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Team Unity, Not New Defenders, The Priority for Hughes’ Manchester City

Many have focused on the need for defenders. But perhaps more pressing to Manchester City’s immediate prospects is Mark Hughes’ ability to get all his superstar signings working together as a team…

Dunne might be in line to be replaced, but at least he will keep some of the team's egos in check...

Dunne might be in line to be replaced, but at least he will keep some of the team's egos in check...

Much has been written—and perhaps even more said—about Manchester City’s apparently ludicrous summer transfer policy.
With the recent acquisition of Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez for a combined £50 million, bringing Manchester City’s roster of top-class strikers to seven, some commentators have been lead to state that having such a depth of offensive talent on the books is not just greedy, but a little pointless.
This is especially true, as many have been quick to point out with a certain glee, when a team still relies on defenders of the quality of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards.
“Manchester City’s All-Star lineup of strikers looks impressive—more than that, it looks electrifying—but they have to build a defence, or else it will be the Real Madrid galacticos reborn; lots of goals and nothing else to show for it,” wrote former Liverpool midfielder turned Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp this week. “In seven of the last 10 years, the team who won the title have also boasted the best defensive record.”
Clearly, City wouldn’t decline the opportunity to upgrade their defence from Micah Richards and Richard Dunne, especially after both had disappointing seasons last year. But with holding midfielders in front of them of the quality of Vincent Kompany, Nigel De Jong, and Gareth Barry, it should not exactly be seen as a massive problem either.
With both full-back positions reasonably covered with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Wayne Bridge, and Javier Garrido, on the whole, Manchester City’s defensive unit can be viewed as relatively solid.
In truth, of greater importance to City’s immediate prospects than addressing the defensive issues is manager Mark Hughes’ ability to get his illustrious squad to gel quickly as a unit.
After all, as Redknapp might agree, 10 of the last 10 Premier League champions have boasted incredible team spirit.
Improving team unity is an undertaking that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As much as it might annoy the City hierarchy, it is not something that can be bought.
With such a wealth of attacking options, City look almost certain to employ a 4-3-3 formation, a la Barcelona, with Adebayor leading the line alongside Tevez and Robinho.
In midfield, Stephen Ireland and Gareth Barry look likely to play slightly ahead of De Jong or Kompany—although the Belgian could potentially slip into central defence if he must.
The problem, however, is that Ireland and Barry—plus, to a lesser extent, De Jong—are not in the same league as Xavi, Iniesta, and Yaya Toure.  To replicate the roles of their illustrious Catalan contemporaries, they will have to adapt their game significantly.
This in itself is not a massive problem. City could always opt to fashion a system similar to that Liverpool employed last term (De Jong acting as Mascherano, with Barry as Xabi Alonso) or even come up with a unique tactic of their own that plays to their formidable strength.
But, just as the above formation leaves no place (on a regular basis) for talented players like Roque Santa Cruz, Elano, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Martin Petrov, no formation on earth will be able to accommodate every one of City’s big names.
How will the unlucky players that do get left out be kept happy, and prevented from letting their discord spread to the rest of the squad?
Publicly at least, Hughes seems unconcerned by what looks an impossible task.
“It doesn’t faze me at all,” the 45-year-old said. “I understand it’s a big responsibility and it’s up to me to make sure we blend the team in the right manner and we get a winning team. Everybody has a view on how you deal with big players and big world stars, the likes of Carlos Tevez.”
“But from dealing with top players the reason they are top players is because they have certain qualities and certain attributes and blend themselves to being top professionals. From my experience the top, top players are easier to handle, so there’s no apprehension about it. I just view it as an outstanding opportunity for myself and my football club.”
Perhaps Hughes should have reason to be fazed. Last season, Hughes visibly struggled to get his team to work as a unit, particularly away from Eastlands.
At home, City had the third best tally in the league, as its 39 points from 19 games only surpassed by cross-town rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.
But away from home, the club’s measly 11 points represented the fourth-worst away record in the league, better only than Stoke, West Brom, and Middlesbrough.
If Hughes is not to find himself under pressure early into the new season, he will have to sort out such problems almost immediately.
While certain that City will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, even those closest to the action doubt whether this season will see Manchester City get to the level required to challenge the “Big Four.”
“This year might be tough for them but, next year, you never know given the guys they are buying,” Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole said recently. “The players they are bringing in are good quality. You never know, they may just gel, click, straight away and it’s magic. But you won’t really know until you see them play.”
Those within the club, however, have no such doubts.
“The city is blue already. I was amazed by that,” Nigel De Jong said last week. “But now also on the expectation side and performance side, it can be blue, too. Manchester City are making a point that nothing is impossible. We can buy whoever we want and just go for the best players in the league and compete. I hope we can be the dominant team.”
Perhaps Hughes will surprise almost everyone, and get his side playing with a style and harmony reminiscent of the Barcelona team his tactics might well impersonate.
If De Jong’s confidence is representative of the rest of the squad, then such an outcome is far from unlikely.
But if the Welshman cannot get the midfield, and the team as a whole, to link together as a cohesive unit in both attack and defence, then even the greatest central defenders money can buy will struggle to deal with the resulting problems.

Much has been written — and perhaps even more said — about Manchester City’s apparently ludicrous summer transfer policy.

With the recent acquisition of Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez for a combined £50 million, bringing Manchester City’s roster of top-class strikers to seven, some commentators have been led to state that having such a depth of offensive talent on the books is not just greedy, but a little pointless.

This is especially true, as many have been quick to point out with a certain glee, when a team still relies on defenders of the quality of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards.

“Manchester City’s All-Star lineup of strikers looks impressive — more than that, it looks electrifying — but they have to build a defence, or else it will be the Real Madrid galacticos reborn; lots of goals and nothing else to show for it,” wrote former Liverpool midfielder turned Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp this week. “In seven of the last 10 years, the team who won the title have also boasted the best defensive record.”

Clearly, City wouldn’t decline the opportunity to upgrade their defence from Micah Richards and Richard Dunne, especially after both had disappointing seasons last year. But with holding midfielders in front of them of the quality of Vincent Kompany, Nigel De Jong, and Gareth Barry, it should not exactly be seen as a massive problem either.

With both full-back positions reasonably covered with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Wayne Bridge, and Javier Garrido, on the whole, Manchester City’s defensive unit can be viewed as relatively solid.

In truth, of greater importance to City’s immediate prospects than addressing the defensive issues is manager Mark Hughes’ ability to get his illustrious squad to gel quickly as a unit.

After all, as Redknapp might agree, 10 of the last 10 Premier League champions have boasted incredible team spirit.

Improving team unity is an undertaking that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As much as it might annoy the City hierarchy, it is not something that can be bought.

With such a wealth of attacking options, City look almost certain to employ a 4-3-3 formation, a la Barcelona, with Adebayor leading the line alongside Tevez and Robinho.

In midfield, Stephen Ireland and Gareth Barry look likely to play slightly ahead of De Jong or Kompany — although the Belgian could potentially slip into central defence if he must.

The problem, however, is that Ireland and Barry — plus, to a lesser extent, De Jong — are not in the same league as Xavi, Iniesta, and Yaya Toure. To replicate the roles of their illustrious Catalan contemporaries, they will have to adapt their game significantly.

This in itself is not a massive problem. City could always opt to fashion a system similar to that Liverpool employed last term (De Jong acting as Mascherano, with Barry as Xabi Alonso) or even come up with a unique tactic of their own that plays to their formidable strength.

But, just as the above formation leaves no place (on a regular basis) for talented players like Roque Santa Cruz, Elano, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Martin Petrov, no formation on earth will be able to accommodate every one of City’s big names.

How will the unlucky players that do get left out be kept happy, and prevented from letting their discord spread to the rest of the squad?

Publicly at least, Hughes seems unconcerned by what looks an impossible task.

“It doesn’t faze me at all,” the 45-year-old said. “I understand it’s a big responsibility and it’s up to me to make sure we blend the team in the right manner and we get a winning team. Everybody has a view on how you deal with big players and big world stars, the likes of Carlos Tevez.

“But from dealing with top players the reason they are top players is because they have certain qualities and certain attributes and blend themselves to being top professionals. From my experience the top, top players are easier to handle, so there’s no apprehension about it. I just view it as an outstanding opportunity for myself and my football club.”

Perhaps Hughes should have reason to be fazed. Last season, Hughes visibly struggled to get his team to work as a unit, particularly away from Eastlands.

At home, City had the third best tally in the league, as its 39 points from 19 games only surpassed by cross-town rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.

But away from home, the club’s measly 11 points represented the fourth-worst away record in the league, better only than Stoke, West Brom, and Middlesbrough.

If Hughes is not to find himself under pressure early into the new season, he will have to sort out such problems almost immediately.

While certain that City will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, even those closest to the action doubt whether this season will see Manchester City get to the level required to challenge the “Big Four.”

“This year might be tough for them but, next year, you never know given the guys they are buying,” Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole said recently. “The players they are bringing in are good quality. You never know, they may just gel, click, straight away and it’s magic. But you won’t really know until you see them play.”

Those within the club, however, have no such doubts.

“The city is blue already. I was amazed by that,” Nigel De Jong said last week. “But now also on the expectation side and performance side, it can be blue, too. Manchester City are making a point that nothing is impossible. We can buy whoever we want and just go for the best players in the league and compete. I hope we can be the dominant team.”

Perhaps Hughes will surprise almost everyone, and get his side playing with a style and harmony reminiscent of the Barcelona team his tactics might well impersonate.

If De Jong’s confidence is representative of the rest of the squad, then such an outcome is far from unlikely.

But if the Welshman cannot get the midfield, and the team as a whole, to link together as a cohesive unit in both attack and defence, then even the greatest central defenders money can buy will struggle to deal with the resulting problems.

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July 24, 2009 - Posted by | Sport, World Football |

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