Next up is an away trip to Manchester City to face the Champions in what promises to be another interesting tactical joust between the two rather different leaders in the respective dugouts…..
For all he has achieved in his career and at City you get the impression Mancini has a simmering anger at himself for not being able to translate City’s enormously disproportionate resources into tangible outcomes against us. Since he took the Etihad post the sides have met six times with Moyes winning five and losing just once. Amazingly, we are still the last team to win a Premier League fixture at Eastlands.
In last season’s fixtures, City averaged 68% possession in the two games, in the process making roughly double the passes we did. Territory wise it was about even with our work rate to get men behind the ball when we lost possession so good that the bulk of City’s possession was predominantly outside our final third. An example of this was the game at Goodison when the most frequent passing combination from City were between Lescott and Kompany.
In the game at the Etihad, Moyes chose to use Jack Rodwell as a man marker on David Silva who at the time was in scintillating form….
“We played Man City and we decided to man mark David Silva and I remember getting a lot of criticism after the game, with people saying I was being negative. But I’d watched them the week before score four and I think it was five the week before that against Tottenham and I felt Silva at the time was by the far the main player. I don’t think I’ve ever done that once in my managerial career. But at the time I thought the way David Silva was we had to do it and we did a really good job on him for 70 minutes and it took a deflected goal and we eventually lose 2-0 but that’s what you have to do as a manager. We came very close on that day but we got criticised for not playing two strikers, but you can see what they are doing to some of the good teams.” – David Moyes
The assignment worked to an extent with Silva largely peripheral although the game showed that City possess so many match winners it’s hard to completely shut them down. Rodwell is of course now at City and with no real like for like replacement recruited to the Blues squad its unlikely Moyes will repeat this tactic unless he sticks Fellaini back there.
The below average position / player importance visual shows how little we had of the ball and how the game was compressed into the middle third of the pitch (player touches / importance is in bolder print)
This meant we basically defended an invisible line 25 yards from our goal with virtually no pressing in City’s half as the below interceptions shows….
Indeed, our lack of legs in the middle of the park is a massive concern against a side that can wear opponents down / preserve their own fitness through their ball retention like City do. Its little surprise that last season Mancini’s side scored a higher % of late goals than any side in the top flight and this was the case last season when our resolve was finally broken with 2 late goals, one a deflection and one a gimmee after a howler from Drenthe.
We showed at Goodison though that possession counts for little if you can defend doggedly and take your chance when they’re presented. This match followed a similar path to the game at the Etihad with City swelling possession but largely incapable of breaking down our makeshift centre back pairing of Hibbert / Heitinga with few clear cut chances engineered. The game was a reminder that we have the endurance to match City (we actually scored the 2nd highest % of late goals in the league last season) with the now departed Stracquilarsi and Tim Cahill both putting in massive shifts in defending from the front.
Mancini post match on Goodison defeat;
“Probably it’s my fault because we didn’t prepare very well for this game, I thought before the game it was going to be easier but it is never easy. The players put everything on the pitch but I made some mistakes during the last three days preparing for this game”
Why would you expect an easy game against a side that you have consistently lost against? This was perhaps a smokescreen to take pressure of the players, either that or RM is extremely self critical. I would guess Mancini will look to play high up and negate our threat from crosses given that we make the most in the top flight. He complained following our win in 2010 at Goodison about ‘Long balls’ and his side ‘playing too deep in the second half’ when the introduction of Cahill from the bench resulted in us scoring twice in the second period to take the points.
Moyes has a dilemma then. Does he stick with a winning formula in this fixture of containment and look to eek out a positive result or does he look to take City on with the ball with our new found expansive style? I’d guess the likely option would be containment. As well as being the league’s top scorers last season, a sign of their physicality was that City were also the top scorers from corners and have scored the joint most this season (10) from dead balls so Distin is a nailed on starter.
The height will also be crucial in looking to capitalise on the probable limited opportunities we get to attack the City area via dead balls with their zonal marking approach having drawn significant criticism. Mancini clearly thinks they are vulnerable defending set plays and has been vocal of this issue, perhaps given that he has a lot of smaller players in the team such as Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Tevez;
“We are not strong enough to mark man-to-man, and every time we do there is a risk of conceding a penalty. If we work, we can improve the system. We have let in goals because of it, but we can change that. We are working on it, but we need to work more.” Mancini
Line-ups wise, Joe Hart will keep goal with a back four of Maicon & Kolorov (full backs) with Nastasic’s superior ability on the ball having displaced Lescott as a first pick and the Serbian will partner Kompany in the centre. In midfield Barry will hold with Yaya Toure and Garcia making up the midfield; Milner is usually selected against us to provide more defensive resilience against our offensive left side but is out injured. The forward players will most likely by Silva, Tevez and Aguero. Interestingly, Tevez has never scored against us for City or any of his previous clubs.
With Baines hamstring problem Oviedo and probably Hibbert will start at fullback for us with Distin/Jags at CB although today’s physio blog rates both Baines and Mirallas as likely to start. Off the ball both full backs will tuck in and form a compact unit showing City out to the flanks. In both games last season City struggled to exploit the space in wide areas with Richards / Clichy reluctant to push on. With Maicon and Kolorov likely to start this shouldn’t be a problem this time round.
In the Etihad game, Fellaini started further forward as the ‘out ball’ with the strategy being to play direct balls for him to hold up to enable us to get further up the pitch when City were boxing us in with their pressure. Moyes may choose to go with this again or use the Belgian in a more withdrawn role with Jelavic most closely supported by Pienaar centrally with Mirallas on the left.
Betting / Form
City are favourites for this one at a best price 4/7 with Bet365 with ourselves as long as 6/1 with Paddy Power. The draw is 31/10 with Bet Victor. City’s form in the league is pretty good given they are still unbeaten although have probably drawn too many for their liking. The Dortmund game in particular showed they are susceptible to quick counter attacks so the application of a fit-again Kevin Mirallas will be crucial if we are to get anything from the game. The ECL games have also showed that whilst City may have better players with the ability to win a game with individual brilliance, as a team they have less cohesion as a unit and are beatable.
You can get as far as 33/1 with Betfred on a Baines Scores anytime / Everton win double, not bad considering this outcome came in the season before last and LB takes all free kicks and pens (this was written pre-injury scare on weds). can also get as long as 16/1 on a Toffees win. Both games last season were stalemates going into the later stages and you can get 16/1 with Bet365 that the opening goal will be scored between 61-70mins. 4 of the 6 recent meetings between the duo have featured under 2.5 goals with only one side scoring so I wouldn’t expect a high goals output here. Dead cert wise, with 27 yellows and 2 reds in the last 5 meetings between the sides the smart money is on 5+ cards.