A man-of-the-match home debut was exactly what Adam Johnson would have dreamed of to kick-start his Manchester City career. The young winger has been making a name for himself all season at Middlesbrough and now at Eastlands.
How a year can change for a young player. This time last year, Johnson was tussling, and often coming second, in a battle with Stewart Downing for a place in a Middlesbrough side destined for relegation. Last summer saw Downing join Villa and, with Boro in the Championship, Johnson began to shine. He scored 3 goals in the first 3 games of the season and went on to notch another 9 goals before his move to Manchester City. Now at the World’s richest football club and under the tutelage of an Italian in the form of Roberto Mancini, many people are tipping the player to be included in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad, and rightly so.
After making the perfect start to his City career, Mancini has already compared his new signing to Ryan Giggs. Is there a better compliment for an aspiring winger? It is certainly not a rash comparison. The way in which he jinks part defenders is certainly reminiscent of the player Johnson regards as his hero.
Johnson’s arrival at Eastlands has increased the number of midfielders in the squad to nearly 10, with Petrov, Bellamy, Ireland, Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips all competing for the attacking places. While the futures of Bellamy and Ireland are being questioned, it is Wright-Phillips, in my opinion, who should be most fearful of his place. Bellamy and Ireland are both versatile players. Ireland can play pretty much anywhere across the midfield while Bellamy is a natural striker whose pace has seen him deployed as a winger. The arrival of Johnson should not unsettle either player too much. However, having already failed to shine under Mancini, Wright-Phillips has a job on his hands to save his City career. The return of Martin Petrov has seen Johnson used on the right-hand side, and position previously owned by Wright-Phillips. Although all three players have been given their opportunities due to the busy schedule, it seems Johnson and Petrov are favoured by the manager.
The Englishmen are both very similar players. Tricky, old-fashioned wingers who love to get at defenders and make the pitch as wide as they can. The only difference is Johnson is better. Wright-Phillips is a decent player but he has had a tendency to go missing in games and, coupled with a very erratic cross accuracy, it is hard to see Mancini picking him over his new arrival.
Younger, fresher and buzzing with confidence, Johnson will surely be first choice for the Italian. If his home debut is anything to go by, it could be bye-bye for Shaun Wright-Phillips at Eastlands this summer.