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Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona

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Courtesy of Flickr/Some rights reserved by Globovisión

Barcelona took a big step towards the Champions League quarter-finals, as they recorded a comfortable victory over Manchester City.

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Manuel Pellegrini made several changes to his starting XI with Alvaro Negredo leading the line ahead of David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov and Jesus Navas. Fernandinho returned from injury to partner Yaya Toure in midfield, while Martin Demichelis slotted in at centre-back.

Gerardo Martino made three changes to the side that defeated Rayo Vallecano over the weekend. Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano and Xavi returned to the starting lineup, while Neymar was available for selection.

Pellegrini’s tactics contained Barcelona’s attacking threats, but a defensive error shifted the tactical battle.

City without the ball

One of the interesting components regarding Pellegrini’s tactics was Manchester City’s shape without the ball, as there were two distinct features in their overall approach.

In the early moments of the match when Barcelona tried to play out of their third, City maintained a high-block and pressed Martino’s side as a unit. Fernandinho closed down Xavi, Toure stuck tight to Fabregas, and the wingers closed down Barcelona’s attack-minded full-backs. Barcelona usually played through it due to their 3v2 situation at the back with Sergio Busquets being the key man in midfield, but their was one incident in the first half that nearly led to a goal.

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Fabregas won possession at the edge of Barcelona’s box and tried to play out of the back, but City’s high-block quickly pressed the Spanish champions, and Xavi conceded possession, thus resulting in Negredo firing a shot directly at Victor Valdes.

However, City often sat deeper, and focused on limiting the space between the lines. Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta stuck tight to Barcelona’s wide men, and Martino’s full-backs rarely ventured forward. Kolarov’s role on the left was to prevent Dani Alves from pushing forward, while Alba feared that Navas’ pace could harm Barcelona on the break.

City contained Barcelona’s threat for majority of the first half. Apart from a Xavi shot from distance, the away side failed to pose any threats in the final third. Messi’s involvement in the first half was also limited: he often dropped deeper in search of possession, and when he drifted towards the right, Martin Demichelis intercepted key passes and won tackles.

Barcelona dominate midfield

When assessing Barcelona’s XI pre-match, the inclusion of a fourth midfielder highlighted Martino’s intent on dominating central areas. Andres Iniesta was fielded on the left, but throughout the match he subtly interchanged positions with Fabregas.

As I stated earlier, Busquets was the key reason as to why City’s high-block wasn’t effective. With Negredo and Silva leading the press, their aim was to close down Barcelona’s centre-backs. Busquets, however, dropped in between Mascherano and Gerard Pique to create a 3v2 situation at the back, which helped Martino’s men push into City’s half.

Barcelona continued to maintain a numerical advantage when they pushed into City’s half, as their midfield trio passed around Fernandinho and Toure. Silva moved into midfield to help City cope with Barcelona’s trio, but Iniesta often drifted infield to offer an additional passing option.

With Xavi and Busquets often sitting deeper, the key men in attack were Fabregas and Iniesta. The duo repeatedly combined and attempted to pull City defenders out of position, as they offered guile and a pinch of penetration with their quick, incisive passes, and nonchalant runs towards the box.

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Despite not creating many clear-cut chances in the first half, Barcelona created overloads on both ends of the field to ensure that they would dominate possession.

Silva

Although Barcelona dominated possession, Pellegrini’s men created the better chances in the first half. Their key player was Silva – who’s referred to as one of the game’s best space invaders – and here, he drifted into space between the lines, and key areas in Barcelona’s third.

Vincent Kompany’s well-weighed pass to Silva – the Belgian played an identical pass to Nasri in the buildup to Samir Nasri’s goal against Chelsea over the weekend – allowed the Spaniard to slip a ball into Negredo, and although Pique ushered him towards the byline, the City striker’s chip shot flashed across the six-yard box.

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Silva was the link between midfield and attack – he often won possession in deep positions prior to making a key pass, and constantly received the ball in a pocket of space before playing it into wide areas. His pass to Navas towards the end of the half led to Negredo guiding his header inches wide of the far post.

The one issue City and Silva encountered was the tempo of their counter-attack, along with the fact that Barcelona always had numbers behind the ball. Xavi and Busquets protected the back four, while Alves and Alba’s cautious positioning ensured that Martino’s men wouldn’t get caught out of position.

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Ultimately, for all of City’s admirable work both in and out of possession the tie shifted in the buildup to Messi’s opening goal. Silva once again did well to break out Barcelona’s half with the intent of launching a quick counter-attack, but with a lack of runners, he opted to play a pass to Navas on the right flank.

Busquets quickly retreated and sat alongside Alba to prevent the full-back from being isolated, thus creating a 1v2 situation. The ideal move would be to sustain possession and push forward as a unit, but Navas attempted to take both players on and was dispossessed.

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This left City in an awkward position, with Toure and Fernandinho, along with their full-backs and Demichelis caught higher up the pitch, Messi moved into an onside position alongside Kompany. With fears of Barcelona’s attackers running behind the defence, Kompany dropped deeper, thus playing Messi onside.

Subsequently, Iniesta played an exceptional ball to Messi, and Demichelis’ split-second decision to prevent Messi from shooting resulted in a penalty. While many will hammer Demichelis for his decision-making, it’s difficult to name a defender that would allow Messi to shoot in that position, especially when slow-motion replays show that initial contact was made outside of the box.

Nonetheless, it was the one of the few mistakes City made prior to Demichelis’ dismissal, and a moment of brilliance from Iniesta handed Barcelona the lead.

Pellegrini makes substitutions as City go 10v11

Pellegrini quickly reacted to Demichelis’ dismissal and opted to introduce Joleon Lescott for Kolarov, and Nasri for Navas. City was now a 4-4-1 without the ball as Silva drifted to the left to protect Clichy, while Barcelona dominated possession.

Nasri’s inclusion handed Pellegrini another creative option that could expose pockets of space with Silva, and push City’s full-backs forward. Nasri exploited space in midfield after being played in by Silva, and his one-two with Negredo presented the Frenchman with space to shoot, but Mascherano blocked his attempt.

Afterwards, Silva played in Clichy down the left but his cross went directly to Valdes, and the Spaniard’s delivery from the right flank in the 86th minute was pushed away by Valdes for a corner. City’s best chance came from a Toure cross-field diagonal pass to Zabaleta, whose one-timed pass to Silva allowed the Spaniard to control the ball on his chest and volley his shot at Valdes, but the Spanish keeper made a great save to preserve Barcelona’s lead.

City continued to create chances due to Barcelona’s cautious approach, but Pellegrini’s men lacked quality in the final third.

Alves down the right

The key feat subsequent to Demichelis’ dismissal was Alves’ proactive role. The Brazilian became Barcelona’s key player in the second half, and scored the all-important second goal.

With Silva drifting into central positions to help City manufacture attacking moves, Alves capitalized on the space ahead of him, as Silva didn’t possess the energy to get back into position. This forced Clichy to defend Alves, while Lescott shifted over to cover the right-winger. Lescott’s passing from defence, positioning, and man marking was poor, as the City centre-back endured a difficult second half.

  • 66th min: Iniesta plays a ball out wide to an unmarked Alves and he squares his pass to Xavi inside the box, but the Spaniard guides his shot over the net.
  • 68th min: Iniesta once again supplies Alves, who then plays a one-two with Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez drags Lescott out of position and Alves runs by Clichy to receive the ball, and is free on goal but his shot glides inches wide of the post.
  • 89th min: Alves plays a pass into the right channel for Neymar to chase, and the substitute plays in Alves at the edge of the box. The right-back’s first touch guides him past a leggy Clichy, and he slid his shot past Hart.

Kolarov’s departure was massive in the sense that the Serbian provided astute cover for Clichy, and prevented the left-back from being isolated against an advancing Alves. Silva didn’t have the energy to track Alves’ runs, and Lescott was easily dragged out of position, which allowed the Brazilian to dominate the right flank in the second half.

Conclusion

Barcelona dominated possession for large portions of the match, and their patient approach paid dividends as they pounced on Navas’ mistake, while Alves dominated the right flank in the latter stages.

“Barcelona had a lot of the ball but they had it where we wanted. They were not near our area; that’s what we wanted. The team played with courage, with personality, and tried to draw the match with ten men,” Pellegrini said.

Pellegrini’s logical approach was correct as it negated Barcelona’s threats in the final third. However, two-away goals puts City in a difficult predicament ahead of the second leg, and Pellegrini will rue the fact that a simple error disrupted the natural tactical battle.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea

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Courtesy of Flickr/dubai88info

Manchester City avenged their league set-back against Chelsea with a convincing victory over Jose Mourinho’s men.

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Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to the side that drew Norwich last weekend. Costel Pantilimon started in goal, while Joleon Lescott formed a centre-back partnership with Vincent Kompany. Javi Garcia slotted in midfield alongside Yaya Toure, and Edin Dzeko led the line.

Mourinho was still without John Terry, as he made one change to his starting XI with John Obi Mikel pushing Oscar to the bench.

Manchester City improved their overall shape, and defensive approach to stifle Chelsea’s attackers and dominate the midfield area.

Chelsea without the ball

Heading into the match, many were curious as to whether Mourinho would alter his tactics, but the Portuguese manager stuck to an identical game-plan that enabled Chelsea to record the double over their title rivals.

Without Terry, Mikel slotted into midfield and sat alongside Matic to limit space between the lines. The midfield duo pressed Yaya Toure – with help from Willian – and they closed down David Silva when he drifted infield. Cesar Azpilicueta and Branislav Ivanovic quickly closed down wide men, whereas Ramires tucked into midfield to cope with Silva’s movement.

Similar to their league encounter, there was still space for Ivanovic to drive forward, but the introduction of Gael Clichy provided Pellegrini with a natural left-back that is keen on intercepting passes and staying tight to his opponents – yet he didn’t offer the same attacking threat as Aleksandar Kolarov, as he’s limited going forward.

Mourinho opted to stick with his initial approach without the ball, thus leaving his side predictable, and Pellegrini’s changes within his XI punished the league leaders.

City’s approach

The key to City’s success in this match was the manner in which they contained Chelsea’s attacking three. The league match at the Ethiad saw Chelsea continuously blitz City on the counter attack, and Pellegrini’s decision to tinker with his side’s shape was logical.

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City broke into two banks of four without the ball, encouraging Dzeko and Jovetic to sit off the Chelsea defenders. Pellegrini instructed the attacking duo to press Nemanja Matic, restricting his ability to ignite Chelsea’s attacks from deep. The other key feat was City’s disciplined midfield – which will be pivotal against Barcelona this week – as the first bank ensured that Chelsea’s attackers didn’t locate pockets of space to receive the ball.

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Javi Garcia offered better cover in midfield, constantly pressing Willian in deep positions, while his reliable passing aided City in possession. Clichy closed down Ramires whenever he received the ball, yet the Brazilian’s wastefulness in possession was beneficial to Pellegrini’s side.

The inclusion of Milner contained Hazard’s threat down the left side, despite a few moments of brilliance from the Belgian. Milner recorded five tackles – a match-high – and his persistence to prevent Hazard from isolating the Argentinian full-back was important. Hazard relished previous battles against Zabaleta, but here, Milner sat a few yards deeper, often leaving the Belgian in 1v2 situations when he received the rare opportunity to run at City’s defence. There were two separate occasions where Milner made a recovery run and powerfully broke up play to retain possession, which summed up the significance of his inclusion.

Likewise, even Kompany played a pivotal role in City’s work ethic without the ball. The Belgian pushed higher up the pitch to prevent Chelsea’s attacking three from turning towards goal. He comfortably dispossessed Willian on the half-way line on one occasion, but his foul on Hazard in the buildup to a Chelsea counter-attack signified City’s approach – prevent Chelsea from penetrating space in the final third at any cost.

Pellegrini instructed his side to contain Chelsea’s attacking three by limiting their time and space with the ball, and their dynamism enabled them to complete this task.

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One of the issues Chelsea encountered in the first-half was their disjointed pressing. Although the tempo of City’s ball circulation increased, Chelsea didn’t press well as a unit, and they were easily bypassed in midfield.

City’s opening goal highlighted Ramires’ poor play, Chelsea’s poor pressing in midfield, and the importance of space between the lines. Clichy ran past Ramires towards the half-way line, and his off-balanced pass evaded two Chelsea players and found Silva between the lines. Dzeko was also unmarked in space ahead of him, and Mourinho’s men were caught out of position.

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Silva quickly played in Dzeko, whereas Jovetic drifted alongside Milner, thus creating a 2v1 against Azpilicueta. Milner made a darting run inside of the Spanish full-back to drag him out of position, and Jovetic’s run behind Azpilicueta freed up space to receive Dzeko’s pass and fire a low shot past Petr Cech.

Chelsea admirably denied City space between the lines in previous matches this season, but a poor outing from Ramires, and City’s flexibility going forward gave Pellegrini’s men the attacking impetus they lacked in the previous meeting.

Mourinho’s substitutions

Mourinho decided to tinker with his personnel in the second half, by dismissing the isolated Samuel Eto’o for Mohamed Salah. This pushed the unimpressive Willian to the left, while Salah and Hazard played off one another. The goal was to get runners behind City’s defence with Salah’s pace, but Chelsea’s direct distribution was putrid, and the away side’s productivity in the final third didn’t improve.

Afterwards, Fernando Torres replaced Ramires, pushing Hazard and Salah to the flanks. While Torres successfully won a few aerial duels, and created a bit of space for Chelsea’s midfield to play into, their counter-attack still couldn’t cope with City’s pressing, and the quality in the final third was lacklustre.

Oscar replaced Willian in Mourinho’s final roll of the dice, but the change was overdue. Mourinho possibly expected a response from his side at the start of the second half, but Oscar’s tactical intelligence could’ve led to Chelsea being more proactive in possession. The Brazilian often drops deep to create space for the Chelsea wide men to attack; he also helps his teammates push forward as a unit. With Chelsea chasing the match, Oscar’s influence decreased, as they hurried their passes and were eager to break into the final third.

2-0

Ultimately, the match concluded when City doubled their lead.  Prior to the goal, Samir Nasri replaced Jovetic with City aiming to sustain possession and further dominate central areas. Nasri’s a disciplined, creative midfielder that aims to attack space and play key passes around the final third; with Chelsea struggling to maintain a structured shape, Nasri’s movement was bound to torment the away side.

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Here, Chelsea were dragged completely out of position, thus leaving Silva and Nasri unmarked in a pocket of space. Kompany played an accurate ball to Nasri, and he was free to drive forward, and slide in an incisive pass to Silva. Nasri continued his run and darted into the box to receive the ball, and slid it into an open net.

Chelsea failed to cope with Nasri and Silva’s collective movement, and the Frenchman killed the game, thus allowing Pellegrini to introduce Jesus Navas for Silva to balance City’s midfield.

Conclusion

Pellegrini’s additions to the starting XI played a key role in City’s victory over Chelsea, and the modifications within their defensive work were also beneficial. “Today we played very well in all senses. Defending, in possession, attacking – Chelsea didn’t have any chances to shoot and that was important for us,” Pellegrini said.

Chelsea’s dependence on quick, direct counter-attacks was nullified, and the Blues lacked variety in the final third. They were sloppy in possession, uninventive in attacking areas, and their passing was atrocious – Mourinho’s men didn’t record a shot on goal.

Pellegrini ensured Chelsea didn’t have space to launch counter-attacks, and his personnel changes played their roles to a tee. Jovetic and Nasri opened up additional space in the final third, while Milner aided Zabaleta in shackling Hazard. This was an improved performance from City; Pellegrini learned from his naivety in the league encounter, as his side produced a fantastic performance, which keeps their quadruple hopes alive.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City press and pass their way past Liverpool

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Manuel Pellegrini was keen to highlight the importance of scoring goals ahead of Manchester City’s monumental showdown against Liverpool. “The way in football is to score goals, that is why people pay for their tickets. Fans are always trying to celebrate the goals of their teams. That is very important, I think it is the best way to win.”

At the Ethiad Stadium, Pellegrini strayed away from his preferred 4-4-2 due to Sergio Aguero’s absence, and opted to play a 4-2-3-1 with David Silva as the no.10. On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers has Luis Suarez – the best striker in the league on current form – at his disposal, but was adamant on nullifying City’s threat in midfield. This approach was successful against Spurs a few weeks ago – Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson pressed the double-pivot, and constantly played balls behind the high Spurs backline.

Initially, Liverpool’s midfield sat off in a 4-1-4-1, but they didn’t press Yaya Toure or Fernandinho, and the City duo was free to play passes to Samir Nasri and David Silva, who drifted between the lines. Rodgers acknowledged this, and instructed his men to close down the opposition’s midfield. This was a logical approach, but Silva and Nasri’s movement into deeper positions helped City play through Liverpool’s press.

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However, City adopted a pragmatic, yet risky approach towards coping with Suarez’s threat. When the home side conceded possession in Liverpool’s half, City’s back four pushed higher up the pitch, preventing Suarez from turning and running at goal – Kompany quickly closed down the isolated Uruguayan striker. Yet, Liverpool’s front three’s combination of pace and intricacy posed legitimate threats for the home side – but for the most part Suarez’s threat was contained.

Liverpool’s best chances came from attacking space behind the City backline: Philippe Coutinho’s tame effort in the first half, and Raheem Sterling’s sitter were both created by Suarez. The one issue with Liverpool’s swift attacks was the number of men they committed forward – Lucas Leiva positional discipline was questionable, and both fullbacks surged forward, which left Rodgers with his two centrebacks as a line of defence.

City dropped into two banks of four out of possession, and Silva was often the free man searching for space to receive the ball and spring quick counter attacks by stringing passes towards Nasri and Navas. Pellegrini’s men squandered several opportunities on the break to add to their goal tally, but the home side notched a winner from this route of attack. Nasri’s magnificent cross field pass found Jesus Navas in an advanced position, and the Spaniard picked out Alvaro Negredo, whose unorthodox finish squeaked past Simon Mignolet.

Although Liverpool had the better opportunities in the second half, City were comfortable. Pellegrini’s men pressed Liverpool as a unit when they attempted to play out of the back, forcing the away side – in particular Mamadou Sakho – into conceding possession. City continued to monopolize possession through Silva and Nasri’s intelligence to drop deeper and drift into pockets of space between the lines, while the introduction of James Milner nullified Glen Johnson’s threat in wide areas. The movement of City’s creative players and their pressing was pivotal – both sides generated legitimate threats on the break, but Liverpool’s attacking naivety continuously handed the home side goal-scoring opportunities.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 1-3 Bayern Munich

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Bayern Munich decimated Manchester City at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Pep Guardiola made one change to the side that defeated Wolfsburg this weekend. Toni Kroos returned to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, while Thomas Muller led the line in Bayern’s 4-1-4-1. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery kept their spots on the flanks, while Phillip Lahm started as the sole holding midfielder.

Manuel Pellegrini made four changes to his starting eleven that fell to Aston Villa on Saturday. Edin Dzeko led the line in Pellegrini’s 4-2-3-1, ahead of Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri. Gael Clichy and Micah Richards returned to the City back four, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho played in the double-pivot.

Bayern produced a magnificent away performance, which saw Guardiola’s men press efficiently and dominate the midfield from the opening whistle.

Pressing

It was always going to be interesting to see how City coped with Bayern’s pressure. Guardiola’s men pegged City into their third of the pitch – getting numbers around the ball carrier, thus forcing Pellegrini’s men to concede possession. Frankly this pressure led to Bayern’s dominance, as City was unable to sustain possession for the entirety of the first half.

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It all started with Robben and Ribery closing down the City fullbacks – Muller charged down the centre backs, Bayern’s fullbacks pressed City’s wingers, while the European champions had a distinct numerical advantage in midfield. Bayern repetitively won the ball in City’s third which led to the European champions dominance for majority of the match.

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City without the ball

With Bayern maintaining a large portion of possession, City’s aim to maintain a solid shape in midfield was logical. City dropped into a narrow 4-4-2 when Bayern was in possession and there were many factors in their shape that led to Bayern’s superiority.

First off the duo of Navas and Richards were unable to cope with Alaba and Ribery’s attacking threat. The Frenchman constantly got the better of the Manchester City fullback, and Navas struggled to track Alaba, who was persistent on surging forward. The Bayern duo’s persistence to get forward led to Ribery’s opener, as Alaba’s overlapping run confused Navas and Richards, thus leading to Ribery cutting inside and unleashing a powerful shot from distance that slipped past Joe Hart at the near post.

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Yet, on the opposite side, Nasri played narrow attempting to maintain a compact shape, but this urged Guardiola’s men to penetrate on the right flank. Rafinha constantly scampered down the right side on several occasions attacking space and aiming to create overloads with Robben. Schweinsteiger also ventured over to the right side when Nasri protected Clichy to help Bayern overload the right flank. Clichy was an isolated figure at left back, and Guardiola instructed his men to penetrate the space available – and to no surprise, Bayern’s goals in the second half came down that flank.

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City’s shape without the ball was questionable – as Guardiola instructed his men to penetrate wide areas.

Bayern dominate midfield

Another key element in City’s shape was their numerical disadvantage in midfield. The Bayern trio of Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm and Kroos dominated Fernandinho and Yaya Toure for large portions of the match. Also, the intelligent movement of Robben, Ribery and Muller into central areas presented Bayern with several passing options in midfield.

More so, Pellegrini’s idea to play two strikers was logical – due to Dzeko’s height and ability to hold up the ball, while Aguero’s pace to run behind defenders – but it allowed Guardiola’s men to dictate possession. Aguero wasn’t instructed to press Lahm – who was often the spare man in midfield – and the German international was allowed to control the tempo of the match.

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Each member of Bayern’s midfield trio had a pass completion rate over 90%, but it was Kroos who shined brightest. Kroos possesses a wonderful gift of finding pockets of space in midfield to receive the ball – frankly there aren’t many in the world better than him at doing this.

And despite being pressed by Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, the German midfielder still managed to stamp his authority on the match – specifically in the final third. But despite Kroos’ positive impact going forward, he played a key role in Bayern’s high-press – relentlessly working hard to win the ball in City’s third. Kroos cleverly dispossessed Fernandinho in City’s third and played in Robben, who danced past Nemanja Nastasic and beat Hart at the near post.

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Furthermore, City’s shape without the ball allowed Bayern’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, as the numerical advantage in midfield allowed Guardiola’s trio to thrive.

Muller

However, the most interesting talking point pre-match was the role of Muller. The German midfielder rarely receives the plaudits he deserves, but once again he performed exceptionally on a monumental European night.

Muller closed down defenders efficiently and ran the channels superbly, aiming to find cracks in City’s high line – but his ability to win 50/50 challenges from direct balls was pivotal. Despite Bayern’s constant passing in central areas, the Bavarian’s did mix up their play, spraying a few long balls towards goal that Muller nodded down to his teammates.

And Bayern’s winner stemmed off a similar play. Muller drifted to the right flank and made a run behind Clichy – who was caught ball-watching – controlling a well-weighed Dante long ball, and his second touch was magnificent, which guided the German past Hart to tap the ball into the net. Muller’s movement in the second half was great – he constantly rotated with both wide men, taking up their positions when they drifted centrally, and the City back line was unable to cope.

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Muller produced a mature performance as the lone striker – he allowed his teammates to get into better positions by linking play, provided them with forward passing options, his energy and will to close down defenders was vital, and he scored a great goal that highlighted his wonderful movement and tactical intelligence.

Second half

Bayern continued to flex their muscle and out pass City in the second half and it was surprising to see Pellegrini stick with Dzeko and Aguero upfront. It was strange considering he had James Milner – a hardworking utility player – on the bench, while Javi Garcia was also available to add numbers in midfield. But Pellegrini stuck with his shape, and replaced Dzeko with Alvaro Negredo.

Aguero began to stick closer to Lahm, but as the game wore on, the Argentine tired. David Silva and Milner then replaced Aguero and Nasri – and life was restored in the match when Jerome Boateng took down Yaya Toure who was clear on goal, thus resulting in a red card. City’s shift to a 4-2-3-1 did mount a positive end to the match – Negredo scored a well-taken goal as Bayern failed to press efficiently when they lost the ball, Milner began to trouble Rafinha, and Silva was lively in the final third after Boateng’s sending off.

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Zonalmarking.net editor, Michael Cox makes a great point on Bayern’s performance in the final 15 minutes of the match. Guardiola’s men began to tire, resulting in a decline in their pressing. Like the game at the Emirates in 2010 – when Guardiola was Barcelona manager – Arsene Wenger’s substitutions were pivotal to their monumental win, as Barcelona’s energy levels dipped after pressing for majority of the match.

This, along with Bayern’s tie against Freiburg – earlier this year – are examples of Guardiola sides fading after pressing for large portions of the match, leaving them likely to concede in in the final quarter of matches. It’s an issue the Spaniard will need to sort out, as Heynckes was able to find a balance between pressing and an organized shape – whether he decides to do so will be pivotal in the latter stages of this competition.

Bayern continued to dominate for majority of the second half, yet Pellegrini’s changes did harm the European champions in the final minutes of the match.

Conclusion

Bayern Munich blitzed City for majority of the match, yet Pellegrini’s approach needs to be questioned.

Pellegrini’s decision to play with two strikers wasn’t absurd, but his inability to alter the problematic issue was irrational. The Chilean failed to change his sides shape or add numbers in midfield – as Bayern’s midfield and constant pressing, pegged City in their third for large portions of the match. 

“We pressured them well when we weren’t in possession and thus forced City to play long balls, which we were able to win. We moved the ball around well. Ever since Philipp Lahm started playing further up the pitch, we have started to create more chances,” Guardiola said. 

“We now need to show the same presence and dominance in the return game, but until then we won’t stop working hard and trying to improve,” he said. 

Guardiola’s men were superb on the night, and we’re beginning to see his philosophy reap rewards, as they produced one of the better European away performances we’ve seen in sometime.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United

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Manchester City thrashed rivals Manchester United at the Ethiad Stadium.

Manchester City vs Manchester United - Football tactics and formations

David Moyes made two changes to the side that defeated Bayer Leverkusen midweek. Danny Welbeck led the line in a 4-4-1-1 with Wayne Rooney positioned behind him. Ashley Young was also included in the starting eleven, pushing Shinji Kagawa to the bench. Robin van Persie was excluded from Moyes’ eleven due to a thigh injury he suffered earlier in the week.

Manuel Pellegrini made one change to the side that comfortably dispatched of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League, as Alvaro Negredo pushed Edin Dzeko to the bench. Negredo led the line in a 4-2-3-1, ahead of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho formed the double-pivot, while Vincent Kompany and Nemanja Nastasic formed a centre back duo.

City blitzed United from the opening whistle, displaying superiority over their rivals all over the pitch, as United produced a diabolical performance.

Shape

City’s dominance in the opening 20 minutes of the match was down to hunger and determination, but also due to United’s shape without the ball. Moyes’ men dropped off into two banks of four and allowed City’s double-pivot space to play positive passes and drive forward. Valencia sat narrow, Carrick and Fellaini tried to stay compact, whereas Young was in a wider position – as they aimed to minimize pockets of space and movement between the lines.

Unfortunately for Moyes, City’s intricate passing and space to push forward, allowed Pellegrini’s men to assert their dominance on the match. Aguero was dropping into pockets of space to hold up the ball and link play with the midfield, while Toure pushed forward providing an attacking thrust in advanced positions.

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Aguero between the lines

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Fernandinho and Yaya Toure allowed to play forward passes

However, United did enjoy a fair amount of possession throughout the match, which saw City also drop into two banks of four – the difference being City’s compact shape and their wide men dropping deep to protect their fullbacks.

United’s shape allowed City to dictate the tempo of the match – Moyes’ cautious approach in big matches was evident, but his idea to soak up pressure at the Ethiad was absurd.

Kolarov overlaps

A consistent theme throughout the match was the enjoyment City had on the left flank. City possessed two full backs that enjoy getting forward in Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta, which is why Moyes’ decision to drop Kagawa was logical – here he fielded two wingers that he felt were disciplined enough to protect their fullbacks, but could provide width and pace on the counter attack.

Surprisingly, United failed to dominate an area that they expected to cope with. Young did a great job defensively in keeping Pablo Zabaleta quiet, as the Argentinian fullback didn’t have a significant influence going forward. But despite Young’s efficient defensive work on Zabaleta, the English winger was lethargic in attack, often providing poor crosses into the box and conceding possession.

Valencia enjoyed a great outing against Leverkusen mid week, and based on past experiences he’s a key cog for United in big matches, but the Ecuadorian was the weak link in the opening 30 minutes. Nasri picked up narrow positions to help sustain possession and Smalling stuck to him, thus leaving ample amount of space for Kolarov to attack.

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There were four occasions which Kolarov got forward freely with Valencia failing to track the Serbian fullbacks run.

1)   In the 10th minute Kolarov surged forward and provided a devastating cross that Nemanja Vidic cleared for a corner.

2)   Minutes later, the Serbian repeated the same run, but his delivery went over the head of the on-rushing Navas, who was able to control the cross and maintain possession.

3)   Aguero’s opener in the 16th minute was down to Nasri’s ability to hold up the ball on the left flank, allowing Kolarov to attack the space behind him to receive his pass, and play in a terrific ball for the Argentine striker.

4)   Seven minutes later, Kolarov got the better of Valencia again, but he lost control of the ball, and made a comical appeal for a penalty.

In the span of 23 minutes, Kolarov attacked the space behind Smalling four times, and this was a key component to City’s attack in the first half.

United going forward

Welbeck and Rooney looked bright earlier in the match prior to City’s dominance, as they were finding space between the lines to receive the ball. Fernandinho and Kompany did a great job in containing the English striker at certain moments throughout the match, but Rooney worked hard to get into key areas to link play with his teammates.

City’s energy levels dropped minutes after Kolarov’s cry for a penalty, and United began to enjoy more possession. Yet, United didn’t create any legitimate goal-scoring opportunities and failed to get behind the City backline.

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There’s been a recurring theme in United’s matches against the top sides thus far, where their passing tempo is slow, penetration is non-existent and the link between midfield and attack is disappointing.

Carrick and Fellaini had space to play passes, but they were often sent sideways, opposed to between the lines. Carrick’s passes lacked conviction, while Fellaini was patient with his passing, rarely attempting to play a ball forward.

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It was a dire first half outing from United going forward, as Rooney was the only player that looked capable of bringing Moyes’ men back into the match.

45th-50th minute

Ultimately, this was when the match escaped United, as they were aiming to take the match to City from the start of the second half. But once again it was the play from City’s left hand side that played a key role in their third goal. Nasri cut in centrally as Kolarov surged forward, but this time United’s right side coped, as Valencia followed Nasri and Smalling stuck with Kolarov. But Nasri played a ball into the box for Negredo, who comfortably turned Nemanja Vidic and squared a ball for Aguero to side-foot past David De Gea.

Three minutes later, Kompany broke up play in his third, and played a nice ball to set Navas free. The Spaniard drove forward from his half to the United byline – attacking the space Evra left free – and delivered a well-weighed cross to an oncoming Nasri, who slotted the ball into the net.

United were down four goals to City on the road, and with 40 minutes remaining, a City onslaught looked evident, as United was dejected.

4-3-3

Moyes was quick to react to a dismal opening five minutes in the second half, as he introduced Tom Cleverley for Young to add numbers in midfield. United were now a 4-3-3 with Welbeck pushing to the left – an approach Moyes could’ve started the match with due to van Persie’s absence, to assure midfield dominance.

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Tom Cleverley completed the match with the third highest amount of successful passes, despite being on the field for 39 minutes.

It’s difficult to assess United’s improved display in the second half, because City looked to have taken the pedal off the gas in an attacking sense. Yet United were better in possession due to the extra passing outlet in midfield, and they began to string passes into wide areas for Valencia and Welbeck to run onto.

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Valencia and Welbeck were ineffective in the first half

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The change to a 4-3-3 saw United’s midfield focus on playing passes to their wingers

Fellaini still looked lost at the tip of United’s midfield three, while Cleverley provided glimpses of penetration in his passing and forward runs – but with the quality in wide areas poor, but slightly improving and City’s lead stretched to four, it was too big a mountain for the champions to climb.

Fernandinho – Fellaini

It was always going to be interesting to see how the two marquee summer signings would perform alongside arguably two of the best midfielders in the league, in Carrick and Toure. Both Fellaini and Fernandinho were brought in to bolster midfields that have suffered in Europe, but have also been overrun domestically, and this was the first big test for both men.

Fernandinho didn’t have one of the best games of his career, but displayed why City splashed £30m for his services this summer. Despite Rooney receiving space between the lines to receive the ball, the Brazilian did well to disrupt and occasionally dispossess the United striker in the final third. Fernandinho provides Pellegrini with adequate balance in midfield – he’s a reliable passer from deep positions, who sits in front of the back four, allowing Toure to push forward in attack. One of City’s weaknesses in the past has been their vulnerability towards quick counters, but the Brazilian midfielder has played a key role in preventing City from being dragged out of position when pushing men forward.

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On the other hand, Fellaini’s mental toughness was challenged today, and the Belgian midfielder was futile. Fellaini can be held responsible for City’s second and third goal, where his lapse of concentration left Toure free in the box, along with allowing Aguero to run from midfield to tap in Negredo’s cross. It’s moments of this stature that separate top class players from the rest, and besides his impressive pass rate – solely based on sideways passes that lacked invention – the Belgian endured an unimpressive derby debut.

Fernandinho provides City protection, flexibility and balance in midfield, allowing the attacking players more freedom to express themselves, yet the verdict is still out on Fellaini’s arrival – despite his physical presence, a deeper role lessens chances of him making runs into the box from midfield and he’s far from a genuine match-winner.

Kompany

City fans were relieved when they heard Kompany was declared fit to play earlier this week. Last year’s runners-up have been often criticized for looking feeble at the back without their captain, and his inclusion in the squad was influential.

The City captain made several vital interceptions and tackles in his third of the field and his defensive work on Rooney was also impressive. Pellegrini’s men looked stable defensively, and were fairly organized for the duration of the match, which is down to the Belgian’s presence at the back.

“Maybe the game meant a little bit more to us than to them. We’ve been looking forward to it, our fans have been speaking about it for a long time and we needed to win. We have a fantastic home record and we know there is no reason we should fear the opposition,” Kompany said. 

United struggled to pose much of an attacking threat throughout the match, yet when they did, Kompany made the difference.

Conclusion

Manchester City dominated United in nearly every aspect possible, and their intent to overload the left flank was pivotal.

“We did say it was a difficult start, didn’t we? I said at the time, the way the balls came out of the Premier League bag, I wasn’t convinced… and I’m still not,” Moyes said.

It was an inane statement made by the United manager, considering every team faces one another, and other teams – with lesser talent – has endured difficult fixtures as well. Nevertheless, his cautious approach failed, and it was shocking to see Moyes wait so long to make alterations. More importantly, they continue to look dismal going forward, lacking creativity and penetration, and it’s an issue that needs to be sorted out – United hasn’t scored a goal from open play in the Premier League since their win against Swansea and that’s worrying.

Pellegrini’s men were hungrier, faster, sharper, and created more chances than United making them worthy winners on the day. Nasri continues to show signs of rediscovering form, while City’s core of Kompany, Toure and Aguero all had terrific outings.

“I would be very happy if we win all of the games 4-1 but we must improve every game. Not every game is the same, we are just starting in another way to play and I hope we will improve every day,” Pellegrini said.

“Always winning against Manchester United and the way we won could have an important impact,” he added.

City’s performance was impressive, and once again it showcases why they’re contenders to claim the Premier League title.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City showcase tactical balance against Newcastle United

Manuel Pellegrini’s summer spending has tipped many to label Manchester City as favourites to win the Premier League in May.

Unlike last season, when most pundits wrongfully tipped them to win the title, now they have every reason to believe Pellegrini can guide City to the summit. Seeing as the side Pellegrini inherited boasted the best defensive record in the league over the past three seasons, the inclusions of Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas, has bolstered City’s attack and has given them the essential improvements that they lacked last season.

Another key component to these signings was the emphasis on natural balance in their shape and the variety of combinations available for Pellegrini to tinker with. We witnessed our first dose of Pellegrini’s philosophy in City’s convincing 4-0 win against Newcastle, Monday night. Fernandinho and Navas were included in Pellegrini’s starting 11, whereas Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko was selected over Negredo and the injured Jovetic.

Pellegrini aligned his side in a fluid 4-4-2, which at times looked like a 4-2-2-2 – the significance of this formation is the flexibility the side possesses and the balance in each attacking position.

Aguero and Dzeko caused the Newcastle back line several problems throughout the match. Dzeko often dropped into deeper positions to link play with the midfield, along with spreading several passes into wide areas. Meanwhile, Aguero was playing on the shoulder of the last man, looking to latch onto penetrating passes in the final third and long balls. Newcastle’s back line was uncertain whether to follow Dzeko or to stay deep and keep tight on Aguero, thus creating space in midfield for City’s attacking midfielders to penetrate.

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City’s second goal demonstrated this perfectly – Vincent Kompany intercepted the ball in his third and drove forward to play a pass to Dzeko who dropped into midfield. The Bosnian striker cleverly back heeled a pass to Aguero, who made a diagonal run behind the last man, and the Argentinian striker stuck a well-placed shot past Tim Krul.

Although Dzeko didn’t add his name to the score sheet, the Bosnian striker was full of praise for the new City manager.

“The manager brings something different to us, he gives me confidence and that’s what I needed,” Dzeko said.

“I think we played a fantastic match, what the manager expects from us. We played the first game at home and we wanted to show the fans what we’re capable of,” he said.

That wasn’t the only involvement Dzeko had on the night, he played a vital role in David Silva’s opener, which also displayed the balance and flexibility Pellegrini’s side possessed. Silva often drifted centrally to retain possession, receive the ball between the lines, and look for gaps to exploit – and for City’s opening goal, Dzeko drifted out wide due to Silva’s movement. Dzeko maintained the width that the Spaniard provides, delivering a cross to Silva, who headed home the opener.

During Roberto Mancini’s tenure at City, the Manchester club lacked natural width, which is ironic considering their city rivals benefit off contribution from wide areas. Adam Johnson and Scott Sinclair all served unsuccessful spells at City due to Mancini’s reluctance on the use of wingers, which is why Pellegrini’s purchase of Navas was fascinating.

Navas had an exceptional game on the right flank, often mixing up his play but providing the balance City required. The Spaniard was keen on taking on defenders with his pace and producing well-timed crosses into the box, when getting to the byline, but he also drifted infield and attempted to overload the left flank, allowing Pablo Zabaleta to get into advanced positions. With Silva likely to drift infield, Navas’ inclusion in the squad gives City another element going forward – this prevents them from playing too narrow and gives them a direct alternative when attacking.

Lastly, the Yaya Toure – Fernandinho double-pivot looks destined to become the best midfield partnership in the league. City now possesses two quality players in the double-pivot, thus preventing an over-reliance on Toure, but also allowing him to break forward freely when in attack. There’s an understanding between the two, that when one breaks forward, the other sits deep, and this is why City was rarely caught out of position or exposed on the break against Newcastle. The duo was eager to win the ball back when they didn’t have possession, but were at their best when they had the ball – recording passing percentages over 90%, while controlling the tempo of the match with their dexterous passing

Negredo entered the match in the final 10 minutes, and was unfortunate not to nick his first City goal, as the linesman wrongfully awarded an offside call, when the Spaniard scored. With Jovetic still waiting to make his debut, City look to have made the additions needed to wrestle the Premier League title from Manchester United.

Pellegrini instilled a fluid system, that’s focused on covering space, strength in midfield and providing balance in their attack – and with the depth in attacking areas this season, the Chilean manager has an attacking variety capable of succeeding in the Premier League.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in EPL, Published Work

 

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Manchester City – Headed In the Right Direction

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It’s flabbergasting to see how fast things can change in the span of a year.

At this time last year, Manchester City was preparing for a friendly against Premier League rivals Arsenal, at the Olympic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium, in Beijing. City, fresh off their last-minute title triumph on the final day of the Premier League season, were a class above the Gunner’s on the night. Despite both sides missing several key players on vacation, City vividly reminded those in attendance how they won their first league title in 44 years.

As the 2012/2013 Premier League season approached, Roberto Mancini’s men were clear favourites to retain their title, based on the fact that they were now ‘winners.’ City arguably had the best starting lineup in the league, but they failed to gradually improve, while Manchester United acquired the Golden Boot winner Robin Van Persie for £24million

City added Maicon, Jack Rodwell, Nemanja Nastasic, Scott Sinclair and Javi Garcia to their squad last summer, relatively all squad players, to a side that won the league on goal-difference – relying on a collapse from their cross-town rivals, which ultimately saved Mancini’s job.

Yet expectations were arguably set too high for Mancini’s men, and they failed to deliver, ending the season trophyless – specifically crashing out of the Champions League group-stage and their horrific FA Cup final loss to Wigan. Injuries, training ground bust-ups and Mancini’s tactical deficiencies were just a few issues that City faced last season, leading to the 11-point difference between the two Manchester clubs.

With City aspiring to dominate domestically, and eventually become a European powerhouse, the results achieved last season were putrid – and change was imminent. Mancini was sacked a year to the day of winning the league, with the club’s reason being – failure to hit “stated targets” and the need to “develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the club.”

However, change began at the start of last season, when City presented Ferran Soriano as their chief executive officer. Soriano, a former vice-president at FC Barcelona, was a key component to the Catalan side securing a sponsorship deal with Unicef, and the appointment of Pep Guardiola in 2008.

A few months later, Txiki Begiristain was given the role as director of football. Now both men that joined Barcelona in 2003 with former club president Joan Laporta, had teamed up to begin a new challenge in Manchester. Prior to their arrival, Barcelona were on a four-year trophy drought, and went 11 years without claiming a European Cup – yet during their time with the Catalan club, Barcelona won two Champions League crowns and four league titles.

Begiristain, who is now responsible for player recruitment, was keen on bringing Pep Guardiola to the Ethiad this season, but Guardiola decided to move to Germany to take over as Bayern Munich manager. With Mancini losing the plot, Begiristain and Soriano were in need of a manager, and set their eyes on hiring Chilean manager, Manuel Pellegrini.

“What we are asking the new manager to do is build a squad but also a football concept and a way of working that will last for the next 10 years,” Soriano said.

“We want a manager who knows about football but we want somebody who knows about man-management. It is impossible for us to win the Champions League if we don’t have a group that behaves like a family,” he said.

Unlike Mancini, Pellegrini is a manager that has displayed his tactical proficiency domestically and in Europe. The Chilean was provided with limited amount of talent, which led to his cautious approach in Europe – solely based on tactical discipline, organized defending and calculated attacks. The Chilean guided Villareal to the semi-finals of the 2005/2006 Champions League, while his former side Malaga was seconds away from reaching last year’s semi-finals, making Pellegrini the first manager to guide two debutants to the Champions League quarter-finals stage.

With Guardiola unavailable, Pellegrini was an ideal choice for City – a manager that’s tactically flexible but also experienced with building projects and creating an identity, which is what City’s lacked during Mancini’s tenure. European experience was also beneficial in City’s decision, but also Pellegrini’s ability to build his side around his playmakers – doing so with Juan Roman Riquelme, Santi Cazorla and most recently Isco – that being vital with David Silva in the side.

Begiristain and Soriano were also keen on getting rid of the ‘bad seeds’ at the club, which led to the sales of strikers Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez for a combined fee of approximately £27m. Although Balotelli and Tevez achieved periods of success during their time at the Ethiad, their off-field issues were beginning to taint the clubs image. City made no profit off either sale, leaving many to classify the deals as another failure by the City board, yet City indicated the sales had nothing to do with making a profit.

“I was worried about the image we were giving to the world,” Soriano said.

“What we want is not the image of unity, we want the unity – with the new manager, we are asking him that the dressing room has as much harmony as possible, knowing total harmony is impossible,” he said.

With City selling two of their four strikers, and still needing a few reinforcements, there was no surprise to see Pellegrini bolster the squad. Thus far, City has acquired Sevilla duo Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas, Fernandinho and Fiorentina attacker Stevan Jovetic.

Last season, City formed a formidable backline that conceded a league best 34 goals – but only Everton scored fewer goals than City of the Premier League’s top eight sides, which is a poor feat, mainly for a club that aspires league success.

It was evident that City needed to improve their attacking options, and it began with the arrival of Fernandinho – a player that has been often overlooked by the Brazilian national team, but has thrived at Shakhtar Donetsk. The 28-year-old midfielder is arguably a better Ramires, who has the ability to break up play, but also burst forward into attack with his energetic runs from midfield. According to whoscored.com, Fernandinho averaged a Champions League high, 3.9 dribbles per game, which highlights his explosive runs from midfield. Fernandinho’s talent is undeniable, providing much needed depth in midfield for City, and Pellegrini will be eager to build a partnership with Yaya Toure that offers a tactical balance.

Jesus Navas is potentially the direct element of attack that City lacked last season, despite signing Scott Sinclair. Navas’ will to stretch the game with his width and take on defenders is a positive, considering Mancini chose not to play with a direct winger. Although Navas’ statistics from last season are underwhelming, the Spaniard has showcased his talent for the national team, often coming on in the second half to provide pace and quality crosses into the box. Navas was in the La Liga Top 10 for key passes, averaging 2.1 a game, yet it’s not certain as to whether Pellegrini will use direct winger or instruct his wingers to drift into midfield like he did at Malaga.

Nonetheless, Begiristain believes that Navas is a player that provides City with an additional element going forward .

“He is an absolute gift for us. He goes past people and stretches teams. He will give us something we don’t have,” Begiristain said.

City’s final two acquisitions were ideal replacements for the departed Balotelli and Tevez. Negredo, like Navas, has a few doubters to silence, despite scoring 25 league goals last season – taking his tally to 59 goals in the last three seasons. Even though Negredo was one of the top goalscorers in Europe last season, many have been quick to highlight the Spaniard’s woeful clear-cut chances rate highlighted by whoscored.com – the striker led Europe with 29 missed-clear cut chances. Although Negredo is unlikely to walk straight into the starting lineup, it’s a stat that could affect City in the future. Mainly, Negredo’s work-rate, ability to link with the midfield and converting his chances will be the decisive factor, on his road to silence the doubters.

Jovetic’s arrival to the Ethiad provides City with versatility as the 23-year-old can play as a striker, a second striker or on either flank. 27 goals in the last two seasons is a remarkable feat, considering the Montenegrin was sidelined for the entire 2010/2011 season with an anterior ligament injury. Jovetic’s ability to use both feet, play in multiple systems and his eye for goal showcases why he’s an asset to City’s attack, while his desire to win trophies in Manchester is also beneficial.

Once again, City has spent approximately £90m on these four men, but unlike the past, this quartet is eager to win trophies and eventually become world-class players. Although these are not the flashiest of signings, Pellegrini has shown in the past that he can get the best out of his players.

With the Premier League in transition, these purchases, along with the arrival of Pellegrini have vastly improved City’s squad.

Pellegrini’s ability to adapt to the league and implement an identity will be vital – yet 12 months later, City look equipped to rise to the occasion, as they’re finally assembling a team.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2013 in EPL, Published Work

 

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