Posts Tagged ‘Manchester City’
“LONDON — Manchester City withstood a valiant fightback from Chelsea to win a gripping FA Cup semi-final 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday and knock the holders out of the competition.”
“Laid next to United’s results, City’s goal-shy tendencies are telling. Both sides have only lost four games this season but whereas United have only drawn twice, City have found themselves just a solitary goal from victory on eight separate occasions. Had only half those draws been turned into wins, the gap between the clubs would now be just four points, rather than the chasm it actually is.”
I wrote a piece for AFP on the factors that have derailed Manchester City’s Premier League title defence, and you can read it here.
“LONDON — Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race by sweeping to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the first day of 2013 to maintain their seven-point lead.”
My AFP report on the Premier League’s New Year’s Day fixtures can be read here.
“Chelsea have been linked with Atlético Madrid’s all-action Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who has a release clause in his contract reportedly worth £48 million, but they, like City, must beware the looming shadow of FFP. UEFA’s initiative aims to prevent clubs from spending beyond their means and last week’s announcement that indebted Spanish side Málaga will be banned from European competition for one year suggests that the plan may have more teeth than its critics have claimed.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP looking ahead to the January transfer window in the Premier League, and you can read it here.
“Roberto Mancini’s side, runners-up in 2011, needed only to match United’s result at Sunderland to claim the title but as stoppage time arrived, they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers and United were 1-0 up. Džeko equalised, and with United’s players anxiously awaiting news on the Sunderland pitch, Agüero drove in a 94th-minute winner — drawing a memorable cry of “Agüerooooo!” from Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler — to deliver City from the huge shadow cast by their cross-town rivals.”
I’ve written a review of the year 2012 in English football for AFP, and you can read it here.
“The spine of the side — Petr Čech, John Terry, Frank Lampard — remains largely intact from the team that [José] Mourinho built, and [André] Villas-Boas paid the price for his clumsy attempts to ease players like Lampard out of the picture. [Roberto] Di Matteo galvanised the old guard for one last hurrah and took them to Champions League glory, before he, too, sought to shake up an ageing squad packed with domineering figures. The young attacking triumvirate of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar thrilled as Chelsea stormed four points clear in the Premier League, but they were unable to arrest the slump that ultimately cost Di Matteo his job. The quandary facing Benitez is that the Mourinho-era core has still not been replaced.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the challenges facing Chelsea’s new interim coach, Rafael Benitez, and you can read it here.
And here’s my match report on the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid that saw Manchester City eliminated from the Champions League: Real Madrid send Man City to another early exit.
I’ve been fortunate to report on some fantastic games of football since starting my new role at AFP in London four weeks ago. Here are some of the match reports from my first month in the job:
George Orwell once wrote: “The English are not happy unless they are miserable.” They are not the only ones. France may be within four points of a place at Euro 2012, having also beaten both England and Brazil in friendlies over the last 12 months, but the French sports media are not satisfied.
Critical of the team’s play and piqued by the supposed egotism of certain players, some members of the French press pack have even dared to make ominous comparisons with the atmosphere in the months that led up to last year’s fateful World Cup campaign. To the neutral observer France appear to have come on in leaps and bounds since the end of the Raymond Domenech era, but fissures remain.
The focal point of much of the criticism over the international break has been Samir Nasri, who stands accused of wilfully slowing France’s play by dwelling on the ball and intruding into areas of the pitch that should be the exclusive domain of his defensive midfield colleagues.
Told by Laurent Blanc that he could “do more” for the national team, Nasri responded that he would prefer to be told about the coach’s concerns “face to face”. Largely anonymous in the 2-1 win in Albania last Friday, he was among five players dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s instantly forgettable 0-0 draw with Romania.
In the endlessly self-mythologising Premier League, it was perhaps inevitable that a visit to Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium would be cast as the sporting equivalent of the descent into Hades. It is a place, we are told, where madness and brutality reign, where identities are called into question, reputations torns to shreds, and from which only heroes emerge unscathed.
The Britannia is clearly a foreboding place for opposition teams to visit, but Tony Pulis’ side have also come to represent a pan-European vision of the most rugged extremes of English football. Andy Gray attracted widespread scorn for wondering aloud how Barcelona would handle Rory Delap’s long throws, while Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti rebuked critics of his side’s patient approach play last season by fuming: “If you want to see us play like Stoke City, you’ll have to change coach.”
If Stoke have become a modern byword for direct, no-nonsense football, it is certainly borne out by the statistics. In the 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea last Sunday, the hosts saw just 34 percent of possession. They averaged 38 percent of possession across the whole of last season, and their pass completion rate in the opposition half of 56 percent was the lowest in the division. This Stoke side may have given their supporters mid-table stability and a first ever FA Cup final appearance, but they have not done it with the ball at their feet.
To accuse Pulis of wilful brutishness, however, is to overlook the fact that physical robustness is a fundamental prerequisite to success in the Premier League. You only have to look at the way that José Mourinho went about spending Roman Abramovich’s billions at Chelsea, or the way Roberto Mancini is constructing the current Manchester City side, to recognise that there is nothing perverse about Stoke’s approach.
The Premier League season is less than two weeks old, but a look at how the top sides lined up in their opening matches provides an interesting indication of how they plan to approach the season from a tactical perspective.
The diagrams below, screenshots from the ESPN Soccernet website, show the average positions adopted by the players from Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool in their teams’ opening home games of the season. (Data is taken only from home games because ESPN’s average position diagrams inexplicably go a bit haywire for away teams.)
Average position diagrams do not give a water-tight representation of a team’s formation – which is necessarily in a constant state of flux – but they do offer useful insights into basic shape.
In the 6-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on the season’s opening day, Chelsea lined up in the same loose 4-3-3 formation that they adopted during last season’s title run-in, but with Florent Malouda playing on the left of the front three, rather than the midfield three. Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka both drop deep to get fully involved in the team’s build-up play and Malouda has become wonderfully adept at exploiting the space they vacate – as he did when he scored the sixth goal against West Brom from Anelka’s lofted pass.
[Squad numbers: 1. Petr Čech; 19. Paulo Ferreira, 33. Alex, 26. John Terry, 3. Ashley Cole; 5. Michael Essien, 12. John Mikel Obi, 8. Frank Lampard; 39. Nicolas Anelka, 11. Didier Drogba, 15. Florent Malouda; Substitutes: 2. Branislav Ivanović, 10. Yossi Benayoun, 21. Salomon Kalou]
As the dust settles on a Premier League season that somehow managed to be full of surprises and yet completely predictable at the same time, Football Further looks at some of the tactical trends that characterised the campaign.
Wall-to-wall flat back fours
A flat back four, often with attacking full-backs, continues to be the overwhelmingly predominant defensive strategy in the Premier League. All 20 teams in the English top flight preferred a back four this season and the rare deviations often met with alarming results. Injuries forced Manchester United to deploy a makeshift back three of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Richie de Laet at Fulham in mid-December and they went down 3-0, while Wigan’s attempt to stymie Chelsea’s influence in wide areas on Sunday by lining up in a previously untested 5-3-2 was an unmitigated disaster.
Another interesting feature of the campaign has been the perhaps surprising popularity of two-striker formations. Tactical experts readily assert that one-striker formations represent football’s future, but in this season’s Premier League, only Arsenal, Blackburn, Everton, Liverpool, Wigan and Wolves regularly played with only one recognisable central forward in attack.
Elsewhere, strike partnerships were all the rage, from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka at Chelsea to Frédéric Piquionne and Aruna Dindane at Portsmouth. Some sides even played with three. Birmingham deployed James McFadden on the left of midfield in support of Christian Benitez and Cameron Jerome, Martin Paterson played in a wide role alongside David Nugent and Steven Fletcher for Burnley, while Sunderland managed to accommodate Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and Fraizer Campbell in their line-up towards the end of the season.
“The 4-4-2 structure is not his forte,” said Birmingham boss Alex McLeish on McFadden’s repositioning as a wide midfielder. “He has got an edge in the last third which is why in the middle part of the season we played him around the corner and narrowed the midfield – [Sebastian] Larsson, [Barry] Ferguson, [Lee] Bowyer – and we compensated a wee bit in that very good run we had. James played around the corner to support the front two and that is his best position. You do take a bit away from him trying to make him a 4-4-2 player.”
The shift in attacking emphasis is borne out by the statistics. Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tévez and Bent all scored in excess of 20 goals this season (and Fernando Torres would definitely have joined them had it not been for injury), which was the first time since the 2003-04 campaign that four strikers breached the 20-goal barrier in the same Premier League season. With Frank Lampard also chipping in with a superb 22-goal haul, 2009-10 was also the first season since 1994-95 that five players broke the 20-goal mark.
Having supposedly died out halfway through the last decade, the 4-4-2 formation has enjoyed a surprising renaissance this season.
England’s unthinking attachment to the shape first introduced by Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ in 1966 (pictured) took a battering when José Mourinho swaggered into English football in 2004 and promptly won back-to-back Premier League titles with a counter-attacking 4-3-3 at Chelsea. The 2006 World Cup, meanwhile, was dominated by teams playing in a 4-2-3-1 to such an extent that hosts Germany were the only side playing in a 4-4-2 to achieve anything of note in the tournament.
Against a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, teams playing 4-4-2 conceded a numerical advantage in the middle of the pitch and couldn’t bring their full-backs into the game because of the presence in their territory of the opposition’s wingers. The great teams from the tail-end of the decade favoured innovative strikerless systems, such as Manchester United’s 4-3-3/4-2-4-0 in 2007-2008 or Barcelona’s fluid 4-3-3 from the season after. The 4-4-2, it was said, had become obsolete.
It’s not often that you see a top-level side take to the field having obviously adjusted their usual tactical plan purely to contain their opponents, but that’s exactly what Stoke City attempted to do in their 1-1 draw at Manchester City in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Roberto Mancini has repeatedly deployed his wingers on the opposite flank from their usual side since he arrived at Eastlands, with left-footers Martin Petrov and Adam Johnson typically playing on the right and right-footers such as Craig Bellamy and Craig Tevez starting on the left.
In a shrewd attempt to accommodate for this, Stoke coach Tony Pulis switched right-footed defender Andy Wilkinson from right-back to left-back, theoretically giving Stoke’s defence a much more natural means of coping with a left-footed player cutting infield from the right.
The trouble for Stoke was that Shaun Wright-Phillips, a predominantly right-footed winger, began the game on City’s right flank and unsurprisingly gave Wilkinson a torrid time by running at his left side. Pulis quickly remedied the problem, moving Wilkinson across the pitch to right-back and pulling left-footer Danny Higginbotham across from centre-back to cover Stoke’s left side.
Mancini, somewhat mischievously, reacted by sending Wright-Phillips over to the left, but the cat-and-mouse was brought to an abrupt end in the 55th minute when Wilkinson was forced off by injury.
It was interesting to see how debutants Patrick Vieira and Adam Johnson fitted into the Manchester City team against Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night.
Vieira’s height, style and defensive qualities suggested that he would compete with the similarly equipped Nigel de Jong for a midfield holding role alongside Gareth Barry, but against Bolton all three lined up together. Vieira played on the right-hand side of a midfield trio in a position usually occupied by Stephen Ireland and although the Frenchman does not share Ireland’s attacking qualities, he nonetheless picked out Emmanuel Adebayor with a fine pass for City’s brilliant second goal.
Johnson, meanwhile, started on the right wing despite having forged his reputation at Middlesbrough as a left-sided player. He is very left-footed, but Roberto Mancini has already demonstrated with Martin Petrov that he wants his wide players to switch flanks and Shaun Wright-Phillips may therefore have to compete with Carlos Tévez and Craig Bellamy to win back his place in the side.
The diagram below, a screenshot from ESPN Soccernet, shows the City players’ average positions from the 2-0 win over Bolton. Vieira (24) and Johnson (11) have been highlighted.
City’s other squad numbers are as follows: 1. Shay Given; 3. Wayne Bridge; 5. Pablo Zabaleta; 8. Wright-Phillips (substitute); 16. Sylvinho (substitute); 18. Barry; 19. Joleon Lescott (substitute); 25. Adebayor; 28. Kolo Touré; 32. Tévez; 33. Vincent Kompany.
Roberto Mancini’s first-choice XI is likely to change as players return from injury and he develops a better understanding of the resources at his disposal, but if the team that started in the 2-0 victory at home to Stoke City on Saturday is anything to go by, City are set for a change of shape.
The team named by the Italian in his first game in charge also suggests things may be looking up for Stephen Ireland and Martin Petrov. Ireland was City’s player of the season last year and Petrov was arguably the best signing of Sven-Göran Eriksson’s tenure at the club, but both players have failed to hold down a first-team place this term.
The attacking riches available to Mark Hughes meant that Ireland was often sacrificed in favour of more practical alternatives, with Gareth Barry frequently paired alongside Nigel de Jong in defensive midfield behind four attacking players. Petrov, meanwhile, had started just three league games prior to the match against Stoke.