I had to smile this morning. No manager in the world wants his players playing international football with the chance of injury but there was Mark Hughes talking up Zabaleta for Argentina. Nice example of man management in supporting the player while knowing that he is not going to lose him for this round of international call ups.
Meanwhile the impending return of Martin Petrov has me thinking about formations. City have an embarrassment of riches in midfield with SWP, Robinho, Ireland, De Jong, Elano and Petrov. Not forgetting the ability of the aforementioned Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany to play in a central role.
Now as I have mentioned a couple of times I like the 4-2-3-1 formation and one of the reasons is that it protects the centre of defence. The Richards -Dunne central partnership was shown to be a lot less than we thought when they didn't have Johnson and Hamann in front of them and the idea of one defensive midfielder with four midfielders fanning out has been one of my personal frustrations of the season.
The problem of course is that embarrassment of riches. Might I suggest a rethinking of positions. When we have a great central defender, the off season priority, I believe Hughes can experiment more but until then 4-2-3-1 is the club's best formation.
With a fit Petrov on the left and SWP on the right, I'd like to see Stephen Ireland given the opportunity to fill the Michael Johnson role from last year. Partnered with either Zabaleta or De Jong, such a combination would cause the opposition fits with Robinho playing the attacking midfielder role.
Now when Petrov is out Robinho would slide to the left and Elano would play the AM position. An injury to SWP allows Ireland to move to the right allowing both Zabaleta and De Jong to play, or Kompany to move into the spot, or Johnson to return.... This also allows a continuity and understanding for the players as to their roles week in and week out.
The added benefit of this was shown to a certain extent in the first Sunderland game where the players were mixing and matching their positions on the fly and causing utter chaos in the opposition ranks. Traditional man marking schemes fall down in such an environment and the flexibility that a City squad would have with this would be tactically quite devastating.
Moreover with a fully fit side, the bench options would also allow the club to unleash high quality replacements (and speed) for the final 30 minutes of a game.
Food for thought...