Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has two huge games to prepare for, with his side facing Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday and Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday. It's vital he adjusts his midfield set-up to compete against both opponents.
City can't play with two up front against the likes of Chelsea and Barca. Pellegrini needs to drop a centre-forward and play two holding midfielders, with Yaya Toure in an advanced role and perhaps the pairing of Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia shielding the back four.
Fernandinho would of course be the obvious choice, but the Brazilian appears unlikely to be ready for either game, as per the Daily Mail.
Whoever plays there, when you come up against the better teams, you need to control the midfield areas.
Chelsea will play the same way they did in their league victory at the Etihad. Two defensive midfielders will play in front of Gary Cahill and John Terry, with the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Willian working hard behind a main striker.
Nemanja Matic and David Luiz took up the holding roles against City in their recent clash, and they controlled proceedings. It was blatantly obvious where the game was won, and Chelsea's dominance in midfield meant they found space on the break.
If City want to break Chelsea down, they need to be patient. The key is to be stronger in the central areas, giving more freedom to Samir Nasri and David Silva in the attacking third. The answer is not just to throw on more attacking players—it simply doesn't work like that.
The approach should be no different against Barcelona, though Tata Martino's team of course represent a very different challenge. Barca's success all stems from the strength of Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi in midfield. They control the ball and find space to play in Neymar, Alexis, Lionel Messi and Co.
When City were overwhelmed by Bayern Munich at home, earlier this season, Pellegrini defended his decision to set up in a 4-4-2—as per Reuters. "I will not change my tactics," he said. "Maybe because we are playing away, I do a different thing but, if I was to play that game again, I would do exactly the same."
That mindset has to change. You can get away with 4-4-2 against the lesser sides, but when you play the very best, it's absolutely essential you compete in midfield. If you don't, it becomes harder to score goals and restrict your opponent.
It's becoming rarer and rarer to play with two out-and-out centre-forwards at the highest level, for that very reason.
Ultimately, Pellegrini is doing very well. He's created a great atmosphere at City, and the players seem far happier than they were under Roberto Mancini. And they could still win everything this season. But to stand a chance, he must change the way he thinks about tactics.
Liverpool should focus on the Champions League
There's a lot of title talk around Liverpool at the moment, but for my money, they're far more likely to finish fifth than first. The focus should be on getting into the Champions League, and they still have some very big tests ahead of them.
They beat Arsenal inside the first 20 minutes and then relied on a late penalty to beat Fulham. It's great to see them winning, but with Tottenham picking up speed, I'd be more concerned about looking over my shoulder, than looking at the group fighting for the Premier League title.
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