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.
Richard Dunne cut a dispirited and disillusioned figure yesterday, as he has in recent weeks. Since the Liverpool defeat, when City threw away 2 goal lead, the 4 time winner of Manchester City’s fans player of the year and club captain looks shattered. 2 own goals and a red card in recent matches hasn’t helped his state of mind and the tactics are pulling the relationship he had with Micah Richards to pieces. Dunne has been a rock for Manchester City over recent seasons and to see his demeanour is not a pleasant thing to see.
Mark Hughes blamed the weather for both of City’s red cards yesterday, but the referee was left in no doubt about both of them. They were stupid challenges and the players involved paid the price, the same as Assou-Ekoto, with the justified retribution from the officials. I understand Hughes stance of defending his players but tactically, City are all over the place and Dunne and Richards are the casualties of too much flair and not enough work, being left constantly exposed and unsupported.
Richards was one of England’s brightest prospects two years ago, now his potential seems unfulfilled, out of the England squad and in a leaky defence with a side on the slide. With both centre backs consistently exposed to the counter attack, teams are making the pairing look ordinary and brittle, passing their way around them with ease.
Thankfully, Hughes has received the backing of chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak today after reports began to circulate on Friday that the owners had lined up a replacement for him. Labelling the reports “rubbish” and stated that he was personally committed to him and Hughes would have money to spend once the January transfer window opens in 52 days time. Mubarak continues to support his manager in public and Hughes certainly deserves the backing of the chairman after only 4 months in the job. With some fans calling for his head already, Hughes needs his players to deliver in Sundays televised clash with Hull City at the KC Stadium to get things back in perspective at Eastlands.