March 8 2014 Latest news:
Friday, February 22, 2013
You can, of course, prove pretty much anything with statistics.
Those of a pessimistic bent will point to the fact that City haven’t won in their last nine league games and have scored twice in their last six.
Optimists, on the other hand, will focus on the fact that they have suffered only one defeat in their last five and kept three clean sheets.
With no City game last weekend I spent a bit of time on the English Premier League Index site (www.eplindex.com) which contains more statistics than you can shake a stick at. While City, not surprisingly, came out well in most defensive studies and their rate of creating clear cut chances was the eighth highest in the league at one every 31 minutes, it was worrying to note that they have the lowest conversion rate of clear cut chances at 25.71pc.
What’s more they also have scored only 37.5pc of their goals in open play, again the lowest figure in the league, with nearly two thirds from set pieces.
However, what really caught my attention was the fact that despite the fact that City routinely play two wide players they have the third lowest score for running with the ball in the Premier League.
I made the point last week that there seems to be a reluctance to take players on and that would seem to be borne out by the statistics.
To an extent Chris Hughton and his players are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The club cannot afford to go out and buy a top of the range goalscorer, nor can they pay for a player who can combine both defensive steel and high-class creativity.
Consequently there is a need to be compact and disciplined and hence the evolution of a system based on two screening midfielders and wingers who work as hard defensively as they do going forward.
The problem is, as we’ve seen in recent weeks and as the above statistics confirm, that means an approach that is based on playing the percentages.
It seems that City are stuck in a cycle of either being tight at the back but unproductive up front (as against Newcastle, Fulham and QPR) or producing more attacking play but being vulnerable at the back (as against Manchester City and Swansea).
It will be interesting to see whether Hughton will go for the two striker formation tomorrow that he suggested in post game interviews that he had planned for the Fulham game before Grant Holt’s untimely injury.
If he does decide to go down that road it will have significant implications for the midfield shape.
If he decides to use someone in the hole behind the strikers he would almost certainly have to sacrifice one of the holding players and adopt a diamond style formation.
The problem then is a lack of width, which could give Leighton Baines licence to push forward at will.
On the other hand, keeping both holding players without a player in the hole increases the risk of a vacuum developing between the midfield and the front two and a potential loss of creativity, but offers greater protection against a muscular midfield containing Marouane Fellaini and Darron Gibson.
Another option would be to leave out one of the wide players, but that would reduce the supply lines to the strikers as well as offering less support for the fullbacks.
It’s easy for us as armchair managers to focus on one adjustment which appears to make the side more positive, but any change of system has knock on effects within the team.
Hughton will have to ponder these very carefully before he makes his decision, because, unlike armchair managers he has to take responsibility for what happens on the pitch.