The future for Manchester City’s midfield

The talk of the papers is once again that Manchester City will go on a massive spending spree in the summer. They won’t.
Already City have been linked with Christiano Ronaldo, Xavi, Leighton Baines, Alexis Sanchez, Fabregas, Pirlo…….<4 hours later>………Aguero, Mata, Kaka, Cavani and Rob Earnshaw.
Garry Cook and Brian Marwood are well aware of the Financial Fair Play rules, and will not sanction outlandish spending anymore. Big signings there may well be, but plenty of sales will occur too. The midfield looks fairly settled, so I wouldn’t expect huge changes over the summer.

This is the midfield squad as it stands, in no particular order:

David Silva. Man love. Definition: Feeling of unrequited love that a football fan develops for a silky-skilled creative Spanish midfielder with the touch of an angel. That’s what it said on Google anyway.

Superb first season for one of the players of the year. Magnificent creative midfielder, who has fitted into the City team perfectly, filling the space behind the striker(s). Only flaw is seeming reluctance to shoot sometimes, but with a pre-season under his belt and hopefully a few more goals next season, the sky really is the limit.

Yaya Touré. City legend status duly acquired. The jury was out on this player for many months earlier in the season. Touré seemed to resemble a FIFA 11 player, bursting forwards in occasional sprints when someone pressed the X button. Debates ensued on whether he was a defensive midfielder or an attacking midfielder, or neither, criticism was levelled at his lack of activity when the opposition had the ball, and the press never failed to mention his humongous wage packet. Like most first-season players though he has developed and now it should be clear to see his worth. Absolute powerhouse of a player, and winners in the FA Cup semi-final and final have repaid his fee already.

Adam Johnson. Will the jury always be out on this player? Mancini isn’t convinced by him, and neither am I. On the surface, an excellent wide player, with good ball control, pace and dribbling skills. And while he has proved an excellent impact sub, his performances when starting a match have flattered to deceive, and the manager is apparently not totally impressed with his attitude. With time on his side, I have no doubt he will remain at City next season, but has plenty of work to do to break into the first team.

Shaun Wright Phillips. The sad decline in his career continues. His performances during his original spell at City are but a fading memory. The sad fact is he is not good enough to play in City’s first team, and I see little future for him. The sadder fact is he hasn’t been good enough for at least a couple of years. He would be best-served seeking first-team football elsewhere. Then his dad can slag off City to his heart’s content in his Sun column.

James Milner. When City paid £26m last summer for James Milner (£18m plus £8m-rated Stephen Ireland), the world’s media as one (plus all Villa fans) laughed at how City had been ripped off, and what a wonderful piece of business it was for Aston Villa, as Ireland was actually better than Milner. Well Ireland is currently driving his pink Land Rover to Newcastle to not play football for them, but Milner has hardly been a resounding success either. Excelled on his debut versus Liverpool, but has struggled much of the time since. Excellent energy, a real workhorse, his flexibility and reputation as a utility player has been his downfall. As he showed in the league game against Stoke this week, he is better as a central midfielder, this is where he wants to play. But with stiff competition in that area he has often found himself out wide, and despite being an excellent crosser of the ball, has suffered as a result. Still, he is going nowhere, and will be hoping for a more settled season next time round – and a chance to prove himself in the middle of the field.

Gareth Barry. The player everyone loves to slag off, he continues to get on with the job, the sort of player that you realise the worth of when they are not playing. Generally not rated mainly because of a severe lack of pace, as it seems you cannot play football nowadays unless you can run really fast. A steadying influence in the midfield, he may not be the world’s best, but a very good player he most certainly is.
And yet…..could his position be under threat? I just get a feeling Mancini may look for a big name to play with Yaya Touré. But either way, like Milner he should be part of the squad next season and get plenty of time on the pitch – it is a squad game after all.

Patrick Vieira. A signing that raised my eyebrow higher than Carlo Ancelotti’s, but I have now seen the light. City were never getting the player that graced Arsenal for all those years, but he is a great presence around the club. A bit-part player perhaps, but great to bring on to steady games, a great influence on the younger players, and hopefully we will keep him in some coaching capacity in the long-term. He could however be a summer exit – he spoke only last week about the uncertainty over his future.

Nigel De Jong. Player of the season. There, I’ve said it. The likes of Stan Collymore would have you believe he is nothing more than a thug, who runs round the pitch maiming opposition players, and laughing about it. At half-time he chews on the carcass of a zebra and karate kicks the dressing room wall.
What he actually is is one of the world’s best defensive midfielders. City concede a goal every 65 minutes on average when he is not in the team, and about every 115 minutes when he is. Brilliant patroller of the pitch in front of defence, an integral part of the City team in the next few years (hopefully).
Number of red cards this season? Zero.

Michael Johnson. Who? The forgotten man of Manchester City, hampered by crippling injuries for years, there seems little chance he will ever make a significant contribution on a football pitch again, or maybe I am being too pessimistic. Still only 23, he promised to be a supreme talent, and if he can stay clear of injury he still may be, but probably not at City. Expect him to go to Leeds United, the team he supports.

Youth players – Abdisalam Ibrahim, Abdul Razak and Vladimir Weiss are the three youth midfield players with squad numbers. Like in other areas of the pitch, it is hard to see them making much of an impact on the first team in the near-future. But with plenty of games likely to be played each season, there should be the odd opportunity. Weiss especially stood out for me when I saw him destroy Chelsea in the Youth Cup final three years ago. A tricky wide player, he doesn’t seem to have excelled on loan at Rangers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leave permanently.

So what will Mancini do in the summer? I have to say, not very much. De Jong, Touré and Silva provide a very strong trio in the midfield, and add to that one of Barry and Milner and it has a settled look to it. Mancini will probably look at extra width, and Alexis Sanchez is said to be on his way (does he count as a midfielder though?!). Otherwise, again the priority may be to buy for the future, and buy potential – the only exception may be to buy an all-rounder midfielder to contest Barry’s spot, and maybe a creative midfielder as back-up to Silva. But with City’s chairman saying only today (19th May) that spending would not be widespread, perhaps Mancini will allow his midfield to develop further and leave it largely as it is.

 


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