With a roster as long as Piers Morgan’s enemy list – and increasing at pretty much the same rate, it’s becoming nigh on impossible to predict exactly what plan the Italian has in mind for the oil-rich Manchester City.
Last year, Mancini looked to prefer a 4-2-3-1 system, though, really, he chopped and changed as form and availability required. Now, with such an expansive squad, littered with some stellar names, Mancini could well be forced into an ever flexible and ever mutating system, not just to sooth egos, but to give everyone a fair opportunity. But surely there needs to be a foundation; a mould or outline of a first eleven – a ‘default’ if you will. If there is, then what is it?
In terms of defence, selection appears ostensibly straight-forward. It isn’t, but in relative to other positions, that description will suffice.
Mancini never deviated from a four-man back four in his managerial career, be it at Lazio, Inter or City. And there’s little reason for him to do so now with City’s wealth of quality personnel in that area.
City’s newest acquisition, assuming the deal is finalized in the forthcoming days, the powerful Serbian left-back Aleksandar Kolarov, should get the nod ahead of Wayne Bridge in Mancini’s ‘absolute’ eleven. Adjacent to him on the opposite flank should be German full-back Jerome Boateng. Mancini can then take his pick of Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, or Vincent Kompany in the middle.
Should that become the makeup of his ideal starting back-four, it leaves one-time England-hopeful Micah Richards out in the cold along with fellow Englishman Nedum Onuoha. Additionally, Javier Garrido, Pablo Zabaleta, and promising youngster Dedryk Boyata will all serve lengthy periods on the bench. A total of seven defenders, all of whom have been familiar with first-team duties over the past few years, will therefore be frozen out of the team unless Mancini can sensibly and adroitly juggle his resources in rotation.
Midfield is where the largest problem is posed, however. Assuming James Milner becomes a property of Eastlands before the season’s kick-off, Mancini could come to comfortably name two entirely different five man midfields with enough men left over to clean the chosen ten’s boots afterwards. Stranger still is the fact that so many play in similar positions. In defensive midfield for example, Mancini could name Gareth Barry, Patrick Viera, Nigel De Jong, Yaya Toure, Kelvin Etuhu, or Vincent Kompany. Furthermore, even James Milner, Stephen Ireland, Michael Johnson and Vladmir Weiss may have to compete for those two positions if Carlos Tevez is opted for behind the lone striker.
On the wings it’s relatively simpler – assuming the club is able to find a new home for Craig Bellamy. But it would be a shame to see either Adam Johnson or Shaun Wright-Phillips permanently shifted to the bench while David Silva (on the right or left depending on whether Mancini sticks with inverted wingers) makes the position his own.
Upfront meanwhile, there barely appears to be room for one of Brazil’s standout players of the recent World Cup. Robinho, should he return, may have difficulty fitting back into a team that doesn’t appear to afford him his galvanizing left-of-centre position (assuming that the wide left position will be taken up by one of Silva, Wright-Phillips or Johnson).
Robinho’s compatriot Jo may also return from his loan at Galatasaray. Additionally, Felipe Caicedo, a forgotten man in many respects, is still on the books at Eastlands. And what about the supposed move for the renownedly recalcitrant Mario Balotelli? Where would he – and more importantly his ego – fit in? Then, of course, there is the party of four that were most prominent last season: Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz. Are they all going to be expected to compete for one or two places?
However Mancini chooses to play it next season, the Italian sure won’t be without a plethora of quality options. Short of a cataclysmic catastrophe he should only be able to bemoan injuries to his prized assets in tongue-in-cheek fashion as other clubs look-on in paralytic envy. Whatever happens, who ever plays, squad rotation will be paramount. Whether that will appease everyone, remains to be seen.
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