After a season of disappointment and underachievement in 2014/15, Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City have begun this campaign like a runaway train. A summer exodus suggested to be essential and while the last couple of months have seen the departure of some of The Citizens’ fringe players, the squad has remained largely the same. City’s start of three successive commanding victories without conceding a goal is a result of several factors. Their defence looks to have a much greater solidarity and Yaya Touré has returned to somewhere approaching the peak of his powers. These certainly play a part but in my mind, the integral reason for Manchester City’s early success lies in the newly designed forward line, centred around David Silva and Raheem Sterling.
Whether it is by necessity or design, Pellegrini has opted against retaining his clearly favoured 4-4-2 formation so far this year. Now that Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic have headed for pastures new, only Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony remain as recognised first team front men. As such, a 4-2-3-1 system has been incorporated which has allowed David Silva to vacate the wider areas where he previously had to be deployed, instead operating in the hole behind the main striker. This free role is one that many have known for some time to be his best and most effective position, and one that does not restrict him with defensive responsibility.
The former Valencia playmaker has found a home in the pockets of space between the opposition’s defensive lines and has wreaked havoc when granted even the smallest amount of room. Lining up nominally in the centre of the pitch, Silva enjoys drifting from flank to flank which creates overloads on one side. These are notoriously difficult to combat for the defending side as marking man to man becomes increasingly challenging when outnumbered by attackers. This free-flowing trait was one that he still displayed for Manchester City when he was assigned as a winger, but it frequently caused his side potentially fatal issues in defence themselves. Naturally, the full-back on his side of the pitch would be left isolated and could become exposed if a counter-attack was sprung effectively. Now though, this is not a concern and the Spaniard can be left to go where he chooses, as City instead rely on Sterling and Navas to help their full-backs and Fernandinho continues to do a stellar job of holding the heart of the midfield together.
With David Silva and Sergio Aguero as Manchester City’s undoubted attacking talisman, it is greatly beneficial that the new formation permits the two of them to work in close proximity to one another on a more frequent basis. The lethal Argentine is one of the best in the business at making imperceptible darts off the back of a defender and with someone as aware as Silva playing the passes, it is a frightening combination. Opposition centre halves are presented with an almost unsolvable conundrum when the two work together in central areas. Neither defender wishes to come forward to engage the number 21 as it creates space for Aguero to run into, counteracting the objective. Defensive midfielders are often assigned a man-marking job on Silva, but he has developed the knack of escaping their eye-line for sufficient time to receive the ball, turn, and deliver an incisive pass to a team-mate bearing down on goal.
Until such time as a potential deal for Kevin de Bruyne is finalised, Raheem Sterling remains Manchester City’s biggest summer addition, both in terms of monetary outlay and potential impact on the team’s fortunes. Eventually crossing from Merseyside to Manchester for the princely sum of £49 million, it has surprised me how immediate an impression he has made on the starting eleven. Clearly keen to impress early on, the Jamaican-born flyer had an excellent pre-season and has translated this to a fine start to Premier League life at The Etihad.
Sterling adds another dimension to Manchester City’s attack, with his pace and direct approach proving to be an exceptionally potent weapon. It must also be assumed that he has become an even better overall player as a result of playing in several positions for Liverpool over the last 12 months, with an improved goal tally being the ultimate test of this progression.
Now that James Milner has gone in the opposition direction to Man City’s number seven and Samir Nasri remains notably out of favour with Pellegrini, it is clear how Sterling is an upgrade on the left flank. While the French maverick is certainly a gifted footballer, he seemingly lacks the motivation and stamina to track back and help his full-back. In contrast, Sterling has already built up a healthy understanding with Alex Kolarov, working well to prevent the opposition scoring but also being a genuine threat when attacking. Indeed, the Serbian’s opener against Everton was a direct result of this link-up as Sterling knew Kolarov’s exact intentions and so could release the killer pass at precisely the right moment. Furthermore, though an undoubted complete professional, James Milner’s primary assets do not lie in outright creativity or beating an onrushing defender – qualities that Raheem Sterling possesses in spades.
Manchester City’s starting eleven can now boast a much improved balanced feel. This has been instigated by the addition of Raheem Sterling to the first team fold and David Silva’s shift in position to a number 10 role. With devilishly fast players on both side of the attacking quartet that supplement the lively Aguero, Silva has an embarrassment of riches in terms of passing options ahead of him. The unpredictability combined with a widespread threat poses a very difficult task to opposition defences.
An increased confidence in a sound defensive shape of their own, along with this rapid attack, has transformed Manchester City into a highly dangerous counter-attacking side when the scenario demands it. However, when The Citizens do dominate possession of the football, defenders tend to drop further and further towards their own goal, living with the constant fear of a ball in behind them that can be latched onto by a Man City flyer. This in turn allows for Silva to operate in more space and so the spiralling cycle of a consistent goal threat continues.
Of course, players and teams alike experience patches of form where they can seemingly do nothing wrong but can just as easily become engulfed in challenging periods where picking up results without putting in the performances to match is the sole objective. It would be foolish to suggest that Manchester City will continue in their current vein at a relentless rate, but when they do encounter difficulties this season, they should be a different proposition entirely to years gone by. Togetherness in the camp has returned, a system has been arrived upon which seems to suit everyone, and they continue to have strength in depth which some other sides can only dream of. David Silva and Raheem Sterling have shown the way, now the other Manchester City players must continue to follow suit and the blue half of Manchester will be a very tough nut to crack in this season’s Premier League title race.
Featured image: All rights reserved by James Kuslov
Weekend starts here, get up to 40% OFF @CampoRetro. Look good for less! Click here: http://bit.ly/1CSHHj7