Aleksandar Kolarov – Manchester City’s Secret Weapon?

by Cillian O'Neill

Not for nothing was Aleksandar Kolarov considered one of the hottest properties on the transfer market last summer, drawing attention from several of Europe’s Big Boys. In the end it was the bulging coffers of Manchester City who fended off the advances of Real Madrid and Inter Milan to secure the 24 year old Serbian’s signature and seal his move to Eastlands for the sum of £16 million pounds. More than a good bit of business for Lazio who paid a mere £800,000 pounds for the boy from Belgrade only three years previous on the back of impressive performances for losing finalists Serbia in the Under-21 European Championships.

Like so many full backs in the modern game, it is Kolarov’s offensive capabilities that are more revered than his defensive ones. Blessed with pace, trickery, superb stamina and a cannon of a left foot it is no wonder that Manchester City were willing to pay so much for him. He opened his scoring account for Lazio with a thunderous drive from all of 35 yards against Reggina and in total went on to score 8 goals in 82 appearances for the Biancazzurri, a goal just over every ten games. Not bad for a left back. However the goal every Lazio fan will remember him for is the astonishing solo goal he scored against Roma in the Derby della Capitale in his second season with the club (below). In a run that displayed his pace and unparalleled stamina, Kolarov ran the length of the pitch and, on his weaker right foot, finished with a coolness that many of Europes elite strikers would be proud of.

Detractors may look at his stats and point out that for a full back who is so revered for his attacking prowess and ability to get good delivery into the box then a mere 7 assists in his three years with Lazio is a very poor return. However arguments to the contrary would suggest that Lazio were hardly set up in such a way that would maximise his attacking talents. None of Lazio’s strikers were built to score from crosses and corners, with only 20 year old Libor Kozák topping six foot and playing just 11 games for the club while Kolarov was there. Lazio’s two main men up top, Mauro Zaraté and Tommasso Rocchi measuring in at only 5’9” and 5’10” respectively, were always going to be second favourites to be first to any ball squared by Kolarov. Goran Pandev, who shared two years at the club with Kolarov, is the only player you could really describe as being a decent target in the box but even he preferred the attacking midfield role as opposed to converting crosses from inside twelve yards.

At Manchester City however you expect things to be quite different. With the likes of Dzeko, Balotelli, and Yaya Touré to aim for in the middle it would be surprising not to see Kolarov’s assists begin increasing rapidly in England. The guile of David Silva along with the tireless and clinical nature of Carlos Tevez means there will most certainly be room and opportunity for Kolarov to get one on one with opposition full backs and make use of his pace.

Having a player as versatile as Kolarov in the squad is another aspect of his game that attracted Roberto Mancini to signing him before the 2010 season.

I first saw Kolarov in his Lazio debut back in 2007. His attacking capability is very good. He is fast and can shoot with power and accuracy. He also has the ability to play in numerous positions and is very good in midfield.Mancini, July 2010

For a manager who likes to employ a more conservative game against some of the bigger clubs Kolarov is the kind of player Mancini would pick ten times out of ten if available to him. When playing weaker teams Kolarov can play at left back and trust in his pace and stamina, as well as the tireless work rate of Carlos Tevez ahead of him and the immense defensive nous of Vincent Kompany behind to help him recover if he’s caught out.

When playing against tougher opposition Mancini can rely on the experience of Pablo Zabaleta or the added height of Joleon Lescott to fill in at left back and have Kolarov slot into left wing or even a midfield trio, neither position is he a stranger to. Playing Kolarov on the left wing is the kind of tactic that suits Mancini’s Italian mindset to a tee whenever he has need to employ it as it adds the defensive solidity of having another defender on the field, but one with the capabilities to hurt opponents at the other end.

By comparing his most recent games for Manchester City against West Bromwich Albion, where he played left wing, and Birmingham, where he played left back we can see the difference in his play when he is chosen in either position.

By using the brilliant Guardian Chalkboards there are a number of things we can observe about Kolarov’s game.

As is obvious to see straight away he is very much a left sided player. In both games at least 80% of his possession came while hugging the left touchline, he rarely ventures infield, preferring to go down the outside, however when he does get infield he is certainly not afraid to shoot.

Whether it’s City’s more patient build up style that sees them retain the ball at the back for longer or because he is just a more natural left back than left winger, it is clear enough too see that he is much more effective in defence. When played there he chalked (excuse the pun) up more than double the amount of touches while still enjoying a generous 47% of his possession in the opposition half. To many this may seem over adventurous for a defender but the modern full back is expected to get forward just as much as they are expected to defend.

In conclusion, it certainly looks like Kolarov will have a big say in just how far Manchester City progress in their bid for trophies. Having missed two and a half months at the start of the season through an injury picked up against Tottenham on the opening day he has struggled to hit top gear for City. However with two goals and an assist already in 2011 it appears that an extended run in the side was all Kolarov needed to start producing his best form at Eastlands and there is plenty of Premier League managers who will have to start factoring how to deal with the speedy Serbian into their game plan when facing off against the Blues.

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