Manchester City are always going to be a heavyweight and contender for the biggest trophies in football. Last night they showed flaws, big flaws and they were down to poor tactical decisions because any coach in the world will admit that City’s squad is virtually bullet proof in every single area.
The first tactical flaw is Roberto Mancini’s insistence on playing three defenders at the back to try and flood the midfield and feed the ball into the strikers. Against good European teams, who play three up front, this is simply not sustainable. It places immense pressure on the back line to resist counter attacks and those three defenders become massively stretched when the opposition is playing two wingers with a striker in the middle.
Another thing which does not help the team is the constant change of formation in the middle of games. There were times during the defeat to Ajax that many Manchester City players looked confused as to what they were actually being asked to do. It’s very important that Mancini deals with this matte carefully over the next few days. There are bound to be some heated thoughts in the dressing room over who is to blame and roles within the team.
“It's my fault because I prepared badly for this game. There's one team with seven points, one team with six and one with three. It will be a miracle. We changed for five minutes to three at the back, but we always have 11 players. I don't think that is important - three, four, five, six or seven defenders. If someone wants that as an excuse then OK, but it's not the reason,” said Mancini as reported on the BBC Sport website.
City need to look at tightening up in away European games, almost playing negative football to go and get a result. They are at their best when they are playing wide open and free flowing football but experienced teams, who can defend spells of pressure, will eventually pick apart the holes just as Ajax did last night and Real Madrid did in the earlier group game.
This leads everyone to the question of where City go from here. They can learn a lot from the Manchester United sides and Chelsea sides of the recent past. The sorts of side that go away from home, play four at the back, five across the middle and have faith in their front man to take his one or two good chances. They need to settle into a system which works against the opposition in question. Any European opponent will be delighted if it becomes obvious in the middle of a game that City don’t know how to play or the formation to use.
image: © Gene Hunt