Manchester City’s midweek demolition of Wolves in the Carling Cup threw up an astonishing statistic. City’s five-goal haul means they’ve now scored 45 in 15 games. Maths is not really my strong suit but I make that an average of three a game since the Charity Shield raised the curtain on a so far extraordinary season.
When the trio of European chess-games are taken from the equation it gets even better.
Somewhat lost amongst the shock and awe that followed last weekend’s Old Trafford routing was the fact that City have now smashed the Premier League record for most goals scored by this stage. As the media, perhaps understandably, concentrated their attentions on the scale of United’s humiliation – Ferguson’s heaviest ever defeat, United’s biggest derby loss since blah blah - this is a record worth noting. 33 goals with just a quarter of the season concluded. If City continue to plunder with the same ruthless appetite for destruction – which is admittedly highly unlikely considering that teams are now parking the bus from the opening whistle fearful of a battering – then the final tally will be 132 league goals scored, beating Aston Villa’s 128 in 1930-31, a top flight record that has stood for over eighty years.
Even if the goal-fests diminish, as games become more tense and meaningful, the end-of-season DVD this year will almost certainly be a box-set. With little requirement for filler.
These figures are impressive enough on their own but become truly staggering when a comparison is made to last year. Back then the general perception – rightly or wrongly – was that City was a side studded with quality but who were weighed down by the concrete overcoat of their manager’s nurtured caution. Typical Italian; grab a goal then shut up shop.
Now however Bobby Mancini is displaying another type of national stereotype entirely. His team zoom around on scooters, sans helmet, saying ‘ciao’ a lot and liberally pinching the arse of opposing defences.
Two of their strikers in Dzeko and Aguero have already reached double figures before the trees have fully shed their autumn leaves
Some City fans have even began appropriating the United terrace boast of supposed autonomy in celebration of their new-found scoring mania. ‘We’ll score when we want, we’ll score when we want, we’re Man City, we’ll score when we want’.
Not true of course but damn close. On average every 24 minutes to be exact.
So how has this happened? How has a side that placed such regimented emphasis on being hard to break down no matter the score-line or opportunity for glory suddenly transform into a sensational free-flowing goal-scoring machine, where two of their strikers in Dzeko and Aguero have already reached double figures before the trees have fully shed their autumn leaves? Give or take the odd change in personnel, this is the same team that travelled to the Emirates last January with a 0-0 stalemate as their sole objective. Now they are racking up an average of four goals a game away from home.
Casual observers claim it is simply that Mancini has unshackled the talent at his disposal – released the handbrake, removed the handcuffs, feel free to choose your own euphemism here - and while there is a degree of truth in that, there is also in reality far more to it.
Six of the Bosnian’s eleven goals so far this term have been of the poaching ilk Carlos Tevez would never have scored. Two-yard tap-ins off his knee, pouncing on a keeper’s fumble, redirecting a low drive into the roof of the net – these are the Aldi bread and butter strikes that are probably deemed beneath the scabby-necked Argentine’s repertoire. Instead of darting into the six yard box he would often hang back as the ball progressed down to the touchline and seek a cut-back. Personal glory always over-rode team interests which not only contributed to City being termed a one-man team but also deprived them of a splattering of unspectacular – but equally valuable – goals.
Crucially, in Balotelli and Aguero City additionally still possess the magical artistry to conjure up the Tevez strikes.
Whereas last season’s midfield three was a stronghold – none shall pass – now it pushes up en masse and squeezes the overall play.
Though last season’s formation hasn’t fundamentally changed the personnel within it has. Two holding midfielders have now become one with last year’s attacking focal point of the midfield trio dropping into the role and given a license to drive forward. This has allowed David Silva to be employed more centrally (especially at home or when the game is all but won away) and we’ve all witnessed the stylish vandalism he has imparted on shell-shocked back-lines as a result. In turn this has created an available space for an extra attacker in the front three and whether it’s Aguero, Balotelli, Nasri, or Johnson all are more than capable of individual creative carnage. Moreover finally Silva has a play-date.
This adaption to last year’s system has undeniably made a significant impact but perhaps too much has been made of it. Infinitely more importance should be given to the over-haul of mentality regarding territory. Whereas last season’s midfield three was a stronghold – none shall pass – now it pushes up en masse and squeezes the overall play. Consequently, so much more of City’s possession now takes place in the opposition half and when the final ball is eventually delivered – whether it be a speculative punt forward or a precise slide-rule pass – there are decent numbers in the box now to contest it. Furthermore if the ball is cleared the opposition find themselves entrenched in blue. All too often last season the ball would be cleared to safety and the attack broke down.
Premier League defences are having a ‘mare
Manchester City cannot take all of the credit for their slew of goal-gluts; for whatever reason the overall standard of Premier League defending so far this term has been nothing short of shocking. Freak results are becoming almost common-place and evoking score-lines that used to be dished out by players with handlebar moustaches and bellowing shorts.
Winning not attaining
Having led Inter to three Serie A titles Roberto Mancini knows what it takes to win a league championship. Last year his raison d’être however was to secure fourth spot and qualify for the Champion’s League come what may. He did so using tactical manoeuvres more commonly seen on Salisbury Plain. A forty-yard territory gain here then duck for cover there. At times this prompted frustration amongst the City supporters who witnessed draws against sides who were quiet evidently there for the taking. Having duly delivered his promise though the affable but no-nonsense Italian now has to adjust his targets and he is astute enough to realise that you do not reach a league title. It cannot be negotiated. You have to go out there week in, week out and grab it with both hands. There is no more crawling beneath the trip wire as Salisbury Plain now rattles to the sound of machine gun fire.
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