There’s something very Barcelona about this Manchester City team – and not the favourable comparison most would like to have with the Catalans.
Ahead of this season, new Barca manager Gerardo Martino insisted that his defence was strong enough for the upcoming campaign and that reinforcements were not needed. One might think it lunacy to go into a season, no matter how good your attack is, with only one fit, senior centre-back; Carles Puyol’s ability or contribution will hardly ever be questioned, but the same can’t be said for his availability.
The other side of Martino’s decision is that quite possibly he didn’t want to entangle himself in something of a power struggle for two different defensive targets over the summer. Being the fresh face in the building, fair play to him.
Manchester City are not too different. Manuel Pellegrini has a marvellous attack at his disposal headed by the in-form and always outrageously good Sergio Aguero. But there’s no stability, no real support and a lack of quality in the defensive ranks.
Martin Demichelis was seen as a gamble from all sectors – and not a very promising one. Even those who saw the veteran centre-back going through something of a renaissance at Malaga under Pellegrini last season were not too convinced that the big step up to a club like City was justifiable.
Vincent Kompany, like Puyol, has had a torrid time with injuries over the past year. During City’s title-winning campaign, he was arguably the best centre-back in the league, and currently being firmly in the prime of his career, there should be little worry about him declining as a player. The simple matter of it is that the club do not have an adequate replacement over a lengthy stretch of games.
Any title winning team has to be built from the back. Juventus didn’t have the firepower of their European counterparts, but their form was built on an excellent backline and one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Much of the same can be said for Bayern Munich, though their attack was equally as good as their defence.
Joe Hart is a problem that only furthered the case for a new goalkeeper to arrive at City following his howler in the dying minutes of the game away to Chelsea on the weekend.
It’s been said countless times that teams like Arsenal play attractive football with clever players in attack but will go nowhere without a good goalkeeper and a strong centre-back pairing. If that’s true for Arsene Wenger’s team, why does it not apply to other sides in the country? It should.
City could have won their game against Cardiff City had there been a confident figure in the backline. Would Kompany have allowed for the mistake that led to Fernando Torres grabbing the winner at Stamford Bridge on the weekend? A lot of the blame will go to Hart for that goal, but Kompany does compensate for the oft-forgotten lack of experience had in Matija Nastasic.
And then there’s the case of the full-backs. Bayern Munich’s win at The Etihad was a masterclass, but you only need to look at Thomas Muller’s goal to see that defensively Gael Clichy is far from up to scratch for a team chasing major honours.
Pablo Zabaleta has often been seen to be one of the most consistent players in the City team, but beyond him there is little in the way of quality full-backs in the team.
There are factors in Spain that will allow Barcelona to get away with the little that they currently have. Obviously one of those is that the attack will retain the ball and almost always score more than the opposition. But in Europe, some are questioning whether their lack of defensive depth will see them past teams like Bayern. The draw with AC Milan is an example.
Manchester City have a fantastic attack. The problem, though, is that champions are rarely, if ever built from the front. The balance isn’t right in this team, and unless reinforcements are brought in during the January window, it’s difficult to see how they’ll overcome those who are more defensively consistent.
Will City’s defence stop them from winning the Premier League title?
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