The Season So Far
Manchester City’s campaign has been more-or-less torpedoed by injuries to key players, the declines of others and endless speculation surrounding the managerial position. Captain and leader Vincent Kompany has barely been able to string a run of games together without succumbing to one problem or another, while Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and, inevitably, Sergio Agüero have all missed large parts of the season, disrupting City’s rhythm on a continual basis.
The likes of Yaya Touré, Aleks Kolarov and Martín Demichelis, key players in City’s last title triumph, have regressed markedly this season and it seems unlikely that any of them will continue at the club beyond May. Touré now looks tired, disinterested and unable to keep up with the pace of top-level football, while Demichelis is so bad that it would be an act of unquestionable kindness to take him out behind the stables and introduce him to his maker via one ruthless usage of a bolt gun.
Finally, the continual "Is Guardiola coming? Isn’t he?" speculation has done much to undermine Manuel Pellegrini and the unsurprising news that the Catalan demigod will indeed arrive next season has given the players one less reason to try, as if most of them appeared to need one. Several players have spoken of wanting to give Pellegrini a proper send-off, but their actions seem to suggest they’re already thinking about life under Pep.
The Season Ahead
Even though City have been extremely Jekyll and Hyde for much of 2015-16 – they recently won back-to-back league games for only the second time this season – there’s still plenty for the underachieving Citizens to play for, and plenty of reason to believe they can achieve something special.
The race for fourth place isn’t quite run, and City are competing with eternal rivals Manchester United for the last Champions League spot. Clinching fourth would normally be a miserable return on the sort of investment Manchester City put in, but in this case doing so would surely see United dispense with their manager and go back to square one with the start of yet another new project – one which could doom United to mediocrity forever.
Even more importantly, they’re in the Champions League semi-final, and from here on anything is possible. Arguably the weakest side left in the tournament, it would be something of a surprise if they didn’t get absolutely massacred by
FC Avarice & Ego Real Madrid, FC Tactical Foul Atlético Madrid or FC Philosophical Wankery Bayern Munich, but as Chelsea proved in 2012, being totally crap compared to the other teams isn’t necessarily a barrier to winning the most important club trophy there is.
As ever, City favour an aggressive form of possession football, with quick combinations on the edge of the opposition area creating scoring chances for their enviable arsenal of attacking talent. The plan hasn’t been changed for a few years now: they have started with a rough 4-2-3-1 setup and looked to achieve numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch with the wide attackers drifting inside and the full-backs overlapping to maintain width.
There’s a lack of intensity in their press and an arrogance throughout the side that can quickly become complacency. This has led to City’s increased but somewhat overstated defensive vulnerability, and the apparent demise of every single one of their centre-backs. Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala simply haven’t looked comfortable playing in a high line with little midfield protection. They’re all aggressive, proactive centre-backs, and City’s lack of a sitting, conservative option to complement one of them means none of the defensive partnerships they can come up with have much balance.
Other than that, this remains a fearsome unit on paper. Chelsea’s biggest hope is that Dr Jekyll stays in the North and Mr Hyde shows up at Stamford Bridge.
Their big strength is their monstrous attack. When Agüero, Silva, De Bruyne and Touré are firing on all cylinders they’re basically unstoppable, and the attacking figures confirm this. 533 is the second highest total number of shots taken by a Premier League side this season, while the same is true for 330 shots taken from inside the box and 174 total shots on target. City’s overall conversion rate of 10.2% is high and they’re ever-so-marginally overperforming against Expected Goals, having scored 52 against 51.2 xG.
The key to their domination in attack is multipronged: first of all, they’re so good at keeping the ball that they can take it wherever they want; secondly, they can make a chance relatively easily from wherever they take the ball – whereas some sides can be forced wide and contained from there, forcing City wide just encourages a quick positional interchange in the centre, a couple of one-twos to get back into the middle and before you know it Agüero’s shooting at goal; third of all, as previously stated, they’ve simply got loads of great attackers and when they can be bothered there’s not much anyone can do about it.
Their attacking domination also functions as a good form of defence: 271 total shots faced is the lowest number in the division, while the same is true for 167 shots from inside the box. 107 shots on target faced is the fourth lowest figure. Basically, if you want to beat them you need them to: 1. Make individual errors in defence; 2. Struggle to find a rhythm in attack; 3. Stop giving a f**k halfway through the game.
Fortunately, 2015-16 has regularly seen Man City make catastrophic individual errors in defence, struggle to find a rhythm in attack and stop giving a f**k halfway through a game. If Chelsea come into this with a high intensity level (I know, I know) there’s no reason why they can’t beat City just by wanting it more. #passion #commitment #desire
City’s lack of concentration can be seen in a few metrics, starting with the defensive action numbers. Even for a team that has a lot of possession – 55.5% on average – 19.1 tackles per game, 16.1 interceptions per game and 10.4 fouls per game aren’t great numbers. A really great, hungry side would be doing more across the board to win the ball back when it’s lost. We’ve all watched Man City and seen Yaya, Silva and company ambling back towards some kind of semi-defensive position while the opposition speed down the pitch to score on the counter.
This lackadaisical attitude has led to increased pressure on the defence, and, given the stylistic mismatch between all of the centre-backs, it’s no surprise that they’ve made so many individual errors this season. On top of that, Joe Hart and Willy Caballero haven’t been anywhere near their best: City's save percentage of 71.7% is shockingly average. It’s no surprise then that they've conceded more goals than expected: 32 against 28.8 xGA.
Again, it’s April so no-one really knows what’s coming. Samir Nasri made a goalscoring return last week and could feature playing on the left of City’s attack, while the fact that City knocked Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League midweek could mean just about anything in terms of team selection. Does Pellegrini keep a winning team, or does he rotate and keep his key players fresh for what promises to be a massively intense last few weeks? The answer, probably, is a bit of both.
As for Chelsea, one would expect a more recognisable line-up than the one that lost to Swansea last weekend. But, really, who knows?
If Man City turn up in Dr Jekyll mode, they could win by three goals without breaking a sweat. If they come as Mr Hyde, Chelsea could do the same to them (somehow). The only thing I’m saying for certain is that Kevin De Bruyne will score, because, y’know, karma and all that.