Man City – A Work in Progress

10 02 2010

A confident 2-0 win over Bolton on Tuesday saw City move up to fifth in the table, level on points with Liverpool but with a game in hand. New boy Adam Johnson earned himself a good deal of praise for his performance, proving himself a solid addition to an already formidable attack. While undoubtedly a good signing, it is questionable whether a side that ranks 4th in the league for goals scored needs to focus on bolstering their expensively assembled attack.

Granted they kept a clean sheet against Bolton, but that proves little. Bolton are struggling right now and City have played consistently well at home this season, so the result was hardly unexpected. As Manchester United and Chelsea recently proved against Arsenal, if a team wants to compete at the highest level in this league they can’t afford to be one dimensional. Both times Arsenal failed to come up with an adequate plan B when things were going wrong.

City’s problem so far has been playing away from home. Although they have yet to lose at home in the league this season, they have managed to win on the road just 3 times in 12 attempts. Clearly, when things are going in their favour, City are a threat to any side, but they still need to improve to push Liverpool out of the top 4.

With 3 of their next 4 opponents residing in the top 6, City will need to iron out the creases in their game if they are to still be a serious threat to the top 4. Looking at the Bolton game, there are two distinct trends that oppositions should be aware of, and which City need to recognise if they are to avoid these higher quality sides exposing their weaknesses.

First is the threat from the wings. It is crucial that opposition full backs are alert defensively since city like to make good use of their wide players. Most notably, opposing left backs need to be quick and prepared for City to come at them. Johnson caused no end of trouble down the right wing, twice taking on his defender and winning. Collectively Manchester City won 6 such “take on” challenges according to Guardian Chalkboards, 5  of which were on the right wing. They also won over half of their free kicks there.

City players taking on the defender

Secondly, City are weak in the air. Not only did a blue shirt fail to get on the end of every single cross to go into the Bolton penalty area, but, perhaps more worryingly, they struggled aerially in defence too. City lost 17 challenges in the air, compared to only 11 that they won. Kolo Touré won just 33% of his aerial challenges, while Vieira lost all 4 of his.

City aerial challenges won and lost

Not one City player was ever beaten one-on-one on the ground in his own half and as a team they lost only 4 tackles on the ground in the entire game, but as Fellaini proved a few weeks ago, this City side have a serious weakness to high balls. Against Bolton it proved to be inconsequential, but against better sides it could be costly. With neither of their deep midfielders winning the ball once in the air last night, it raises questions over whether this City side is complete enough to really be considered as one of the top teams in the Premier League.

The next few games should prove this, one way or the other, but if oppositions can stifle City on the wings and deny them the chances they got at Bolton as well as exploiting aerial weaknesses in the side we will get to see what Manchester City are really made of. If Mancini’s side are made to look average in the upcoming fixtures then he will know he has his work cut out to meet expectations. On the other hand, if City can dig deep, pull out some good team performances and show they have a legitimate plan B when teams make life difficult then this side could be destined for great things.