Every manager depends on their star players to produce the goods and be instrumental towards their team’s chances of success, but the occupational rigours of football can mean that they are not always available for selection. This is undoubtedly where having a strong squad with excellent options for when injuries and suspensions do arise becomes crucial and, to an extent, can be the difference between success and failure. It ultimately avoids the pitfall of placing too much dependency on certain players to step up to the plate to save the day in every single game – this is, unfortunately for Manchester City fans, a position they have found themselves in.
Questions have started to be asked of their title credentials, and although Betway were quick to install Manuel Pellegrini’s side as title favourites on their sports betting market following City’s blistering start to the campaign, it has become clear that their chances ultimately rely on the presence of two key players. There is no question that they lack the same firepower and potency upfront whenever Sergio Aguero is not leading the line, but the same could be said at the other end where there is a distinct lack of strength and stability when captain Vincent Kompany is sidelined. The latter of these two facts came to prominence once again as Liverpool exposed Manchester City’s evident vulnerability at the back, and could easily have enjoyed a more resounding victory than the 4-1 scoreline suggests.
It was a humbling defeat for the league leaders who not only slipped to third as a result, but also have to find the resolve and character to bounce back amidst a barrage of criticism for their awful performance at the Etihad. Manchester City may be 4/7 favourites with Betway to overcome Southampton in their next fixture, but not only will they have to be much better and rewrite the wrongs of the Liverpool match in front of their own fans again, but also find a way to prove that they are much more than a two-man band. Pellegrini certainly has plenty of attacking quality that are able to contribute, albeit not as frequently as Aguero when he is unable to play, but the manner in which Manchester City cave in defensively without their talismanic captain is an area of real concern.
Kompany is undoubtedly the bedrock of everything that is good about Manchester City from a defensive perspective; a commanding presence who is strong in the air and has superb reading of the game. He is often the one that marshals the back four and ensures it remains watertight throughout the full ninety minutes, while the defenders alongside him follow in suit. The Belgian international will be the first to admit that he was well below his best last season, and while he was not be the only player in a Manchester City shirt who flattered to deceive, the fact that his team have not lost a game this season when he has plays speaks volumes of just how important he is.
His absence creates a void that Pellegrini is simply unable to fill; Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi have both shown positive signs of improvement alongside Kompany, but when they are paired together or alongside Martin Demichelis, there is an obvious lack of understanding, communication and leadership that results in carnage. Demichelis certainly has experience and nous, but the Liverpool match illustrated that perhaps his best days are behind him as the entire defence was all at sea. Jurgen Klopp’s side certainly deserve enormous praise for the manner in which they pressed high up the pitch and did not allow Manchester City to settle, but the ease at which they carved their defence open followed an on-going theme when Kompany has not been on the pitch. Failing to keep a clean sheet without their captain is yet more proof that Manchester City are simply not the same team, and while their attacking prowess at the other end may get them out of jail on occasions, it is a problem that good teams will continue to exploit.
A club with an embarrassment of riches may be able to rectify the situation during the January transfer market, but as the jury is still out on Mangala and Otamendi, it will be interesting to see if Manchester City target a top quality centre-back with experience or one with the potential that Kompany had when he arrived from Hamburg in 2008. Doing so will undoubtedly promote their titles odds as good value, as although there are yet no concerns over Kompany’s long-term fitness and injury history, having quality options when he is not available will give Manchester City a much better chance of retaining the defensive strength that makes them so difficult to beat.