Manchester City have a problem. Simply put, they have too many attacking midfielders. While many may say this is a great problem to have, good problems are still problems and sometimes they can blow up in your face.
When Manchester City wants to, they are not only really good but they can play some beautiful football. This was evidenced two seasons ago when they ran over everyone en route to a Premier League title.
The engine behind City’s success has been Spanish midfielder David Silva. Over the years, Silva has developed a great understanding with Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero, making the two one of the most lethal pairs in the Premier League.
Manchester City has a problem though. They’re problem is they like nice things. Not just nice things, but nice new things. That’s typically what happens when you have money, and when you have money you like to spend it. That’s why this past summer Manchester City spent £49 million on Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and £55 million on Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne.
While there’s no argument that Sterling and de Bruyne are both top players, their signings have brought on a new problem for Manchester City, a £104-million problem. They both play the same position as Silva.
City now have three players who all prefer to play as the No. 10 creative midfielder, which is great for squad depth, but you don’t shell out £104 million for squad depth, you shell out £104 million for players who are going to play every week. That means that if City wants to get both of their new signings on the pitch, along with Silva, two of the three players are going to have to play out of position.
This wasn’t a problem for City at the start of the season, mainly because de Bruyne wasn’t there. City started the season on fire with an attacking midfield of Silva, Sterling and Jesus Navas supporting the striker. It wasn’t until deadline day that the club signed de Bruyne.
Upon returning from the international break, the club decided it’d be best to slowly integrate the Belgian international into the team. Therefore it wasn’t until City’s fifth league game (after winning their first four) that City inserted de Bruyne into the team to put the Premier League’s first ‘£300 million’ team on the field.
The result was a disaster as City were beaten at home by West Ham United. Things didn’t get any better the following week when, with David Silva missing due to injury, the club lost 4-1 to Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
While it’s a small sample size, so far City’s midfield trio of Sterling, de Bruyne and Silva isn’t working together. Playing the three of them together has forced the club to play de Bruyne and Sterling out of their favored positions where so far they have struggled to make an impact.
The idea of playing top players at each position, even if you play some out of position, has had mixed results. That’s not to say it can’t work at all, Real Madrid seem to be doing just fine with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez interchanging freely. Furthermore, the 2008 edition of Manchester United lit the league on fire with the interchanging attacking trio of Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
The keyword in that last paragraph though was interchanging. All three of these players like to operate in the middle of the field. It’s fine if one of them cuts inside as long as the player who was inside moves out wide. With the three stars on the field Saturday against Newcastle that wasn’t the case. Often, one would come inside and would then get in the way of the player who was already inside.
City looked like a lost team in the first half against Newcastle with Sterling, Silva and de Bruyne all playing. At halftime, Sterling was sacrificed for Navas, a more natural winger, and City exploded for five goals in the second half.
If that’s the case you’d think the simple solution is to only play two of them. Not so fast — Silva has emerged as the key figure in the whole puzzle. Without Silva, City tend to struggle. Therefore it’s almost as if Silva needs to be in the team, leaving just one spot for new signings Sterling and de Bruyne.
If City’s attacking midfield trio can’t figure out how to work together, Manuel Pellegrini will be forced to constantly rotate one of them out of the squad, which doesn’t bode well for Sterling and de Bruyne. If Silva has to stay in the team, de Bruyne and Sterling could find themselves playing far less than they originally thought they would, which could unsettle them down the road.