Man City’s progression headaches

"I know what the problem is with our performance and I will solve it very quickly. We will improve.” - Roberto Mancini

Man City’s progression headaches

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October 11th, 2012

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The City manager may be confident that he possesses the required answers, but in the aftermath of City’s fortunate 1-1 draw at home to Borussia Dortmund last week it does rather beg the question, well, what exactly the question was?

City had a welcome victory when they returned to Premier League action at the weekend, defeating Sunderland 3-0 – and in the process posted their first clean sheet of the 2012/13 season – but don’t be fooled. If the Dortmund attack (and indeed Madrid for that matter in the opening group game) represented a marauding armada, such was Sunderland’s lack of punch that the Wearsiders possessed all the threat of a rubber dinghy.

The point gained against the German champions may well turn out to be a vital one, and it is a point that keeps the Blues within striking distance of Dortmund with back to back games against Ajax where they will be looking to pick up maximum points (and hoping that Real Madrid can do likewise against Dortmund) which will see them in a more positive position come the return games in match days five and six.

Much comparison has been made between City and Dortmund in the wake of the game. Both are recent Champions of their domestic leagues who struggled last season in their first foray (in their current incarnation at least) amongst Europe’s elite. After their experiences last season the expectation was that – despite the tough group they were handed – the sides would have evolved, infused with their success and ready to translate this to the Champions League. Two games in however, Dortmund’s progression is evident; City’s less so.

A little harsh perhaps given the performances of their opponents, but there remains a worrying naivety about aspects of City’s approach, as if they still haven’t quite ‘got’ the Champions League. For a man who was often derided in the early part of his City tenure for his perceived defensive approach, Roberto Mancini has taken an approach that is anything but battening down the hatches, selecting sides that seemingly suggest he is happy to take on his opponents in a shoot out. Not many sides possess the breakaway threat of Madrid or the pace and incision of Dortmund but in their two games so far they have conceded 57 shots. For comparison, in their Premier League games they average less than ten per game, a league best.

Including last season, City have only kept two clean sheets from their eight Champions League games and this is clearly the issue they need to rectify fast if they harbour any hopes of progression from the group stages.

The difficulty has been that City’s success in the Premier League involves pressing high up the pitch and utilising the full back pairing in the opposition half almost as much as their own half. This may also explain his desire to adopt a 3-5-2 formation (particularly in Europe); providing an extra defender at the back whilst facilitating the attacking mantra. However, this move has not really worked so far, with the under-pressure defence unsettled by the change and the gaps out wide being exploited by the opposition.

Would Mancini have been better served adopting a more cautious counter-attacking approach? To his credit, it almost won him the game in Madrid but a 2-1 lead in the Bernabeu doesn’t present itself often. To adopt a Mourinho-ism, should he have parked the bus? Should City have kept a more solid shape, soaked up the pressure of Dortmund and looked to use the pace and power of their attacking players to hit them on the counter?

Whatever the answers may be, and Mancini says he has them, they need to be applied quickly in order for City to avoid frustration once again on Europe’s biggest stage.

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