Predictability was one of the major flaws in Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City side last season. When 4-2-3-1 failed, they were bereft of alternatives that could really turn a game in their favour. Too many sides figured City out, resulting in dropped points that cost them the title.
The Italian experimented with three at the back, a formation his players never really embraced, with Micah Richards vocal in his criticism of the system after the defeat to Ajax in the Champions League. Other than the home game against Tottenham, where Mancini went to 3-4-3 and deployed Maicon extremely high up the pitch, a move which eventually saw City edge in front, it was a tactic which brought City very few positive results.
In 2011/2012, the year City clinched their first title for 44 years, Mancini would often bring Nigel De Jong on and push Yaya Toure further forward when things were tight; a simple move that work brilliantly, often unsettling teams who had otherwise looked fairly comfortable. However, the Dutchman was eventually sold, leaving City with little in the way of a Plan B.
There were games last season (think QPR away) that City were in complete control of, yet couldn’t find a way to break down rigid opposition. They could knock the ball around tika-taka style but sometimes struggled to really penetrate teams. There was no game-changing alternative to turn the screw.
Much of the problem stemmed from their chronic lack of width. Adam Johnson was quite rightly sold last summer after a frustrating career at City, with Scott Sinclair brought in to replace him; however, Sinclair was rarely trusted after some nervous displays early in the season, leaving City with no natural width in midfield. Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy did their best to offer attacking threat down the flanks, but they were relied on far too heavily.
Jesus Navas, the 27-year-old Spanish right-winger signed for £15m from Sevilla, could dramatically alter City’s attacking axis. Navas is at his best when isolating and taking on full-backs; a real old-fashioned, touchline winger who can get in behind defences. He has blistering pace, another area City were short of in the attacking third, which instantly gives opposition defenders a problem they didn’t have to deal with previously. His direct style of play is a complete change from City’s patient build up play, and adds a whole new dimension to them as an attacking force.
Alvaro Negredo, signed from Sevilla earlier this month, is another player who offers City something new. Whereas Sergio Aguero likes to drop deep and exchange passes with the likes of David Silva, Negredo is an out-and-out number nine who stands on the shoulder of the last man, constantly looking to get on the end of moves and apply the finishing touch. He scored 25 goals in La Liga last season, all from inside the area, regularly demonstrating his poacher’s instinct and finishing ability. He’s a battering ram of a striker who lives for goals and, with the right service, looks capable of scoring plenty in a blue shirt.
After scoring 93 goals on their way to the title in 2012, City managed just 66 last season, a huge shortfall that ruined their title defence. With the pace and width that Navas provides, and the goalscoring instincts of Negredo, City should have plenty of options to mix up their style this season, something they rarely did last time out.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity