Robin Sainty: No need for City to reinvent the wheel
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It's been tough going for City and their fans - two shot-shy 0-0 draws followed by a defeat to one of their closest rivals in which two uncharacteristic individual errors proved the difference were both hard to watch and hard to take.
Inevitably this poor run of results has generated various degrees of angst and reactions have ranged from stoicism to blind panic with City’s quality being downplayed and Swansea, and particularly Brentford, who are currently going through a very impressive purple patch, being afforded an aura of invincibility.
They are two exceptionally fine sides who will unquestionably be there or thereabouts in May, but the Championship is an incredibly tough league, and while it was inevitable that City would have at least one bad spell over 46 games, it is equally likely that both of those clubs will suffer similarly sticky patches, probably when least expected.
However, there is no doubt that City are currently struggling, although I’m not sure that a huge amount of change is needed to get them back on track.
Much of the recent debate about the slump has revolved around the unresolved issue of who is the best fit in the number 10 position, but I think that is a bit of a red herring, simply because City’s rise to the top of the table was achieved without the problem (and it clearly is a problem), being resolved.
I’m also unconvinced that the offensive problems are a trade-off for City’s much improved defence, which has more to do with personnel changes than a significant change in style.
What I do think is an issue is that City aren’t doing the things that come instinctively when they are at their best and the ball is being pinged effortlessly around in a series of one- and two-touch passes with players getting their heads up and seeing situations developing.
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As an example, it’s worth looking back to the wins at Bristol City and Stoke before Christmas. In both those games City repeatedly moved the ball early to exploit gaps in defences struggling to get into position, yet in recent weeks the ponderous movement of the ball through a midfield that hasn’t been helped by changes due to illness and suspension, allied to some sloppy passing, has allowed teams ample time to get men behind the ball.
This has certainly adversely affected Teemu Pukki, who is a master of channel running, whilst getting players to the bye line and whipping in the sort of low hard cross that Pukki thrives on seems to have disappeared from City’s game.
It’s almost as if they are trying to score the perfect goal at times, but all too often incessant lateral passing ends in a poor final ball or wild shot as patience runs out.
I understand that Daniel Farke’s game plan revolves around possession and I have no issue with that, but recently it appears that possession has become an end in itself, and there are times when I’d like to see players running at opponents and forcing them out of their comfort zone.
For example, in the final minute of first-half injury time at Swansea, City had the ball in their opponent’s half but then played eight passes without gaining ground rather than getting the ball into the box as time ran out.
The other area where City are regularly underperforming is set-piece delivery. A single goal from a corner all season tells its own story and free-kicks around the opposition box rarely seem to ask tough questions of the defence or goalkeeper, which is immensely frustrating given the technical quality in the squad.
I’m not advocating radical change, just to see the ball moved a little quicker and some variation in the way attacks are developed to keep opponents guessing. We are only talking about small margins, but they can make all the difference.