The criticism of Mancini following the goalless draw at Spurs is entirely justified. While it has been argued that he played for a draw and was therefore rewarded the larger picture does not bode well for Manchester City over the rest of the season.
To start with the midfield triumvirate frankly lacked guile. Only Yaya Toure was likely to get forward enough to be the extra man and this meant that Tevez had to either drop far too deep to receive the ball and involve himself in the play or face isolation. Mancini can be forgiven for not immediately integrating all the £100m worth of summer signings into one seamless unit with the other players, but nonetheless his tactics seem baffling. Despite a superb pass completion rate by the central midfielders (179 completed passes out of 188 attempted) they failed to protect the backline, particularly in the first half when Spurs were totally dominant. So if the three holding players were not able to a) push up and help the forwards or b) prevent Spurs controlling large sections of the game and creating some fantastic chances, why exactly did Mancini persist throughout the game with all three?
Furthermore the wide players, Silva and Wright-Phillips were ineffective and peripheral, further contributing to the isolation of Tevez. Admittedly this was to do with the fact that, without midfield or much fullback support they often found themselves 3 against 8 when they had the ball but Silva looked adrift on his introduction to the pace of the Premiership and Wright-Phillips is just not good enough for a side aiming to finish in the Champions League places. Adam Johnson looks like a genuine talent and should have started. Two-footed and more capable of real inspiration than Wright-Phillips, this could be a real breakthrough season for Johnson if played enough. Secondly dropping and indeed selling Bellamy seems to be a big mistake. The manager has experienced difficulties with the fiery Welshman but most seem to be of his own making rather than Bellamy being a negative influence on the team. His combative spirit and sheer pace combined with Johnson’s trickery would have asked more serious questions of the Spurs backline.
This is not an attack on the new arrivals themselves. Kolarov looked a smart bit of business until forced off through injury at half-time, Silva unquestionably has the talent to make it in this league and Yaya Toure’s credentials are unquestionable as he was so integral to the Barcelona treble-winning side. With the arrival of Balotelli still to come City have stunning squad depth for the coming season. Given a month or two to gel as a side they should still come good.
The weakness of Manchester City is the man on the bench. Mancini got his tactics wrong against Spurs and was only saved from defeat by a brilliant performance from Hart. The questions will persist over whether the Italian is good enough to unite this squad into a top four side. Going away and playing three holding players is not good enough to begin with. To pursue this, even when it isn’t working is poor management. The Spurs game may well be a one off, but conversely it could be a sign of a long, tactically negative season from City.
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