x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Roberto Mancini cannot mask all of Manchester City's faults

Again and again, Manchester City's poor performances have been papered over by individual excellence, often from Sergio Aguero or Yaya Toure, warns Jonathan Wilson.

Manchester City's Yaya Toure will be on African Cup of Nations duty and miss the match at Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. City will also be without Sergio Aguero due to injury and Samir Nasri due to suspension.
Manchester City's Yaya Toure will be on African Cup of Nations duty and miss the match at Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. City will also be without Sergio Aguero due to injury and Samir Nasri due to suspension.

A quick quiz question: who was the last player to score for Manchester City at Emirates Stadium?

A huge slice of kudos for anybody who answered DaMarcus Beasley.

Not since April 2007 have City so much as got a goal away to Arsenal and they have not beaten them in London since 1975.

Arsenal is not somewhere for City to look for solace and yet that is precisely what they need.

Dropping eight points from their last seven league games may not sound dreadful, but in modern football it is too much for teams at the top.

Manchester United in the same period have dropped only two and, as they have grown stronger, so City have looked shakier and shakier.

Roberto Mancini, the City manager, rolled his eyes and blamed bad luck after the defeat at Sunderland on December 26, yet the contrast between their bluntness and the sharpness of Tottenham Hotspur, who won 2-1 at the Stadium of Light three days later, could hardly have been more pronounced.

Most startling was the way belief drained out of City after going behind: they seemed a team with no confidence in their method, perhaps not even any clear idea of what that method is.

Again and again this season, poor performances have been papered over by individual excellence, often from Sergio Aguero or Yaya Toure.

Neither will be available against Arsenal, and Samir Nasri is suspended.

Mancini appears this season to have attempted to convert City to a more possession-based approach.

That, presumably, is why Joleon Lescott has been ostracised, why Nigel de Jong was sold and why City have dabbled with a back three at times.

The result has been confusion and the recent switch to 4-4-2 has exacerbated a problem City already suffered: a lack of width.

The pairing of Carlos Tevez and Aguero, forged in Argentine youth teams, is hugely effective - City have won on 14 of the 15 occasions they have started together - but pairing them has affected the midfield shape.

Last season Toure was a master at springing from deep into the space now by occupied by Tevez as City played a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid, but he now seems restricted and, good as he has been this season, he has not been quite as dominating as he was last.

Even more troubling, the new shape seems to encourage David Silva and Nasri to drift infield, perhaps to add bodies because Tevez, for all his work-rate, does not offer the same defensive quality as Toure would breaking into the same areas.

The result of that is twofold - first that City going forward can become bogged down in central areas and that quality supply for Edin Dzeko (should he rather than Tevez or Aguero start) from the flanks is lacking.

The second that City's full-backs can be exposed, something exploited this season by opponents from Cristiano Ronaldo to Adam Johnson.

Until recently, City's results have masked their problems but, as Juanma Lillo, the Spanish coach who was a mentor to Pep Guardiola, has always urged: trust the process, not the results.

In the last few weeks, indifferent performances have caught up with City, a situation that is only going to be made worse by the absences of Aguero and Toure, their two most frequent saviours.

Aguero has a hamstring problem and should be back in a couple of weeks but Toure is at the African Cup of Nations and could miss five Premier League matches.

City won four and lost one of the five he missed last year but his authority and ability to drag a game City's way almost by will alone seems even more necessary this time round.

It was at the Emirates last year that City hit the bottom, losing 1-0 to fall eight points behind United.

The shambles - and particularly an awful performance from Mario Balotelli, who was sent off - seemed to crystallise minds, though, and it was from the ashes that City mounted their comeback to win the title.

It is that sprit they need to rediscover.

 

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