First look at Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City
Last night we got the first glimpse in earnest of the strongest Manchester City side under the management of Manuel Pellegrini with his well known 4-2-2-2 system employed successfully at both Villarreal and Malaga being used yet again. Call it what you want, a 4-2-2-2 with inverted wingers or a modified 4-4-2, the results are the same with the attacking players being given a very free role in terms of positioning and much of the attacking width coming from the marauding full backs.
Manchester City last night started like a freight train. From the first minute they were forcing Newcastle United deeper and deeper into their own half courtesy of the powerful forward runs of Yaya Toure and new signing Fernandinho from the heart of midfield and this set the tone for the entire evening. Watching Manchester City attacking in the opening ten minutes was akin to a formation of red arrows just floating over a single target with wave after wave of City attacks causing Newcastle problems. Jesus Navas on the right hand side was unplayable with the Spaniard utilising his pace to get in behind Yanga-Mbiwa who was stationed as Newcastle’s left back, what was interesting is that Pellegrini has kept with the system of attacking wing backs providing a lot of width which allowed Jesus Navas to just tuck inside and break into the penalty area on several occasions.
David Silva on the left hand side was much narrower with the Spaniard doing very little to help Gael Clichy on the flank, but this is how the system works. Silva was far happier to just drift into the middle and look to play Edin Dzeko in behind and then look for the one-two in the penalty area and due to Newcastle’s sizeably ineffective play when in possession of the ball Gael Clichy needed very little help in terms of defending from Silva.
There was great debate as to who would be the main striker for Manchester City under Pellegrini, even more so following the signing of Alvaro Negredo however it appears as though Dzeko, after a solid pre-season, has been given the nod ahead of the summer signing from Sevilla. Edin Dzeko arguably put in his best ever performance in a Manchester City shirt last night, he was constantly involved in attacking moves and he did not find himself isolated as a singular striker in awkward positions as he so often did last season. This was because of the movement of Aguero, Silva and Navas who were all looking to find Dzeko with neat interplay as well as sharp movement which created space for the Bosnian to move into.
Dzeko looked happy on the field which is something seldom seen over the course of the former Wolfsburg man’s career in England and this is most definitely down to Pellegrini’s management style. Unlike Roberto Mancini, who has throughout his managerial career been known to struggle to control a dressing room, Pellegrini seems to have a genuine rapport with his players with the Chilean coach making a point of shaking every single one of his player’s hands at the full time whistle, whilst a minor act it was indeed a poignant one.
The midfield pairing of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure always promised power with the two being renowned for their forward runs and last night we saw the two working in tandem for the first time. They were simply unplayable despite going about their jobs quietly and without much fuss. Yaya Toure was positioned on the left hand side of the midfield whilst Fernandinho was on the right which suited both players well. Toure was able to power forward and force the Newcastle midfield duo of Sissoko and Tiote far deeper into their own half than they would have liked and this created confusion amongst the Newcastle back line, this confusion led to poor positioning which Jesus Navas and Sergio Aguero could take full advantage of with their incisive runs in behind. In Fernandinho, Manchester City also have a midfielder who can tackle with the Brazilian on the odd occasion Newcastle United broke into City’s half last night breaking up the move with a strong challenge.
With Newcastle not offering much up front Vincent Kompany was able to play slightly further up than his normal central defensive position with the Belgian at times playing a sweeping role just behind Toure and Fernandinho when the two central midfielders were further up the pitch, this is the sort of fluidity and ability to interchange positions on the fly that has made Pellegrini teams so difficult to play against in the past, there is always a spare man when his teams are in attack and with City it looks as if that spare man will more often than not be Jesus Navas.
Navas was heralded by the Manchester City supporters as the saviour of Manchester City’s wingplay that has been lacking in quality and incisiveness in recent times with Adam Johnson, Robinho and Scott Sinclair having all failed in the same role. Last night we saw a performance which suggested they may well have been right.
Navas did not play in the role of a traditional winger with Pellegrini’s 4-2-2-2 system dictating he play in a more inverted manner, tucking into the middle and making ‘underlapping’ runs as Jamie Carragher coined them yesterday evening in behind Yanga-Mbiwa in order to support Pablo Zabaleta on the right hand flank. These movements and the pace with which Navas executed them made it impossible for Newcastle to defend against and with Sergio Aguero just slightly dropping deeper he was always an option for Navas to find with the ball, yet again illustrating the fluidity within the forward line of a Manuel Pellegrini team.
It would be easy to say Navas was the main creative spark within the Manchester City forward line yesterday simply due to the regularity with which he had possession of the ball but in actual fact the thing which made Manchester City so difficult to defend against yesterday evening was not the quality of the individual players alone but rather the constant and unpredictable movements made by all members of the attacking quartet of David Silva, Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.
These movements constantly dragged what was left of Newcastle’s defence out of position and created space for one of the other three to move into with the ball, this combined with the effective runs from deep made by the two wing backs make Manchester City look like an archetypal Manuel Pellegrini football team who will approach every game in an attacking manner looking to make life as difficult as possible for an oppositions defensive line through quick movement and inverted positioning.
With Manchester City’s style of play likely to not change over the coming months it is important teams grasp an idea of how to defend against the movement of Navas in behind the runs of Zabaleta whilst also keeping an eye on one of Aguero, Negredo or Jovetic dropping just off to receive a pass in space. The important thing is to not leave your left back isolated, following the injury to Jonas Gutierrez last night Yanga-Mbiwa became incredibly isolated and had to try and contend with both Navas and Zabaleta’s movements on his own.
This made things easy for Manchester City and future opponents may have to think about sacrificing one of their more attack minded players for a wide midfielder who is better at defending for example Manchester United may look to Ryan Giggs to play on the left side rather than Ashley Young when David Moyes’ side come up against their local rivals. Giggs is known to be far more useful in terms of putting in tackles and covering a left back in behind than Ashley Young, as he proved in the early stages of last season’s fixture with Real Madrid at Old Trafford with Giggs covering the runs of Cristiano Ronaldo impressively.
It is easy to get carried away when talking about the Manchester City performance last night and it is easy to forget they were for the most part up against a ten man Newcastle United side bereft of direction and confidence following a difficult summer transfer window and the events involving Yohan Cabaye earlier in the day and it certainly made things easy for Pellegrini’s charges despite how impressive their performance was. It must be said though that Manchester City are very comfortably moulding into the Manuel Pellegrini team frame which coupled with his high man management skills is something Manchester City fans have every reason to be excited by.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4