Much of Manchester City’s stumbling attempts to put together a serious title challenge this year, after such a blistering start, have been put down to the absence of their captain Vincent Kompany. As well as an overall defensive structure that seems incapable of dealing with quick attacks (probably partly to do with playing a Yaya Touré whose legs seem to have jumped off a cliff in a two-man central midfield), the lack of the defender is most evident in the errors of his replacements.
The stability that he brings to the side though is not solely due to some obscure measure of quality, his stars on Football Manager say, but his style of play as well.
Manchester City are a bizarre case of having central defenders who all seem to below to the same class. As I wrote about last week, teams often have partnerships of differing types, and would certainly have variety within their back-ups too, whether by design or chance.
City, though, have four front-foot central defenders – that’s to say ones who like stepping up to make a tackle or interception as opposed to dropping off a yard. For this reason, they’re also probably more likely to go very bad if they’re not on form, which seems to have been the case this season.
A back foot centre-back in bad form may not usher a striker away from the goal properly; a front foot defender in bad form may dive in and leave the striker in acres of space. If you have two front foot centre-backs, neither of whom like to drop off and sweep behind, then problems could occur if bad form hits.
The centre-back stylistic profiles show this similarity between City centre-backs quite well.
Apart from their propensity to dribble, Mangala and Demichelis are almost carbon copies of each other this season stylistically. Seriously, this level of similarity is uncanny. Part of it will be down to how the team wants to play, though you can only see when looking at defenders who differ in style a bit.
Otamendi does not look any more restrained (Mangala used again as a comparison).
Otamendi is still pretty similar. More prone to longer passes the main difference behind a huge difference in the amount of activity. To look at what team effects there probably are at City: we can see a high line, a fair amount of dribbles (compared to other centre-backs), a mid-level volume of passes.
Looking at these three profiles you see basically what you see on the pitch, a high line and defenders who are very involved in breaking up play by stepping up to make tackles. Kompany, finally, offers some variety (Mangala again used as comparison).
Vincent Kompany’s activity is the obvious difference. It’s about the same level as John Terry and Bournemouth’s Steve Cook, centre-backs much more in a ‘back foot’ mould. But added to this is his ‘high line’ number. With the rest of the team’s centre-backs at 80 or higher, a number of 69 probably indicates that, while he does defend fairly highly, it is to a noticeably lesser extent than his team-mates. (Less relevant to the pure defensive side is his higher tendency to take the ball out of defence than Mangala).
This isn’t to say that Kompany is a sheltered, back foot player. He is prepared, or able, to play that way, which the other three centre-back at the clubs don’t seem to be. It’s this that City have missed, as well as his quality.
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