Breaking Down Manchester City's Tactics Against Chelsea
Manchester City came away from Stamford Bridge with nothing Sunday after the already-infamous last-minute howler from Matija Nastasic and Joe Hart that allowed Chelsea's Fernando Torres to nip in for his first Barclays Premier League goal of 2013.
Ouch. What will hurt even more is that City more than contributed to an excellent match—one of the best of the season so far. Manager Manuel Pellegrini's team selection and tactics looked like they had paid off to an extent—a point would have been well deserved.
Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing so there are other aspects of the result one could point to as flaws. The first reaction of seeing Javi Garcia's name on the teamsheet draws a wince from many, but this time around the Spain international was selected in his natural home of midfield rather than centre-back.
The 26-year-old put in one of the best performances of his City career against classy opponents, but whether it means his days as an emergency centre-back are over is another matter given Vincent Kompany's injury problems and Nastasic looking like a different player when the Belgian's away.
Alongside Garcia, Fernandinho is beginning to show why City splashed in the region of £30 million for him, although the Manchester Evening News revealed he could have joined Chelsea. The Brazilian has what it takes to dictate terms in the EPL—no easy matter when coming from abroad for some—and, like Garcia, he excelled against high-quality opponents.
There's a touch of Nigel de Jong in a lack of real attack at times, but then he does have stellar talents around him, but Fernandinho was desperately unlucky to be on the losing side. He will have been within his rights to give Paddington Bear-like hard stares to Joe Hart and Nastasic on the journey home.
I'll admit I thought that Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo would have started against Chelsea, but the Sergio Aguero-Samir Nasri-David Silva triumvirate came close to seeing their side getting something from the trip to west London.
Aguero goes from strength to strength and was another who did not deserve the final analysis. So, that leaves us with the defence...
It was a big call to put Martin Demichelis in for his first game away to Chelsea, but such have been Garcia's problems in defence and Pellegrini's familiarity with the Argentine from Malaga that his debut came about. Unfortunately for City, he looked off the pace at times and it's a match he'll want to forget.
The same goes for Hart, Nastasic and Gael Clichy. The former Arsenal left-back was left trailing by Torres for Schurrle's goal in a similar horror show that allowed Thomas Muller in for Bayern a few weeks ago, and the Frenchman has a long way to go to get back to his best form.
The misunderstanding between City's goalkeeper and Serbian centre-back undid so much good work, and the exact blame will be debated for some time to come. Pellegrini did not exactly back Hart in his post-match utterances, and understudy Costel Pantilimon could get the chance to shine against Newcastle in midweek if my reading of the runes is correct (no promises there, though...).
Margins in the EPL are wafer-thin and but for that last-minute calamity, Pellegrini's decisions may have just about paid off. You can't legislate for mistakes like the one that allowed Chelsea to grab all three points, and it could have greater significance if the league continues to be as wide open for the rest of the season.
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