Vincent Kompany is back on Manchester City defence but manager Manuel Pellegrini wants scorers like Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo to produce more on the road, writes Richard Jolly.
Manchester City looking for a good balance against West Brom
MANCHESTER // The names on the shirts and the faces are the same. The style of football, with its acute emphasis on high-paced attacking, is very similar. And yet this is a tale of two Cities.
There is the Manchester City who are in imperious, irresistible form on their own turf and the City who are surprise strugglers on the road.
There is the City with the 100 per cent record at the Etihad Stadium, where they are averaging more than four goals a game, and the City who take less than a point a game elsewhere.
Even Fulham have more points on the road; only Hull City, Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Sunderland have fewer and even then both Hull and Norwich have had rather harder fixture lists. It makes the next four days a defining period in this season.
Manuel Pellegrini has challenged his side to close the gap to leaders Arsenal to three points by the time 2014 starts.
Before then, City go to West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night and Southampton on Saturday, Premier League aristocrats visiting two of the more enterprising members of the middle class.
It bodes badly that they have already lost at three clubs who may finish below both – Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Sunderland – as well as against title rivals Chelsea.
It is a source of enduring frustration to manager Pellegrini.
“We deserved to win some of the games we lost,” he argued. City dominated at Villa Park. They had 24 shots and 63 per cent of possession at the Stadium of Light.
“We have made some individual mistakes that [meant] finally we couldn’t win the games,” Pellegrini said.
Joe Hart’s mistakes provided a common denominator in the first three defeats.
“We don’t have so many problems in defending as the scores say and the results say,” Pellegrini said. “Against Aston Villa, against Cardiff and against Sunderland we made individual mistakes that decided the match.”
But Cardiff exploited set-piece frailties and both Villa and Chelsea caught City on the counter-attack, inviting the question if Pellegrini’s pressing game and high defensive line gives them a chance to accelerate into the space behind the back four.
Perhaps the long-awaited return of their defensive linchpin will make a difference.
“Our captain Vincent Kompany is coming back and everything will settle down,” Yaya Toure said and City’s classiest centre-back has only played in one of their four away reverses.
And yet the tactics are broadly similar, regardless of the venue. “It’s really good what we are doing at home, but now we have to copy it away from home,” said midfielder Samir Nasri.
He is a case in point: all five of his goals this season have come at the Etihad Stadium. So have 10 of Alvaro Negredo’s last 11. It is a sign of the imbalance in the results.
“At home we are very prolific,” added Toure. “Away is more difficult. We are trying to find a good balance.”
The sense is their fate depends upon their ability to find a happy medium.
The Premier League has only once been won by a team who took 30 or fewer points on the road – the Manchester United team of 2010/11 who, in a season of low totals, only took 25 on their travels. And even they only lost four times at opponents’ grounds.
“The more points we drop, of course, the more difficult [it is],” Pellegrini added.
City have the look of champions when they excel on their own turf. But as the Swansea manager Michael Laudrup said: “It all depends what they do away from home.”
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