Manchester City

Jesus Navas Faces Battle to Establish Himself in Manchester City Starting XI

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Jesus Navas of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Capital One Cup Final between Manchester City and Sunderland at Wembley Stadium  on March 2, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Rob PollardFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

Jesus Navas’ first season at Manchester City can almost certainly be considered a success.

He offered out-and-out width after a season defined by City’s inability to switch from their narrow formation when things weren’t going according to plan. He added pace to a forward line that badly needed it, and he scored the third goal in the League Cup final win over Sunderland at Wembley, ending Manuel Pellegrini’s trophy drought as a European manager shortly after joining the club last summer.

As well as offering match-winning ability, Navas is also an incredibly disciplined player, defensively sound and regularly seen tracking back in a way that would confuse the ever-lazy Adam Johnson, the last proper right-sided winger City had before the arrival of the Spaniard 12 months ago.

His pace, of course, is his most obvious asset, keeping full-backs pinned back with the threat he poses in behind. They fear him going past them because, if he does, it's unlikely they can catch him and put a tackle in.

Vicente del Bosque summed up his threat down the right brilliantly when he said: "He is in a permanent state of excitement on the pitch. There is a dynamism about him that makes him one of those rare players who can change the way an entire team is playing" (via Pete Jenson of The Independent).

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Jesus Navas of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Capital One Cup Final between Manchester City and Sunderland at Wembley Stadium on March 2, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McD
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The problem for Navas so far has been consistency, and until he can maintain his best form over sustained periods, his chances of cementing his place in an competitive City midfield are slim.

If Pellegrini opts for two up-front again, as he did for much of the first half of last season, in a 4-2-2-2 system, then Navas has to fight Samir Nasri for a place on the right-hand side high up the pitch.

Nasri's form last season was superb, and his new deal signed this summer was a reward for his much-improved performances. The club, quite rightly, see him as a player central to their future—a core member of the starting XI.

However, the formation City finished the season with that saw them play just one central striker, and David Silva operating in the No. 10 role offers more scope for Navas to play. Nasri tends to switch to the left, leaving a place for Navas on the right.

And there's no doubt he can do damage there. As data from Squawka shows us, Navas is incredibly creative, managing seven assists in the league last season and playing 49 key passes in the buildup to chances. His crossing ability is the best at the club.

SWANSEA, WALES - JANUARY 01: Jesus Navas (L) of Manchester City runs at Ben Davies (R) of Swansea City during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium on January 1, 2014 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo b
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Pellegrini will be desperately hoping Sergio Aguero's injury disruptions are behind him, though, and the Argentine is unlikely to start up-front on his own. The City boss appears to value having a big forward capable of playing with his back to goal and competing physically with defenders when selecting a lone striker.

If Aguero can play more regularly than he did toward the end of last season, a return to two out-and-out strikers seems likely, leaving Navas a likely substitute again. There are plenty of games given City's involvement in four competitions, meaning he will get chances, but whether he can break into Pellegrini's starting XI remains to be seen.

He needs to become far more consistent if he is to force his way in. His tendency to drift in and out of matches can frustrate, but with a year's experience in the Premier League, he's better placed to have more of an impact this time around.

There's no doubting his quality. All City need to see now is more belief and consistency.


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_

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