Pellegrini's tenure at Manchester City has largely been up and down with a mixed bag of results illustrating the strange season they are having. City have played some drop-dead gorgeous football with exhilarating attacking-play complemented by their fantastic array of strikers firing on all fronts. The intricate nature of the fresh and new 4-2-2-2 formation has bore fruit upfront with Sergio Aguero benefiting the most from his new striking partner, Alvaro Negredo. Yet at the back, a traditionally Mancini-esque defence has been leaking goals left, right and centre. Individual mistakes combined with injuries means Manchester City have looked feeble and meek at the back. In stark contrast to the Mancini era, where the Italian took great pride and care in ensuring his side were the meanest and leanest outfit in the division.
One suggestion in explaining City’s shambolic defending this season is the absence of Vincent Kompany. Manchester City are statistically much worse off when he is injured and his reassuring presence and leadership qualities do make him so vital to City considering no other player wields such influence and assurance. While Kompany is a huge player for Manchester City, you cannot pin-point all blame towards his absence.
As I pointed out earlier, Pellegrini's favoured 4-2-2-2 formation has brought out the best of City's attacking play at the expense of their defence. In a formation that plays only two midfielders, City cannot adequately cover and protect the back four. Fernandinho has done an excellent job in shielding the defence so far yet he can only do so much considering Yaya Toure isn't deployed besides him in a double pivot but ahead of him. What inflates the situation is Toure’s lethargic attitude and reluctance to provide cover, meaning Fernandinho has little support (image below). While Yaya has been scoring and creating goals (ten goals and assists), he certainly hasn't been preventing them. Manchester City just do not have that defensive solidity that they had under Mancini.
(Note Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri dropping inwards into midfield to compensate for Yaya Toure’s lack of discipline against Bayern Munich.)
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You almost suspect that Pellegrini took this tactical risk sometime in the summer after it was assumed he would deploy the 4-3-3 formation that our executives are trying to implement throughout the club. It wouldn't be farfetched to suggest Pellegrini thought he could simply out score his opponents this season rather than keep them out.
Yet even with a lack of tactical help, City’s defence is still abnormally soft when devoid of Kompany. Matija Nastastic has still yet to hit the highs of last season while Martin Demichelis hasn’t convinced everyone he is a capable Kompany-injury stop-gap solution. Individual errors have already cost City seven points alone, with away games against Aston Villa and Cardiff City being literally thrown away. These underwhelming performances at the back cannot continue and could potentially derail City’s title challenge if repeated. Manchester City have already conceded 12 goals in the Premier League this season, only 17 less than the entire title-winning campaign.
It’s also seven goals conceded in only three Champions League home matches for City – a place where City usually give teams a good rinsing. Despite accepting that City would concede more goals than usual, Pellegrini never imagined it at this rate and was unhappy with last night’s performance against Victoria Plzen despite winning 4-2.
"We didn’t play well, we didn’t play with intensity. We are scoring a lot of goals but we cannot score four goals every game. We need to improve how we defend as a team."
It’s with good measure that Vincent Kompany should return this weekend and join the only defender who hasn't been left with egg on his face this season, Pablo Zabaleta. Last season's player of the year has picked up where he left off and, despite an iffy game at Cardiff, has remained consistently excellent so far this season. But Manchester City will need more than just Zabaleta and Kompany playing at their best if they are to progress further in the Champions League and win the league this season. Individual errors, soft defending and lethargy will all have to be eradicated if City are to progress, while a quick prayer towards Kompany’s thigh wouldn’t go amiss.
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