Manchester City: How to Solve the Tevez-Balotelli-Dzeko Conundrum
How can Manchester City get Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez on the pitch at the same time?
Manager Roberto Mancini simply can't decide at the moment, and the formula hasn't quite come to fruition so far this season.
What do you do with three players who cost a cumulative £76 million when they're all vying to start in the same position?
How on earth do you keep them all happy? It's an issue the Italian tactician needs to clear up quickly if he hopes to get the Citizens into imperious-looking shape again.
Meet the Candidates: Mario Balotelli
Bad boy Mario Balotelli had a storming Euro 2012 campaign during the summer, scoring three goals for Italy before falling to Spain in the final.
He was expected to carry this form into the new domestic season for Manchester City, but an injury to his eye and fatigue from his exploits in Poland and Ukraine have stunted his streak.
2011-12 record: 32 appearances, 17 goals
Meet the Candidates: Carlos Tevez
Last season's debacle in Bavaria, in which Carlos Tevez was exiled for refusing to enter the game as a substitute, is well and truly forgotten.
Like a knight in shining armour, the Argentine helped fire Manchester City to the title. His goals and rejuvenated demeanour were a huge contributing factor in the Citizens' late title rush.
2011-12 record: 14 appearances, 4 goals
Meet the Candidates: Edin Dzeko
Oh, Edin Dzeko. Your poor soul.
The underappreciated Bosnian target man has failed to win over some supports, and if rumours are to be believed, Roberto Mancini tried to ship him to Bavaria during the summer.
He's not to everyone's taste, but boy does he score some clutch goals.
2011-12 record: 42 appearances, 19 goals
Meet the Protagonist: Sergio Aguero
The man who stands in the way. The de facto best striker in Manchester right now. Meet Sergio Aguero—City hero.
His goal, scored in the 93rd minute of the Citizens' final game of the season last year to win the English Premier League title, has immortalised him at the club and endeared him to the fans forever.
For the purposes of this article, we shall assume the Argentine is injured and cannot play, as he has been for the last month.
Without him, City failed to win four games out of six. City minus Aguero is a problem.
Option 1: 4-2-3-1
Manchester City played a settled 4-2-3-1 last season and looked incredibly strong in this formation.
The template allowed them to get four top-quality attack-minded players on the pitch and limit their defensive duties severely, instead opting for a two-man midfield pivot to protect the back four.
This is still a viable option, as two of three players we're discussing are perfectly able in a wide role.
Carlos Tevez's dogged tenacity has taken him all over the pitch, and as a result, he remains competent in most areas of the pitch.
Toward the back end of the 2011-12 season, Tevez featured on the left side in support of Sergio Aguero at times.
Mario Balotelli, too, is comfortable on the left or right. In his breakout 2008 season with Inter, Jose Mourinho often utilised him in a wide role due to the prominence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the lone striker's role.
Option 2: 3-5-2
Roberto Mancini must be applauded for trying to mix things up. It was clear from preseason that the Italian was considering the 3-5-2, and it's what all good coaches do to stay on top—adapt, create, revolutionise.
It's one of the reasons Pep Guardiola was so good every season. He started with wing-backs, moved to three at the back then finished with the false nine.
Unfortunately for Mancini, it's not gone how he would have liked. He seems to have confused his entire defence, and they've failed to keep a clean sheet in six attempts. The formation doesn't suit his attacking options, either.
The Citizens lined up in the 3-5-2 against Real Madrid, and Mancini could not find a way to fit Edin Dzeko into the side with David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri already on the pitch.
Mario Balotelli was injured and couldn't play, but he would have been almost impossible to slot in. He could have taken up either Silva or Nasri's role, but their starting positions are too deep for Super Mario's liking.
Dzeko came on as a substitute; Tevez moved back to a support striker's role. Still impossible to fit Balotelli in.
Verdict: not viable
Option 3: 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1
Going back to basics, Manchester City have the quality of personnel to pull off a 4-4-2 and remain dominant in possession.
Edin Dzeko is the ideal big man in a front two, while Carlos Tevez could easily work well alongside him. Mario Balotelli could fulfill either role, but can all three get on the pitch at the same time?
Again, the answer is no. The flat-four midfield would naturally sit too deep for either Tevez or Balotelli to occupy a slot on the wing, as they are far less Ashley Young-esque than that position requires.
Out of all the personnel available to Roberto Mancini, Aleksandar Kolarov would be the best fit at left midfield, while Pablo Zabaleta would be the best on the right.
Verdict: not viable
Option 4: 4-3-3
The 4-3-3, utilising a front three of Edin Dzeko flanked by Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez on either side, is one every defence in the world would fear.
Their pure attacking intent could be efficiently counterbalanced by fielding a defensive midfield three such as Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure and Javi Garcia.
Unfortunately, this would all but lock David Silva and Samir Nasri out of the side, and Roberto Mancini usually fields either one, if not both.
Verdict: viable (just)
Four world-class strikers cannot all play at the same time. Manchester City are going to play a lot of games this season, so strength in depth is essential, but my guess is that Edin Dzeko will have to make do with a reduced role.
Out of the four, he is the least versatile. He can only play one role, and he only seems to turn it on when it's absolutely desperate. His impact as a late substitute is evident, and Roberto Mancini may be tempted to restrict him to that.
The Bosnian will not be happy with this, but that's how it works at the world's best clubs. If he's feeling slighted, he should take a look at how Javier Hernandez conducts himself.
Sergio Aguero is the best striker in the team. If he's fit, he will play. The rest will be slotted in around him as Mancini sees fit.
It is already evident that David Silva will not be asked to play so many games this season, leaving one of the slots in midfield open for Mario Balotelli or Carlos Tevez half the time.