'The Project' Phase Two
What does Manchester City need to do differently in 2009-10 in an attempt to climb the Premier League table?
Vital Manchester City newbie, MrKev sent us the following article.
As Mark Hughes' first season in charge of the Blues came to a close, it was starting to look like we had turned a corner. The end of the UEFA Cup / Premiership cycle of matches every Thursday and Sunday left our team looking fresher and of course that first away win since August - respectably at Goodison Park - was a decent performance, worlds away from some of the dross we had served up away from Eastlands throughout the rest of the season.
In the past few weeks, I've been asking myself: what were the weaknesses that kept us from doing better domestically this season, and how can we change those things next season? Below I highlight a few key areas.
It cannot have escaped anyone's attention that we have struggled up front this season. As I see it, there have been a number of problems in this area. First is the fact that we have been relying on very young, untried strikers for much of the season. Ched Evans has clearly struggled throughout the season, while Felipe Caicedo has come on in leaps and bounds from the player he was at the beginning of the season. He has bagged an impressive eight goals in his first full season
However, this doesn't hide the fact that he has far too little experience to lead the line on a weekly basis; particularly in a 4-5-1 formation, where the front man's role is so key to the way the team operates.
Danny Sturridge has been almost as enigmatic as Robinho, providing inspiring performances at Blackburn and Shalke but, frankly, looking lost in other games (though I don't expect to see him in sky blue next season anyway).
The return of Bojinov has offered promise, but he has not been fit for long enough for the jury to decide on him just yet. Bellamy, as expected offered a lot of quality when fit, but his knees have always been a problem and I can't see him ever offering us a full season.
If we look deeper into the situation with goal scoring, there is a pattern in our difficulties in this department. Obviously, for the number of chances we create, we should be scoring more.
Any quality forward will ensure that this is the case; but when you look at the fact that we have scored fewer goals from set pieces than anyone besides Spurs, you begin to see that Hughes' talk of needing more of a 'physical presence' up front, looks accurate.
The tallest of our forwards, the hugely inexperienced Ched Evans, at 6'0 is still not a huge guy. While the likes of Villa, with John Carew and Chelsea with the monster that is Didier Drogba, expect to bag headed goals or at least work the keeper, when they win corners and free kicks.
At City this season, all too often I have seen them wasted. The addition of Gareth Barry should improve the delivery, now we just need a big frontman to put them away. I would not be surprised to see the likes of Crouch - or even Drogba - being lured in to be the man for the job.
In 2007-08, we were all singing the praises of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards. Our defensive performances were the rock of our early season form, shooting us up to fourth place at Christmas. Even then, I was questioning the abilities of both of them. Micah Richards came to prominence in our side due to two specific attributes.
The first of these is his sheer athleticism. The size of his physique, coupled with his lightning pace made him a formidable competitor. The other vital factor in his game was his work rate. Time and again, Micah was out-thought or out-manoeuvred by attacking players, finding himself out of position. In these situations his response was to use that pace, applying a dogged work rate to make sure that he got back and made the crucial tackle at all costs. In 2008-09, it seems, he has lost that drive and it has hurt his performances. Even since his move out to right-back, there have been times where the desire simply hasn't been there. I certainly don`t see him as an answer at centre half.
Richard Dunne, for me, has always been all about grafting. He's never had great pace, or technique - his distribution has always been truly awful - but he has got to the ball through sheer grit and determination. This season, he has still had games where he has come to the fore, making some crucial blocks and tackles but overall he has been less reliable. I think the assuredness that we have seen from Nedum Onouha since Christmas has flattered Dunney somewhat.
So what is the solution? The acquisition of Gareth Barry may allow Vincent Kompany to step back to CB. When he has slotted in there this season, he has offered the same poise and maturity as in the middle of the park and his towering height is also welcome. I'm not sure, however, whether we might miss VK in midfield if he was moved into the back four on a permanent basis.
His ability to put his foot on the ball - particularly in tandem with Nigel De Jong's destructive play - and then play an intelligent ball to kick start our attack, has been vital to a lot of our counter attacking play this year. As such, I think it will be vital to keep Kompany available for midfield, particularly for a more defensive set up in away games and to acquire at least one quality centre back to compliment the ascendant Onouha, who I really hope can stay fit.
I think our biggest problem in 2008-09 was actually not any one area of the team. As some of our better performances have intimated, our first 11 is actually very strong indeed. Hughes has taken a lot of criticism this season, from myself as much as anyone, for sometimes sticking with what is clearly a losing strategy or formation in a game.
However, if you look at some of the benches we have been forced to put out this season, it has not really been of premier league, let alone top six standard. You only have to look at the match winners that the top teams - none more so than United - can bring in during the course of a game.
While I appreciated his work rate and some of his promise in 2008-09, Gelson Fernandes is not someone you bring on to claw your way back into a game. In fact the only game where a sub was able to make a real, point scoring, difference was Sturridge's impact at Blackburn.
With the possibility of taking off a midfielder to bring in a Bojinov or a Bellamy to support the likes of Eto'o next season, it seems a lot more likely that substitutions could make a match winning impact.
I think that, if these three areas in particular are worked on in the closed season, we will have a really good opportunity of prizing fifth or sixth place from the hands of Everton and Aston Villa. While his buys have been fairly good to date, I think there are a lot of fans who remain to be won over by Hughes, and surely 2009-10 is a real opportunity to silence his critics and ensure he remains in the job for the years to come.
Many thanks MrKev.
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