In the wake of a 1-1 draw at the Etihad stadium on Sunday and 4-2 defeat to Villa last night, Roberto Mancini may have cause for concern after witnessing his Manchester City champions dominated in possession by Arsenal, and losing out in that field too last night. The Blues have drawn three of their opening 5 league games of the season, and have yet to keep a clean sheet.
Last season saw Manchester City win the English Premier League on the final day of the season, after their formidable attacking options saw them win 28 of their 38 games, losing only 5.
Attackers Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri, and David Silva stole the headlines for the majority of their campaign but it was Roberto Mancini’s defence that arguably made it possible. City conceded only 29 goals over the entire season, the fewest of all 20 teams – their superior goal difference on rivals Manchester United, tied on 89 points apiece, was what ultimately saw them lift the trophy.
So what’s missing? Roberto Mancini’s side were visibly outplayed in the centre of the park on Sunday – Arsenal’s midfield trio of Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, and Santi Cazorla ran rings around City’s midfield all afternoon. Their inability to hit the target, squandering numerous chances, saved Mancini’s defence’s blushes.
But one might be inclined to suggest Arsenal were gifted those opportunities by a City side that gave them the space and time in midfield to carve through their midfield and penetrate their defence – something which we seldom saw last season.
Could it be that what’s missing is a certain Dutch enforcer – a defensive midfielder with the strength and discipline required to protect the back four from such insurgence? Its early days, but can Javi Garcia or Jack Rodwell be as good as De Jong who specialised in his role? It remains to be seen, but while they take time to settle, City can ill afford further slip ups.
Nigel de Jong appeared 21 times in City’s title-winning campaign and, with him on the field they lost only two games: one in which he was a sub in 85th minute at Everton, after the fatal goal had already been scored and once against Sunderland in which his team kept a clean sheet for 93 minutes.
Nigel de Jong was sold to A.C. Milan this summer; Roberto Mancini deducing the Dutchman was surplus to requirements at Eastlands. They sold him for a miniscule £3.5million, just two seasons after shelling out £18million to secure his capture from Hamburg.
To a side that boasts the riches of owner Sheikh Mansour, £14.5million might not even register as a loss but I have a sneaking suspicion that the sale of de Jong may prove to be more debilitating on the field for the City Blues, as the season unfolds. Having conceded seven goals in just five games, so far is not so good for the now exposed City back line.
If the game against Arsenal is anything to go by, Roberto Mancini may find his side vulnerable to teams who play with more than two central midfielders, which, tactically looks to be a good way to nick points off the champions this season.
image: © wonker