Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has been the talk surrounding England and Europe for the last 24 hours. Not to mention the endless speculation that took place before his final match with Real Madrid. However the other big financial superpower in the Premier League had some news of their own to announce, that of the €25 million capture of Sevilla winger Jesus Navas.
The early piece of business is a sign on the part of the City hierarchy that they want to make inroads into the transfer market before their targets’ value increase as a result of the Confederations Cup. And yes, they do seem to have learnt their lesson the hard way following last summer's experience where they signed players just before the window was to close.
The Citizens shelling out high amounts for players is no surprise now. But Navas’ signing is a step in a different direction in a way for the 2011-12 Premier League champions. The 27-year old is only the second natural winger in their roster along with Scott Sinclair.
With the game becoming more tactical and with teams dispensing with the archetypal methods that involved players not moving beyond their assigned roles, the move to sign Navas may seem redundant given the current quality in the City squad.
|Navas and Sinclair are the only two natural wingers at City|
But this is something that their neighbours Manchester United have perfected. Their use of natural wingers in tandem with the bombarding fullbacks is their key to unlocking opposition defences. The method may seem old-fashioned, but a look at the trophy room at Old Trafford would be in stark contrast to that belief.
While United have Nani and Antonio Valencia, though they had a poor last campaign, using their dribbling and crossing skills to good effect aided ably by Patrice Evra and Rafael, they ensure that the opposition fullbacks are pulled away from their 18-yard areas. The winger-fullback combination allows a two-versus-one situation to be created and a low or high cross punted into the area will set up a chance for the teammate making the run into the box.
This is something that Manchester City have lacked under Roberto Mancini for the last three seasons. The Italian preferred to play his way through the middle of the park rather than force the ball out wide and stretch the opposition defence. The tactic worked a treat in their title winning run last season, but this year they ran into problems as teams figured out that by shoring up the midfield, the Citizens would find it difficult. More often than not they were forced to play the ball vertically. The only source of width was from the fullbacks like Micah Richards, Aleksandar Kolarov, Maicon, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta.
|Kolarov was one of City's outlets out wide
When they were dispossessed in the attacking third, they would find it hard to track back to help out defensively. Mancini tried to use a three-man defence like most Italian sides do now to ensure a steady source of width to the team. But unfortunately for him the tactic did not go down well with the players and the results were disappointing to say the least.
Wigan Athletic exploited Manchester City's weakness on the flanks in the FA Cup final when their five-man midfield constantly passed the ball out wide to create 2-v-1 situations with the City fullbacks.
A natural winger would solve this problem for Manchester City. With one person dedicated towards getting chalk on his boots whilst working with the advancing full-back, it would open up a new avenue for an attack which is already well stocked. In addition defensively, the winger can be instructed to drop back and add an extra body in defence when the opposition look to counter from the flanks.
|Player||Average crosses per game|
Numbers indicate the lack of width
While Richards was out for a vast majority of the campaign which explains his low numbers, the measly stats that are associated with the fullbacks are strange considering that they are the sole sources of width in the team.
With the striking department that contains the burly Eden Dzeko, one was surprised when his height was not made use of properly. More often than not it was the creative players like Samir Nasri and David Silva who had to make their way to the touchline to build attacks from there by moving inwards.
Navas is a very effective winger in that regard. Even for the national team, which is packed with players who are very effective operating from the middle of the pitch, the Sevilla winger had created an outlet for his side on the flanks. A glaring example of this was Spain’s opening fixture loss to Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. After the Swiss took the lead, they packed their midfield to keep the Roja out, a tactic which worked in their favour. When Vicente del Bosque brought on Jesus Navas late in the second half, the difference was seen. With his pace, Navas troubled the opposition full backs and raised the tempo of the match completely.
Despite not getting regular starts for the national side, he is sure to feature more at Eastlands as City move away from the ethos that Mancini had inculcated into the squad. With only 4% of all of Manchester City’s passes coming as a result of crosses in the recently concluded campaign, Navas is sure to change that number when he dons the blue of the Citizens.
Do you think Navas will be the X-factor in the City attack? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @Mohan_Srini.