Samir Nasri’s injury in the second half of a 2-0 win against Newcastle will undoubtedly make Manchester City’s title chances less likely considering the Frenchman will be out of action for eight weeks. The creative midfielder has been in scintillating form recently, and without him in the side, the club will have to either change the way they play or force his replacement to try and replicate his movement and influence without the same set of skills.
With Manchester City facing a much tougher run-in than their nearest title rivals (Manchester City face six of the top seven sides away from home for the remainder of the season as compared to Chelsea facing just two of those sides away from home, and Arsenal facing four away from home), the loss of Nasri very well could cripple the title opportunity for the Blues.
The depth of Manchester City is often lauded in the press, but as we have seen earlier in the season, if you take a key component out of the side, like Vincent Kompany, the Blues are prone to struggle. Sergio Aguero’s injury has proven less critical to the club partly because Edin Dzeko has historically been more reliable in difficult away fixtures than Aguero, and with the bulk of matches away from home during this period, the injury may have actually worked in City’s favor.
In the previous two seasons, Nasri has cut an enigmatic figure, alternating between indifferent on-pitch spectator to mistake-prone midfielder. In between there have been moments of sheer brilliance, like his two-man move with Carlos Tevez to defeat Chelsea in March of 2012. But those moments proved to be few and far between, prompting former manager Roberto Mancini to declare he wanted to punch Nasri in March of last year. The Italian frequently preferred James Milner, a less talented but more disciplined player to the creative French midfielder.
Since Manuel Pellegrini has taken over at Manchester City however, Nasri not only has elevated his game but has become arguably the most influential and creative midfielder in English football. Playing on the left side of midfield in the Blues 4-2-2-2 formation, the Frenchman often pinches inside creating a dynamic triangular partnership with left-back Alexsander Kolarov and Alvaro Negredo. The outstanding scoring record of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure may have gotten the most headlines this season, it is this left-sided trio that have created the majority of important attacking moves for the Blues over the course of the last two months, a period where the club is unbeaten in all competitions. Nasri’s creativity and movement off the ball is at the heart of these moves (see image below).
Replacing Nasri will either be James Milner or Jesus Navas, both players with a completely different skill set. Navas is an out-and-out winger who, because of Pellegrini’s system, comes inside often but finds himself dispossessed or crowded out of space in the middle. Milner, a player that fit Mancini’s more defensive oriented setup well, has been a lethal counter-attacking threat for the club this season but is not in any way a creative force on the level of Nasri.