Mancini needs to become more decisive if he is to solve City’s defensive woes

Following Manchester City’s failure to hold onto leads against first Arsenal in the Premier League and then three days later Aston Villa as the Citizens crashed out of the League Cup, Roberto Mancini lamented his side’s defensive frailties so far this season. Indeed, the reigning league champions have failed to keep a clean sheet to date and many City fans are beginning to fear for their side’s title defence and ability to make progress in the Champions League, where a late defensive collapse has already seen City crash to defeat at Real Madrid from a winning position.

Mancini may appear a little bemused as to why his side, who were so defensively solid for nearly two seasons after his arrival at the Etihad, have become so fallible and perhaps there is some validity in the argument that the whole team has lost just that little bit of hunger following their successes and as a consequence, are not defending rigidly enough as a team. But that does not account for the individual errors we have seen from the usually so dependable Pablo Zabaleta, Joleon Lescott and most remarkably of all, skipper Vincent Kompany.

So what is the key to solving Manchester City’s defensive woes before it becomes too late? Firstly, perhaps Mancini should take a little look in the mirror. The warning signs were there last season as the Italian chose to forego his defensive nature and open the game up for City’s attacking talents to flourish. Superb to watch it may have been but at times City were far too open at the back and only for the brilliance of Kompany did they survive at times. This year, Mancini appears to have made City even more attacking. Their matches have at times resembled a basketball match and this was particularly evident in the Bernabeu with the score at 2-2 with only minutes to go and yet City were still flinging men forward, leaving space at the back for Ronaldo to go on and score the winner.

Mancini does appear to have some awareness of this issue, hence his switch to a 3-5-2 formation at times this season. However, it has been used a little flimsily and inconsistently. If Mancini truly believes that the new formation is the best way forward then he should commit to it fully. Of course there are examples out there of teams with ever-changing styles and formations that are successful – Juventus in Serie A at the moment a case in point, but history has proved that teams achieve most set with an established stable style of play.

If Mancini commits to the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought City the title last season, then the other problem he must solve is who is to be the consistent partner to Vincent Kompany. The Belgian’s usually imperious form has suffered this season and that has been in no part helped by his lack of a regular partner with Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastasic, Kolo Toure and Pablo Zabaleta have all played alongside the Belgian at various points. Mancini would probably cite that each of the options contain difficulties: Lescott may have been a regular last season but perhaps lacks technique and confidence with the ball at the highest level, Nastasic is a fine prospect but has just arrived in English football and lacks experience, Toure is a player City spent the majority of the summer trying to sell while Zabaleta is nominally a full back.

Whether a club with the spending power of Manchester City should be going into a season without two top class central defenders is a matter for another day. Those are the defenders Mancini has and he would be wise to choose a regular one to at least add some stability to the backline in it’s most crucial central area. If he sees Nastasic as the future, then why not blood him now alongside Kompany’s experience. However, Lescott is a proven England international and perhaps deserves a little bit more respect than to simply be discarded for a younger model. The fact that we are here tossing and turning between the two simply highlights the difficulties Mancini has but he is paid handsomely to make such decisive decisions and this is certainly one that can have a massive impact on the future course of his side’s season.

Adam Mazrani