Last Saturday saw Manchester City drop even further back in the title race with a 2-0 defeat away to Everton.
Even though the Merseyside club Everton played over 30 minutes with ten men after South African winger Steven Pienaar was sent off for two bookable offences in the 61st minute, City failed to trouble David Moyes' side.
So what went wrong?
Let us focus on what set the precedent for this defeat - the formation and starting line-up that manager Roberto Mancini decided to employ for this tough away game. The Italian set his team up in a 3-4-3, with Aleksandar Kolarov, Gareth Barry, Javi Garcia and James Milner as his midfield four.
Indeed, that raft of names is as uninspiring as they come. Yes, Mancini’s hand was perhaps a little twisted by the big-name absentees in the starting XI, most notably Ivory Coast powerhouse Yaya Toure who missed the game with a migraine.
However, the Italian placed too much faith and responsibility in his front three to provide the creative spark going forward. Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and David Silva are all great attacking players but it was not enough to overcome the resilient Toffees’ back four that has the fifth-strongest defence in the league and has conceded only four goals more than champions’ elect Manchester United.
In fact, save for a five-minute spell, the defending champions City hardly troubled stand-in players Johnny Heitinga and Slovakian goalkeeper Jan Mucha for the entire first half, and they found themselves trailing 1-0 to a spectacular Leon Osman curler at half time.
The 3-4-3 system simply set City on their way to defeat. In retrospect, perhaps a 3-5-2 would have suited them better. The 3-4-3 upset the team balance both defensively and offensively. First, especially with a team playing three in the middle, it leaves you a man short in the middle of the park.
Due to that deficiency in the middle, a manager may be forced to play workman-like players as opposed to more technical and silky players. Taking the example of Manchester City, they started with Kolarov rather than French left-back Gael Clichy who is considerably better than the former going forward. They also left controversial midfielder Samir Nasri on the bench, whereas the Frenchman would have given Roberto Mancini’s side an edge in central midfield given his quality on the ball.
If Mancini really felt the need to play three centre-backs across the back (which again was unnecessary against just one forward-Victor Anichebe), maybe he should have gone with a 3-5-2 that would have looked a little like this:
Hart; Zabaleta, K. Toure, Nastasic, Clichy; Barry, Garcia, Silva, Milner; Tevez, Dzeko.
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