This week saw Emmanuel Adebayor become the latest player to be linked with a move away. Really this is just a case of different week, same story. One of the stars at City, this time Adebayor, is said to be leaving in January because of a lack of playing time. So far I think we've seen Shay Given, Joleon Lescott, Wayne Bridge, Adam Johnson, SWP, Roque Santa Cruz and now Adebayor be run through this same exact story.
There's a validity to some of the speculation as players want to play. City have an unbalanced squad. Too many good players of equal ability equal playing time issues. I expect Johnson to stay and the rest to go over the next 8 months or so, even Lescott who appears to be coming more established in the England squad. Now who can afford such players, given the wages they are on, will be interesting. Will City have to make a pay off to the players for the reduction in their wages? While never specifically addressed that did seem to be part of the Stephen Ireland saga.
City have a core group. Hart, Kolarov, Boateng, Kompany, Kolo Toure, Zabaleta, Barry, de Jong, Yaya Toure, Silva, Johnson, Milner, Tevez and Balotelli. That's it. Everyone else is expendable and ultimately I see Kolo Toure and Barry to leave within two years as well. City will bring in the occasional veteran to supplement those who know their role and then the focus will be on acquiring talented youngsters who can make the grade long term. Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale when at Southampton, will be the type of players City will target. Good, potentially great youngsters that can grow with the club.
Given the above you'll see stories about any player not on that list, Micah Richards for example, who will be said to be looking to leave if they don't get more playing time.
Meanwhile City apparently are a crisis club while sitting in fourth place in the league. Please! The mainstream media seems so desperate to manufacturer some kind of crisis at City that those pesky little things like logic and facts get pushed aside. Certainly this seems to be an almost standard operating procedure of the gutter press, it seems every month there is the story of yet another national paper paying out damages for libel to some individual, but to see such City stories in outlets of shall we say more reputable journalism is disappointing.
If the League Cup team selection and safety first tactics haven't made it already clear to the media let me spell it out as plainly as I can. City are focused solely on reaching the Champions League. In a choice between a possible win against United or a more certain draw, Mancini is going to take the point. Whether the City boss has been told straight that he must qualify for the Champions League or face the chop I couldn't say, but any reasonable evaluation of everything so far this season says that is the case.
I do feel sometimes that I have gone on about tactics until I'm blue in the face. Better than the alternative of course.
There are essentially five possible formations that Mancini could employ. These are dependent on the opponents and the players available. The 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 are too adventurous (for now) or limiting and the 4-4-2 doesn't provide enough cover in front of the back four nor the necessary midfield steel and guile. That leaves the Inter diamond or the Christmas tree of 4-3-2-1.
In a perfect world, when all players are fit, then City play an Inter diamond with Tevez and Balotelli up front with Silva the creative force at the head of the diamond in an attacking central midfield (AMC) role. In this case, as good as Johnson and Milner are, they start on the bench.
Now for whatever reason whether injury, fitness or tactics Mancini has not played Adebayor up front with Tevez, the two up front that the fans have clamored for. As discussed in previous columns from a tactical standpoint I can see this decision having been made because City didn't have the full backs, Boateng and Kolarov, fully fit to play the Inter diamond correctly. Without Boateng and Kolarov filling the spaces on the flanks in attack and defense you play one up front, and position players out on the flanks (the 2 of the 4-3-2-1) forcing the opposition to play into the middle of the field where City maintain an advantage with Barry, de Jong and Small Berries. In this formation you see Milner play while Silva and Johnson vie for playing time.
Johnson in particular isn't the type of player to excel in either formation. He's a traditional winger in a 4-4-2 or a speedy counter attacker in the 4-2-3-1 style that had success at the end of last year. But a counter attack strategy, while devastating against Chelsea away last season for example, doesn't work unless the opposition wants to bring it with full force, as Chelsea did.
So to the many of you the ask, why isn't Johnson playing, the answer is fairly straight forward. City are not playing a formation in which he will play well.
The bottom line is simple. Mancini has not I believe been able to play his preferred starting eleven even once this season. Further the former Inter boss has only deployed the Inter diamond twice. Yet the club is in 4th place and in position to qualify for the Champions League. Crisis? Mancini should be winning Manager of the Month awards for keeping the club in contention without even being close to deploying his optimum team and strategy week in and week out.
Would I have preferred to see a win over United? Of course. But Mancini has a plan and at the moment that has the club on course to achieve the only thing that currently matters, qualification for the Champions League.