Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughMancini looks to tighten up at the back to make Champions League progress - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Mancini looks to tighten up at the back to make Champions League progress - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Mancini looks to tighten up at the back to make Champions League progress

It still seems strange to suggest that Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City side need to tighten up defensively considering that one of the biggest accusations during Mancini’s first two seasons in charge was he would often set City out too conservatively.

However, since adding the likes of Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero to his ranks last summer, Mancini has taken the shackles off his side as they stormed to the title last season as the league’s top goalscorers with a whopping 93 goals. Indeed, City’s failure to progress past the group stages in the Champions League last year, albeit from a tough group that included eventual finalists Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal, was arguably due to their new, vibrant but ultimately far too open attacking nature.

Against Napoli in their opening group match, City flew forward, evidently excited to make their bow in the Champions League. So attack-minded were they that the spaces left at the back were always going to be exploited if City failed to produce offensively, particularly with the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani playing at the other end. Similarly and perhaps more remarkably, City travelled to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich in their next match and again, chose to take the game to the German heavyweights. Mancini’s naivety was duly punished as his team were picked off and having taken only one point from their opening two games, City’s European adventure was already on a tightrope.

The return game with Napoli also highlighted the flaws in Mancini’s new style. Having taken the lead through Mario Balotelli, one would have expected Mancini as an Italian manager and one who had prioritised the defensive side of the game in his first year or so as City boss, to have backed off, shut up shop and ensured that City came away with the victory that would have taken them through to the knock out stages. But no, more goals were pursued and Cavani pounced twice to send Napoli through at their more illustrious opponent’s expense.

One year on and City have been put in arguably a much tougher group, with the champions of Spain, Germany and Holland in Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax to contend with. With City’s opening two matches coming away at the Bernabeu on Wednesday before hosting Dortmund at the Etihad in two weeks time, Mancini would be wise to remember last year’s difficulties and ensure that City remain very much in the hunt by the third game of the group. Going to the Bernabeu and opening the game up would be suicidal, particularly with the way the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria can exploit any vacant room. Similarly, Dortmund’s Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus will not hesitate to strike if given the opportunity.

Fundamentally, it takes more nuance to win the Champions League. Control and mastery of possession is key rather than blitzkrieg attacking. Indeed, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson for years suffered due to their attacking instincts, which though successful in the Premier League, has been shown to come up short in the Champions League against better teams, better players and better defences.

Mancini is no fool however. He will know that to succeed in Europe City must play a little more conservatively. But he will also know that without the probing of David Silva, the flashes of Nasri, the running power of Yaya Toure, not to mention the pairing of Aguero and a re-born Carlos Tevez up front, City would not be the same team. Clearly reluctant to drop anyone, Mancini has experimented with a 3-4-1-2 formation at times this season, possibly with one eye on the Champions League. By playing three at the back and retaining three in midfield, City are not only in theory, less open than they were playing the 4-2-3-1 they used last season, but keep their attacking threat with either Nasri or Silva playing just behind the two strikers. Width is kept by the two wing backs, Maicon and Alexander Kolarov, both perfectly suited to the roles, who can bomb forward with the knowledge that three central defenders they have left behind often a measure of security. Last season, City’s attacking full backs would leave the two central defenders exposed, which Napoli in particular relished.

In truth, the formation has had mixed success so far but with new signings Maicon and Javi Garcia both impressing in the set-up against Stoke at the weekend, Mancini could well have found the answer to City’s tactical problems in the Champions League. Certainly it at least shows a level of progression from the manager, who seems to understand just where things went wrong in Europe last season.

Adam Mazrani

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