Manchester City: WWWWDD
After the best possible start to the season, a titillating, expansive start, City have stumbled to consecutive draws. As a plastic London blue I do not go to as many games as I might – I was at White Hart Lane (too good for a blog post) – but I was fortunate enough to attend both of our score draws. (Like many City fans, I used to think I was a curse. Like all City fans, my football universe was torn down and rebuilt by the FA Cup semi and final.)
The Napoli and Fulham draws looked rather different: one was a ‘rescue job’, the next a typical City v Fulham throwaway. But they had their similarities. In neither game did City attack with the incision required when on top. They created more in the first half against Napoli than against Fulham, and played poorly in neither, but in both cases there was too strong a sense of ‘will this do?’. Of course, a front line of David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko is very good, but in both matches they looked too much like they knew it. There is an obvious benchmark: Barcelona’s inhumane treatment of Osasuna last weekend is precisely how a first half should be conducted.
Having failed to kill either match having had more than enough first-half possession to do so, City surrendered the midfield both times in the second half. (Against Napoli, it happened from the re-start. At Fulham, it was delayed by 15 seconds following Aguero’s second goal.) But otherwise it was identical. The opposition, pressed back in the first half, came out in the second, pushing City from the middle of the pitch. In both cases, Yaya Toure (who has played all six games this year) and Gareth Barry (who has played five) lacked the fitness to maintain control, losing out to their livelier rivals. In both cases, City conceded crucial second-half goals.
And so Roberto Mancini’s claims that City are short in midfield are not quite as risible as they sound. Ever since opening evening, Nigel de Jong has been missing with a foot injury. Without him, there is no shield in front of the centre-backs. Without him, there is a precipitous drop in second-half tempo. Without him, there is less ball retention, less control and less precision. This is no tale of hardship, of course, but anyone who watches City knows how important de Jong is to the smooth functioning of the team.
With Owen Hargreaves playing on Wednesday evening, and the alternatives of James Milner or Pablo Zabaleta, Mancini may just have sufficient resources to overcome Everton’s still-useful midfield on Saturday. But the following Tuesday it’s Bayern Munich away, and the prospect of meeting Bastian Schweinsteiger without de Jong’s fierce authority to call upon should be unshakeably worrisome.Tagged in: bayern munich, de jong, Fulham, Manchester City, mancini, napoli, Premier League
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