Tuesday, August 27, 2013

MARKING THIN AIR

Much warm air has already wafted over the nation's best equipped key boards about City's switch to unsuccessful defending (elsewhere known as man-for-man-marking) in their second game of the season at Cardiff at the weekend. It is not altogether clear whether City had been employing this rigid tactic against Newcastle in the opening game of the season too, as that particular opponent deigned not to provide the kind of attacks that required any kind of recognisable marking at all.

At Cardiff, however, things were different. The home side appeared to start with mere feisty attitude as their formation and developed it as they progressed. From a first half dominated by City's gently suffocating possession game to an upswell of energy both on and off the pitch after City had gone one ahead, The Blues were perhaps surprised - as Pellegrini himself has stated - that it did not become easier after going one up. This is where new managers and players have something to learn about the indomitable spirit of some of the so-called underdgos in the domestic English game. Whilst one or two will lie down and have their tummies tickled, others just get more into your face and try harder. Cardiff had the impressive scrapper Gary Medel doing the progressive dirty work in midfield, harrying Silva and snapping at Touré and Fernandinho. A fellow Chilean, Pellegrini will have been well aware of the
Ready for battle
diminutive midfielders energetic qualities and, whilst Cardiff's hold of the ball was minimal in these areas, El Pitbull's industry kept City's dangermen isolated from their food supply.

Although City's possession stats were high, down on the pitch things were tighter than a t-shirt bought from a gypsy. The willing running out of defence from Bo-Kyung Kim and Craig Bellamy also played a part in lessening the heavy burden put on Cardiff's defensive lines from the start.  

Medel broke up play, whilst the midfielders around him provided a sideways outball to launch quick diagonal passes forward to the willing running of Fraizer Campbell. His success did not come from this tactic, although there were constant glimmers of hope from his muscular comings-together with the befuddled Lescott and tardy Garcia, but from successive second half corners where City's man-marking went to pot completely. Clubs already know that set pieces offer an excellent chance to score in games that are either tightly contested or where they are unlikely to get more than a small handful of chances owing to the superiority of the opposition. This is what Cardiff exploited gamely on Sunday.

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That it was ultimately Pablo Zabaleta wearing the culprit's sack-cloth and ashes was not really the point, as Garcia had also managed to completely lose his man's run (Campbell again) during the prelude to the equalising goal, scored by Gunnarsson on the rebound from Campbell's close-in effort, parried by Joe Hart. Hart himself came in for criticism afterwards. He clearly decided to stay on his line for both the second and third goal, a mistake for the former and excusable for the latter, as the ball in was deeper, further away from him and continuing on its outswinging curve.

Gentile: a big fan of close marking at set pieces
A year or more ago, Roberto Mancini had been quoted as saying that he did not feel his defenders were strong enough for man-to-man marking and deputy David Platt also placed a question mark against Hart's name and reputation, saying they had decided to get rid this summer and replace him with Begovic of Stoke City. Whilst the young keeper has a raft of off-field arrangements to take care of, he remains an excellent shot-stopper and England's undisputed national team goalkeeper. The change to a new defensive system at corners and free-kicks will effect the entire defence until it begins to click and when it misfires will tend to make them all look sloppy and lacking in concentration.

It must be said, however, that, despite the high possession figures in City's favour, the final ball from Yaya Touré was often overhit and Navas was successfully crowded out of his danger area and shepherded back into the midfield quagmire whenever he received the ball wide. he had little opportunity to attack down the flank and cross from there. instead cutting in onto his left foot, where the obvious ball became a pass inside to Silva or Fernandinho. This showed that Malkay Mackay's seemingly prehistoric tactics had more subtlety and thought attached to them than might at first have met the eye. In the end it came down to the sharpness of Campbell, who had an excellent game, and the failings of City's new system at the back. At 3-1 the score did not reflect the match that we were watching, but Cardiff's bravery and endeavour merited some kind of reward. That ultimately that reward was all three points was a reminder to City that any lowering of concentration levels can be punished by even the least potent of Premiership foes.
 


3 comments:

  1. Pretty spot on, Simon. The one occasion that Navas beat his man on the outside in the first half (mirrored by Cardiff's first goal), only a desperate block prevented a Toure shot giving City the lead.
    Luckily, there's time to identify faults (technical and mental), and correct them.

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  2. Not too much wrong with the rest of the play, Graham. Navas shown inside too often, Silva and Yaya off colour compared to great Newcastle performance, but City should still have been good for a point, I thought.

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  3. Rest of performance seemed ok to me, Graham. Navas shown inside too much, Silva and Yaya not sparkling like they did v. Newcastle, Hart and Zaba not at their best. We were still worth a point, i think.

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