Manchester City: Why Schedule Congestion Has Affected Blues the Most
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As I discussed in my article earlier this week, Manchester City's 2012-13 campaign has been a disaster. Aside from their ongoing run in the FA Cup, they've had very little success. A 15-point gap at the top of the Premiership plus an embarrassing European exit has killed off any hopes of a repeat of last season.
While last year saw a similar fate in the Champions League, they at least made a decent run in the Europa League then. Plus, they turned around an eight-point gap in the Premier League to win the top-flight title for the first time since 1968.
Because of this, as with several other English clubs, City had four competitions to deal with: the league, two domestic cups and their European obligations. Their League Cup campaign ended swiftly with a September home loss at the hands of relegation battlers Aston Villa.
The club's undefeated run in the Premier League this season, which lasted until the Dec. 9 derby loss to Manchester United, coincided with the Champions League group stage. City had a similar undefeated run last year, but things were a little different this time.
First of all, City drew six of the 15 matches during the run this year as opposed to just two in the 2011 run. Also, they won half of their Champions League matches in 2011 and could be considered unlucky not to have advanced with 10 points.
In 2012, they won zero games. Yes, the champions of England failed to win a single game in Europe, finishing last in their group, albeit a difficult one with Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Ajax. But they should have earned at least a point at the Bernabeu and threw away a lead at the Amsterdam Arena.
The strangest thing about the two coinciding competitions is how things were staggered in terms of when the matches came.
The aforementioned match in Madrid came on Sept. 18, sandwiched between draws against Stoke City and Arsenal. A disappointing home draw with the Dutch champions in early November came just three days after a similarly unwelcome result at Upton Park against West Ham.
Real Madrid visited Eastlands and came away with a point on Nov. 21; four days later, City traveled to London and were held to a scoreless draw by Chelsea. See a theme here?
That unbeaten run ended on Dec. 9 in the derby—and would have continued were it not for a disappearing act. Incidentally, that came just five days after the club's European fates were sealed after a loss at Westfalenstadion in Dortmund.
Even crazier, that loss came after being held to a 1-1 home draw against Everton. Points being dropped in the league in conjunction with an unacceptable showing in the club world's biggest spectacle made the opening months of this season tough to swallow for City fans.
Schedule congestion can make a meal of any team. Having to frequently rotate players and balance between wanting to climb up the league standings and wanting to go deep in the Champions League is tricky. But it seems like this bug has hit City hard this time around.
Not only has manager Roberto Mancini had to shuffle his squads around here and there, but he's messed with the tactics quite a bit, too. He messed around with a 3-5-2 at times, drawing the ire of his own players to go with negative results.
Injuries have hurt some, too. Aleks Kolarov exited the Everton draw early on and as such was unavailable for the two crunch clashes that followed. Vincent Kompany's long lay-off that ended recently saw City plummet deeper into the second-place oblivion.
The one major international competition that takes place during a European club season—the Africa Cup of Nations—cost City its talisman in Yaya Toure. Without the towering Ivorian, who has been rewarded with a new contract, this is not the same team. The points dropped in his absence show this.
Mancini's rotation of players to accomodate these absences has yielded mixed results. Kolarov's left-back spot has often been occupied by Gael Clichy, who has had his fair share of good and bad games. The Serbian's replacement at Goodison Park, Pablo Zabaleta, has been inspirational at right back.
City's central defense has been shaky at times. Joleon Lescott has been solid, while Kolo Toure has deputized well since returning from South Africa with his brother. Summer signing Matija Nastasic has been good but has featured less in the second half of the season. None are consistent standouts.
There is just no replacing Yaya Toure in the middle of the park. Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia are defensive stoppers, Jack Rodwell has recurring fitness problems, and James Milner is a hard-working winger. The team needs Toure's drive from box to box to supplement David Silva's creativity.
All in all, City's crazy scheduling from September to December set them back miles. Being dumped out of Europe humiliatingly coincided with losing ground to United they've yet to make up. International matches robbed them of a star, setting them back further.
Hopefully, Mancini will learn from this season, if he is still around to see the other side of May. The club must invest in greater depth to account for the craziness that is the Premiership-Champions League balancing act. Using it properly, too, will maximize results whilst keeping players fit for the stretch run.
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