Manchester City vs. QPR: Why City Need To Play Three At The Back
Up until May of last year, my main memory of Manchester City playing Queens Park Rangers was *that* Jamie Pollock own goal from 1998. For those who haven’t seen it, Pollock managed to lob Martyn Margetson with a header having deftly flicked the ball over a Rangers player just outside his own penalty area.
While not quite the moment that saw City relegated to the third tier of English football, it was a contributing factor given both sides were fighting for survival, and the video still crops up in debates over the best own goal of all time. Thankfully though, the events of the Premier League’s final day last season have gone a long way to erasing that shambles. You all know what happened, and no doubt it’ll be referenced within the first five minutes of tonight’s game.
The sides have met already this season, with Manchester City running out 3-1 winners back in September but much has changed since then, in particular for Rangers with Harry Redknapp having replaced Mark Hughes. Redknapp has already brought in a number of his own players, and the QPR line up from their last league outing against West Ham featured just three, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Fabio, and Ryan Nelsen, who were in the first eleven for the last meeting with City.
For Roberto Mancini, it’s three games into Yaya Toure’s absence due to the African Cup of Nations and City have a 100% record following league wins over Arsenal and Fulham, as well as the weekend’s cup victory at Stoke City. David Silva’s return to form has been a massive help filling the void left by Toure, with the Spaniard running the show against Fulham in particular. He scored twice in that game, should’ve had a hat trick, and completed 92% of his 60 passes. The energy of James Milner and the fact that Javi Garcia finally appears to be finding his feet as a screen in front of the back four have also been contributing factors to a side that doesn’t look to be missing its talismanic Ivorian.
The loss of skipper Vincent Kompany is a different matter however. With Matija Nastasic absent from the squad for the Stoke game, City were left with no centre back cover when the skipper limped off in the first half with a recurrence of a calf injury. The decision to turn to the much debated three at the back system had more than a few fans nervous, particularly when neither Pablo Zabaleta nor Gael Clichy are particularly suited to dealing with Stoke’s aerial threat. However, both played very well either side of Joleon Lescott, himself only a bit part player so far this season, so we may see Mancini adopt a similar set up from the start at Loftus Road given Kompany will definitely miss the game and Nastasic is doubtful.
What is particularly worrying are quotes from David Platt regarding concerns over the long term prognosis for Kompany’s problem. “It is a concern that it's not a fresh injury,” he said. “The calf is the strangest muscle – there is probably more recurrence than with hamstrings, groins and things like that. And it has happened on a couple of occasions but the concern is to make sure we clear the problem and that is what we will be working through.” With Micah Richards still a few weeks away from a return from knee surgery and Kolo Toure on international duty, it leaves Mancini short on right sided centre backs and he has already shown a reluctance to play Lescott and Nastasic together as they are both left footed.
Playing the back three might work against QPR though given that they will likely play Loic Remy as a lone striker with Adel Taarabt in behind. The space occupied by the Moroccan will be important to fill, and a combination of Garcia and Gareth Barry should be sufficient with Zabaleta and Clichy tucking in to help nullify the threat of Remy.
Ultimately, three points is crucial with Manchester United still five points clear at the top ahead of a nice run of fixtures so whether that’s obtained using a back three, four or ten no one will really mind.