A tale of two Cities, home and away
The more things change, seemingly the more things stay the same.
November 14th, 2013
In bringing in Manuel Pellegrini this summer to replace Roberto Mancini, there was talk aplenty of the off-field approach, namely adopting a holistic approach and greater attention to man-management. What the upper echelon of the City power trust would also be hoping for was a change in the on-field approach – specifically a way in which to remedy the malaise of the away form that has plagued their play over the past two seasons.
Under Mancini, in 2012/13 City managed 33 points on the road compared to 45 at home from the 57 on offer; one fewer than the 34 they won in their title-winning 2011/12 season when their home return of 55 points from 57 drove them to success.
Under Pellegrini in 2013/14 it has been a case of ‘as you were’ at home, City posting a 100% record and scoring 20 goals in five games – conceding just twice in the process. Unfortunately for Pellegrini and City, their away form has been as consistent as it was last season and their latest defeat to Sunderland was their fourth in just six games, where they have taken just four points from 18.
In doing so City have scored just nine goals – three in one game against West Ham (their only win) and have been shut out twice – their vaunted and dominant attack at The Etihad stymied on unfamiliar territory whilst their defensive inconsistency, both in performance and selection, has been brutally exposed. In their six away games this season City have yet to feature not only the same back four but have only paired one central defensive duo on more than one occasion, with Javi Garcia and Matija Nastasic (very much a makeshift pairing) at Stoke and West Ham; ironically the two games they avoided defeat.
The maddening aspect from a City perspective though will be quite how they have managed to end up on the wrong end of results away from home. Their worst performance without a shadow of a doubt was away to Stoke, where profligacy in front of goal from the hosts saw City escape with a point. Each of the four defeats though has left them scratching their heads; a mixture of individual errors, cruel misfortune and a strangely anaemic attack. Quite the contrast from their home form where City are averaging four goals a game and routinely putting sides to the sword.
In 2012/13 City’s away problems stemmed from too often conceding the first goal, unable to find a way back into the game after falling behind but that has not been the case this season where, and factoring in individual errors, their problems lie as much in the attacking game.
The approach that Pellegrini has often spoken about is one of attack: to press high up the pitch and pressure opponents into mistakes. Yet this has too often failed on the road; familiar problems in not being able to break the opposition down once again persist. Aside from the win at West Ham the imbalance between home and away is stark in terms of where City are taking their shots.
Away from home there is there less control to their play, an air of having to chase the game which results in the desperation seen at both Stoke and Sunderland where too many shots were taken outside of the box and from positions where more shots were being blocked.
Pellegrini’s reaction to the continuing run of defeats may be an honest assessment, a genuine belief that City are not doing much wrong aside from the suffering cost and self-inflicted mistakes but the concerns do run deeper. City may find themselves still in the thick of the Premier League race but the concern is that both he – and his players – seem unable to find a way to rectify matters.