Robin Sainty: How vital could Mario Vrancic be to City?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Much as I usually rail against them, for once I’ve actually found an international break enjoyable rather than frustrating.
The undoubted highlight was an absolute cracker of a game at The Walks on Saturday between King's Lynn Town and Chester that proved the perfect counterpoint to the turgid England performance the previous evening as Gareth Southgate appeared to be labouring under the misapprehension that football in England is played only in London, Manchester and Liverpool.
After watching the supposed elite of the Premier League phone in a performance that combined arrogance and ineptitude in equal measures, it was nice to watch two teams of semi-professionals going hammer and tongs at each other in a game that swung from one team to the other before ending in an honourable draw.
What's more, it was also a pleasant distraction from the stress that I suspect we're all currently feeling as City fans.
Since City's march to the Championship title started in earnest with a win against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground a year ago, this weekend we have been taken on a roller-coaster ride up to the heights of Villa Park in May and then back down to the depths of despair as the reality of trying to compete in the Premier League against the odds while the injury list gets longer and longer has sunk in.
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However, what's really frustrating is that I don't think that we yet have a clear view of City's ability to perform at this level.
We still don't know what a central defensive pairing of Ben Godfrey and Christoph Zimmermann would look like in the Premier League, apart from a 20-minute cameo at West Ham, nor how Ibrahim Amadou could strengthen the midfield or what the impact of the pace of Onel Hernandez would be on City's ability to stretch opponents. However, perhaps the biggest unanswered question is what a fully-fit Mario Vrancic could bring to the team.
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For me, Vrancic was one of the most vital components in City's final surge to the Championship title, not just in terms of his creativity but also his ability to produce goals at key moments. What's more, his contribution to the defensive aspect of City's game is often overlooked.
I remember when he first came into the side in Daniel Farke's initial season he was dismissed as lightweight by some fans, but he has worked on that aspect of his game and last season was both strong in the tackle and impressive in the air. He really has been a big miss.
However, and I say this with fingers crossed, it does seem that the injury situation is improving slightly with Vrancic, Hernandez, Tim Krul, Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey all back in training.
However, there will, justifiably, be caution about rushing players back, particularly those who have been out for a long period, so it may still be a couple of weeks before all five come into contention as starters.
Unfortunately, that probably means that we won't see two specialist defensive midfielders screening what is likely to once again be a makeshift centre back partnership this afternoon with no sign of Grant Hanley returning to training yet.
The return of Krul would be a big bonus as it would allow City to play out from the back more effectively, but against Villa the central midfield didn't offer enough protection to Amadou and Godfrey and every time the visitors broke they found acres of space to exploit.
Given that Bournemouth are very effective on the counter, this will be a major area of concern for City today.
It's going to be a tough task for Farke, but at least with Teemu Pukki rediscovering his goal-scoring touch in the internationals and players finally returning to fitness he may at last be seeing some light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.