The 2012/13 season was hardly a vintage year for wide players in the Premier League.
Manchester United, the Premier League champions, employed a variety of formations and tactics to directly avoid the use of their trio of wingers.
Whether it was three up front or the dreaded midfield diamond (here in England we have feared the midfield diamond since Euro 2004), Sir Alex Ferguson, famed for his love of wingers, pretty much went out of his way in the last campaign to not use his wide players as often as possible. It is not so much a criticism as an observation; they did win the League after all.
Whilst Nani and Antonio Valencia failed to spark, Ashley Young struggled throughout with injury. The three of them managed just two league goals between them all season. And, although they managed a slightly more creditable 12 league assists between them, it is worth noting that Robin van Persie managed 17 assists all by himself.
The picture was no different throughout the rest of the Premier League. Chelsea used a system that predominantly involved three central play-makers and Arsenal's best wide player, Theo Walcott, didn't even want to play out wide.
Gareth Bale started the season well on Spurs' left-hand side, but after being crowded out completely in January's 1-1 draw against Manchester United, was switched to a central role to free him up. From there he went on to score an absolute belter in Tottenham's very next game away against Norwich (then another one ((or two)) in pretty much every single game for the rest of the season).
There were, in fact, disappointing wide players scattered throughout the entire Premier League. Matthew Etherington, once Stoke City's only source of creativity from something other than set-pieces (as well as deliveries from set-pieces) had an extremely poor season.
Adam Johnson, once of great potential, is seemingly yet another English player to have followed an early over-hyping with an inevitable underwhelming. Even the perennial crosser himself, Matt Jarvis, didn't manage a single assist all season, although to be fair to him he did only have Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole to be aiming at for the most part.
To cap it all off, there was even one worrying moment when it appeared that Wayne Routledge would be getting an England call-up. Thankfully, for everyone concerned, this never came to be.
The Guiltiest Party
There was one team, however, more guilty than any other for a lack of width, Manchester City. Having won the Premier League in 2012, City decided, for whatever reason, to keep things pretty much the same for the following season. So whilst the system and personnel remained pretty much the same for 2012/13, the intensity in their play decreased dramatically, and they lamely ended up surrendering the title to Manchester United.
When Samir Nasri and David Silva started on either flank, things became too narrow, and Manchester City became too easy to defend against. Mancini only really had James Milner as a realistic alternative option, and whilst he is a hard-worker and a good, unselfish player, the boy is hardly a game-changer.
Mancini's only other options were to throw on Edin Dzeko as a super-sub, which worked well for awhile, or to move Yaya Toure further up the pitch. So it is no surprise that Manchester City, now without Mancini, have made immediate strides to correct their problem.
Manchester City and the Over-Correction
An over-correction is when someone tries to resolve a problem by correcting it in the most dramatic possible way. Last season, Manchester City were too narrow, so they decided to correct this by signing Jesus Navas, probably the widest-playing (good) winger currently playing in Europe.
During Spain's last two international triumphs at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, he has very much been their Plan B. After a shock opening loss to Switzerland in 2010, Jesus Navas was introduced just after they went 1-0 down. He then started the next game, playing the full 90 minutes as Spain comfortably won 2-0 against Honduras.
He then made an appearance in the World Cup Final to provide some more direct running against a Netherlands side who were happy to sit behind the ball and kick out at any Spain player who came within a yard of them. His impressive, direct running also started the move which led to Iniesta's dramatic extra time winner.
It was a similar story for Navas during Euro 2012. He was brought on just moments after Spain had equalized against Italy in their opening game (almost certainly a substitution planned whilst they were still losing), as well as with half an hour to go in their final group game against Croatia, in which he nicked an 88th minute winner.
He was also brought on with half an hour to go in the semi-final against Portugal, which Spain ended up winning on penalties. Interestingly, in the comfortable wins against Ireland, France and Italy he was deemed surplus to requirements and did not make an appearance.
Jesus Navas is not just a super-sub, that is not what I am trying to get at. He is an impact player, who is probably not as talented as some of Spain's other players. Impact players are more than capable of having impacts whilst in the starting eleven. His record at Sevilla speaks for itself in that respect, with 280 La Liga games played and 60 assists to his name he will, in theory, be a valuable asset to Manchester City. Having different options is always invaluable.
The History of the Over-Correction
Or is it?
Having options that do not suit your style of play do not necessarily always work out. Manchester United's signing of Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001 is an excellent example of this, he is probably the most obvious example of an over-correction in Premier League history.
Frustrated at Manchester United's lack of progress in Europe in the 1999/00 and 2000/01 campaigns, and not content with a hat-trick of Premier League titles. Sir Alex Ferguson decided to sign the technically silky, possession-based central midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron to provide an alternative option to the likes of Roy Keane, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes (who has since developed a reputation as an exceptional deep-lying playmaker and passer of the ball but at the time was still considered, and utilized, as a slightly more straightforward attacking midfielder).
Did it work? No.
United made slightly more progress in Europe, reaching the semi-final, but in doing so surrendered their Premier League crown to Arsenal. Veron, whilst decent in Europe, was poor and unsuited to the Premier League and did not in any way justify his £28.1million price tag. He was moved on for half that just a season later.
Interestingly enough, Arsene Wenger tried to over-correct his squad the very same season. Fed up with the incredible talents of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Sylvain Wiltord, he decided to sign Francis Jeffers. Even with Jeffers, Arsenal still, somewhat surprisingly, managed to win that season's Premier League title.
However, Wenger's motivations in paying £8 million for the former Everton man remain unclear even to this day.
A Modern Example
There are more recent examples of over-correction not boding well for major European sides. Real Madrid, exited the 2011/12 Champions League at the semi-final stage to Bayern Munich having failed to hold on to their early advantage in the second leg of the tie. Mourinho's counter-attacking system was considered to be at fault, as they were deemed ill-equipped to retaining possession when in the lead. To correct this, Mourinho spent over £30 million on Luka Modric.
Modric, however, struggled and ultimately failed to fit in during his debut campaign at Real. He is the classic "diminutive" central midfield player who thrives in possession. Real Madrid's counter-attacking style often meant that games would pass him by in midfield, as Madrid would look to play quickly down the flanks rather than patiently through the middle. In December he was voted the worst La Liga signing of 2012.
Back to Navas
On paper, Jesus Navas looks the perfect option to provide Manchester City with the width and direction that they were sorely lacking throughout last season. However, especially at the Etihad, teams often sit very deep against Manchester City, much in the same way they do against Barcelona (and you only need to look as far as Alexis Sanchez for an extremely talented, quick winger who struggles badly when the opposition sit deep against him).
He could be useful in away games, where teams play slightly more open against City. It is also possible that, with the signing of Fernandinho, Manchester City could be looking to alter their style of play altogether. But with Pellegrini looking likely to be their next manager, it seems more likely that there will be even more of a focus on ball-retention and patient possession.
If Manchester City continue to play the same way, Navas could find himself in his Spain "Plan B" role at club level as well, rather than as a starting wide player in Plan A.
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