Not everything is clear cut – Manchester City thoughts

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I’m fed up of whining about our fans, so thanks to Jimmy over at The Mudhutter for going full tilt in the right direction, saving me lots of words and allowing me to get straight into bragging about my free day in the posh seats.  I don’t even have to promote anything in return.  So thanks to TallKenny, and to Steve if you’re reading this and let me tell you that any football game looks better when you’ve had a decent three course meal, got a bellyful of ale that you’ve not had to pay for and have warmed up with some genial banter from fans of both persuasions.

The rest of what follows might be somewhat tainted by those preparations, but seeing as one of my favourite games of last season was the home game against Bolton, I suspect that I’d probably be in round about the same place either way. 

The differences on the day came down to individual mistakes from Latics defenders and, yet again, the South American thorn in our side that is Carlos Tevez.  He had the guile to cause our team problems where as Latics struggled to find the man who could do the same to City.  Another way of looking at it is that City’s £30m defence coped with our £15m attack better than our £2m defence coped with their £70m attack. 

And still as much as City never got into a higher gear, Latics never really needed to early on either.  Sunday’s game was marked by two teams that gave each other way too much respect.  It started off like both had expected the other one to come at them all guns blazing.  Neither did and we ended up with two teams playing in front of each other and struggling to work their way through each other’s massed ranks. 

Who knows what would have happened, had Latics pressed and probed a little harder in the opening stages.  Most likely they’d have ended up on their arses, falling foul of the increasingly waterlogged pitch and being opened up like they were ten times in the first two games.  I don’t think that they’d have found a way through.  Maybe they’d have made themselves a bit of luck if they’d pushed on a bit, but I suspect they’d have just given City more room to play around them.

I remember some talk recently about the pragmatism Paul Jewell demonstrated when going into games against top sides.  It wasn’t about trying to win the game, it was about limiting the goal difference (I even remember people advocating such an approach given that we’d conceded 14 goals in two games to Chelsea) and yet when the tactics against City lead to only a 2-0 defeat and possibly deserved a 0-0 draw (barring the mistakes) it’s simply terrible.

Can we be honest?  City are one of the top five teams in the country.  That may have used to mean that they were a little worse than the top four teams, but these days it means they’re one of five sides competing for the top places.  In so many ways they’ve got more to prove that, say, Arsenal and with Chelsea cutting a swathe through the division, City should be coming to places like Wigan and looking to put a marker down.

I guess what I’m saying here is that City’s fans are the ones with the biggest cause for complaint.  They are the ones that should be disappointed that their teams that cost hundreds of millions of pounds to construct and who earn more than the gross domestic product of Wigan couldn’t dominate and control a Latics team which was cheap in comparison and is really still recovering from their early season excesses.

But no, of course it was our tactics that were wrong.  It was Latics that had to go out and somehow earn the right to play against City, not the other way around.  We should have played 4-4… blah, blah, blah…

You’ll have made your mind up about Latics’ style of play and Bobby’s formation already, but it’s my blog so I’m going to say something anyway.  Latics struggle with the formation now, is similar to LIverpool’s once they lost Alonso. Whether you argue that we never had that player or (as Bobby did last year) that Cattermole would have been ideal, we’re missing an essential building block in that “playmaker/quarterback” role. Everything else flows from there. It’s not the formation that’s intrinsically wrong it’s the adaptations that have been made to put sticking plasters over the cracks that cause us problems.

Last season saw Scharner playing in that advanced midfield role to strengthen up the middle of the park, when effectively, from the moment he came in the attack had to carry him. He got between the midfield and attack quite well, but failed completely to add anything to our creativity.  This season we’re playing a central three with no-one particularly supporting the forwards because without that teams have looked like they can drive a bus through our defence.

In my view both moves came about through fear, the worry that if we played the formation in it’s more natural sense, then we’d get caught short somewhere.  Both moves also deprived us of a vital link between the midfield and attack and a man in the right positions to bring the wingers into play or to link up with the centre forward.  A man in the position that, I assume Jordi Gomez was bought to play. 

Leaving Jordi to one side for the moment, we have players who can do that in McCarthy, Watson and (if we want to push the boat out) Di Santo.  I suppose the great hope is that Gary Caldwell will bring some stability to the back four which will allow us to be more brave and get a midfielder further forward in that creative position behind the centre forward. That’s when the formation looks more natural and has really worked for us in the good bits of last season.

I’d sort of expected something along those lines when I first heard Sunday’s line up.  For some reason I’d pictured McCarthy on the left with Di Santo playing behind Rodallega, maybe I was excited by the prospect of a free lunch, been too impressed by Di Santo’s performance against Sunderland or maybe my tie was just a little too tight but now I look back and think about the dangers of putting too much into attacking City rather than nullifying them and think that I was probably just a little naive.

In conclusion, well, I’m not sure I’ve got one.  Other than to say that people can put too much stead in results like these.  This was far from the game at Old Trafford last season and in the end it came down to two sides playing in similar styles but with one being more expensively constructed and, as you’d expect, better.  Their chances may have been gifted and gilt edged as opposed to scrappy and half cocked but they took them and I guess that’s what money buys you these days.

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