Manchester City did quite well this weekend, eh? Manuel Pellegrini’s men effectively annihilated the league’s, so far, most greedy defence, making a shambles of every pre-match tip of a close encounter. Tottenham may feel the result was slightly unfair, as the stats hardly reflect the utter humiliation of a 6-0 score line, but essentially we need to give Man City credit for their immense striking force.
At the start of the season, I felt that the blue Mancunians were favourites to the title as they strengthened their squad in key areas. Fernandinho, who spent far too long tearing the Ukrainian premiership apart before anyone grabbed the opportunity, provides a creative anchor while simultaneously releasing Yaya Toure from his shackles of defensive responsibility. Alvaro Negredo was received with inexplicable doubt. Only in England could a striker with his scoring record be received with scepticism. But most importantly, I believe Man City acquired an asset that gives the team a completely different attacking dimension.
Jesus Navas claimed both the first and the last goal in Sunday’s demolition at the Etihad Stadium. Although his performance against Spurs, with two goals and an assist was near perfect, I believe we are yet to see the best from the little Spaniard. There’s always going to take a certain amount of time for players to adapt when moving to a new country and Navas has had a slow start to his season. But as the season wears on, and Pellegrini must rotate to keep his players fresh, his contributions will become more and more crucial to City’s campaign.
Manchester City are not short of striking options. Even before they signed Navas and Negredo, they could field two almost equally strong attacking fours, and on their bench on Sunday we found Edin Dzeko, whilst David Silva is still unavailable due to injury. But despite the abundance in their, frankly, frightening attack, there has been something missing for City going forward on occasion this season. At times, City have become far too narrow. Their wingers – Silva, Samir Nasri and possibly James Milner – all have a tendency to jam into the centre of the park. This is where Pellegrini will draw great pleasure from having a player like Navas at his disposal.
Unlike City’s other attacking midfielders, Silva in particular, Navas is a premium example of a winger. Although the Blues aspire to play a very modern style of football, with a creative attacking three that tucks in behind a striker, they will draw huge benefit from the versatility that Navas presents. Rather than searching for the play through the middle, Navas sticks to the side-line. He’s in his element when he is put one on one with the full-back and can sprint for the by-line to make an inch perfect cross.
That is the strength City need to utilize are they to take full use of Navas. The challenge of facing the 28-year old is terrifying for any left-back. He prey on the defenders obligation to restrict his passage inside, and open the wide area. Every full-back in the league knows that they have no choice when a wide player receives the ball in their half. But when that space near the corner flag opens up, there is simply no stopping Navas. He will get a cross in nine out of ten times, and with strong aerial players like Negredo, Dzeko and Aguero up top, the probability of the winger getting and assists tips in City’s favour.
If Pellegrini can find the answer to his away form issues, I can’t see anyone claiming the title ahead of Manchester City. They have the best squad player for player, and their record at the Etihad is already mind-blowing. All they lack is that little bit alternative when goals are coming easily.
With Jesus Navas, they have exactly that.