“Vincent Kompany has turned into Mr Rash; I don’t know what’s happened to him. He needs to settle his game down. He’s usually someone who is so dominant and a leader for this team; every time the ball goes near him he’s struggling.”
The words of Gary Neville after City’s 2-1 defeat at Liverpool in March, during which Kompany had lost a 50-50 challenge with Philippe Coutinho. The loss at Anfield that day proved to be the final nail in City’s title bid. It also typified what many City fans had been thinking but couldn’t bare to face, that their once imperious captain was struggling and had been for 18 months.
Kompany would soon be ruled out for the rest of the season with groin and thigh issues, and with a combination of Eliaqium Mangala and Martin Demichelis the Blues secured second spot with a run of six consecutive wins without their skipper. The truth is that Demichelis has been City’s most consistent defender since February last season and despite his lack of pace, he has adjusted to the high line that Pellegrini implements. He was a rock during the 2013/14-title run-in. As Kompany struggled, Demichelis shone.
The captain’s struggles were buried beneath a mountain of ticker tape as City completed a league and cup double as well as being lauded for their attacking play, plundering 156 goals in all competitions. Defensive was not a concern, and why would it be if you can win games as convincingly as City were doing during that season.
However as City’s title bid began to falter last season, the cracks that had been papered over began to open up quite spectacularly. As The Blues lost their way after the New Year, Kompany made a string of high-profile errors against Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and Liverpool to name a few.
Pellegrini benched him for the visit of Leicester and it spoke volumes that the City boss was prepared to take that action despite the on-going concerns regarding Eliaqium Mangala’s ability to adapt to life in the Premier League.
The struggles are not all his fault though. Injuries have hampered the 29-year-old throughout his time in Manchester, although lately he has not been returning from them at the same high standard that he once was.
There has also been a lack of consistency in selection. Mangala and Demichelis have regularly taken it in turns to partner Kompany. The left back spot is a constant rotation between Clichy and Kolarov and although Zabaleta largely fought off the presence of Bacary Sagna, his form was someway short of his usual lofty standards. Under the former Real Madrid, Malaga and Villarreal boss, the defence has been consistently alternated as he looks to keep everyone happy.
Another issue is the system that Pellegrini employs. Since the Chilean has been in charge City have played an attacking 4-4-2 system, often without a holding midfield player, and a high defensive line. Almost every error that the Belgian made last season was high up the pitch, and in areas that, for many other teams, would be filled by a holding midfielder. Fernandinho, although often excellent for The Blues, is not naturally a defensively minded midfielder and Fernando, the man brought in from Porto to fill that requirement, had an awful start to life in the Premier League and was regularly caught out of position. Due to these problems, Kompany feels the need to step into that area, to reassert dominance and put City onto the front foot once more.
Under previous manager Roberto Mancini, City regularly played with a deep defensive line and had Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry and often a more defensively minded Yaya Toure acting as a defensive shield. Under the Italians guidance Kompany shone and became arguably one of the world’s top centre backs.
He didn’t have to make tackles on the half way line, although he was incisive and pre-emptive, stifling attacks before they could develop high up the pitch. Unfortunately it is these proactive qualities that are now opening up huge flaws in his game as he now over-compensates for his lack of form and this impulsive and over-exuberant behaviour has become a huge worry for City.
The Belgian may find himself coming under constant pressure from those behind him in City’s squad as well. Jason Denayer, Kompany’s Belgian compatriot, has made significant strides during last year’s loan spell at Celtic, and the 19-year-old is expected to be challenging for a first team spot over the course of the season. Although he is not yet ready for the first team, 16-year-old Cameron Humphreys acquitted himself superbly in pre-season, showing flashes of future promise. There have also been rumours of moves for other centre-backs. Nicolas Otamendi of Valencia has been touted as a possible signing, and early last week there was talk of a bid for Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin.
Kompany is obviously still an icon at City, an intelligent ambassador for the club and still a player that could be influencing the Blues’ backline into his thirties, much in the same way John Terry has done at Chelsea. However in order to avoid some tough decisions, the Belgian needs to regain the level that convinced City to hand him a new five-year deal just a year ago and show a better adaptation to the more open system favoured by Pellegrini.
There will no doubt have already been quiet discussions in the boardroom at the Etihad regarding his form and if he doesn’t begin to show signs that this is nothing more than an extended blip, those hushed whispers may start to grow louder.
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