The Champions started the season off on the right foot with a 2-0 win away to Newcastle. While not the crispest performance you’ll ever see, the signs are there that our Blues are ready to make another run at the title.
Manuel Pellegrini set the team out in the same 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2 if you want to be picky) that he used for most of last season, and for the most part it looked just as good as last year. In attack it is very free flowing, with plenty of interchanging and overlap. While in defense there are two very rigid banks of four, and usually one striker tracking back to help out as well. My only two gripes with this system come down to squad selection, and how we use some of our players.
David Silva and Samir Nasri are two brilliant attacking players. No one would argue that. But, when you play them both the pitch becomes very narrow when we have possession. Defensively it is great to be compact, but when we have the ball, we need to be able to spread the opposition out. Silva and Nasri both tend to drift centrally to create for the strikers. When both of them drift towards the middle, and Yaya pushes up, and Jovetic drops back everything becomes extremely congested, and therefor easier to defend. This leads to our fullbacks being the only source of width in attack. This in turn leaves us susceptible to the counter attack. Don’t get me wrong, I love when fullbacks start bombing down the wing, but I’m not a fan of them being our only source of width.
Secondly, and this is more personal preference than anything else, I believe that Fernando could be one of the best players in the Premier League if we didn’t give him a partner in front of the back four. Fernando will cover every blade of grass from sideline to sideline whether he has a partner or not, he did this for years at Porto and that’s why we’ve bought him. So I suggest that we let him do just that. He clearly loves defending and breaking up play and going in for a tackle. His partner, Yaya, is not always so willing to get back in a hurry and defend. Eliminate this problem by playing Yaya ahead of Fernando. I know that I’m creating the congestion up the field again, but if Pellegrini is dead set on two strikers then I see this as a solution. 4-1-3-2. Fernando behind Yaya, Silva, and Nasri, who are behind two strikers. Even if our fullbacks go forward, we still have two center backs and Fernando waiting for the counter attack. But that’s just me thinking out loud.
Now that I’ve talked about the nerdy bits of football, let’s get down to how our boys actually performed today. I think all around we have to be very pleased by the squad. We looked much sharper than some of the other potential title contenders did this weekend, and that can only be a good thing. So now, let’s have a quick look at how we played today.
Joe Hart may not have had a whole lot to do, but when he was asked to do his job he performed well. Since it is early in the season, normally I would expect Joe to make a few mistakes, but this year is different. Joe has a genuine competitor for his spot for the first time since Shay Given was still at the club. You’ll remember that the last year Shay was around Joe was on fire. The competition created by Willy Caballero joining the club will only help Joe Hart perform better in goal than he has in the past few years.
In defense I think that we looked very solid today. The Kompany-Demichelis pairing looks to have picked up right where it left off last year. The two big men at the back kept everything organized and looked to very close to the best. Happy days. On the left, in my opinion, Aleks Kolarov looked magnificent. Under Pellegrini he has blossomed into one of the best left backs in the league, and his confidence seems to grow with every match. On the right…..here’s where people may disagree with me. I genuinely like Gael Clichy as a member of our back four. But I would never stick him on the right. He still gets forward well, but he’s only got one foot. So once he’s made it to the by-line he has to cut back to his left, or pass the ball. I thought defensively today he looked alright, but he definitely doesn’t seem comfortable having to defend to his right. Once our right backs are fit, I look forward to the rotation of Kolarov and Clichy on the left.
Fernando. What can you say about our new boy that hasn’t been said already? The man is an absolute rock in the middle of the park, and he never seems to tire. He has the brains of Gareth Barry, the engine of James Milner, and the tenacity of Nigel De Jong. I’m not sure you could ask for more from a defensive midfielder. His partner today was Yaya Toure, who definitely was not at 100%, but you could still see flashes of his brilliance. A few more matches and our Ivorian freight train will be back on the tracks. David Silva looked, if I may borrow from my idol Ray Hudson, MAGISTERIAL today. The little Spanish wizard popped up all over the pitch, and always seemed to find space. His goal was calmly taken, and hopefully we can get even more from Spanish Dave this season. You’d be hard pressed to find many better creators in the world game than David Silva. Samir Nasri, who I’ve not always been the kindest to, has really impressed me in the past 9 months. Today he showed a desire to get back and win the ball that I’d never seen from him before. Also, it looks as though he spent his summer in the gym when he wasn’t laying poolside with his smoking hot girlfriend because he is noticeably stronger and playing a much more physical style than I’d seen him do in the past. I’m expecting very big things from our midfield this year, and suspect that most clean sheets will come from the hard work of the men in the middle of the park.
Up front big Ed looked fantastic. While his first touch may not be as silky as some of his smaller teammates, the big man worked very hard today to hold up play and to track back. If we are lucky, we will see the classic number 9 that we bought from Wolfsburg a few years back. Pellegrini seems to have lit a fire in him this offseason, and with Negredo being injured, I suspect we will see the Bosnian Diamond doing his best to show that he deserves to be the number one big man in the squad. I would be remiss to not mention his assist for David Silva’s goal. Dzeko brought down a long pass from Yaya Toure and then, with telepathic accuracy, back heeled the ball into the path of Merlin who slotted it home. Brilliant stuff from the big man. His striker partner, Stevan Jovetic, has been absolutely lethal in preseason. Something about being in the US really woke up the Montenegrin, and he was scoring goals for fun. Today we saw a player who didn’t seem to understand what his role was, or what type of player he wanted to be. This is something that has been consistent throughout his career. Stevan Jovetic is not a classic striker, but he also isn’t a classic number 10. The problem is, he knows this. Stevan spends a lot of time trying to create chances, but no one is sure if he’s creating for himself or a teammate. It may sound as though I’m being negative about the player, but I can promise you that I am one of his biggest fans. Stevan, it seems, is trying so hard to prove that he belongs in the squad that he tends to overcook things. If he could calm down a bit, and know when to play simple and when to put on a show, I think that we would see his true quality. If he can figure out who he is, and what type of player he is going to be, Stevan Jovetic will be a world class player. But this, sadly, is a huge if. Jovetic was replaced by Kun Aguero late in the match, and the little Argentine did what he does best. Score. While we just got a small glimpse of the former Atletico man, there were some interesting points. First of all, Aguero looks like he’s been taking very good care of himself since the World Cup. His work ethic on the pitch seems to be very high as usual, and I expect to see him play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this year. He’s just as sick as we are of seeing him go down injured every few matches. He has stated multiple times that he has started a new fitness regimen, and for his sake (and ours) I hope it works. A healthy Sergio Aguero, who plays 35-40 matches in all competitions, is easily capable of scoring 30 goals for us this season.
There are many things to be happy about if you’re a Blue these days. I think the most important thing for us today was our team spirit and belief. You didn’t see players having a go at each other. When mistakes were made, one player owned up to it, and everyone got on with the match. The players are happy and they want to work. The gaffer has got the players to work harder than they ever have, and they do it with a smile on their face. We are seeing the start of something very special my friends. Will there be ups and downs? Of course, this is Manchester City we’re talking about. But you can feel that something is happening. There is a sky blue storm brewing at Carrington, and we are all at the heart of that storm as it makes its way across the country, and the continent. Strap in blues, we’re in for one hell of a ride.
Until next time…
The Citizen Abroad