Discussing Manchester City’s midfield ahead of next season

Hopefully, nothing more will be heard from Dimitri Seluk for another year.  As is traditional, Yaya Toure’s ball-breaking representative played his usual games before the end of the season and spent March through May pantomiming a series of contrived grievances over his client’s relationship with his club.

Miraculously, though, all is well again between Manchester City and Toure, with the Ivorian reaffirming his commitment after discussions were apparently held with Sheik Mansour.

That’s the end of that, then - until March 2016, at least, when Seluk will inevitably emerge again from his cave to cause a new round of difficulties.

Anyway, with Toure’s name definitely back on the City teamsheet for next season, it will be interesting to see what kind of midfield is constructed around him.  Last season was a relative failure for a couple of reasons, but the weakness of the centre of the side was particularly pertinent to that.  The purchase of Fernando didn’t add the defensive resilience that it was supposed to, Fernandinho arguably regressed, and Toure - with the strain of Africa Cup of Nations involvement - frequently looked laboured against top-tier opposition.

The department may not require a complete overhaul, but it does need to be improved - and it does need to be treated as a priority over the Summer by Txiki Begiristain.

Fernando is a funny player.  Had you never seen him play prior to the Community Shield, you could have been forgiven for thinking that City had snagged a world-beater on the cheap.  He was arguably his side’s best player that day and his contribution cast him as the answer to a question which had lingered in the air since Nigel De Jong’s departure.

Well, it was a false dawn.  The Brazilian wasn’t quite as hopeless as he was assumed to be, but his season was enormously disappointing and there were frequently occasions when he didn’t look like he belonged in the Premier League itself, let alone the top-four.

Fernandinho?  Maybe a slightly different case.

Because of the lack of continuity around him in 2014/15 and the strength of his contribution the year before, he’s probably owed the benefit of the doubt.  As a facilitating midfielder, one who operates in neither too deep nor too advanced a position, he’s clearly very valuable to Manchester City - but only so long as he has the right kind of player alongside him.  He doesn’t look particularly comfortable on the edge of his own box and, because he’s capable of carrying and distributing the ball, using him solely in that area of the pitch has a reductive effect on his influence.

And that’s why City need a true holding-player.  Not a sticking-plaster of a midfielder or some cut-price hopeful from a second-tier league, but a bona fide presence in that area of the pitch.

That may not solve all of the issues which need addressing, but it would be a healthy start.  Not only would it provide Fernandinho with the security he so obviously requires, but it would afford a return to a tactical wrinkle from the Roberto Mancini days: the advanced use of Yaya Toure.

Toure is not a defensive player.  He may have occupied that role for Barcelona during his mid-to-late twenties, but that has never been the best use of his ability.  As he’s got older and his body has placed a greater restriction on him, that’s become more apparent.  Not only does his immobility create space for the opposition, but his advancing years have exposed just how little feel he has for any defensive duty.

Without the ball, he’s a virtual passenger at times and his effect is so minimal that any effort he does make seems like a misallocation of energy.

So City need to react to that.  Thirty-two or otherwise, he remains one of the most gifted and destructive offensive players in the country and in order to extract the most from him in these last few years, Manuel Pellegrini - if he keeps his job - needs to restructure the midfield to accentuate what he is still capable of doing, but also to protect the side from what he no longer is.

Paul Pogba has been discussed and, clearly, that would be very exciting to see, but a less attack-minded player is needed.  City don’t need another central midfielder, they require an anchor, a bastard, a destroyer.

Take note of the effect Nemanja Matic has had on Chelsea or the difference in Arsenal since Francis Coquelin’s emergence.  Either teams get that part of the pitch right or they invariably under-perform.  A midfield is only as strong as its foundations and that’s something which must - absolutely must - be appreciated by the City’s technical staff over the coming weeks.

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For uMAXit: Farewell to the evergreen Frank Lampard, football’s superstar Everyman

 

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