Watching football fans watching the football
Legend has it that, upon being appointed Real Madrid’s manager, Carlos Queiroz told his bosses of the negative impact selling Claude Makelele to Chelsea would have on the club.
Queiroz feared that despite having David Beckham, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Ronaldo to lead his attack, they would struggle without the stability Makelele gave them in midfield.
Regardless, the Frenchman was sold to the Londoners and, rather predictably, Real’s season collapsed, Makelele became a key man for Chelsea, and Queiroz was sacked. It’s a lesson Real had to learn the hard way, even if others continue to ignore the obvious example it set.
Manchester City have started the season with the swagger of a side that believe their time has come to break the Manchester United-Chelsea Premier League duopoly. Deep in the bowels of the Etihad Stadium, there’s an inner conviction that hasn’t existed at the club before, a confidence that suggests City will have the temerity to go to Old Trafford and play without fear, to evolve from pretenders into winners.
If there were any lingering doubts surrounding City’s intentions, Samir Nasri quelled them when he said on his arrival: “I prefer to make history with a club, rather than be just one player among the rest. I spoke with Patrick Vieira at City - they are the club of the future.”
While it’s obvious the prospect of a staggering salary swayed Nasri's mind when it came to joining City, he wouldn’t have said the same thing had he just joined a side battling against relegation. He said it because he, like the rest of the club, believes City are on the cusp of perhaps the most successful era they’ve ever known.
Ambition is to be admired, of course, provided it doesn’t prove to be their downfall in the way that it did with Portsmouth. But - while the belief may be there - for now, at least, City simply don’t have the right balance to mount a sustained title challenge.
Goals win football matches, and City unquestionably have enough of those in their side but, if a last minute equaliser is conceded, or a tight game is lost in its closing stages, all effort up to that point has been futile.
This is a fate that was suffered regularly by the Newcastle United and Liverpool sides of the 1990s. Newcastle, managed by Kevin Keegan, played hugely entertaining football and scored numerous goals with Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Faustino Asprilla, Peter Beardsley and David Ginola spearheading their attack. Their defence, however, was comprised of Philippe Albert and the deplorable Darren Peacock so, as a team unit, they lacked the solidity and strength to win a trophy.
Liverpool, equally, had Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore and Jamie Redknapp to rely upon for goals, and they rarely came up short. However, with Phil Babb and Neil Ruddock at the back, they simply failed to keep enough clean sheets to seriously challenge.
All of the great Premier League sides have scored lots of goals, but they had an equally effective defence to rely upon when it really mattered.
The Arsenal ‘invincibles’ team had Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Gilberto Silva - all at their peak - sitting back every time the rest of the side attacked. Years before, they had Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were also a delight to watch – there were fewer greater sights in English football at the time than Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Eidur Gudjohnsen attacking in tandem, but they did so with the tightest of defences behind them; Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and Makelele ensured only 15 goals were conceded from 38 league games in 2004/05.
For Manchester United, there’s been Edwin van der Sar, Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Gary Neville, Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and many more.
Even the current Barcelona side – perhaps the greatest ever – have Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets giving the others a license to attack.
Since becoming the world’s wealthiest team, one of the most painful memories for any City fan will have been the last gasp derby defeat at Old Trafford, when Michael Owen masterfully finished deep into stoppage time to give United a 4-3 win. Now, despite having Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli as their four strikers, the quality of their defence is still questionable and it isn’t inconceivable that a similar scenario could develop.
It’s quite possible to envisage any two of those strikers, supported by any three of David Silva, Samir Nasri, Adam Johnson and Yaya Toure, leaving Owen Hargreaves or Nigel De Jong to protect the back four. De Jong never has been, while Hargreaves is no longer, on a par with a Makelele, Javier Mascherano or Busquets.
With that being the case, Roberto Mancini needs to make sure his back five is exceptional.
Joe Hart shows promise in abundance, but is untested at the highest level. Micah Richards appears to have declined somewhat and there remains no guarantee he will fulfill his unquestionable potential, while Gael Clichy once looked world class at Arsenal but needs to prove that he can reach that level again.
Joleon Lescott never has and never will be a £24 million defender – of all the money City have spent on transfers in recent years, this is perhaps the greatest waste. While Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor at least had the talent to be elite players - if not the desire - Lescott has neither.
That leaves Vincent Kompany. He’s been superb for City, but he alone isn’t enough – even the imperious Vidic has struggled in the past without Rio Ferdinand alongside him in Manchester United’s back line.
Last season, Blackpool scored enough goals to survive, but their defence was woefully inadequate and now they’re in the Championship. By way of contrast, City didn’t win enough games despite having one of the best selections of offensive players in Europe. Their football simply wasn’t productive enough because their defence needed to be anchored by De Jong, Toure and Gareth Barry, often together
This season, Mancini appears to have encouraged City to be more attack-minded and they’ll be amongst the highest scorers in the league – but unless they can strike the right balance, there’s little point in expecting any more from them.
If attacking options guaranteed success, then Real Madrid’s Galacticos and Sven Goran Eriksson’s Lazio would have won a handful of domestic and European titles. Argentina - with Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Diego Milito joining Aguero and Tevez - and not Spain would have won the 2010 World Cup. Each side was infamously talented but equally unbalanced.
There comes a stage in the development of a side when one individual can prove the catalyst for a substantial period of success. Eric Cantona joining United in 1992 was exactly that, as was Mourinho for Chelsea in 2004.
Edgar Davids, upon joining Barcelona on loan in the 2003/2004 season, helped propel the side up the table, give them the necessary balance and then the confidence to become a truly great side thereafter under Frank Riijkard. Ronaldinho was the star man, but few inside the club overlook the impact Davids made during his brief stay in Catalonia.
City are closer than they’ve ever been, but that last step is the hardest to take. There is more than enough creativity in the side, there are enough goals, and there’s also an array of options. But what they lack is something that is becoming an increasingly rare and expensive commodity in the modern game - a genuinely strong core throughout the side.
Few midfields have more flair than City’s, few strikers have more finesse. But they’re missing a player or two to string everything together, to make that transition from a talented collection of individuals into an effective unit and, ultimately, that could make the difference.
Follow Declan Warrington on Twitter @decwarrington
I don't really understand your article. Last season City conceded the joint fewest goals in the Premier League (33, with Chelsea). This season we have strengthened the defence, bringing in Gael Clichy to provide competition for Aleksander Kolarov. Last season we generally played two holding midfielders (De Jong and Barry) and then three attacking midfielders. The more attacking personnel have changed somewhat this season and De Jong has missed two games with injury. You've not made any argument to explain why you would expect us to concede more this time around.
De Yong, Yayya Toure, Kolo Toure, Barry, Richards, Zabaleta, Clichi, Koloroff, Silva and you have not even mentioned Nasri. Where are you coming from ?. Watch this space !!
If I remember correctly last season City had the equal best defence with Chelsea. 33 goals conceeded in the Premier League. I also think they had about 18 clean sheets. Why has this defenceg (improved with the addition of Clichy) suddenly become a liability?
"Few midfields have more flair than City’s, few strikers have more finesse. But they’re missing a player or two to string everything together, to make that transition from a talented collection of individuals into an effective unit and, ultimately, that could make the difference."
Did you not see the game against Tottenham? They looked a pretty effective unit to me. You must admit 5 goals away from home against one of the teams allegedly destined to be fighting for a top four place was quite a performance. Make no mistake City are a team now. A team that will only get better. Sit back and enjoy.
Mate. no matter hu you have reported for and how sucessfgul u have been u r absolutely delusional. u forgot to mention that las year vinnie and jolean formed what was the best defence in the league. level with chelsea on goals conceded and joe hart picked up the most clean sheets in the league aswell as goalkeeper of the year and the record for man city clean sheets. so fo u to say tht our defence will be the undoing of our title bid. u r so wrong it is unbelieveable. de jong is nowhere near BUSQUETS!!!!!! r u being serious. nigel is one of the best tacklers i have ever seen whereas busquets jus falls on the floor at every opurtunity. i dont know why thi got me so riled up but ur jus so unbelieveably wrong its sickening. we have the most solid back four, with the best cover for every position than anyone in the world, we have two world class defenders for every position. as for micah he is barring maicon mayb the best right back in the world rite now. his power and pace make him second to none in the world and his aerial ability to match. mate i think u shud rethink everything u wrote about in this article, look at last seasons stats and cum back with an article tht isnt complete bull****. tht is all
I totally agree with he first poster. We have if anything, a better, deeper defence, , than last season. We have competition in all areas,and we had the joint best defence. We can now defend from the front more than ever with the players we have.
Please state your reasons for your misguided views.
what a well written and eloquently put pile of old b*ll*cks...
previous comments have said it but our defence last year was outstanding and will only get better as a unit and we have better cover.
Mancio did what he had to do last year thinking about defenec 1st and this year we now have an extra dimension to unlock teams which is where we struggled.
Dejong owns the Swamp if needs be and Kun terrorises Stoke...SIMPLES
Last season Richards missed a lot of games through injury and Kolo Toure was banned at a pivotal time. Despite this City had the joint tightest defence in the league because not only did Lescott step up to the mark, Pablo Zabaleta did sterling work covering both FB positions and as a deep, defensive midfielder when called upon. As for Hart, I don't know what you consider to be the 'highest level' but he kept more clean sheets than any other PL goalkeeper as well as cementing his position as Wnglands No.1.
City had the equal best defence in the league last season keeping the most amount of clean sheets along the way. What leads you to believe that this will change? Lescott although overpriced is a good defender as his continued inclusion in the England squad suggests. He is certainly not the biggest waste of money City can be credited with, that accolade must surely go to Roque Santa Cruz or arguably Adebayor? Micah Richards is fulfilling his potential, if you had watched City in the second half of last season you would realise this, his recent call up to the England squad is in recognition of this fact. As for a genuinely strong core City have the best young keeper in the league, Kompany at the back, De Jong and Yaya in the centre, Silva to create and then take your pick of a fearsome group of attacking talent. The one advantage United have is the know how, the fact that they've been there and done it on do many occasions will stand to them but one thing is for certain their back line is no stronger than City's.
you statistic-lovers should read the whole article, and remind yourselves that City played with three defensive midfielders, often criticised for a too conservative approach.
now with buying Nasri they seem to plan for more flair, so think again.
However, Declan - one question. Why cannot Yaya Toure be that player, with Barry and Nasri in front of him? He's done it well at Barcelona, he can do it here. It's just his technical ability that made Mancini push him up, but defensively he's more effective than de Jong.
What a complete pile of garbage this article is.
It's quite obvious that Dec knows nothing about football.
If he did know something he would know that de Jong is by far the best holding midfielder in the world.
Stick to boxing you fool.
The reasons for my "misguided views", as you put them, are quite simple.
City's defence may well have been amongst the best in the league last season, but so it should have been. Any side playing with three holding midfielders (and a lone striker as tenacious as Tevez) in front of a back four is set up to avoid conceding goals and should succeed in doing so.
As demonstrated last season, that wasn't enough to win the league so Mancini has rightly decided to be more attacking. However, in abandoning the three holding midfielders, City's defence is - unlike last season - far more exposed and vulnerable to conceding more than last year, which I fully expect them to do.
If that doesn't satisfy you, cast your mind back to the Community Shield. 2-0 up at half-time, 3-2 down at full-time courtesy of quality opposition and some poor defending (and a last minute winner).
Admittedly, City looked exceptional against Tottenham, but they came up against Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric as the central midfielders. Far worse teams will be able to pass their way through such a midfield with so little defensive ability.
You also overlook how effectively Swansea passed the ball around against City. If they can do that, then what can a side with true Premier League quality do? The answer is most likely score several goals, as United did. Hence my belief that City's defence isn't strong enough, and that they won't have enough to win the league.
I think poor Declan has took to many blows to the head during his boxing monthly days nothing worse than listening to a punch drunk reporter
Well seen as manchester city had the second best defence in the league last year, Joe Hart won the Golden Gloves award, Nigel De Jong is a 'never has been', however regulary is picked for the number one international team at the moment in the world, while Busquets and the likes of Macherano would be lucky to recieve a sub bench call up. This article is a load of ***** mate, too many critics that man city have, however when they do show all there critics wrong then the bandwagaon will be full with the likes of you.
Declan, in the Swansea game you're referring to City played their "three holding midfielders" yet they scored four goals. Yaya Toure did not play as a holding midfielder last season, you being a U*d fan should be well aware of that considering the FA Cup semi final.
I actually agree with sentiment and when measured against the best in the world City's defence comes up short. That said, on other points you're just plain wrong.
Joe Hart is untested at the highest level is he? England's number one, was part of a defence that kept out more goals than any other last year and the year before part of the Premier League team of the year. What more do you want him to do?
I can forgive you the Joe Hart thing. It's easy to forget just how long he has already been one of the best around. The next point however is absolutely unforgivable for a football writer and shows you up for either being a little ignorant on the subject on which you chosen to write.
At no point last year did Manchester City play with three holding midfielders. I would disagree with some Blues who suggest that Yaya Toure was consistently played as almost a third striker but he was definitely given licence to move around the pitch at will - whether that be in front of the back four or behind the front one/two/three.
I wish some ill-informed writers would realise that just because the big lad Toure played as a holding midfielder for Barca that wasn't necessarily the case at City.
Finally... Swansea. Yes, they were allowed to pass the ball but it wasn't exactly a busy afternoon for Hart between the sticks. City allowed them possession in their own half, sitting a little deeper because Mancini knew that we could devastate them with the directness of Silva, Aguero, Dzeko, Toure and Johnson. Perfectly reasonable and perfectly effective.
Again, I agree with your sentiment but next time give up a couple of column inches and just get your analysis right.
Haha brilliant joke....wait you were joking right?!?!?
Just because our creative midfield and attack is so outstanding, and whilst our defence does not have big brand names, it by no way means that we will ship anymore than we previously did.
I tried not to mention the De Jong comment, busquets? Please
The whole article is pointless, your just picking holes when theres nothing pick. Why not do one on how ferguson has done a very big bet on his youngsters this season, theyve come out like a kid in asweet shop, but its a long old season. And for a change its our experience that will tell come May.
Oh Declan you really have taking a hammering for this terrible article. Your skill with this one has been to probably treble MCFC supporters subriction to 442 so I am sure you will get some kudos for that. However that is where your skill ends because your journalism is abysmal. Basically what you have thought to yourself is . . .'Right I hate city and I need to have a pop at them. But they have looked very impressive in their first 3 games so what can I pick at . . . I know they have conceeded 3 goals and scored 12 so it has got be their defense'. A more accurate story would have been 'Man City add attacking flair to their solid defence as they look to challenge for the title'. Then you could look to praise a team that has lit up our great league. Seriously how you have managed to the level you are at baffles me . . . I am guessing you knew someone who knew someone to get on the ladder?
I think people are missing the point.
Despite conceding very few goals last season, City didn't score enough to warrant a shot at the title. It seems that this season Mancini intends on playing more open, attacking football, which will inevitably lead to more goals scored but there is a direct link between attack and defence and the more you attack, the more susceptible you are to conceding goals.
This was apparent against Bolton and Spurs, where you could say they were lucky not to concede more and perhaps unlucky not to have scored more.
As Declan pointed out, apart from Hart and Kompany there isn't anyone who stands out as being world class in City's defence. You don't rate a defender on how many goals he scores, otherwise Lescott would be up there with the best...
I am quite amazed at the hiding Dec is receiving for pointing out what looks like a weakness. The question is, Is Man City perfect at the back? Can it be exposed with an explosive attacking opponent on the prowl? I think Mancini should still worry a little. But he could mitigate any lapse by mounting mass attack and mass defence style of football, the total football philosophy of the Johan Cruyff dutch team days, now a delight to behold with Barca.
Right here we are, I have decided to stick my oar in here. Generally agree with most points made in the comments apart from a few. De Jong is not fit to lace Busquets boots quite frankly. Just because he goes down easily and admittedly is a bit of a t*** doesn't stop him being exceptional. He has won 2 Champions leagues and a World Cup and is only what 23? You can argue he is in 2 great teams but you don't get into a team like Barcelona or Spain by being sh*te. Also De Jong is not even the best defensive midfielder at Man City. That is Yaya Toure.
Also i saw someone say Richards and Maicon are the best right backs in the world at the moment. Really? Maicon has struggled last season and Richards is allright but far from world class.
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