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Manuel Pellegrini's men have appeared to be two separate teams home and away so far this season. What exactly is their problem and how can the manager address it?

ANALYSIS
By Alex Hess

If consistency is the key to Premier League success then Manchester City can at least take comfort from the clear pattern of their fluctuating early-season results. At home, they dominate. Away, they struggle.

On their own turf City are rampagingly unstoppable – as attested by their near-nonsensical goal return of 43 from 10 fixtures so far this season and their failure to drop a league point at the Etihad Stadium.

Outside of their fortress, Manuel Pellegrini's men bear little resemblance to their normal selves, instead mutating into some nightmarish alter-ego, their defence pierced with ease and their current points tally a meagre four from 18. Startlingly simple, yet impossible to make sense of.

It is, on the face of it, logic-defying. Manchester City are plainly a club in as rude health as could be wished for – off the pitch, their squad is probably the deepest and most talented in England; on it, the team are able to ease deliciously through the gears, attacking as joyously as any English side of recent years and defending with no shortage of know-how. They have recently rid themselves of a fractious manager and replaced him with one who personifies assurance and stability.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

MAN CITY PL HOME FORM 2013-14
GAMES PLAYED
WON
DRAWN
LOST
GOAL DIFFERENCE
6
6
0
0
+24
MAN CITY PL AWAY FORM 2013-14
GAMES PLAYED
WON
DRAWN
LOST
GOAL DIFFERENCE
6
1
1
4
-2
And yet, this club can contrive to lose not only to Sunderland, who now sit bottom of the division, and also to fellow strugglers Cardiff City and Aston Villa. This the very same collection of players who will end November with four home scorelines that read 4-2, 6-0, 5-2 and 7-0.

Some of the statistics are similarly baffling. Over the course of their away games so far, City seem to have attacked even more than when at home, with their proportion of touches in the final third having in fact increased from 28 per cent to 32% on the road. Their average rate of possession too takes a rise on their travels (55% to 62%), while their passing success and shots per game (both taken and conceded) remain precisely the same.

Such numbers bring us no closer to solving the puzzle, except to suggest that, sometime soon, luck will even itself out and City's results with it. "We will continue the same way because, in the four defeats, I am sure we are playing the correct way and I hope the wins will come," Pellegrini said of his side's away form earlier in November - and the above figures would suggest that he has a fair point.

Those figures are folly, though, because anyone who has watched City this season will testify to the palpable and location-dependent difference in the very nature of their play. Whereas at home their attacks are sweeping and clinical, City too often appear ponderous on foreign soil. This lack of incision is evidenced by their share of efforts made from outside the penalty box rising from 28% at home to 40% across their less imaginative, less penetrative away-days.

City's shortage of natural width could well add to this labouring away from home, where opposition sides are more obliged to play on the front foot and the counterattack becomes their most viable route to goal.

Pellegrini's men have relished springing from defence to attack at home, with Sergio Aguero's angled runs often a focal point, but, in away fixtures, the silky, pass-spotting inclinations of regular wide men David Silva and Samir Nasri are perhaps less effective – although, in another show of anti-logic, Silva's rate of key passes also increases on the road (from 3.5 to 4.3 per game). Despite this, the directness of a genuine, pacey winger could well prove a useful outlet for City on their travels.

Should this be the case, then Jesus Navas's fine performance in Sunday's 6-0 rout of Tottenham could mark a glimmer of home for his side's away form. Or maybe not: Fans of irony (and of rival clubs) will delight in the quirk that the Seville native famously suffers from chronic homesickness himself. Indeed, his only away league start for City so far this term was the defeat in Cardiff.

Along with chalk-booted pace, another recent absence that has been keenly felt is that of Vincent Kompany. City's peerless, injured skipper has been forced to sit out his side's last two away trips – both losses, naturally – and the defence have suffered from the Belgian's more unquantifiable talents: Organisation, calm and the ability to restore order to a flustered unit.

It is hypothetical, of course, but it is difficult to see mix-ups like the fatal one between Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic in the dying moments at Stamford Bridge occurring so freely on their captain's watch.

Kompany's confidence when carrying the ball out of defence is also key to the proactive playing style which Pellegrini is attempting to foster; likewise his pace on the turn. More significantly, these are two skills that elude any of his immediate deputies: Javi Garcia, Martin Demichelis and Joleon Lescott, three similarly cumbersome centre-backs.

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That the side's nominal midfield firefighter, Fernandinho, is a footballer who seems happier with the ball than without it perhaps exacerbates their problems and adds to the impression that City are vulnerable when opponents take the game to them.

But more than anything else, City's downfall away from home has been due to glaring individual errors. Amateurish blunders like that between Hart and Nastasic – or the one between Demichelis and James Milner to let Phil Bardsley saunter though on goal at the Stadium of Light, or Hart's various lapses at Villa and Cardiff – are not borne of a side playing with the conviction and exuberance which can be seen at the Etihad.

The logical conclusion, then, is that Pellegrini's fundamental problem is less technical or tactical than it is psychological. More worryingly, what could have been a short-lived quirk in form now looks like something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: City's players seem unable to rid themselves of the expectation that they will underperform in away games, with the inevitable nervousness and lack of confidence manifesting itself on the pitch. Round and round it goes. (The inverse, of course, could be applied to their home form.)

This is where Manuel Pellegrini's managerial credentials will truly reveal themselves. Tactical nous is simple enough to acquire but infusing a squad of millionaires with that most esoteric of things, a winning mentality, is the truest test of a top-level coach. Plenty of managers taste great success despite a shortage of the former (including a certain recently retired Scot) but no-one lasts among the elite without the latter.

Consistency may be the key to league titles but a collective resilience and fortitude is the way to achieve it. Installing a club with such a mindset is a top-down process and one that must be led by the manager – but Manchester City, with their local rivals being who they are, will need little reminding of that.

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