Tactics Board: City the wingless wonders

Posted by Richard Jolly

David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri celeb Man City GettyImagesDavid Silva and Samir Nasri played as Man City's 'wingers' against Barnsley but spent little time hugging their respective flanks

MANCHESTER CITY 5-0 BARNSLEY

Whatever Carlos Tevez's troubles with the law, Manchester City are in breach of the Trades Description Act. At no club are terms like 'left winger' and 'right winger' as deceptive. This is false advertising.

In an age of inverted wingers, looking infield rather than hugging the touchline, many a winger is not always on the wing. At the Etihad Stadium, they are rarely wingers to begin with. Instead, they are attacking midfielders who like to float between the lines, sometimes on the sides and sometimes in the middle. It is why, although Roberto Mancini’s preferred formation can be called 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, it may be more accurate to call it 4-2-2-2. It is a shape various Brazilian teams have favoured, including the Selecao at the 2006 World Cup when Kaka and Ronaldinho operated behind Adriano and Ronaldo, and where the full-backs were the sole source of width. It is an approach that means pace and stamina are essential ingredients for right-backs and left-backs, whose duties involve going past the central midfielders when they attack.

City's system gives them an advantage against teams who set up with that traditional British defensive structure, two banks of four, as Barnsley did. The licence to roam that City's nominal wide men – in this case, David Silva and Samir Nasri – have makes it hard for teams who defend zonally. One of the back four may find the area he patrols flooded by attackers while others have no one to mark.

In the 2-0 win over Chelsea, when Silva was supposedly on the left, in effect City operated without anyone there for large swathes of the game. Versus Barnsley, when the Spaniard was officially on the right, in reality he spent much of the match in a central position. He was in a striker's natural habitat to tap in City's fifth goal against Barnsley and, as Tevez scored each of his hat-trick goals, if the pitch had been divided vertically into three strips, only one of their players – full-back Pablo Zabaleta – was in the right third.

For the opener, Nasri was on the left and Silva, who hit the post before Tevez put the rebound in, was in the middle. For the Argentine's second, Silva, supplier again, and Nasri were both in the middle. When he added a third, Silva was behind him in the centre and Nasri, who had provided the pass, on the left. While, when a side attacks on one flank, the other wide man is often encouraged to come in to provide an option on the far post, City go far beyond that.

A typical City move is for both wingers to appear on the same flank and give them an overload which, with their ability to pass and move in packed areas, they can exploit.

The prime example of that tactic came in the 2-2 draw against Liverpool when Edin Dzeko scored after a combination of James Milner and Nasri in the inside-left channel. In another side, the wide men would have been separated by 40 yards. Particularly when Silva and Nasri both play, City's are often in close proximity.

The other factor in City’s fluidity is that their strikers, particularly Tevez and Sergio Aguero, are also capable of interchanging positions, dropping into the No. 10 position and going out to either flank. When they both play, it is reminiscent of Tevez's partnership with Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, marked by energy and movement and without a conventional No. 9. When Dzeko starts, as he did against Barnsley, there is more of a focal point for the attack. It allowed Tevez more of a roving brief: when he was in the penalty box, the system looked to be 4-2-2-2, when he was deeper or wider, it seemed more like 4-2-3-1.

He was the supplier of their second and scorer of the third in the thrashing of the Championship club: in both cases, he had been on the right flank seconds earlier. Indeed, for the second, Nasri occupied the centre-forward position while Aleksandar Kolarov, the overlapping left-back, was making the run a left winger would in many sides.

Nasri's removal with 40 minutes remaining brought a rare appearance for Scott Sinclair. The Englishman is the nearest thing to a conventional wide man in the City squad, even if, as right-footer often used on the left, he was an inverted winger for much of his time at Swansea. During a rare outing, Sinclair offered more genuine width than the regulars. He also appeared less between the lines. In short, he didn’t really play like a City winger.

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