A guest post written by Steve Mogaka.
Read on, and after the article, remember to follow him on twitter on @otivo_hype for more on his football musings, as well as for the best in Reggae/Dancehall music that you will find on this planet…
29th of August, 2012. The UEFA Champions League Group Stage Draw comes to a close in Monaco. The excitement of Champions League nights for soccer enthusiast across Europe and the world over is at a high. As is the norm with many cup draws, all the talk is about the clichéd ‘Group of Death’. Fittingly this year, it is ‘Group D’, which the draw has pitted mouth-watering clashes between English champions – Manchester City, Spanish Champions – Real Madrid, German Champions – Borussia Dortmund and Dutch Champions – Ajax Amsterdam.
Our focus though shall be Man City. In their debut season in the UEFA Champions League last season (2011/2012), they failed to qualify for the last 16 knockout stage after finishing 3rd in Group A on 10 points, a point less than Napoli and 3 points behind group leaders Bayern Munich. This meant Europa League football. But being in a tough group meant third place was a bit excusable.
This year however, more was expected from Man City. A year older in the Champions League, plus their morale boosting win of the Barclays English Premier League on the last day and the wealth of depth in their squad pointed to them coming out all guns blazing. But two losses and two draws in their first four games was far from what was expected. Wednesday’s (21st Nov 2012) draw against Real Madrid at the Etihad stadium meant that with a game to go, they have been eliminated from the Champions League for the second year in a row.
It left me wondering, what is it that went wrong with Man City?
It is important to remember that City manager Roberto Mancini, in his previous managerial role at Inter Milan, never got past the quarter final stage of the UEFA Champions League. Could he be the problem? Why doesn’t this man Mancini have European Success?
At City, here are a few mistakes Mancini has made:
1. SELLING NIGEL DE JONG
The sale of De Jong to AC Milan has to be one of Mancini’s greatest undoings. With the introduction of De Jong in any game, Yaya Toure would move higher up the pitch to partner David Silva in the attacking midfield zone. With De Jong making hard tackles and also providing good passes, this would allow City to become more deadly in attack (through Yaya Toure’s powerful runs) while still maintaining defensive solidity in midfield. This proved potent to City’s success last season. Mancini should have done everything in his power to keep De Jong, including offering him more starts and assuring him of more playing time, as these were the motivating factors behind De Jong’s departure.
2. TACTICS AND FORMATIONS
Mancini’s tactics this season have at times been a bit puzzling. For one, I do not understand why at times he lets go of the tried, tested and proven 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2 system that suits most of his players for a 3-5-2 that suits just some of his players. The 3-5-2 forces Silva and Samir Nasri to play in more central roles, rather than their favored ‘drifting in from the wing’ positions.In central positions, they have to worry more about the team’s defensive shape in the center, something that takes away from their full array of attacking threat.
This system also plays out as five midfielders, but in essence it’s more of five defenders; with the wing backs having a more advanced role of going upfront as well as protecting their flanks. This has cost City some goals; Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo’s goals at the Bernabeu, as well as Karim Benzema’s goal at the Etihad on Wednesday where Angel Di Maria’s cross caught out right wing back Maicon for Benzema to finish past Joe Hart.
It also puzzles me that Mancini would dislodge a working partnership between Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany. Mancini claims he would like to gradually introduce teenage summer signing Matija Nastasic to the squad, but he has done it on claims that he isn’t trusting of Lescott’s ball handling skills. That has come at the expense of an already solid defensive partnership.
I have to admit though, City’s best center back, Kompany has had some shaky performances thus far this season. Mancini should have noticed this by now and put back that excellent and conducive working relationship between Lescott and Kompany and the chemistry they display.
3. YAYA TOURE
He has often shown his worth to City’s resolve with decisive goals though his strength, and marshalling of City’s midfield. However, his agent, Dimitry Seluk, recently asked for a contract extension and wage increase by claiming that the previous Champions League winner and current African footballer of the Year was in need of a new challenge and that he was being trailed by some big European clubs, amongst them, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and his former employers, FC Barcelona. This however didn’t earn him a contract extension and neither did his wage bill go higher, but Toure’s integral role at Manchester City cannot go unnoticed.
Mancini has decided to ground Toure deep in the holding midfield role, and with the sale of De Jong, he has more of a defensive burden and thus cannot make those powerful runs of his often.
Meanwhile, Gareth Barry has been out with injuries and Javi Garcia, De Jong’s supposed replacement, who was definitely a worthwhile buy for City, still needs to be refined and modeled to become the finished product that City require. In the meantime, Yaya Toure’s full potential will continue to be held back if Mancini doesn’t solve the Central Defensive Midfield role.
4. ATTACKING OPTIONS HEADACHE
Having Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Ballotelli and Edin Dzeko all in the same team is proving a headache to Mancini. Dzeko, dubbed the ‘super sub’ comes through for City mostly after being introduced as a substitute but rarely delivers whenever handed a start. Young maverick Mario Ballotelli has been a scarce figure for City this campaign and we are yet to see what Mancini does with this fiery character who is full of massive potential (he might actually turn up for practice in an AC Milan jersey). Aguero and Tevez are both proven goal scoring machines, but Aguero is the one who seems to enjoy more starting berths with former City skipper Tevez yet to solidify a starting position since his return from playing in golf tournaments in his native Argentina.
Overall though, his handling of the attacking options hasn’t been the best, with none of them really taking the initiative to undertake in goal scoring, as say Robin Van Persie has at cross-town rivals Manchester United.
These reasons, among others make me feel confident to say that City faithful may not experience European glory as long as Mancini is at the helm. He might get domestic glory (in fact, he has actually never failed to reach the semi final of at least one domestic cup competition in his entire managerial career), but certainly not in Europe. And so the question beckons, Is Mancini the right man for the job at Manchester City?
That is a question for the oil rich billionaires of Abu Dhabi to ponder.
by Guest writer Steve Mogaka