Saturday, 4 October 2014

Post-Roma / pre-Villa

Sorry, once again, for a delay in ‘posting’. Not for the first time have situations [since the Roma game on this occasion] got in the way of me ‘Blogging’. Huh…life hey?

Inflexibility and disappointment

I rarely have a go at our manger – why would I, he’s done very good by us in the main since his arrival. But, like many, I said before the Roma game that he should adapt a different mentality – and certainly formation – when playing in Europe and his failure to do so cost us.

An injury-hit Roma side were, okay, but they were no Bayern Munich and were there for the taking at home on Tuesday night. We missed an opportunity to make amends for the travesty of the last-minute goal in Germany and although there’s 4 more games to go, I fear the worse in this competition now.

What is “fearing the worse”?

Well for me it’s the often-dreaded possibility of finishing 3rd [rather than 2nd or 4th] and slipping into the Europa League. Now I need to be very clear here in that, unlike a heck of a lot of footy fans of ‘top sides’, I do not pour scorn on this competition. For me, as a Manchester City fan, it would be wrong to do so this early on in our development as a trophy-seeking football club. This one still holds some value for me and still carries some prestige in my eyes; even though most seem to see it as the League Cup of Europe.

No, instead my fear is also one shared by many, which is that your team is then flung into the Thursday night Europe / Sunday afternoon Premier League scenario; often the cause of disruption to domestic affairs (for whatever strange reason). As I still hold ‘all things domestic‘ in higher regard than European ventures at this moment in time, this would be a bad thing for me personally.

Back to the game…

Why did he go 4-4-2, especially knowing that one if his strikers is less than mobile? We use to have a player at City many years ago called David Brightwell (brother of Ian…and “son of Ann Packer & Robbie Brightwell) and for his lack of mobility and general ‘statue-like’ performances, a few of us used to nickname him “lamppost”. In my mind – and in most gamesEdin Dzeko is starting to adopt that less-than-flattering nickname.

And at the back…didn’t we bring in the pace & power of Mangala for these very occasions? What the ‘eck was Pellegrini thinking in choosing Martin over Eliaquim for this one? Please tell me it wasn’t a reaction to his ‘off day’ at Hull City 3 days earlier.

At home – and with a thin midfield against theirs – Yaya was largely ineffective again, as was Fernandinho. How much of that WAS down to them and their general, sluggish start to the season or their manager’s choice of formation in this game is open to debate.

T’was good to see Jovetic get a small run out.

It was a bit of a shocking [low] crowd too; a bit of an embarrassment to be honest. This is a good piece regarding that and the night in general.

Roma fans behaved from what I observed, which was good. But I have never seen that level of pre-match security at our ground for the away fans. It was “proper”. I counted 37 (minimum) different Police vehicles in the main, away car park alone; a lot of riot-clad officers, larger than normal barriers and a couple of airport-like detectors that fans had to walk through as well as being searched. My suspicions about their rumoured reputation was certainly a shared one but, thankfully, nothing transpired as far as I know.

So…back to ‘bread & butter’ then

Aston Villa in the Premier League and, so, 4-4-2 right? Well I’m sure our Manuel will want to deploy that formation but, as is becoming the theme lately, I’m not sure I would.

Despite ‘goals from the pair’ over the last few seasons whenever they’ve played together, I’m becoming less and less convince that the Aguero / Dzeko ‘combo’ is as effective an attacking force as we can have – and isn’t it all about putting your most effective team out?

There’s a red (one who actually goes to games regularly!) in my place of work; a rather eccentric fellow who is so anti 4-5-1 / 4-6-0 he appears to be genuine when he repeatedly says the line,

“The FA, UEFA & FIFA should ban teams from having a goalkeeper if they play with one striker”.

Mind you we’re also talking about the same chap who believes that fullbacks shouldn’t cross the half-way-line…

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good 4-4-2. A perfect combination for me, in fact, is a tricky, skilful winger on one side and on the other, a fella with blistering pace! Both must be able to cross a ball with accuracy most of the time too, of course, and then sticking a couple of different-sized, quality strikers in there to receive those crosses and I too would like to think it’s a formula that works. Sometimes it does.

But that formation / structure is also reliant on having two, quality, disciplined and energetic central midfielders ‘in there’ these days and whenever it WAS that teams started to play with more than 4 midfielders – or having one of their two strikers come deeper as a kind of ‘link man’ in an almost attacking, advance midfield role – whenever faced with that you sometimes have to accept that you may get overrun and will, therefore, be forced to adapt; almost ‘fighting fire with fire’ if you will.

Magnifying glass out…

Before their recent back-to-back, 3-0 defeats at home to Arsenal and away at league leaders Chelsea, it’s notable that Villa kept 3 clean sheets when winning 3 and drawing 1. Now you could, of course, analyse each of those 4 games (and Villa players) and try to assess how they did it. Certainly Manchester City, like most top sides these days, have their own department for that…and far better people than I with far more time could also provide a much better and complex report on our next opponents.

I’ve had a quick look at what I wanted to focus on, which was the possession.

  • Stoke City 0-1 Aston Villa: Villa 38% overall game possession
  • Aston Villa 0-0 Newcastle United: Villa 40% overall game possession
  • Aston Villa 2-1 Hull City: Villa 45% overall game possession
  • Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa: Villa 26% overall game possession
So…from this basic analysis we can see (God that came out in my head in a German accent - I sounded like some old, wild-haired professor) that whether at home or away - and throughout 3 victories and a draw - Villa had much less possession than their opposite number; massively so in two of those games!

Conclusion? Well it says to me that they defend very well and, again without digging too deep, it could mean that they DON’T, in fact, play with great numbers in midfield…or it could mean that their midfield is just pretty bobbins.

Either way, their lack of possession does strongly suggests that they don’t hold onto the ball too much in the middle; DO defend very well and, perhaps, then hit teams on the break. Well…we certainly felt the force of that one ourselves last season in that bizarre 3-2 defeat at Villa Park; where we destroyed them for the most part but just didn’t kill ‘em off.

That day we played with 2 strikers in Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko in a very-much old fashioned 4-4-2, as both strikers aren’t ones who like to ‘come deep’ and are, instead, very much ‘in front of goal’ men. Milner & Nasri were the wing men that game with Toure & Fernandinho providing the only central midfield substance (notable absentees that day were Silva & Aguero).

Leading 2-1 as the game approached the last quarter of an hour, Villa slammed in a well-placed free kick and 90 seconds or so later; they broke, sliced through us like the proverbial hot knife and they ‘smashed and grabbed’ 3 points.

Getting to the point, then…

Despite having ALL THREE strikers available today I’d start with just one, with David Silva the more ‘advanced floater’ just behind. And do you know what, I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that ‘The Engineer’ might just be tempted to do so too.

My Pellegrini-predicted line-up:

v Aston Villa











Subs: Caballero, Clichy, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Fernando, Jovetic, Dzeko

A decent side and 'set up'...and one I mostly agree with.

I, personally, would go with Clichy & Zabaleta as the stronger of the two defenders away from home and, in particular, with the pace Villa seem to have down their right-hand-side it worries me a little to start with Kolarov. But having played both Gael & Pablo from the start against Roma, I think our manager will have half-earmarked this one for Aleks and Bacary in advance.

He’s got to go with Mangala and Kompany here – they need to start ‘bonding’ now.

With Fernando probably not quite right yet for a ‘start’, his longer-named colleague gets the nod again next to Yaya in the middle of the park. With him looking over his shoulder at the emergence-from-injury of the ex-Porto midfield; I expect a good game from the Brazilian today. I think Yaya might show last season’s colours too; anything less and recent pundit calls for the Ivorian to be given some time off to ‘reflect & refresh’ might soon be on the cards.

Milner deserves his start; he and Navas on opposite sides should cause the home side some serious issues.

Silva to be a ‘key player’ in an advanced role behind Aguero, who I hope can muster more than one goal today.

A very strong bench that sees ‘Super Frank’ set aside for Fernando, I think. Good defensive cover there and TWO very different strikers on the bench.

Result? As I’ve indicated they are ‘stingy’; can (and have) hit us on the break. And there’s a rumour that the powerful & dangerous Christian Benteke may even make a return-from-injury start!

But I’m going for comfortable away win for us in the end, despite the fact that I think they may nick a goal against us.

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