Watching Manchester City yesterday left me in no doubt as to the scale of the issues currently affecting Mark Hughes team and the dreadful run of form they currently find themselves in. With 4 wins, 1 draw and 7 defeats so far in the Premier League, the optimism that greeted the signing of Robinho on August 31st has quickly evaporated, leaving City with something of a deadline day hangover that doesn’t seem to be clearing up anytime soon.
For all Robinho’s hype and pomp, his speed and dead ball ability, he’s left the City team overloaded with attacking flair but little work-rate, a side desperate to charge forward at every possible opportunity with little thought as to the consequences of what may happen if they lose the ball. Starting yesterdays game alongside Robinho were Vassell, Wright-Phillips, Ireland and Benjani, giving City a quintet of attacking potential and that leads us to the issue at hand. Charging back to pressurise opponents is something that is obviously missing from the current City lineup and it’s beginning to show in abundance. The ironic thing in all this is that I’ve seen it all before with my team and it didn’t work then either.
Ossie Ardiles’ Tottenham team that started the 1994-1995 season had another attacking quintet that on paper oozed quality, Klinsmann, Sheringham, Barmby, Dumitrescu and Anderton. All international players, all great footballers, but it left the Spurs team top heavy and easy to pull apart. Ardiles only lasted 12 games of the 1994-95 season, fired after winning 5, drawing 2 and losing 5 and witnessing an amazing 45 goals in those 12 games. If you add in the 17 goals in 3 League Cup games, you get an incredible average of just over 4 goals a game. Entertainment by the bucket load, but unfortunately it usually benefited the opposition and Tottenham had to change tact, bringing in Gerry Francis and a more pragmatic tactical mixture.
Manchester City are currently working on the same principle of using 5 attacking players, a defensive midfielder and a back four, with full backs pushing up to fill the gaps in midfieldwhich are left when the wingers charge forward. It then leaves them open to quick counter attacks on both flanks, leaving the centre halves exposed and vulnerable, putting pressure on them and eventually leading to mistakes. When you’ve got everyone bombing forward with the ball, it’s brilliant. When they lose it with no end product, it becomes a different story.
I saw comparisons with Real Madrid’s Galactico side last week which made me chuckle no end, no offence to Manchester City and their dedicated and loyal fans but can you really compare the current City quintet with Raul, Ronaldo, Figo, Zidane and Beckham? Even with players of that ilk, the trophies dried up for Madrid because they were so top heavy and never replaced the underrated player who was the essentially fulcrum of the side, Claude Makelele. Now if players of that calibre can’t play 4-1-5 especially after Makelele left, it becomes blinding obvious that City need to be pragmatic and play a more restrained version of the beautiful game because some players look as if they’ve lost all the confidence they had and the tactics are increasing this burden on the team. Confidence is a fragile thing at the best of times, some people can seem Kevlar coated and deflect any criticism or set back and continue forward but another key component of Manchester City’s recent Premiership side looks deflated and defeated, his confidence shattered and broken.