The Libero - City's homegrown flavour bodes well for England
Published: 25 Aug 2010 - 07:52:36
Before the new season started an entry on this blog claimed that Manchester City needed a world class striker to challenge for the title this year.
On the face of it, Monday's 3-0 demolition of Liverpool suggested they need nothing of the sort.
A supremely confident performance from Roberto Mancini's side yealded three goals with none conceded as his eclectic group of disparate millionaires made a mockery of pre-season fears that they were too individual and too self-centred to gel together and work as a team.
City's teamwork at Eastlands far outshone that of their opponents, a member of the so-called Big Four (although their status as such is surely under real threat this season) and a side who City would not have chosen to face - at least when the fixtures were announced - in just their second game of the new campaign.
Now, with a tricky away tie against their bogey team Tottenham and that meeting with Liverpool out of the way, City already have four points on the board. Up next are Sunderland, Blackburn and Wigan - all eminently winable matches - and realistically, Mancini's side could be facing a top-of-the-table six-pointer with Chelsea by the time the two sides meet at the end of September.
And that is where City should be, considering the £350 million lavished on the squad by their mega-rich benefactor Sheikh Mansour, whose decision to attend his first home game on Monday was impeccably timed. He can only have been impressed by what he saw.
But perhaps he should not be surprised by the events that unfolded on the pitch. Mancini knows what he is doing. Tactically, the Italian played a perfect game against Liverpool, his decision to play with just Carlos Tevez up front and three defensive midfielders - despite playing at home - perfectly vindicated as City dominated from start to finish.
Tevez netted twice - one was clearly not his, but since when has a striker not been entitled to claiming goals? - but it was the other strike, the opener on the night, that really got the pulse racing.
Not necessarily because of its conception and execution, both of which were excellent, but more because it was created and finished in England.
Mancini's starting XI contained six English players. Considering the funds available to him to go out and bring in pretty much any player from anywhere in the world, that is a remarkably high number. Not even some clubs with vastly inferior shopping budgets can manage to shoehorn six homegrown players into the starting line-up.
However Mancini achieved it, and the unavailability of Aleksandar Kolarov (Serbia) and Jerome Boateng (Germany) certainly helped, he reaped the benefits of an instant cohesion to the English contingent's play.
Three of them combined brilliantly for the first goal: Adam Johnson, James Milner and Gareth Barry. One of those players, Milner, was appearing in a City shirt for the first time, but you'd have never known it. Eyebrows may have been raised about his transfer fee, but if he can perform like that week in week out, the lion's share of £24m may well seem like a snip come the end of the season.
Another Englishman, Joe Hart, was equally outstanding and all four should be shoo-ins for starting berths for the remainder of the season - and not just for City.
Had Fabio Capello been watching the match, he would surely have been mightily encouraged by what he saw from the quartet. Even Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott looked good.
The problem for City will arise when the rest of their foreign legion are fit and available. Mario Balotelli has enormous potential, the aforementioned foreign full-backs are likely starters ahead of Richards and Lescott, while David Silva was not bought to sit on the bench.
But Mancini must have to ask himself the question: after a performance like that, would it be wise to change his side? Admittedly the opposition were desperately poor (how long will it be before Liverpool can no longer be classed as a Big Four club?), but with a solid English core to his team, Mancini has a fantastic base from which to build for the rest of the season.
And if it doesn't work out, Mancini can always dip back into into the transfer market in January and try to entice that big-name striker his squad was apparently lacking before the season began.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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