16 Sep, 2011: Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City side have, in football terms, gone from being the present day version of George Graham’s Arsenal, to being the Harlem Globe Trotters of British Football; and all in one swift summer of relatively little spending, (well, by their own standards anyway).
Prior to this summer Manchester City had already spent seemingly absurd amounts of money securing the services of some of the world’s best footballers, but it wasn’t until the beginning of this season that the Premier League’s big spenders became the big entertainers .
Before this summer’s transfer window opened Manchester City had already spent a colossal amount of money in previous seasons luring the likes of of Joleon Lescott, James Milner, Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko to the Etihad Stadium. In addition to the afore mentioned ‘stars’ there have also been the less successful signings of Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jerome Boateng, to name a few.
Having spent a small country’s GDP trying to build a team serious enough to challenge their neighbours Manchester United for the Premiership title most City fans expected immediate returns of silverware. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be and a couple of baron seasons ensued.
However, the wait was relatively short lived as City won the FA Cup and secured an automatic Champions League place at the end of last season. The positive finish to last season seemed to spur owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan to invest more money in the club with the view to challenge for major honours on all fronts.
Although City had won their first trophy since 1976, and had reached the promised land of the Champions League, their brand of football was still a little lacking in flair. It was more a case of substance over style, probably the result of manager Roberto Mancini’s education in the Italian school of football.
City had, prior to this season, already signed creative players such as David Silva and Carlos Tevez but the team wasn’t designed to maximise their strengths; that being said Carlos Tevez still managed to score 29 goals in the 2009/10 season, his most ever.
David Silva, for me, is one of the most creative and intelligent footballers to have graced the Premier League stage. Silva is exactly the type of player Chelsea have been lacking since the departure of Deco. Had Chelsea (and not Manchester City) signed Silva they may have mounted more of a challenge to Manchester United for the Premier League title in recent seasons.
Unfortunately for Silva the Manchester City team, prior to this season, had been designed not to lose, rather than to outscore teams. Mancini looked to build a strong, powerful, solid side with a strong back four, two holding midfielders and dogged players throughout. Barry, De Jong and Milner were all industrious in midfield, with Tevez being probably the hardest working striker in British football. Silva struggled to fit into the City style of play and his displays were well below that shown in his native Spain before his arrival in Manchester.
Cue the signings of Sergio Ageuro and Samri Nasri, both of who were signed for a reported combined fee of £59mln before the end of the summer transfer window.
During this summer Roberto Mancini seems to have decided upon a change of tactics. Whether the change in tactics preceded the signings of Ageuro and Nasri, or whether these signings dictated the change in tactics, no one knows. One thing that is evident for all to see is that City have started this season with a more cavalier approach. The emphasis on a strong, solid team has shifted to one of flair, creativity and dominating possession.
Sergio Ageuro, signed from Athletico Madrid for £34mln, has slotted seamlessly into the starting eleven and has formed an instant understanding with David Silva. Samri Nasri followed shortly after Ageuro and has already created more chances in a handful of games for City than he did for his former club, Arsenal, in the whole of last season.
The change in emphasis at the Etihad Stadium is great to watch, free flowing football played by like-minded players who appear to be able to score at will during Premier League matches. The creative juices of Nasri, Silva and Ageuro have been in full effect this season with City scoring 15 goals in their opening four Premier League matches, with five of those coming in an away match at Champions League hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur.
The new Manchester City, lead by their inspirational attacking trio, is a joy to watch and will blow most teams out of the water in the Premier League, home or away. However, one formation or style of play will not beat all comers, certainly not when engaging with the elite of European football.
Napoli, not the highest profile team in Europe, last night visited the Eithad Stadium and showed that there are enough chinks in City’s armour to give other European teams hope when hosting the big spending entertainers. Last night, for the first time this season, City looked vulnerable, especially on the counter attack. When attacking moves broke down the gap in the middle of the park was vast, leaving Barry isolated and exposed. During the first half Manchester City had 73% of possession but didn’t out point Napoli on chances on target. Yes City looked the better side, and maybe on another day would have scored two or three, but for the first time this season their new entertaining style of play nearly failed them.
Manchester City, the Harlem Globe Trotters of British football, will challenge for the Premier League title this year, (I predict they will win it), but if they want to mount a serious challenge in Europe they need to have more than one string to their bow. Better sides will absorb their pressure and make them pay with clinical counter attacking displays.
In closing all credit must go to Roberto Mancini and his staff at Manchester City, they look a rejuvenated team and have blown new life into the English Premier League. Hopefully their entertaining style will last the course and help to create a race to the finish with their neighbours United.
Note: This was written for my blog on Thurs 16th Sep 2011, the day following Manchester City's debut in Champions League football (against Napoli).