Football FanCast columnist David Mooney feels the Man City defence is proving a cause for concern.
Goals haven’t been so much of a problem for Manchester City this season. Well, they have, but not goals scored, anyway. It’s the soft goals going in at the back that have been something of a problem. And for a defence that has a fair amount of Premier League experience and has cost what a good defence costs, it’s beginning to concern me.
And, let’s face it, we were always going to draw with Burnley once I’d said I thought we’d win and break our spell of draws. It was the only possible outcome, really.
Okay, we’re 11 Premier League games in and 11 games is no time for a team to click. Except, at the start of the season the defence looked solid: clean sheets to Blackburn at Ewood Park, Wolves at Eastlands, Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, and Portsmouth at Fratton Park saw a month of fixtures when a first team defence looked faultless.
But, as the season has worn on, a few mistakes have crept in to the game. Lescott dived in at van Persie for Arsenal’s equaliser and, then, after we had fought to get back in front and extend the lead for the emphatic 4-1 scoreline, the back four switched off totally and conceded a late consolation. And even that nearly became an edge of the seat job as van Persie hit the post in stoppage time.
We then went to Old Trafford and played well. But, while Sir Alex may bang on about City’s goals being terrible defensive errors, I look at United’s and see mistakes of our own. Switching off from a throw-in, while Richards berates Touré… Failing to put up a challenge for two headers in the six yard box is criminal… Leaving Michael Owen – injury prone or not – time to turn and shoot in the box is even more criminal.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, City let a two goal lead slip to Fulham. No matter what team you play in the Premier League (or any league for that matter), you should not let a two goal lead slip and not be disappointed.
Even the goal conceded against Scunthorpe didn’t cover anybody in glory, as de Jong gave it away, and Lescott didn’t cut the cross out leaving Kompany stranded.
But how can a back four go from looking solid to looking so shaky in the space of a couple of months? I don’t for a moment profess to have the answers, but I do have a few thoughts.
Lescott, for example, has looked nothing like the player he was at Everton. But £22m is a lot of money and to know that you cost that much and have been wanted for so long by a manager willing to spend that much money, then it can go one of two ways: it could boost your ego and you could have the feeling of being unbeatable. Or it could have, as I think might have happened here, put a lot of pressure on Lescott to perform immediately and the harder he tries to make it work, the more things go wrong for him.
We have seen that he is a great defender at Everton, but he’s far from that man at City and, in my opinion, he needs to relax. He needs to calm down and focus on what he can do, and not try to impress and put in that amazing sliding tackle when it perhaps isn’t on. We’ve seen his ability in the air, but that’s no use if his man has gotten away from him à la Dempsey against Fulham.
Then there’s Micah Richards, who has been dropped recently, but started the season as part of that solid defence. His positioning has been questionable at times and he seems to be nothing like the player that broke into the first team a few years ago or even the player that started the season under Sven.
It’s almost as if he doesn’t know where he is supposed to be, but to have played Premier League football for as long as he has now, and to have started for England, surely that can’t be the case? I’d like to think he’s just in bad form, but this is bad form that’s been with him for almost 18 months.
He can tackle; we’ve seen his ability to do that. He can beat most players in a head-to-head sprint. He can get up in the air and head the ball with power. But it’s his position that lets him down – if he can hold his position, then he’d be easily be in contention for an England place.
Wayne Bridge: he’s possibly the most improved player for City in comparison to last season. Last season he looked like a rabbit in the headlights far too much and this season he’s been blocking crosses, making inch perfect tackles and getting down the line.
But, along with Pablo Zabaleta – who has come in for Richards – I wonder if there’s too much emphasis being made on getting forward to help Wright-Phillips or Bellamy/Petrov? I mean, looking at Burnley’s second goal, as Barry gave the ball away, Bridge was one of the players furthest forward…
Even Touré hasn’t looked that solid since his injury, but I suspect that’s because he’s still not fully fit. Kompany is coming back from injury too, and looked a bit uncomfortable in the 0-0 with Birmingham. Onuoha hasn’t yet had a look in, partly because of injury, but he was solid at the end of last season.
The team has shown that it can score goals – four against Arsenal and three at Old Trafford speak for themselves. But what I worry about is, on the days that the strike force has an off-day (just like when visiting St. Andrews), what if the defence give away another sloppy goal?
A lot of City’s conceded goals this season could have been prevented. There’s nothing we can do about them now, but what we can do is learn from mistakes and not make them in the future. But that doesn’t seem to be happening and it’s something the team needs to sort quickly if they’ve any ambitions of unseating Liverpool.
This season is perhaps the best chance to do that: Liverpool are struggling to pick up points at the moment, but that won’t last forever. We have to make the best of their bad recent form, starting at Anfield in a fortnight’s time.