By Jack Gaughan
Gaging Manchester City's title defence is no easy task: only three points off their tally at this stage in 2012, statistically they are creating more clear-cut chances than ever before, yet there is a perception that their performances have lacked a certain swagger.
Had Roberto Mancini and the departed Brian Marwood captured Robin van Persie in the summer rather than arguing over potential targets, the January assessment would have undoubtedly been a whole lot different.
If Manchester United are to win the Premier League title, it will be down to the goals Van Persie has scored - the tap-ins, the blockbusters and the decisive ones. City, meanwhile, are 15 goals down on their total after 23 games last term. That gap would have been bridged were the Dutchman plying his unique talents at the Etihad Stadium.
|MAN CITY'S CLEAR-CUT CHANCES
The real crux is that too much responsibility is being placed on David Silva’s ability to unlock defences and while the strikers are not scoring goals out of nothing, it is the lack of chances created in the big games which is impeding another assault at the top.
What the champions really need this January is Malaga’s Isco.
The Spaniard has been the standout performer in the Champions League so far this season. At only 20, and like Silva also a product of Valencia’s youth setup, Isco is one of the hottest properties on the continent.
The £17 million release clause in his Malaga contract – before the club attempt to try and tie the youngster down to a new deal – seems appealing to City, even with Financial Fair Play restraints imposed. In truth, Malaga have a battle on their hands to offer anywhere close to the salary Isco is worthy of, given their financial predicament.
It would be unfair to label City slow and ponderous in possession during the bigger fixtures – against Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool – but the insistence on recycling possession to such a degree hinders progress. The idea is to pin the opposition into their own final third, but often looks as if the midfield are going through the motions and waiting for doors to open.
Isco’s positional awareness, fleet feet and trickery means he would add a new aspect of attack for City, especially when playing at home.
The statistics back the theory that City are slightly cumbersome going forward up. In only two of their seven so-called ‘big’ matches have Mancini’s men created more than one clear-cut chance – against Arsenal and Tottenham. In two (Liverpool and Everton) they failed to fashion a single clear-cut opportunity throughout the 90 minutes.
They have drawn four of those seven matches – not good enough if City harbour real ambitions of clinching the title once again.
The burden placed upon Silva is proving too much for the Spaniard, who has generated only two clear-cut chances in his big games this season, as opposed to eight last year. He is not being hampered against lesser opposition, with 10 overall compared to 14 for the entirety of 2011-12.
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Against Liverpool in September and United in December, only 25 per cent of his passes were forward. City drew and lost those matches. During the game he truly flourished in, against Spurs in November, 57 per cent of his passes were progressive. They won that game. That analysis is fairly simple, but when Silva is allowed to play, City win.
It is not that Silva is having a poor season – far from it – but the former Valencia man needs an accomplice. At present, City’s three in behind the front man seem satisfied to wait for mistakes or a lung-busting run from a full-back.
A total of 30 per cent of Yaya Toure’s passes and 36 per cent of Gareth Barry’s are positive, but neither, up until very recently, join in to the extent whereby Silva can affect proceedings without the worry of being hounded by two or three defenders.
There are astonishing statistics to back up why City really ought to snap Isco up before somebody else does. In Europe’s prized competition Isco makes almost five successful dribbles every game – three more than even Barcelona’s Lionel Messi – boasts a 90 per cent pass completion average and provides more accurate through-balls to his strikers than any other on the continent.
It is that flash of brilliance he possess that wins the really big matches, and only Joaquin and Paris Saint-Germain’s Jeremy Menez have played more key balls since the beginning of the tournament.
While Isco’s La Liga form hasn’t been quite as sparkling, the figures indicate his willingness to boss possession in the fixtures that really matter and attempt to dictate. Every Champions League fixture is a cup final for Malaga.
It is not as if the signing of the player will upset the balance of the side either. Isco’s ability will only dislodge one man: Samir Nasri. Show me a City fan who would turn that down.