Paul Parker

City missing man in the middle

Paul Parker

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Manchester City's failure to score against Sunderland, which ultimately ended in a 1-0defeat for them at the Stadium of Light, is a blow to their title credentials and exposes a big hole in their squad.

They had plenty of the ball and made several opportunities, most notably Carlos Tevez's shocking close-range miss. They were made to rue those courtesy of Darren Bent's late penalty. 

That will bother manager Roberto Mancini, and it will certainly bother the people above him at the club that the team passed up the opportunity to take three points.

Most of the top teams will get something from their trips to Sunderland this season because they will be able to kill the game off when they are on top - as City were.

The biggest problem for City is that they still lack a lot of imagination in midfield. They have plenty of workhorses in the centre of the park, but no real cutting edge. Most top sides will have somebody creative behind the striker, a classic playmaker or a number 10.

City just don't have someone like that, and it puts a lot of pressure in Tevez to try and make things happen almost by himself at times.

Having what are essentially three holding midfielders is a way of guaranteeing that you won't concede many goals and be difficult to beat. But that game plan relies heavily on your side scoring first, and when that doesn't happen then the longer the game goes on it becomes increasingly difficult to create the key chances.

It worked well enough against Liverpool, who they beat 3-0 last week, but that's because they came up against a midfield that was set up in a similar way and, with Javier Mascherano deciding he didn't want to play, City were better man-for-man in the middle of the park. 

When Mancini was throwing all that money around this summer, he spent it on attacking players who are at their most effective from wide positions, such as David Silva and James Milner.

Like most Italian managers, Mancini prioritises avoiding defeat over going out in search of victory. As well as sticking with his country's tradition, he is also scared of losing matches because he is worried about losing his job - such is the unique pressure of his position.

If I was a City fan watching the club spend all this money, I would be asking where is the player who is going to get me out of my seat and provide the excitement that will make me want to go to games week in, week out. At the moment they seem to be trying to win the league in a negative manner.

It's all very well having your wide man getting down the field, but they are looking up and only seeing the likes of Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry when they need an attacking midfielder to be bombing on and getting in scoring positions.

For the money they spent on, for example, Milner or Yaya Toure, they should have gone out and bought that kind of player.

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