Getting To The Hart Of The (Not Very Many) Problems For Manchester City
This was a game Manchester City should never have been in a position to lose. City dominated possession (70% to 30%) and outshot the home side (15 to 9). But beyond the bare statistics, all three of Cardiff's goals came very much against the run of play and almost out of the blue (no pun intended) . That Malky Mackay's side emerged victorious can be credited to their defensive organisation with the combative midfield of Gary Medel (pictured below tussling with Sergio Aguero) and Aron Gunnarsson at the heart of the rearguard effort. Medel had more interceptions than any other player on the pitch with four and his fiery performance led Gary Neville to compare him to Gennaro Gattuso. After being significantly hampered by injury during his five-year spell at Sunderland, Frazier Campbell looked a different player from the one who only scored 6 goals in 58 appearances at the Stadium of Light. Campbell's work-rate was excellent throughout and his quick, intelligent movement always gave makeshift centre-half Javi Garcia something to worry about.
It was that said movement that created Cardiff's opening goal with the former Manchester United striker getting away from Pablo Zabaleta inside the box and running in front of Garcia towards the near post before the Spaniard had enough time to react. Campbell's close-range shot was saved by Joe Hart but the rebound fell to Gunnarsson for a relatively easy finish. Zabaleta's inability to cope with Campbell's movement would cost City dearly with the normally ultra-reliable right-back failing to mark him tightly enough for both of his set-piece headed goals.
The Argentine defender was deservedly voted as Manchester City's Player of The Year last season and has been the outstanding player in his position in England for some time now so yesterday's performance is probably an anomaly. That same defence could not be made for Hart who should have covered for his teammate by making a relatively easy punch which would have prevented Cardiff from going in front.
Hart's form has been on the slide since City lifted the Premier League title in 2011/12 and his latest blunder is just the continuation of that downward spiral. Former City assistant manager David Platt reportedly told Al-Jazeera that Roberto Mancini had planned to replace Hart with Asmir Begovic this summer before he was sacked and Manuel Pellegrini will be tempted to follow a similar course of action sooner rather than later if the mistakes continue.
While again stressing that the nature of this defeat would suggest an aberration rather than a trend, City's lack of creativity in central midfield will be slightly concerning to Pellegrini. Yesterday, Yaya Touré acted as their deep-lying playmaker and had the second-most touches of any City player (Gael Clichy had the most) with 109. With Cardiff's midfield sitting deep to deny space between the lines (space between the midfield and defence) for David Silva and Aguero, this made it difficult for the Ivorian to find a teammate in an attacking position. This is a situation City are likely to face regularly this season and it is fair to question if Touré is the man to help unpick the locks in that position. For all his undoubted strengths, the 30-year-old has never been a very creative passer. However, City do have a talented alternative in their squad.
Samir Nasri's temperament and reliability are very much to open to question but his talent and technique are not. Mancini rarely used Nasri in the deeper role in which he excelled in with Arsenal in the 2010/11 season but Pellegrini would appear not to be quite as reluctant. In the 77th minute yesterday with the game level at 1-1, Fernandinho was substituted for James Milner and Nasri dropped back into midfield. Admittedly, this tactic didn't prove particularly effective but that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing in future and the Frenchman could yet prove to be a good foil for Touré and Fernandinho.
One positive for City in defeat was Alvaro Negredo who looked very sharp after coming on for Edin Dzeko in the 69th minute. Aside from his calm finish in injury time to give Cardiff a nervous last few minutes, he looked a constant threat to the home defence. With £22 million signing Stevan Jovetic set to return from injury, City have a wealth of enticing options in attack, indeed so much so that if City don't play Nasri in midfield then they don't really need him at all.