fullback sub is fairly obvious I’d say, as are the rest of the subs.

As ever, feel free to comment at the bottom, and make sure to read back, as I try and reply to them.

Until next time!

14 comments to Manchester City: You Can’t Buy Class

  • Abhishek

    Hi Phil

    Nice article. I think that you sounded reasonably good but I would put Spurs ahead of them. I guess us and Chelsea fighting for top 2 while Liverpool and Manyoo fighting for 3-4 with Spurs giving them a scare.

    I know I am biased after looking the matches this season but its simpler and better for me other than looking at the whole historical analysis.

  • Armin Medic

    I expected Hughes would strengthen creative middle this summer, and maybe add one offensive player. But I really expected he will try fill the team with missing players. Talking about their back, I really don’t think they are (expect Given, but he came last season anyway) more solid now than they were. Hughes fall in trap of “fantasy football” adding players by their rating rather than adaptive abilities.
    And as said in Phils great article they have plenty of choice in attack. But did they thought of what will happen if opponent decide to play football against them? What if they confront with team who wont park bus in front of goalie, so they have to fight in middle?
    If you ask me, I believe Citeh can outplay any team who decide to defend whole game, they just have so much choice in attack that sooner or later they will spot hole in defense end exploit it. First real test they will have tomorrow, not just can they win (I hope they can), but also can they “play”.

    With all respect Phil, I only agree about Given, all the rest should be Arsenal.

  • Cujo

    Always enjoy these articles. I agree with that other dude, tottenham look set to take 4th place, liverpool taking 5th. Im not hating on liverpool, i just think their lack of depth will affect them severely this season. One injury to gerrard or torres and the whole team chemistry is altered for the worse. The season is long.. They seem to be the weakest link in the ‘top 4 chain’ . Maybe im wrong, but we’ll see what happens come may 2009, GO GO GUNNERS!

  • Cape Gooner

    Not sure that you have the midfield right Phil. Lots of people wanted us to buy Kompany last year, and I think that de Jong is a class player. In addition, he has two good youngsters in Johnson and Etuhu.

    Centre back is a problem for everyone. There are not a lot of good ones about. Seems we did well to find Vermaelen. Onuoha and Richards are not bad backup for Toure and Lescott.

    I think Given will give them the edge over Spurs. In keeping with the sentiments expressed by other posters, I foresee a four way battle for 3rd thru 6th.

  • Pete the First

    A little one-eyed, but hey that’s what this site does! Think you’re a bit harsh on Toure.

    After the kamikaze defeat at Old Trafford we could do with a victory. Going to be hard without Rasputin though.

  • walter

    Sorry for going off topic but yesterday had a great day at the Emirates in London and when driving home with the Eurostar we got the message that we would have tickets to go to Liège to see us play against Standard.
    What a wonderfull day it was for me.
    So is any one else coming to that game from our regulars here at the site ?

  • Gooner

    That would be an awesome lineup. Robinho and Arshavin circling Eduardo would just be too much for any defence to handle.

  • Marc

    Last seasons defeat to Man City was our worst performance of the season and we owe them. As far as Man City’s performance over the course of the year. They are clearly unbalanced and in Robinho and Adebayor they have players who will leave for RM, Barca, Milan etc the first chance they get. I’ve said for a couple of months now that Hughes will be sacked next summer (unless he gets the boot at Christmas!) irrespective of where they finish in the PL. The owners need a “name manager” to attract the players they want and Hughes does not come close. I will also predict that while Adebayor will have a good season he will repeat what he did at Arsenal as soon as the novelty of his new pay packet wears off.

  • LRV

    Phil, as Cape Gooner pointed out, you forgot Kompany & De Jong. I am sure one of them will show up in midfield alongside Barry for them tomorrow. Even so, I expect us to beat them.

    However, I find myself agreeing with your line up only because of injury to our boys.

  • Phil Gregory

    Thanks for the compliments everyone. I haven’t seen enough of De Jong to make a fair assessment, but I will say this: Hughes has an enormous squad, full of options. It’ll be horses for course, we could well see Barry as a CM, with De Jong holding tomorrow (more defensive set up). Perhaps De Jong on for the bench would’ve been fair in hindsight, but who to drop??

    on Kompany, he seems to have been one of the highest rated young centrebacks for as long as I can remember. Perhaps, with extra bodies in midfield, he’ll drop back and be competition for Lescott-Toure. I can’t see him as a DM – he can play there, but I think he was there due to their lack of better options last season. Now, they have the options, and I just can’t see him getting minutes in midfield anymore.

    And yes, that mixed team is hellishly good!

  • don't believe the hype

    Very confused article and I’m not sure what your point is? You slate Toure and Tevez in the main body and then put them on the bench ahead of far superior players? I don’t really see the point of this exercise at all.

  • Jonny Neale

    Just a tad harsh DBTH.

    Toure doesn’t really get slated and who are the superior players in that position? Lescott – maybeeee – but it’s a close call. Anywho its an opinion piece and you know what they say about them 🙂

    I hope Toure gets a suitable reception for his years of impeccable service and that Ade gets one equally suited.

    This, on paper, should be a good game. If it’s open I think we will take it but losing Arshavin is a real blow.

    Here’s hoping Eduardo sticks it to them big time.

  • Ben Dover

    hey phil nice article, that team would probably win the premiership at the moment. i can’t believe City paid that much for Lescott, there must have been better, cheaper options elsewhere. more money than sense.

  • Phil Gregory

    DBTH – its looking at City’s potential to break the top four at our expense. Perhaps that’s slightly unclear if you missed the earlier articles. Tevez got slated, but that’s not to say he’s an awful player – he still warranted the bench slot.