How could this happen? Manchester City are the best team in the Barclay’s Premier League, which is considered by many to be the greatest league in the entire world. Why, therefore, do the Citizens continue to fail spectacularly on Europe’s biggest stage? The answer is simple: tactical ineptitude.
Name a great team in European football. Barcelona – everyone knows their playing style, the famous tiki-taka philosophy. Real Madrid – a hybrid of solid defending and lighting quick counter-attacks, or against lesser sides a more initiative approach. Bayern Munich – a swashbuckling, sweep all those before them method. Borussia Dortmund – probably the most effective counter-attacking football team on the planet. Even Manchester United continue to stick with that familiar attacking style.
Now name Man City’s tactics. Ha, I’ve got you. The fact of the matter is that they don’t have any particular approach. Their formation and system is dependent on the players available, and how those players feel that day. That may be fine against the likes of Southampton (no offense intended for Southampton fans) but Mancini’s men will – and do – get caught out on the grander stage, i.e. the UEFA Champions League.
Just take their recent game with Everton for example, at the Etihad stadium. City went into the game top of the pile and unbeaten so far this season, while Everton were sitting in the relatively lofty position of sixth (for this time of year for them anyway).
The Toffees came to Eastlands with an approach that paid dividends. David Moyes has developed a style at the Merseyside club that has made them an incredibly difficult side to beat. Without the ball they are disciplined, dogged and possess a tremendous work ethic. With it, they move the ball quickly and efficiently, utilising the talented players they have, such as Pienaar, Fellaini and Gibson.
In short, they outplayed their more illustrious and wealthy hosts, and would have returned to Merseyside with three invaluable points in the bag if it wasn’t for a fortuitous penalty.
It was Manchester City’s approach to the game which caught my eye however, or lack of one to be more accurate. Unlike Everton, they weren’t 100% committed to a belief, and seemed to just hang around and wait for one of their many flair players produce a moment of magic and seal a victory.
In possession they were static, their passing slow and sloppy at times. They struggled – sorry – failed to crack Everton’s defence, and the closest they got to Tim Howard’s goal was when Carlos Tevez stroked home his penalty kick.
They looked lethargic and uninspired, and not for the first time this season I might add. Although they lined out in a more conservative 4-2-3-1 formation against Everton, Mancini has flirted with several different formations this season, often changing tact two or three times in a single game. This indecisiveness and tactical ineptitude has been a feature of the Italian’s reign of the Mancunians, although it has gone undetected everywhere but Europe because of their complete superiority on home shores.
Another failing I believe Roberto Mancini has is his horrific team-building skills, but that’s a story for another day!