Manchester City: The End of Dzeko And Other Lessons Learned
Living in a Yaya-less world
I think it’s fair to say that Yaya Touré’s winter sojourn to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon coincided with Manchester City’s poorest form of the season so far. They remained top, of course, but without the towering Ivorian their play looked a touch mechanical, missing that wonderfully fluid attacking approach that had so enthralled the Etihad in the first half of the season.
I wrote three weeks ago that Yaya’s return had been a fillip for City, inspiring their fine away win in Porto, so it is surely no coincidence that his side underperformed during his suspension.
There’s no shame in missing a player like Yaya. He is, quite simply, one of the finest central midfielders in the world. While the likes of Barry, de Jong and Pizarro are quality players, none can match the experience, presence and sheer quality of the former Barcelona man. Before January, some City fans lamented the fact that Yaya never got rested. On last night’s evidence, Mancini cannot afford to lose him for even one game if he wants to win the league.
City and Džeko may not be right for each other
Mancini repeated his desire to bring Robin Van Persie to the Etihad in his pre-match press conference, to a predictably overblown reaction. This got me wondering, if he did sign (I very much doubt he will, personally), who would he replace? Agüero? No chance. Balotelli? Unlikely. Džeko? Well... it’s not impossible.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Edin. A pure centre forward, he can be as lethal in the penalty box as he is often hapless outside of it. While Balotelli has long been fondly known as ‘Super Mario’, the Bosnian striker’s inconsistency has led to some City fans ruefully referring to him as Džekyll (and Hyde).
That’s the problem with Edin. He can nick important goals, and on his day he’s unplayable, but when he has a bad day he is unspeakably awful. No first touch to speak of, wayward passing and an alarming lack of awareness. More than any other striker I’ve seen, Džeko thrives – no, relies – on confidence, and in Lisbon he appeared to have none. You can forgive a striker an off performance every now and again, but it’s getting to the point where it’s not just occasional, it’s every other week.
Judging by his consistently superb performances for Wolfsburg, Džeko needs to play week in week out to be at his best. Unable to strike up a fully convincing partnership with either Balotelli or Agüero, and certainly not capable of keeping either of them out of the team in their current form, Džeko looks destined to be a bench option for the remainder of the season. After that, who knows? He may well stay, but sadly it seems like the Bosnian Diamond may need to leave Manchester if he wants to truly shine.
When did Mario Balotelli become Mr. Consistent?
OK, so he didn’t score last night, but ever since he came off the bench to score v Everton back in September, the Italian has been a reliable source of goals. Moments after his introduction v Sporting, the game started to swing City’s way. His movement, his strength, even his reputation makes opposition defenders uneasy, and it’s likely that had he started the game City would have scored more than once. Even if he doesn’t score, Balotelli makes things happen, and for all that Džeko boasts experience and a more professional attitude, it increasingly seems like Mancini prefers to put his trust in the Italian. Aside from anything else, there’s nobody I’d rather have on the pitch when City win a penalty.
City have become a huge scalp
The Sporting CP of today are a far cry from the European force they were in the 1960s and 70s. Aside from reaching the UEFA Cup final in 2005, they have been tame and unthreatening in Europe for a long time, having been overtaken by domestic rivals Benfica, Porto and Braga. Nonetheless, it was quite astonishing to see the fervour with which Sporting celebrated centre back Xandão’s cheeky backheeled goal. At the final whistle, the unabashed joy that swept the stands and bench of the Estadio José Alvalade was quite incredible to behold.
For City fans, it still doesn’t feel like that long ago that we were another so-so team getting picked off by Arsenal/Chelsea/Manchester United as they marched to the title. There isn’t a great deal of comfort to be gleaned from flying out to Portugal and losing 1-0, but the aftermath (and the reaction of a bemused but proud Portuguese press) is another strange reminder of just how far Manchester City have come. Eventually, we may get used to it.
Navy socks and change kits
Indulge someone who likes to talk about kits for a moment. Last night City wore their home kit but swapped the usual white and blue hooped socks for the navy socks off this year’s third kit. It was a mild novelty, but it had me wondering why we wore them? If the regular socks would clash with Sporting’s kit, why not wear our away kit, or even our third? It was odd. It got me thinking further, who actually decides what kits each team wear? In some cases I imagine it’s the marketing department (like when both France and Germany wore their new away kits for their recent friendly in Bremen), and in more straightforward matchups all it takes is a little common sense. Still, somebody must make the decision. The referee, perhaps? Do the teams’ respective kitmen convene before the game? Honestly, if anyone knows the answer, please let me know.
Anyway, my point is... well, I don’t really have a point. I just found it curious that City would decide to wear navy change socks for no apparent reason. The team have of course had navy socks as part of their home kit many times in the past, but based on last night’s performance I hope that’s the last we see of them for a while.
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