With Pablo Zabaleta unavailable for Manchester City’s afternoon kickoff at Craven Cottage against Fulham, manager Manuel Pellegrini had a selection choice to make at right-back. Sixty minutes into the match, with the Blues holding a tenuous 2-1 lead, it was obvious Pellegrini had made the wrong choice.
Gaël Clichy, normally a left-back, was shifted to the right for this match but seemed well out of his depth, being routinely beat by Kieran Richardson and Adel Taarabt (when he pushed wide and deep at times from his “false 9” position). On multiple occasions either holding midfiedler Fernandinho had to cover for Clichy’s errors or the recalled goalkeeper Joe Hart had to spectacularly deny Fulham opportunities.
Sensing the side was being overrun, Pellegrini made two changes, bringing on Jesus Navas who forced Richardson back on his heels defensively, and then James Milner whose work rate allowed him to help defensively while getting forward. After Fulham equalized, Navas and Milner both scored goals to give the Blues a 4-2 victory, and three critical away points heading into a top of the table boxing day clash against Liverpool.
Following Milner’s goal that made the scoreline 4-2, Pellegrini pragmatically pulled man of the match David Silva in favor of Javier Garcia to provide additional central midfield cover for the defense. This was the type of move that Pellegrini often avoided making earlier in the season when ahead away from home.
The tactical changes also showed that the Blues could excel in a 4-2-3-1 formation that has become the defacto formation for so many top European sides. Pellegrini has resisted playing this way, but today with his side’s back against the wall and seemingly destined to drop points once again away from home, he rationally changed shape.
Often times away from home this season, Pellegrini’s second half changes have been more mystifying then effective. But Saturday he saw the trouble the Blues were in quickly, made two important personnel changes to stop the bleeding and modify tactics, and it worked brilliantly.
A word about Fulham. Under Rene Meulensteen, they look a much more energetic, enthusiastic and quality side then they did under Martin Jol. The individual talent of the Cottagers top players has never been in question. Relative to the sides around them in the table, they have a remarkable amount of pedigree. However, Jol failed to get the sort of performances for this side who were seemingly disinterested for much of the campaign.
Today was an important victory for Manchester City but showed that both managers are making progress with their respective clubs.
Editor’s note: For the latest Citizens news, analysis and opinion, visit the Manchester City team page.
25+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, Liga MX, MLS & World Cup
- Includes ESPN, FOX, Univision, TUDN and more
Favorite Leagues At The Best Price
- Starting price: $7.99/mo. for Live TV Package
- Watch Argentine league, Brasileirāo and Copa Libertadores
- Includes beIN SPORTS, GolTV, TyC Sports and more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, Copa del Rey & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
Live TV, Soccer & Originals
- Starting price: $4.99/mo.
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & more
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
Get All 3 And Save 30%
- $13.99/mo. for ESPN+, Disney+ & Hulu
- Includes Bundesliga, LaLiga, NHL & the home to UFC
- Features Marvel, Star Wars + shows & movies for your entire family