Mancini has always been criticised for his constant reshuffling of his Man City team, with a specific emphasis placed on choosing to play three centre-backs or, not necessarily linked, a lone striker.
My personal opinion is that Mancini should play his variation on 4-4-2 that lines up more as a 4-2-2-2, with the wide midfielders in fact operating in more offensive positions with also a more fluid mentality whilst the two central midfielders very much hold the centre of the pitch and rarely find themselves further forward. This conclusion has come about through research done on Man City’s record when deploying this formation against their succes, or lack of it, with alternative styles.
I have looked at Manchester City’s results in competitive games from the start of the season and based on the starting XI calculated that out of the 27 games played (I did the research before the Arsenal game that was played today) 19 were played with two strikers and two wide midfielders and the 9 remaining either with 5 at the back or Yaya Toure or another midfielder playing ‘behind the striker’, more of a 4-5-1 formation.
With respect to the variant formations, out of these 9 games, Man City have won, drawn and lost on three occasions, meaning a win percentage of 33%. In these games they average 1.7 goals per game and concede on average 1.9 goals per game resulting in a total goal difference of -2. This evidently is not the form of a title winning side and therefore begs the question why Mancini persisted with this set up, especially in the Champions League and earlier in the season.
Man City in my opinion have played their best football with this line up.
Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
The 4-2-2-2 style is evident here as although prolific last season, Yaya Toure has this season taken up the role of a deep-lying playmaker alongside Gareth Barry or at times Javi Garcia who take on the responsibility of the ‘enforcer’. This has meant Toure’s driving runs are far less frequent but his passing ability and physical presence have come to the fore. Another benefit of this system is the amount of space for Nasri and Silva to operate in, as the deeper midfielders mean they can both cut in to central positions and slide reverse passes for the strikers, exploiting their strengths as creative minded players; as well as allowing two of the best full backs in the Premier League to gallop forward and aid the attack. Yet, their ability as wide players earlier in their careers is evident as their dribbling skills means that they are equally as dangerous in the wider positions they sometimes take up. Finally, although often sometimes labelled as filling in the space behind Aguero, it is clear Tevez is deployed as a second striker, rather than a fifth midfielder. This allows him and Aguero to work the ball between each other, whilst his forward runs and work rate not only allow Man City to apply more pressure offensively, but also enables them to pin the opposition back. Their closing down provides one problem for the opposition but the fact they have to concern themselves with the intelligent movement of two world class strikers rather than one not only nullifies the defence’s ability to cover the space in behind but also causes an extremely negative and cautious approach to manifest in the mind of the opposing team, which in itself can cause mistakes to be made or invite prolonged periods of Man City pressure onto themselves.
The advantages of this system I have outlined are demonstrated by their impressive record they have in the 19 games its been used. Winning 58% of their games (11) whilst scoring 2 per game and conceding only 0.89 a game means they have only lost 2 (Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United) and drawn the remaining six whilst totting up an extremely impressive goal difference of +21. Their victory over Newcastle epitomises the effectiveness of this formation and the world class football it enables them to play, I was in complete awe of their football during this game, especially in the first half.
From these stats, it is clear to see that not only do they seem to have attacking threat in abundance, which is expected with an extra man in these postions but, perhaps paradoxically, they have a much better defence, conceding almost half as many goals per game. This goes back to my previous point as by having so much attacking power, they are able to dominate the game and with dominance not only comes more goal scoring opportunities, but less of them for the opposition as well.
Furthermore, from a more general perspective, the resurgence and redevelopment of the classic 4-4-2 is seen through the other Manchester Club’s use of it, but in an even more old fashioned manner. Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney provide the goal scoring power whilst Young and Valencia stretch the opposition team, allowing their central midfielders to find their forwards or play through balls in between the central defenders and the full backs for the wingers to latch on to.
It seems their is so much emphasis on being innovative with tactics and formations in modern day football that sometimes the simplest of solutions is over looked. Even AVB at Spurs has realised the benefits of 4-4-2, deploying Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale as out and out wingers whilst the two centre forwards occupy the central defenders leaving space in behind and isolated full backs for these players to exploit.
This piece aimed to glorify the simplicity and effectiveness of 4-4-2, or slight variants of it. The example of Man City provides solid evidence that their best option is to embrace this tactic and by looking at the success of other teams that share this philosophy, I think it is one of the most effective formations available to managers and predict that we will see many more teams in the Premier League reverting back to this style in the future, well, I hope so anyway.