Hypotheticals

30 Aug

In 2006, OJ Simpson, tried to release a book called, I kid you not, “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened”.  Said tome puts forth a hypothetical description of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson (his ex-wife) and Ronald Goldman, both of whom Simpson himself was tried for the first degree murder of and, ultimately, acquitted.  OJ was at pains to point out (as you would be) that he didn’t actually do it.  But if he did do it, the book explains how it would have happened.  As money-spinning tactics go, it seems a bit high risk to me. Then again, I was the one who didn’t think the Bounty ice-cream would ever be a success; so I can’t always be relied on for sound commercial judgment.

Nevertheless, the premise of the aforementioned yarn is an intriguing on.  Essentially, denying the possibility of a proposition, but then exploring it anyway.  Anyone who read my season’s opening article will know that, sadly, I don’t think Manchester City will win the league this year.  However, in the spirit of the former gridiron star turned wife-slasher novellist, I present to you “Manchester City Won’t Win The League This Year, But if They Do Win it, Here’s How It Will Happen”. 

As with all doomed projects, it involves a 3-point plan:

1.  Learn to stretch teams

A wives’ tale exists in commentary boxes that opposition teams can be tired out by playing possession football.  At the top level, this simply isn’t true.  It’s a misnomer to suggest that premiership teams can be physically worn to the ground.  At peak fitness, a professional footballer is conditioned to be able to last for 180 minutes of high intensity football.  Even allowing for marginal differences in the greater work expended defending rather than attacking[1], it just isn’t enough to have a tangible impact on the outcome of matches.

Teams can be stretched, though.  Pulled out of position.  Tired or not, if you’re defending not in the right place at the right time, even the biggest pair of lungs won’t save you.  If there is one thing City could learn from peering over the fence at their Carrington training ground, it’s how well Manchester United stretch teams.  Too many times last season, City were been unable to break down massed ranks of opposition defence.  The Bank Holiday clash against Cardiff showed that this was a lesson still to be learned.  Pellegrini’s men must work out how to find their way through a stodgy final third.

The reason why Manchester United never seem to have this problem is their fulsome embrace of wing play.  From Andrei Kanchelskis to Antonio Valencia, whenever the Old Trafford middle has looked congested, United take to the pitch edges.  Such was Alex Ferguson’s pious devotion to flanksmen he even tried to play Gabriel Obertan for a while.  City would do well to learn that if you can’t go through a team, you ought to try to go round them.

To this end, the signing of Jesus Navas is a positive step.  The benching of him on the hour-mark at the Cardiff City Stadium, however, was not.  This was exactly the sort of fixture where City struggle.  Away from home against a well-organised team fully prepared to play with a 10-man iron curtain between the ball and their goalmouth.  In any case, one winger isn’t enough.  Anyone who has tried to stretch a jumper knows you need to use both hands.  Stevan Jovetic might provide said width on the other side when Pellegrini decides to throw him into the fray.  Otherwise, selotaping Samir Nasri to a touchline might have to do.  But do it we must.

2.  Stop playing Edin Dzeko from the start

The Sky Sports narrative is clearly one of redemption for Edin Dzeko this year[2].  Underused and destroyed of confidence by mean old Mr Mancini.  Now blossoming in the soft hands and warm eyes of Manuel Pellegrini.  This is all very well if wasn’t nonsense. 

A comparison of Edin Dzeko against the dearly departed Carlos Tevez is as illuminating as it is damning.  Whenever Tevez and Aguerro were given the nod last year, City were unstoppable.  Whenever Dzeko was paired with either from the start, my full replica kit immediately started to feel clammy.  Dzeko’s not a bad option off the bench, for when all bar the kitchen sink needs to be sent goalwards.  But he’s not the starting centre-forward of a title-winning team.

It’s a bit sad at times watching Dzeko try to keep up with the speed of thought and delicacy of touch of messrs Aguerro, Silva, Tevez and now Navas.  It’s like an overly-eager instructor at Sea World is trying to involve a killer whale in one of the dolphin displays.  He’s willing enough but he simply can’t fit through the hoops.  One hopes that Alvaro Negredo can follow the routine a little better in his stead.  Otherwise, too many critical moves will break down around the big Bosnian this season. 

3.  Sign a bloody centre-back!

A bit of an obvious one, but nevertheless…

Going into a premier league season with three centre-backs was a folly that really oughtn’t to have happened.  Now we’re down to one fully fit one.  Given the not inconsiderable funds floating around Eastlands these days, this should be the easiest part of the puzzle to solve.  It needs to be solved quickly, though.  Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain had better be wearing out their Nokia 3310s in order to rectify the problem before September 2nd.

All rise…

It’s too late for us to pass judgment on OJ Simpson’s innocence (and, in any case, Too Good’s entire legal budget for this year has been earmarked for a forthcoming Ashley Cole article…), but there’s still time for Manchester City to change their own guilty verdict.  A smidgeon of the transfer window remains and, better yet, the training ground stays open all season.  Use both wisely and, who knows, this strictly hypothetical tale might just become the truth after all…

Available for a reasonable sum.


[1] And even this is a proposition open to contention.  Strikers actually do more running than defenders in football games.  The average breakdown of distance covered for premiership footballers is as follows:

Striker:                 10 – 12km (6.2 – 7.5 miles)

Midfield:              11 – 14km (6.8 – 8.7 miles)

Defender:             6 – 11km (3.7 – 6.8 miles)

So it’s at least arguable that, in fact, attacking is more tiring than defending.

[2] Evidenced by him bizarrely receiving Sky Man of the Match against Newcastle.  In a game full of star turns (Navas and Aguerro, in particular, were excellent), Dzeko was given the award for a performance that could best be described as “busy but ineffectual”. 

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3 Responses to “Hypotheticals”

  1. armchairanalyst2013 September 3, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Liked your post, definitely agree with your first and third points but I’m unsure of your second point purely on the basis that Dzeko was City’s top goalscorer last season. He played well against Newcastle and Cardiff, it’s a shame he couldn’t repeat the same performance against Hull. Sergio Aguero, on the other hand, I feel has declined as of late, and his performace against Cardiff was evidence of his decline. It should be an interesting season for City how they use their strikers and I hope, for City’s sake, that I am right on Dzeko and wrong on Aguero.

    • Sonny Pike September 13, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

      Hi armchair

      Welcome to the site!

      I would say its a testimony to how bad City’s strikers were last season that Dzeko top scored with 14 league goals. Teams that win titles have at least one (if not two) forwards nudging 20+ goals a season. No-one posted good enough figures really, including Dzeko.

      Fingers crossed King Sergio has another season like his first one! I love that little man.

      • armchairanalyst2013 September 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

        I think Sergio Aguero hasn’t been that effective thus far this season and could be the next striker to leave sadly. Edin Dzeko looks happier and Negredo looks to be a great addition and they could contribute quite a few goals this season.

        I think you’re right though in that City needs a 20+ goals a season striker but I think that they have got the next best thing and that is having a lot of goalscoring options, even from the midfield.

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