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
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£43m for Toby Alderweireld would be great business for Tottenham Hotspur
It seems that the Belgian defender is definitely on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur.
It seems as though Toby Alderweireld is on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur.
It is being reported by Het Laatse Nieuws today that the Belgian’s contract talks with Spurs have been halted.
With the Belgian out of contract in the summer of 2019, Spurs will attempt to cash in on Alderweireld now.
A fee of £43 million has been mentioned for the player, who reportedly wanted a wage to match that of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
Tottenham’s stance of not paying out big wages to their top players has often been criticised. But on this occasion, the Lilywhites are doing the right thing.
On his day and when fit, Alderweireld might be the best centre-back in the Premier League. However, it has been a long time since the Belgian had such a day.
Most of this season has seen Alderweireld on the treatment table. When he has played, it has always seemed a precursor to his next injury.
Given his age and contract situation, the injury record gives Alderweireld three strikes. At £43 million, Tottenham would be getting a fantastic deal for their defender.
The report from HLN claimed that Alderweireld wanted a wage in the region of €180,000-a-week (£160,000-a-week). Such a sum is vast for a player with his current issues.
The fact Spurs were reportedly willing to go as high as €120,000 (£105,000) per week shows that Daniel Levy tried to keep the Belgian, even doubling his current wage, but Alderweireld is on his way.
It will be a shame for Spurs but breaking the wage structure at the club for an injury prone defender would not have been a wise move.
Eventually, Tottenham might have to be more lenient with their wages, but that should be saved for the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen.
Tottenham should take £43 million for Alderweireld and persevere with the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth.
Alderweireld’s next club will hope they can keep the Belgian fit long enough to reap the rewards of his potential signature.
Ronald Koeman admits he wanted Memphis Depay at Everton
But would Everton have benefited from his arrival?
Ronald Koeman is about to kickstart his managerial career with the Dutch national team. It is his first role since getting sacked by Everton and his first foray into international management. Speaking about his new role he discussed the former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay.
Speaking to the press, as reported by Football Oranje, Koeman revealed that he had tried to convince Depay to join Everton whilst he was manager at Goodison Park:
“I invited him to my home last year, when I wanted to get him to Everton. That did not work, he went to Lyon.”
Depay was with Manchester United at the time, where he had struggled to live up to his potential. Instead of joining Everton he headed to Lyon in France in a deal reported by the Telegraph to be worth £16 million.
So have Everton missed out?
Depay’s struggles to settle in English football are well known. Since his move to France things have certainly improved. Depay has scored 18 goals since his move to France. However, considering he scored 28 goals in his final season at PSV prior to his United switch it is still not a massive amount.
In the time he has been in France those 18 goals have come from 61 games. His form has been good at Lyon but certainly not to the standard many expected of him when he made the move to Manchester United.
That said, £16 million today in today’s market is not a lot of money. Looking at Everton’s team, having Depay playing from the left side would have been a massive bonus for Koeman, and now for Sam Allardyce.
Depay still has plenty to improve upon and hopefully Koeman can get the best out of him during his time as the Netherlands boss.
As for Everton, they did not get their man and paid a lot more for the man he would be battling for first-team football Yannick Bolasie – who has not yet been a hit at Goodison Park.
So, all things considered, Everton probably should wish Koeman had managed to convince Depay into a Merseyside switch last January.
Victor Fernandez furthers Newcastle United first-team claims on Spain tour
The 19-year-old impressed as he featured against Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp.
Newcastle United recently travelled to Spain for a training camp as they attempted to deal with three weeks without a competitive fixture.
Rafa Benitez is an experienced manager and he will have realised the danger that such a gap could pose for his team, especially when it came to the fitness of the squad.
He arranged a training camp in his homeland, which culminated in a unique 135-minute match against Belgian side Royal Antwerp.
It consisted of three periods of 45-minutes, which allowed the manager to give playing time to the fringe players in his squad ahead of the run-in.
Although it gave the opportunity to experiment, only two youth players made the trip to Spain.
Nathan Harker was the back-up goalkeeper as both Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow were struggling with injuries.
The other, Victor Fernandez, caught the eye of Newcastle supporters watching.
Fernandez will be encouraged about further involvement with the first-team, as he was the only young outfield player to feature against Royal Antwerp.
That is a sign that Benitez considers the 19-year-old as one of the best prospects currently with the club.
The Spaniard joined the club just over a year ago from UE Cornella.
The signing went under the radar, but Benitez has an extensive scouting network and he obviously saw something in Fernandez.
Although he is predominantly a winger, he can play anywhere across the front-line is required.
Soon after joining the club, he spoke of not wanting to aim for too much too early when talking to the Newcastle United official club website:
“My purpose was not to make an impact really quickly, because I’m new and I have to get used to English football – it’s really different from Spain. I hope, little by little, I can keep doing good things here.”
Considering this was very quickly after his move to a new country, Fernandez’s words show maturity and show a glimpse into his character.
Benitez is a thorough manager who likes to know everything about the players that he brings to a football club.
There must have been something about the Spanish winger that made the Newcastle manager believe that he could adapt to English football.
There are no guarantees in football when it comes to young players fulfilling their potential.
However, the fact that Fernandez was taken on the mid-season tour to Spain suggests that he is on the right path.
He would have been offered guarantees about a route to the first-team squad and his involvement against Royal Antwerp will have been a reward for his progression since moving to St James’ Park.
He came on for the final 45-minutes and showed flashes of his ability.
There was some nice interplay with Dwight Gayle that resulted in the teenager having a shot on goal.
His trickery and direct style caused problems for his marker and he continued to excite those watching when the ball was his feet.
There is more developing for him to do before he is ready for the first-team in competitive action, but his performance against Antwerp was a positive one.
There is clearly talent there and he will be a player to follow over the coming seasons.
Newcastle are at the early stage of their development under Rafa Benitez and that will mean opportunities are there for young players.
Fernandez could have the ability to take his.
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