This summer, Manchester City added to their already illustrious cast of strikers with the acquisitions of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, for a combined total of £39million. The two join Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko in attack to create a strike-force of immense quality at the Etihad.
And indeed, it seems that having four forwards capable of finding the net on a regular basis is a pre-requisite in the Premier League title race nowadays. City claimed the English title on goal difference alone two years ago when they had Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli along with Aguero and Dzeko in attack, whilst last season, Manchester United’s acquisition of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal appeared to tip the balance back in their favour as they reasserted themselves as champions.
But so far this year, having four senior strikers on the books has been a double-edged sword for the Citizens.
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Aguero, despite being City’s only world-class centre-forward, has found the net just once domestically in his four Premier League appearances, in a continuation of last season’s form that saw him net just twelve goals in 30 games. Dzeko too, has found the net just once, despite Manuel Pellegrini granting the striker a rare starting role to shake off his reputation as the Skyblues’ super-sub. Similarly, Stevan Jovetic, although he was City’s second-largest summer expenditure and comes to Manchester with a preceding reputation from Serie A, has made just a single appearance in his less favoured attacking midfield role.
Of course, it’s only the beginning of the season, and many strikers start slow before gaining momentum towards the turn of the year. But so far it seems the greatest issue for any of the strikers in Pellegrini’s new system, which varies somewhere between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2, has been to forge a successful partnership and strong understanding in the final third with their team-mates.
Excluding their dominant display against a very average Newcastle side on the opening day of the season, most of City’s goals, be they provided by a front man or otherwise, have come from moments of individual brilliance rather than the aesthetic brand of football the new Etihad boss has been trying to implement, and the simple but often effective ‘little and large’ approach with Dzeko and Aguero is yet to have the desired effect.
In my opinion, the source of the problem lies in the fact there’s no natural hierarchy to City’s attacking line-up. At Manchester United, the pecking order is relatively obvious, with Robin Van Persie as the main man closely supported by Wayne Rooney, and then it’s a toss up between Javier Hernandez for poaching prowess or Danny Welbeck if a more defensive and hard-working approach is required.
At Eastlands however, we have four strikers who could all claim a right to be in the first team on a regular basis, who all cost the club similar transfer fees. Aguero’s unrivalled quality surely puts him at the top of the pile, but after that it’s incredibly difficult to choose between Dzeko, Negredo and Jovetic.
Dzeko’s promotion to a regular starter in particular has only complicated matters; being an almost permanent fixture on the substitutes bench under Roberto Mancini often came across harsh considering the Bosnian international contributed a steady supply of goals for the amount of playing time he actually received, but is he any more likely to significantly improve upon his average of 14 goals per season now that he’s playing week-in-week-out?
In my opinion, No. The 27 year-old is perhaps the most talented substitute the Premier League has to offer, but that is his special role in the team, his unique selling point of diversification if you will, and if a player can get you that amount of end product off the bench, then he may as well be utilised to that effect.
But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom for City’s strikers. Negredo has shown great promise to find the net twice in four appearances since arriving for £17million from Sevilla in the summer, coming off the bench against Cardiff and Hull to get on the score-sheet. The Spaniard’s direct approach and aerial prowess is a good fit for the English top flight, and he adds a new and exciting dimension to the Skyblues’ attack.
But overall, four goals from four strikers in four games is hardly what you’d describe as title-winning material, and it doesn’t justify a collective transfer value of over £100million.
I’m by no means suggesting that City’s strikeforce can’t significantly improve, in fact, it’s an incredibly safe bet to speculate that they will, but it’s quite clear that Pellegrini is undecided over who should be starting, who shouldn’t and for what occasion, and it’s very much a symptom of the wholesale changes at the Etihad arena over the summer.
And it’s these kind of teething pains that could eventually cost the Skyblues the title. Whilst Manchester United benefit from the fact they’re still almost entirely the same outfit as last season, barring a like-for-like change in management and the arrival of former Evertonian Marouane Fellaini, the Citizens face a mild personality crisis in terms of determining firstly the way they play, and secondly, who should be the focal point of the attack.
Pellegrini needs to find answers sooner rather than later, and he’ll be hoping that the individual performances begin to illustrate a natural hierarchy. Tomorrow’s heavyweight derby with Manchester United is a huge test for the Chilean, but it’s also a chance for one of his strikers to claim their worth for a regular slot in the first team.
Is there too much confusion up front for the Citizens?
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