Five for Thought: Manchester City v West Brom and Manchester City Women v Arsenal Ladies

It was a full weekend in front of the television as Manchester City returned to Premier League action whilst Manchester City’s women took on Piers Morgan’s Arsenal at Boreham Wood in front of the BT Sport camera. I could literally write 2000 words about both performances as the Women were superb on Sunday winning 3-2 to propel them well into the title race whilst West Brom were passed to death at the Hawthorns.

Balance, determination and excitement

WBA 01 The Copa America literally reduced City to a starting XI in pre-season as Sergio Aguero, Martin Demechelis, Pablo Zabaleta and Fernandinho took no part in pre-season. That left Manuel Pellegrini with the hard task of trying to piece together a side that he felt were fit enough to play a Premier League 90 minutes. The team picked itself as Pellegrini started Silva in the middle behind Wilfried Bony with Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas on either wing.  To be honest I was a little apprehensive about an out of form and unfit City turning up at the Hawthorns to play Tony Pulis’ land of the giant. I needn’t have worried as City had a balance to their play I’ve not seen for years. With literally two players on either wing for the majority of the 90 minutes West Brom couldn’t double up on Silva for fear of giving someone else too much space and thus was given the freedom to switch the ball to either wing at will. It was amazing to watch; try and get tight on Sterling and the ball goes down the right to Navas, get near Navas and it goes straight back to Sterling; try and close down both wings and Silva and Toure will tear you apart through the middle. Pure artistry. City had West Brom chasing their own shadows for 90 minutes. City moved the ball quickly when they needed to but also demonstrated a patience that I’ve not seen since Roberto Mancini was in charge. They basically said to West Brom; “OK, We’ve got the ball, you’ve either got to get it off us or not make a mistake for 90 minutes!” Out of all the supposed top four clubs, it was the team David James has picked to finish fifth that looked the most impressive. If you look at the graphic below, developed a clear pattern of play as they exploited both wings, getting the ball forward quickly and spent much less time play it around the 18 box struggling to break down the West Brom defence.   on the right, it shows you Silva’s attacking movement as everything was designed to punish West Brom in some way.  An amazing performance.

David Silva. The best there is

WBA 03 Big secret, David Silva is a great player. In my opinion he’s the single greatest player to ever wear a Manchester City shirt, the best player in the Premier League and worth my season ticket money alone. It’s a genuine privilege to watch him play in Sky blue. I think if you were a West Brom fan at the Hawthorns tonight you’ve got your money’s worth just seeing him pull your team apart. Silva ran the game from start to finish, his passing was superb completing 90 of 95 passes. His movement was amazing, through the middle, down the left to play off Sterling and down the right to play in Sagna or Navas. The heat map shows him enjoying huge pockets of space all over the final third but coming out to inter link with either winger and either full back.  West Brom brought on Yacob at half time, he was clearly in no mood to try and stay tight on Silva.  He played as if he were determined to get an early finish from work and beat the match traffic home such was the impact of Silva.. On another night Mike Dean could have sent him off three times the number of times he flattened Silva. An absolute world class performance from David Silva and the one thing the last four years has told us is that when he’s in form and playing well City are the best side in the land.

Aleksander Kolarov and Bacary Sagna

So many good performances throughout the team (I will save my analysis of Raheem Sterling for next weekend’s preview) but I couldn’t overlook the contribution of the full backs.  On the third tier of the East Stand I’m well known for my dislike of Kolarov and had to begrudgingly accept that he was superb in our 2014 title winning season. Last season past him by as he was blighted by injury; likewise Bacary Sagna had a debut season to forget as he rarely played and when he did was playing in defence so short of confidence he looked a shadow of the player he had looked at Arsenal. Full Back 01Full Back 02However both put in superb performances, defending well and joining in with both wingers in attack. The influence graph (where the player is on the pitch when having an influence on the game) shows both full backs in the opponents half and seeing more of the football than the wingers. Both felt like new signings and again it feels like just when we need to look to bring players in we’ve competition for places at full back again.   If you look at the head map of both full backs they are both camped on half way with Kolarov especially able to be effective from inside the West Brom half.  His immediate ability to exchange with Sterling tormented West Brom all night.

City’s women benefiting from a change of shape

IMG_4147 Before the World Cup City’s women were closer to the relegation places than the league title and exited in the FA Cup at the semi-final stage despite dominating against Chelsea at Wycombe. Although City were blighted by suspensions to Karen Barsdley and Jill Scott as well as injury to Steph Houghton I felt that watching them they played some good football but it was all far too deep for it to trouble the opposition.  They really lacked a couple of players and it felt like a building year for Nick Cushing’s side.

Despite returning to WSL action just over a week after the World Cup they returned with a full strength squad (and the addition of Daphne Corboz)  allowing manager Nick Cushing to alter the shape of the side. Instead of having Jill Scott play a more advanced role she has dropped deeper into the midfield with Jenny Beattie. Away from home this has doubled the protection to the back four which had looked exposed at times before the break. At home it has allowed Scott to make latee runs when in possession as previously she’d been deployed more to the right and her long runs would often find her isolated and with no one to pass to.  Jill Scott has arguably been one of the most underrated of the England internationals since returning to the WSL. In addition, this has freed up more space in between the opposition midfield and defence, allowing Izzy Christiensen to shine in the number 10 role.  Chirstiensen bagged another goal after a lovely City move to make it 2-1 and, as mentioned previously, seriously taken a step up in the second half of the season. Corboz, who has come in for the injured Tash Harding and done well, has added a Silva-like quality (OK written before Monday nigh) to the attack, she’s got a great first touch, tight control, a great range of passing and has really linked midfield to attack. One of the by products for this has been the form of Nikita Parris, a player for all her speed had lacked a certain quality and a lot of confidence at times, and on Sunday I think she had her best performance in a City shirt.  Parris tormented the Arsenal defence, pressed the ball high up the field and really led the line brilliantly. I really hope that City make her loan move from Everton permanent at the end of October. The manager Nick Cushing deserves real credit for rallying his players and turning it around, he’s clearly got quality players to work with and the team spirit looks unparalleled. The six wins since the World Cup are just what he deserves but he and the squad will know work is just beginning.

Toni Duggan – great goal scorer and scorer of great goals

IMG_4149 At the World Cup there was a minor criticism that Toni Duggan had yet to score in the tournament. Duggan has been plonked out on the left wing, isolated, as she toiled for long spells in matches without any service but endeavoured, as the consummate team player, to work for the team often coming off the field exhausted. Upon returning to the WSL, despite City’s general criticism that they didn’t score enough goals as a team, Duggan has made up for lost time, netting six times in six games. After the Chelsea game Nick Cushing made a really interesting point that they’ve tried playing her in the middle on the last defender but her desire to help the team forces them to play her out wide and drift into space as she sees fit. Its incredible trust in the player but its paid off as she sealed the win with a truly stunning goal.  See Below.

Toni Duggan is a special talent and a crucial part of the side but she’s one of those players that every time you get the ball you think she’s going to do something special.  Having missed the penalty on Soccer AM on Saturday morning (save your goals for important matches) whilst having wrapped up the 2014/15 goal of the season competition at City Live on Thursday Duggan has arguably wrapped up the 2015/16 goal of the season as well. IMG_4151 Overall,it was  a terrific weekend for Manchester City (we are going to ignore New York City this week) and it sets up next week perfectly as both teams have absolutely massive games.  Never has the temptation to spend a Saturday night in Sunderland been as great as the Women travel their next Saturday night knowing that 3 points will see them leapfrog Sunderland into the top three. A top two finish will secure their place in the 2016/17 Champions League On Sunday Manuel Pellegrini’s side take on the Champions Chelsea at home.  Mourinho’s side are appealing the Courtois sending off from the weekend and with Martin Atkinson refereeing a successful appeal will tell us where the Premier League want the title to go this season.  A huge and exciting weekend ahead. I’ll be back on this week with the Chelsea game preview.  A game I’m literally buzzing for at the moment.


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