Samir Nasri’s stock has never been higher than this summer following a great season at Arsenal. The Frenchman was mooted as the missing link to both Man Utd and Man City’s title hopes this campaign. His creativity, movement and quality in the final third are without question. However, what may be, though, is his role in Mancini’s plans, which since the debacle away at Bayern Munich, has been reduced to one on the periphery.
The Bayern Munich game appeared to mark a watershed moment for Mancini for several reasons. While not choosing to ignore the moment that hogged the headlines (and still does) with Carlos Tevez’s apparent refusal to come on as a sub, two sub-plots have also come to light.
Kolo Toure was unfathomably restored to the first-team line-up despite a six-month absence in the place of Joleon Lescott. An error so great that it threatened to put paid to any hopes City had of qualifying out of a difficult group, with the Ivory Coast defender’s ring rustiness notable. The other being that this was the final point in which Nasri’s name became a guaranteed starter on the team-sheet.
Nasri made his debut at White Hart Lane on the 28th August in a 5-1 demolition, with the new signing blending into the squad fantastically well setting up three of the goals in the process.
Against Wigan he came off the bench with half an hour left to play and was integral in increasing the 1-0 deficit. He started the next two games against Napoli and Fulham, with Adam Johnson coming on as a late sub for him both times, before starting their next league game, the 2-0 win at home to Everton.
However, since the Bayern game, in the eight games that have proceeded it, he has started just four of them – against Wolves in both the league and the Carling Cup and against Villarreal in the home and away ties in the Champions League.
He came off the bench after 27mins against Blackburn away from home, was an unused sub against Aston Villa at home, he came off the bench with the job already done against Man Utd with the scores at 3-1 and 15mins left on the clock and was an unused sub against QPR.
Since the Bayern game, by which time he had settled into the side superbly and was a regular, he has seen just 347 minutes of football in the next eight games across all competitions. Only 177 minutes have these have come in City’s last five league games. His role has rather unquestionably been reduced, but why?
The recent resurgence of James Milner may have something to do with it. Milner offers industry and a degree of creativity. His all-action style has been ideally suited to difficult league ties against the likes of Aston Villa and QPR.
Whereas the Bayern game may have marked a watershed moment, the real turning point came with Mancini’s preference for Milner over Nasri for the 6-1 humbling of fierce rivals Man Utd at Old Trafford. The shock result of the modern Premier League era.
It appears as if Nasri has now become the first name on the team-sheet for the Man City B-team. Through no real fault of his own and in part because others have grasped the opportunities afforded to them, he has fallen down the pecking order.
Aguero and Silva’s places in the starting line-up appear untouchable. Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure remain for the time being important parts of the Man City machine. There appears to be two spots up for grabs in the long-term – in which four players (Milner, Balotelli, De Jong and Nasri) have to fit into.
Nasri has swapped regular football at Arsenal where a trophy didn’t look like coming any time soon, for a crack at a higher level and a much better chance of silverware. The result has been that’s he’s fallen from a leading light of the Premier League to an also-ran of it’s best side. In an instant, he’s gone from a lead to a supporting actor.
Many felt that Arsenal could ride the blow of Cesc Fabregas’s departure as long as they kept hold of Nasri and installed him as their creative hub. His transfer to City marked a re-aligning in the pecking order – City had finally pinched a player that Arsenal had wanted to keep hold of. Whereas once, he was a jewel in the crown, now he’s little more than a pearl on an admittedly priceless necklace.
Man City do have a large squad filled to the brim with top-class internationals. Mancini will inevitably have to rotate many of them in an attempt to keep the whole squad happy, but it’s noticeable that there have been no injuries in this unusually long sequence of intermittent bench-warming.
Nasri has set up six league goals so far this term, second only to his City team-mate Sergio Aguero. Only at a club such as City would this sort of form fail to guarantee you a starting place. With Mancini’s charges facing a run of Newcastle (H), Napoli (A), Liverpool (A) and Arsenal (A), it will be interesting to see how much he’s involved, for it could hold the key to his Man City future and the nature of the role he has to play in it.
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