It seems very unfair to single out any one individual after the shambles of the performances that numbers one to eleven put in for Manchester City at Anfield yesterday evening. Actually, I’d take Joe Hart out of that equation because he wasn’t really helped by what was around him and he must have wondered why he’d bothered around the 35th minute mark. Nevertheless, though, my patience is just about worn thin with one player in particular.
I have tried to like him. I have tried to see the positives in his performances since he signed at the start of the season. I have tried to take into account his injury that laid him out for a large spell. I have defended him on numerous occasions. But, now, I have finally lost it with Aleksandar Kolarov. I like him, in principle – a defender that scores blinding, powerful goals and pops up with a few free kicks along the way.
But, at this moment in time, I’m struggling to see how much of an improvement he is on Wayne Bridge or Javier Garrido. Garrido never did the smashed shots thing, but Kolarov’s not exactly set the world on fire in that department this season. And Garrido’s crossing and free kicks were of a similar standard. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure City have had a good quality left back since Stuart Pearce retired from playing. I liked Niclas Jensen, mainly for his stunning goal against Leeds, and Michael Tarnat put a few nice free kicks into the net, but I can’t think of a truly outstanding left back for a long while.
I’ve had doubts about Kolarov for a while. He has, on numerous occasions, been beaten far too easily by wingers who shouldn’t be able to get into the box against a side hoping to be in next season’s Champions League every time they attack. Against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, even Tottenham, that doesn’t happen. In fact, against most Premier League teams that doesn’t happen.
That Pablo Zabaleta, a natural right footer and natural right back or holding midfielder, has installed himself as a preferred option ahead of Aleksandar Kolarov in his strongest position is quite a damning account of the Serbian’s form this season. He offers much more going forward than Zabaleta does, but his primary job is to defend and that’s not something he seems to have been comfortable doing so far this season.
It’s a little unfair to put the blame on his shoulders for Liverpool’s second goal because it could be possible to write a book entitled How Not To Defend In The Premier League based on the visitors’ back line during that goal, but Kolarov’s mistake came just before Kuyt’s finish, so he’s inevitably going to take a lot of stick. It all came about with Boyata and Lescott missing headers at the back post and a deflection off Kompany’s slide challenge breaking to the Dutchman at the right corner of the box. Kolarov got across to him pretty quickly, but he pulled out of the challenge. He didn’t want the ball. He didn’t want to get there first. He didn’t want to block it. Kuyt’s finish was good, no question about that, but it was easily avoidable from City’s point of view.
Then there was the third goal, about a minute after the second, and Kolarov had another nightmare: in fact, he jumped like his boots were filled with lead. Going into the game, we knew that Carroll would be good in the air, but it seemed like it was a total surprise to the City defence.
Though perhaps worse than those two challenges was that every time Liverpool attacked down the City left in the second half, Kolarov was absent without leave. He wasn’t in position on so many occasions, meaning that one of the centre-backs had to come out to cover the space, and he looked neither particularly bothered about being out of position nor enthusiastic about getting back into position.
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A lack of talent is forgivable. After all, if a player is trying his best and just isn’t as good as what is expected of him, then it’s not really his fault. But a lack of effort can’t be excused and, while Kolarov’s defending has been quite suspect for most of the season, his effort has always been top notch. That changed against Liverpool when he didn’t seem too fussed about getting back to the left full back position to defend when the play had passed him on the way to City’s box.
It seems strange that, being a left back, City have seen his best performances when he’s been played as a winger. Perhaps that move forward would be one to benefit him in the same way that it benefited Gareth Bale at Tottenham, with a bit of position-specific training. After all, when he has played there, he hasn’t looked that comfortable, just more comfortable.
I really hope that I’m wrong and that we’re going to see the best left back we’ve seen at City for decades. Firstly, because I actually quite like Kolarov and want him to do well (he came with something of a reputation that he’s not yet fulfilled, after all), and, secondly, because my mate and BlueMoon Podcast co-host Dan got his name and number on the back of his shirt at the start of the season. And I wouldn’t want him to be disappointed.
But there’s a wide margin for improvement for him and it’ll need to start soon.
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