ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Manchester City
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Manchester City
Posted by Wallace Poulter on 01/06/2011

Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. I mean, parked the bus, boring as a spectacle and at least a month's worth of ammunition for the anti City brigade, but nonetheless a very educational match. Throw in a stone cold penalty, a terrible referee performance and Arsenal hitting the woodwork a couple of times (Walcott was offside for the third) and this was by far the most interesting and informative match of the season.

Roberto Mancini doesn't rate Adam Johnson as a defender. No other conclusion can be drawn after the team sheet showed Jo starting in place of the former Middlesbrough winger. Mancini is all about defence. His players have to track back to help to deny possession to the opponent.

• David Young gives the Arsenal view

In something of a surprise City started out not in a Christmas Tree formation, but rather a 4-2-3-1 with de Jong and Barry in front of the back four, Yaya Toure playing the pivot with Jo and Milner on the wings. Such a formation is normally excellent against a strong attacking side and would provide an opportunity for City to break with pace.

And it didn't work. Not even close. City were torn to shreds by an absolutely rampant Arsenal. How the Gunners weren't up 3-0 after 15 minutes is beyond me, a worldwide television audience and the 60,000+ at the Emirates.

Essentially Arsenal were driving right through the hole between de Jong and Barry while Richards and Zabaleta were being pulled out of position. Moreover while Vincent Kompany has been superb this season it's partially because of the way City play defense in front of the back four. With wave after wave of Arsenal players storming into the box even City's best defender of the season looked all at sea.

At which point Mancini changed tactics subtly by reverting to three quarters of the Inter diamond. de Jong was moved back slightly to be the base of the diamond while Barry and the now withdrawn Yaya Toure played either side and slightly forward of the Dutchman. This stopped the main Arsenal attacks straight through the middle.

With both Jo and Milner also tucked in, Tevez was left to forage on his own up front, the Argentinean often surrounded by four Arsenal players.

In the second half City added a new wrinkle. Again with Milner and at first Jo and then Johnson, City played what can only be described as the Football equivalent of basketball's Box and One. In a basketball Box and One four players play a zone box defense while the One chases the opposing ball handler. City did the same with, depending on their positioning at the time, either Barry, Yaya Toure and occasionally de Jong chasing in front of what was a back 8.

As noted as a spectacle it was quite horrible. It was however pure Mancini. As the Italian has indicated with his tactics and team selections all year it's Champions League or bust for City. Last night Chelsea, Spurs and City all had away games. On paper City's was by far the hardest task yet while their rivals gained no points at Wolves and Everton, City traveled to Arsenal and brought home a point.

This is a short term solution. City do not yet have the squad to play straight up against the likes of Arsenal and United. I picked City to finish out of the Champions League places for exactly this reason. What Mancini is doing is phenomenal and essentially one year ahead of schedule.

Two other points. Arsenal were denied an absolute certainty of a penalty. Theo Walcott drove into the box down to the by line and his crossed was stopped by the outstretched arm of Vincent Kompany. Kompany had his body twisted, his back to the play and was close to Walcott. There was no intent to play the ball with his arm and it was very much ball to hand. And it doesn't matter because Kompany's arm was away from his body in an unnatural position. That's the advice to referees that is given in judging whether handling the ball (which is not a foul) was deliberate (which is.) If a player's hands are not in a natural position (or protecting themselves) when the offense takes place then it isn't ball to hand, it's considered deliberate hand ball. Arsenal should have had a penalty. Plain and Simple.

A bad call by referee Mike Jones who then further blotted his copybook with a ludicrous sending off of Pablo Zabaleta after Arsenal's Bacary Sagna made multiple head butt gestures towards the City defender. City are appealing the dismissal as a wrongful dismissal although a more accurate description might be "due to referee incompetence of Clattenburgian proportions."

Comments

Posted by Craig on 01/06/2011

fair comments Wallace, but I'd like to know what use you think Johnson in place of Jo from the start would have been. I'm not suggesting Jo is a better player than AJ, it's just that playing AJ would require someone getting into the box when he's on the wing and last night we had no attacking altenative on the bench (thanks Adebayor and RSC (and Hughes!!) for that one) so the only reason Mancini lat Jo anywhere near the pitch was because Silva and Balotelli weren't available.

Yes we rode our luck, big time, but that's a really valuable point and Mancini deserves credit for setting his stall out and at least getting something from a game that probably none of us expected a positive result.

Wallace Reply Yes... Johnson needs someone as a target. Maybe Dzeko will be the answer.

Posted by Wilbur on 01/06/2011

This is so ridiculous the people deride Mancini for his tactics. When Jose Mourinho did the same thing last year against Barcelona he was hailed as a genius. And while Arsenal aren't Barcelona they are the closing thing to it in the Premier League.

Credit to Mancini for despite what the pundits say he earned the team a very valuable away point and a place where many (see Chelsea several days ago) don't get any points.

Also for all the negativity written about transfers I think Mancini is actually buying the tpye of players we need. I.e. young with a lot of upside. Not like hughes who dumped 17 Million pounds on Santa Cruz coming off of knee surgery, and some ludicrous amount on Wayne Bridge. That's why the owners have had to spend more money in the transfer market, and what people have to understand if United were buying Ferdinand, Vidic, Rooney, Nani, and Van der Sar now in their prime they would be spending the same amount of money on fees and wages, if not more.

Posted by Mick on 01/06/2011

Wallace
I respectfully suggest that its a matter of interpretation if you think Kompany's hands were in an "unnatural position." In my opinion they did not seem "unnatural". I am aware you are a licensed referee, and a penalty could have been awarded but I did not think it was "an absolute certainty" of a penalty. It was interesting to note Arsene Wenger did not mention the decision in his post match interview.

Wallace Reply No doubt, Arsene didn't see it..

Posted by piken79 on 01/06/2011

I think city did well to get a point. Arsenal deserve to win but hey, it happens. Hopefully Arsenal can now move forward and beat the teams they need to beat to lift the title

Posted by bergkampisgod on 01/06/2011

Can I just ask

Is that really all you take away??

Wallace Reply Nah, chips, meat pie and when back in Hartlepool a "Pattie" which no one else seems to have...

Posted by Dwayne on 01/06/2011

wallace how dear u say that man city will finish out of the top four. Mancini did what was best an that was leaving with an important point something chesea could not have done an still we are ahead in the table an for a team in past who haven't been in top four for quite a while they are doing well an it won't surprise me in the years to come they will be dominating an competing with the likes of arsenal an man u but for now it just important that we don't lose.

Wallace Reply I predicated that City would finish out of the top four because essentially Mancini is in the process of creating a new team and they take time to gel. Second at this point is Manager of the Year quality surpassed only by Ian Holloway if he keeps Blackpool up.

Posted by JoeUSA on 01/06/2011

Spot on.

It seems like the media and City fans, perhaps similarly with Spurs, seem to think that they can win the title this year. But despite the inconsistency of the biggest clubs, yesterday's match showed the gulf in class between City and Arsenal, Man Utd, and perhaps Chelsea. I think you have to be able to dominate every match the way those clubs do to have any chance of winning the title, and Arsenal confirm season after season that even that level of domination is not enough.

Posted by Stan on 01/06/2011

It would strike me as harsh to award a penalty against a player whose back was turned when the ball was struck. "Hand to ball" suggests to me the player knowingly used his arm to obstruct the ball.

Your point about instructions to referees is a sound one, however, and may trump the statement above - even if it beggars common sense.

Wallace Poulter Essentially what the guidance pushes is that a player is responsible if their arm is in an unnatural position. This is why if a player was running and hit the ball with their hand as part of a normal running motion, even if that gave them advantage, referees are told that is not hand ball - although I bet it would be given every time!

Posted by Daniel on 01/06/2011

My only disagreement was posting the link to the Arsenal blog in your write-up.

Posted by vro on 01/06/2011

I very much enjoy your posts. Thanks. Given the lofty goals for City, a short time spent as manager of the richest club in the world, all kinds of training ground clashes, "should i stay or should i go" mood from your star striker (who leads in goals and assists...in essence your Messi), I think Mancini is buying time. And in my opinion, he is right to do so. His constantly changing line ups and formations and overall defensive tactics indicate that he is trying to keep City relevant in the table rather than trying to win every game. This is smart. The City squad haven't played their best football yet, not even close. They need to mesh and find their roles on the pitch. In the meantime, if you are not winning every match in a 3-1 and 4-0 fashion like their last two, you need to stay relevant. This keeps up morale, keeps you focused on the prize. Then when the time is right and you can smell it...pounce! Lessons from Mancini: patience, perseverance, and points (even 1 at a time).

Posted by Adam on 01/06/2011

The end justifies the means. If city can finish top four which they seem well position to; than progress has been made. If anyone should understand this logic, it should be Arsenal supports who pride themselves on building a team slowly

Posted by Kody on 01/06/2011

The lack of fit/able/non-feuding attacking players certainly had a lot to do with the tactics. None of the media mention this as more of an afterthought.

On another note, why is it Arsenal's birthright to have teams play against them in a manner which they deem most conducive to their success? And why do so many in the media agree with this sentiment?

Posted by Grayson on 01/07/2011

You are right that Arsenal should have been up 3-0 after 15 min. That game had such a crazy back and forth after just 2 minutes, then it became just Arsenal slicing through the center.

I will say that Mancini might have his critics for the negative style he employed in this game, and in the home games against United and Chelsea. But, the thing that I find reassuring in the choice of using that style is that it has worked. It was obvious what City was doing against Arsenal, and they never broke. Wenger and Arsenal fans can whine all they want about it, City succeeded in what they were trying to do, and they failed. yeah, they both get a point, and yes, it helps United at the top spot, but without Silva or Balotelli, it was probably the right call, especially after seeing what the first 15 minutes looked like.

I personally like the way City is playing, though I could do without Jo playing as a make shift winger, and look forward to seeing City employ maybe a 2 striker system.

Posted by Jon on 01/07/2011

Another good post, people seem to forget that our ultimate goal is Champion’s League qualification and Mancini is determined to achieve that objective by any means necessary. On another note though I'm curious as to what you think the team will look like once Dzeko's imminent arrival is complete. I don't watch much Bundesliga so I'm not real familiar with the Bosnian but hopefully his presence as a target man will give Tevez more space to roam and finally give Milner and Johnson a target to look for on crosses, but I just hope that his arrival doesn’t mess up the team’s chemistry as we will have a plethora of attacking talent that will be fighting for only a few places.

Wallace Reply I think you'll see a number of formations. A 4-2-3-1 with Dzeko up front, Tevez playing the Attacking Midfield (AMC) role with Silva and Milner/Johnson out wide. The Inter diamond with Silva as the AMC and two forwards.

I don't think City have the defensive strength to play a 4-3-3 although Barry, de Jong and Milner across the middle and Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli across the front would be awesome to see.

All in all to me Dzeko heralds the departure of Tevez this summer and City will then play Balotelli and Dzeko up front.

Meanwhile good luck against Oregon...

Posted by jasonc on 01/07/2011

liked the blog. however disagree about the penalty, he moved his arm behind his body and then turned as the ball was fired towards him. was completely ball to hand with no intent. he did what he was supposed to and kept his hands away, it was only in his turning of his body that enabled the ball to hit his arm.

Wallace Reply Interesting... I'd need to look at a reply, but that's a not unreasonable sequence of events.

Posted by banner on 01/07/2011

Six long, long hours of play against Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal twice, not once have Money Bags City hit the net. How pathetic is that? How do you justify spending $500 million in 2years for this???

Posted by beam on 01/07/2011

Wallace, I could not agree with you more. "All in all to me Dzeko heralds the departure of Tevez this summer"... I am just concern on how deep will the bench be( strikers). I looked at the Arsenal game and believed if Balotelli or Silva was in the game it would have been different.

As for building the team i can see your point, but what i am trying too figure out is, under Hughes City seem to have draw so many games and i am seeing some of that with Mancini. I just wish he gets the team into a i want to win every game mentality...

Wallace Reply Mancini's philosophy from what I can tell is to deny an opportunity to the opponent. Hence the focus on defense, especially the tracking back of the flank players. The once the ball is won, having a creative player such as Silva to work with two central forward, one support midfielder and over lapping full backs to move quickly into attack.

I expect Adebayor, Santa Cruz, Jo and Tevez to all leave in the next 6 months. I would expect two additional strikers to be added to the mix in addition to Dzeko. One an up and comer, the second a veteran with experience winding down their career. Add in a City youngster such as John Guidetti and that's the five forwards that City would carry next season.

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About
Wallace Poulter Wallace Poulter is an award winning video game producer, designer, industry consultant and writer. He has been a football fanatic since the day he moved in next door to Brian Clough. "Cloughie" being the acknowledged genius that he was promptly moved out and went to manage Derby. A serviceable senior school left-back in his youth, Poulter played one season of Sunday league football as a striker proving conclusively that he was a serviceable senior school left-back! Today Poulter remains involved with football as a licensed referee and most recently as a consultant on a Football MMO.

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