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Samir Nasri’s revival lifts Manchester City

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Samir Nasri’s career outside of France has been reminisicent of an emotional roller coaster. Yet, over the past 12-18 months, the Frenchman has also endured negativity in his homeland. The scene was familiar to Nasri. It was happening again.

Nasri, arguably the most vilified footballer on the planet, was held responsible for France’s 1st leg World Cup playoff loss to Ukraine, in Kiev. The media was unimpressed with Les Bleus’ performance, and they shared their disgust in French newspaper L’Equipe. Whilst the French paper referred to the display as ‘the worst ever’, a nightmare, and a black evening to forget, the player rating the Manchester City midfielder received was mind-blowing.

A team low three out of ten – shared with Eric Abidal and Laurent Koscielny – was harshly awarded to Nasri, and it led to his inclusion on the bench in the return leg. Nasri’s role as France’s main creator behind the attacking three was peculiar – specifically because the nifty Mathieu Valbuena was left on the bench. Nasri could’ve had a significant impact on the right flank –  Loic Remy was anonymous, and Nasri’s presence would provide natural balance, thus handing Valbuena the freedom to link play in the final third.

Nasri found himself in deeper positions – the Frenchman drifted yards away from Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to receive the ball and help France push forward as a unit. More so, when he did get into positions near Olivier Giroud, Nasri played clever incisive passes in the final third. The Frenchman received a great chance to equalize late in the second half, but Andriy Pyatov comfortably saved his tame effort. Simply, it wasn’t his night.

Relatedly, Nasri is accustomed to hostile reception and criticism. His devilish smile, quirky hairstyle and individualistic aspirations have tarnished his once admired demeanour. Equally, he’s a player that’s easy to despise – some would go as far as saying he’s a player you’d want to punch, but this doesn’t faze the 27-year-old midfielder. Pressure and heavy criticism was a formality growing up in Marseille. Nasri stated that the city would mourn a Marseille loss, and frequent visits from the director of football, and president of the club were normal.

The former Marseille ball boy also had to deal with comparisons to Zinedine Zidane during his youth career. It drove me mad. When you’re 17 years old, you don’t play well every week. You can imagine what it was like to be compared to the best player the world has seen in recent years, “ Nasri said in an interview with FourFourTwo Magazine.

However, there’s been a significant change in Nasri’s game. In the past, an international disappointment of this stature would hamper the Frenchman’s overall game, but the atmosphere around the blue side of Manchester is different. Nasri’s enjoying one of the better seasons in his career, and the contrast in performances compared to last season is evident.

Nasri labeled last season the worst of his career. The Frenchman never fully recovered from the controversy that occurred at Euro 2012 – mentally, and emotionally he was in a dark place. “In my head I wasn’t the same. I didn’t play well for City and lost my spot in the squad and at the end of the year, you look at your season and you realize I was not myself,” Nasri said.

The Frenchman couldn’t stay out of the media, and they heavily scrutinized his poor performances and lack of interest on the field. Likewise, former City manager Roberto Mancini’s comments weren’t beneficial to Nasri’s form.

In the past the Italian manager publicly questioned Nasri’s work ethic and stated his desire to punch the Manchester City midfielder – simply because of his inconsistent form – which left the Frenchman displeased. “Managers have different ways of working, some like to say things in the press to make players react and some like to say things face to face with the player. Some players see things in the press, it touches their ego and they react,” Nasri said.

Nevertheless, Manchester City has looked a rejuvenated side this season – albeit they still struggle to obtain maximum points on the road.  But their results at home and in Europe have improved vastly, and Nasri’s inclusion in the squad is a significant factor. His form, swagger and confidence are back. The Frenchman’s nonchalant movement around the final third, along with Jesus Navas’ wide positioning has provided balance in the City attack.

The flair and trickery of the past bewilders defenders, his forward runs into the box are being translated into goals, and his precise, incisive final balls have created several top-class goals. Both of Nasri’s goals for City this season were in blowouts at home against Newcastle and Manchester United. The Frenchman reacted quicker than Davide Santon, and pounced on a loose ball, which sent him free on goal, and he fired his shot past Tim Krul. Whereas against United, he made a 60+ yard run, slyly drifted towards the back post and side-footed an exceptional Navas cross past David De Gea.

Equally, Nasri’s passing has been proficient this season. He tends to drift into central positions to help City sustain possession, but also to create a numerical advantage in midfield. This season alone he’s provided two magnificent final passes to Sergio Aguero that allowed the Argentine to showcase his prolific finishing. Also, as good as Nasri is going forward, the Frenchman doesn’t ignore his defensive duties, and has provided remarkable cover for his fullbacks, when needed.

Statistically, Nasri has been impressive. According to whoscored.com, the Frenchman currently maintains a 90% passing rate – in both the Premier League and Champions League –  and completes 2.3 key passes per game domestically. Only Angel Di Maria has recorded more assists than Nasri’s four in the Champions League, while his 3.2 key passes per game is only bettered by Nico Gaitan, Juan Mata and Franck Ribery.

Nasri’s revival at Manchester City has been positive, and the Frenchman believes Manuel Pellegrini has played an integral role under his return to prominence. “What is different between him and the other manager is he is really present in the training. He stops it when something is wrong and that is interesting for us because he wants us to play with principles and to understand,” Nasri said.

The Frenchman has highlighted a similarity between Pellegrini and his former manager Arsene Wenger’s work ethic and man-management skills. “He [Pellegrini] is someone who talks with the players and it is good for the players to know exactly what he is doing right or wrong. What I like about him is he also talks about everything outside football, to know how you are in your life and it is pretty important for a manager to know these things,” Nasri said.

Nonetheless, Nasri is a player that relies on support and guidance from his manager. The Frenchman arguably spent the best moments of his career – thus far – at Arsenal, and he looks capable of surpassing that level at the moment. “I suppose the best Nasri will come in the future – he has a lot more where he can improve,” Pellegrini said.

Those words indicate belief in Nasri, but it also demands improvement. Nasri is enjoying the best moments of his domestic career since leaving the Emirates in 2011, and has become an integral piece to City’s title contending puzzle. The skill, talent, experience and work rate were always present, but Pellegrini is looking to add one more element to Nasri’s game that will merit him as a top-class player.

Consistency.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2013 in EPL, 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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Cardiff City 3-2 Manchester City: Match report

Frazier Campbell’s second half brace led Cardiff City past Premier League contenders Manchester City, in their first top-flight home match in 51 years.

The victory also handed Manuel Pellegrini his first Premier League loss, in a match that escaped his men. City stuck with the same lineup that easily dispatched of Newcastle in their home opener, with only Javi Garcia replacing the injured Vincent Kompany.

But it was a special day for Cardiff supporters, and Malky Mackay’s men gave them every reason to celebrate. The Bluebirds produced an inspiring performance, tactically masterminded by Mackay, and the Cardiff manager was radiant in his post-match press conference.

I thought tactically the players out there did an incredible job today and deservedly won the game,” Mackay said.

“We were playing against top, top players. I’ve spoken to the boys about how proud they should be because they deserve to be here and they deserve to be out there playing against these top players and it is about belief and believing in your own ability,” he added.

The Bluebirds frustrated City in the opening 45 minutes, with Craig Bellamy and Peter Whittingham tracking back to protect their fullbacks, along with Gary Medel and Aron Gunnarsson breaking up play in the middle of the park. Although City maintained balance, the difference in their performance was the lack of partnerships and fluidity. Navas was City’s most influential player in the first half – the Spaniard found pockets of space to receive the ball on the right, allowing Zabaleta to push forward, while he supplied a few quality balls from wide areas. On the other wing, Silva was constantly weaving from flank to flank, trying to find openings and link play, but the quality in the Spaniards play was surprisingly poor.

samir nasriGunnarsson, Campbell and Kim Bo-Kyung also played a pivotal role in nullifying City. Cardiff dropped into two banks of four without the ball, with the latter taking turns pressing Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, thus preventing them from playing positive forward passes. City’s midfield duo was restricted to playing sideways passes, and attempting long balls, as the pressure applied by Mackay’s men constantly disrupted City’s attack.

It took Pellegrini’s men 30 minutes to create a chance, from a Sergio Aguero cross, which resulted in a tame header from Dzeko. But it was Cardiff that received the best chance of the half, when Campbell pounced on Javi Garcia’s mistake, which forced Joe Hart into making a top save to keep the score leveled going into the half.

City continued to impose their superiority on the match in the second half, as Mackay’s men slowly began to focus on their shape, opposed to pressing Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. City took advantage of the fatigued Bluebirds, when Toure was allowed to play a penetrating pass to Aguero, who flicked the ball to Dzeko. Dzeko was allowed ample time to strike a venomous shot from 25-yards past David Marshall.

At this point it looked inevitable that City would run riot – Aguero was continuously receiving the balls between the lines, Toure and Fernandinho were finally playing penetrating passes from deep, and Silva was getting more touches on the ball. But City lost an important element going forward when Nasri replaced Navas, who appeared to pick up a knock. City’s attack became extremely narrow, and Mackay’s men stayed compact and organized, comfortably coping with City’s movement in the final third.

Five minutes after the substitution Cardiff equalized – Kim did well to skip past Gael Clichy, playing a devastating ball to Campbell. The Bluebirds striker directed the ball on net, thus forcing Hart into a good save, but Gunnarsson followed up on the rebound, thumping his shot into the net. Pellegrini responded positively to the minor set back, introducing Alvaro Negredo for the uninspiring Dzeko, and James Milner for Fernandinho, but neither player had an instant impact on the match.

However, in the 79th minute, Whittingham delivered a sensational corner kick, which the unmarked Campbell met at the far-post, and nodded into the net. Hart’s positioning was putrid, but Pablo Zabaleta allowed the Cardiff striker to attack the ball freely in the box. Eight minutes later, Campbell added to his tally from another corner kick, as once again, Zabaleta allowed him to nod the ball past Hart. Substitute, Negredo, pegged a goal back for Pellegrini’s men in injury time with a lovely header, but it wasn’t enough to earn a point in Wales.

City’s second half collapse was reminiscent of away defeats City suffered under Mancini, but Pellegrini feels his side played well, despite losing in such a devastating manner.

“I think we played against a very difficult team – Cardiff had ten players near their own box it was very difficult for us to try and score but when we scored the first goal I thought we played a bit better after that,” Pellegrini said.

“Of course nobody can believe they can score two goals against us in set-pieces, but football is like that. You must be concentrating those kind of places and I think Cardiff won the match, but I think we played better,” he added.

Pellegrini’s men grew in the second half, and although a few defensive mishaps benefitted the home side, their lack of production in front of goal, merited dropped points. City’s loss means they remain winless on their travels to Wales, yet that shouldn’t overshadow the performances of some of their top players. It’s time the likes of Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri and even Aguero be held accountable for City’s away woes, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they mature mentally during Pellegrini’s tenure.

Nevertheless, it was a fantastic performance from Mackay’s men – the Bluebirds showed resilience, grit, tactical discipline and belief to claim all three points against a strong Manchester City side.  Campbell’s workload on the defensive end to keep City’s midfield duo quiet, was impressive, and he was involved in every Cardiff goal. Gunnarsson and Medel were also exceptional in midfield, pressing City’s key men, breaking up play in midfield and playing positive passes forward. Overall it was a well-deserved victory for the Bluebirds and a fitting afternoon for a club that’s waited 51 years to see their club return to the top flight.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in EPL, 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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