Manchester City: Why Gareth Barry Is Crucial to City's Midfield

Alex GruberFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2013

Gareth Barry having a calm, friendly discussion with Rio Ferdinand.
Gareth Barry having a calm, friendly discussion with Rio Ferdinand.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester City are known for having plenty of skillful, attack-minded players. From Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez to David Silva and Samir Nasri, there is no shortage of forward intent in the City ranks. This could get even bigger with the impending signing of Sevilla winger Jesus Navas.

As such, it is easy to overlook the telling contributions in the defensive aspect of the game. And while Vincent Kompany is regarded as one of the better defenders in the league, and there has been plenty of focus on Pablo Zabaleta's rise to fame, Gareth Barry's work in midfield sometimes gets passed over.

The former Aston Villa man joined City in 2009 and has featured frequently alongside the likes of Yaya Toure and, in the past, Nigel de Jong. The Ivorian is certainly one not afraid to get forward, while de Jong is more of a destructive tackler—just ask Xabi Alonso.

Barry, on the other hand, does a little bit of everything. He tackles, he passes, he'll roam forward when needed. He does it all without much fanfare, simply because everything he does is simple. But it's that simplicity that makes his role important.

As the season ended, B/R writer Phil Keidel put in his grades for the City players over the course of the season. In giving Barry a largely positive grade, Keidel notes that Barry "is not the most exciting player to don the sky blue kit. At least you know what you're getting every time he plays."

Retiring PSV manager Dick Advocaat recently compared his up-and-coming midfield talent Kevin Strootman to the veteran Barry. The Dutchman hailed his young compatriot as a "useful player for every team. Especially when he's surrounded by better players."

If Strootman makes good on the rumors around him and joins Manchester United, he would certainly be surrounded by better players. And as discussed already, Barry is certainly surrounded by "better" players at City.

Despite this, Barry's consistency makes him one of City's best options week in and week out. Take, for example, a late December match against Reading. It came just two weeks after Samir Nasri's disappearing act in the derby loss at the Etihad.

With three points a necessity, City ended up fielding Barry, Toure and Javi Garcia in the same midfield. Barry was the pick of the bunch, spending most of his time controlling the left side of the pitch. He had one powerful header stopped before winning it in stoppage time with a thunderous header.

That display on the left side, evidenced by this heat map (via Squawka), can be compared to the late-season match with Swansea. In a scoreless draw in which this writer picked Barry as a top performer for his side, the Englishman popped up basically everywhere in midfield (Squawka heat map here).

The Swansea match also showed how good Barry is with the ball. He completed 89 percent of his 85 pass attempts, including one particularly excellent lofted pass which was not capitalized upon by Samir Nasri. It would prove to be one of City's few legitimate scoring opportunities.

Looking forward, a combination of all his great attributes could be a vital piece to have in place for next season. With the speed of Jesus Navas set to open up City's opposition, Yaya Toure could have more room to roam forward.

This in turn thrusts Barry into the role of the single-man wall protecting the back five. This is a role he has shown he can handle well, as his tackling and interception rates are already among the best on the team—2.1 and 1.4 per Premier League game, respectively.

And when he shuts down opposing play before it can threaten Joe Hart and company, he is able to restart the attack effectively. While not a goal threat on his own, he can pop up with the odd strike to supplement solid passing work.

Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fernandinho has been a rumored target to fill Barry's role, with the player himself expressing a desire to move to Eastlands—via Twitter, no less. And he would certainly be a welcome addition to the club to expound upon Barry's abilities.

But keeping Barry around would be a wise move as well. Not only does he provide all the qualities already discussed, but he is also an astute veteran presence to have in the dressing room. Manuel Pellegrini would do well to use Barry to the best of both of his abilities.