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):
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy
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!