Manchester City's Season So Far
Wswilly3 sent us the following.
Already we are at the quarter point of the season and so a good time to take stock and review our strengths and weaknesses plus our prospects for the rest of the season.
Well, on the basis that results don't lie and one's place in the table is the best indicator, we can take heart that if we won our match in hand we would be a top four side. Equally we would still be in real contention for the title, as no significant points gap has been created by any leading side.
In fact, in this years Premiership it is noteworthy that every team is more obviously beatable than in previous years and all of the other top teams have lost a minimum of 20% of their games. City though have only lost one game and that in the sixth minute of injury time but we have had three draws, with arguably the one against Fulham at home being the only really poor result.
So on the basis of results, all seems pretty good and we should be delighted but as we all know that is not the complete story. On the pitch we are not actually sparking and although playing well in patches we have yet to achieve consistency and the ability to saunter through matches in the way that Chelsea did against Blackburn last week. So what are the issues?
Firstly, although having an excellent goalkeeper (but limited back-up), we are conceding too many goals and are vulnerable, particularly at set pieces. Equally the defence does not appear to have gelled as a unit even though the individual CV`s of each of it's members is excellent.
Traditionally it is the defence that needs to gain coherence rather than be subjected to regular squad rotation, so it is vital the right four are chosen. In these terms we do have excellent potential back-up, with Onouha (when fit), Kompany, Zabaleta and Silvinhio. To my mind we need to use at least one of these to try and achieve a better cohesion and to help to solve the right back problem, which is currently an obvious weakness to any perceptive follower of football.
We have tried Zabaleta, who I believe was an improvement in terms of positional play and crossing ability but he is susceptible to the rash tackle and is not the complete answer. Could perhaps Toure replace Richards and Kompany be used as a centre half to develop a partnership with Lescott? Certainly it is an area that needs focus and improvement if we are to genuinely challenge for the title, which should surely be our aspiration. Any title winning side has to be able to achieve a lot of clean sheets and finding the right combination to achieve this is perhaps our major requirement to date.
On the subject of our defence, I also believe that it would be sensible to take Micah Richards out of the firing line for a time and help him further develop as a centre half, which is surely his true position. One of the main reasons he was switched to right back was his desire to challenge for an England place in that role but due to his poor form those aspirations are not now a reality and he is clearly struggling with the role.
We all like an academy player to succeed and he has age on his side but as in any other walk of life, you have to continue to learn and sometimes that is better achieved out of the full limelight. How much of the issue is in his head, only the insiders at Carrington will know but most would surely agree that he needs to improve and to knuckle down to achieve this. Let's hope he has the strength of character and the assistance to do this as the situation cannot be left any longer in the hope that time is the healer.
I would argue that the second issue we have seen this season is the lack of balance in central mid-field. We have some truly excellent players but do not seem to have decided whether we want to play a 100% holding player (de Jong), with a true box to box midfielder (Barry) or whether we need to find room for a genuinely creative midfield player like Stevie Ireland. In a 4-4-2 formation, we do have to decide which formation is most appropriate for us and as yet I would argue we look unbalanced in this area without a genuinely creative player to bring our forward talents into play.
The decision is even tougher because Nigel de Jong is playing well, (although the inclusion of his role is not resulting in clean sheets); Gareth Barry has already become Mr Dependable and when put in a position of some creative freedom, Stevie Ireland looks a real threat, particularly with his runs from deep and his perceptive passing. Equally we have Michael Johnson hopefully available for consideration soon.
So I would argue that again the midfield is not a matter of the quality of the players but how best to create a balance, appropriate perhaps for each game, as I genuinely believe midfield is an area where squad rotation may be more appropriate. However surely for home games at least, we do need to select a genuine creative player?
On the flanks we have a choice of four main players to fill two positions and here again the issue is more one of who to select, than who to drop, as a case for all of them to be included could be made. To a certain extent the situation is one of abundant flair versus a balance of flair and industry, as both Robinhio and Petrov have undoubted skill and goal scoring ability but do not have the natural attitude to track back in the same way that Wright-Phillips and Bellamy are prepared to. Not a bad position to be in, provided one can persuade players that they will not be chosen every match.
This brings me on to my third issue and that is the discipline and team ethic within the squad. Although I cannot stand Ferguson, I have to say that he rotates his squad with abandon and one never recalls any of them coming out and talking to the press about their unhappiness. So far this year we have had Petrov, de Jong and Robinhio talking to the press and in essence putting themselves before the team and the club by making it clear they want 'away' unless selected. Thankfully others like Bellamy and Kompany have made it clear they want to fight for their place and that the team is the most important element. However the mutterings of potential discontent made by players can hardly be helpful to the team and inevitably puts more pressure on the manager and his selection. It is an issue that I believe Mark Hughes needs to sort out and to make it clear that the team comes first and if necessary, non team players should be allowed to leave.
My final issue would be the need for the attack to show consistency on a match by match basis. Adebayor started like an absolute train and his skill and keenness were outstanding and he almost looked like he would win matches on his own. By these amazing standards he has tailed off a little since his suspension but he does look to be a great signing, if he can maintain his positive attitude.
Equally, Tevez is a class act and works hard for the team, without as yet hitting the heights but in these two we have forward players that would worry any defence and a huge improvement from last year. We have yet to see whether Santa Cruz is another great signing or not but he does at least appear to have the team ethic and is ready to step when needed and this will be the true test. If these three can maintain a level of consistency throughout the season, we should score a lot of goals.
So in summary, my issues are not the individual quality of the players but issues of cohesion and balance plus the attitude of some of our star players. We have undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds from previous seasons, as we should have, given the outlay our owners have sanctioned. The frustration is that if we could only iron out the above issues, then I genuinely believe we could challenge for the title this year. More than any other year it should be an open race and one could well predict that the team that won the title may well lose at least five games, as few games are easy in the Premiership these days. Clearly there is no obviously outstanding team this year and we have the advantage of a squad that has an depth quality, stronger than most of the top teams. Additionally we do not have the distractions of Europe to contend with but will lose three players to the African Cup.
However I would also contend that what is equally vital is that the team and the supporters actually believe that we can win the title, as if there is not this self believe then we should forget it and act like players or supporters of an 'also ran side', rather than of the richest club in the world, full of world class players and with a huge amount going for us.
Yes all in all, not a bad start to the season but clearly a lot of room for improvement as well. I remain quietly confident that Mark Hughes will fix these problems and that with a following wind, and the little bit of luck every team needs we will be in the mix towards the end of the season.