With Micah Richards already ruled out through injury, when Pablo Zabaleta limped off after a mere twenty-minutes against Bolton on Saturday Roberto Mancini was forced into calling upon Kolo Toure as an emergency right-back.
Toure, who has barely featured for City in 2012 so far through a combination of the form of the Vincent Kompany-Joleon Lescott partnership and his participation in the African Cup of Nations, barely missed a step though in what was a fairly unfamiliar position as City eased to a 2-0 victory at The Etihad Stadium.
What may seem a relatively minor change to City side packed with attacking threat and options was actually a key one in terms of the make-up of City’s play, in so far as utilising the full-back position and allows them the freedom and licence to be heavily involved in the attacking game from a sense of targeting the areas between the opposition full-backs and centre-backs. Evidence of this is in the fact that prior to the Bolton games, City had scored 18 of their 49 open play goals from crosses or cut backs: some 36% of all goals which emphasises the importance of their wide play.
Despite playing for only seventy minutes of the game, Toure’s involvement alongside Gael Clichy (starting at left back) was telling. Toure’s passing numbers were impressive, completing 29 of 32 in total but key was his completing 14 from 16 in the final third including 3 final third entries (i.e. Bolton’s defensive zone) – fourth most (behind Yaya Toure 23, Gareth Barry 17 and Adam Johnson 16) in City’s side in total and ahead of players such as Samir Nasri, David Pizarro and Mario Balotelli:
Page 2: Clichy statistics…
On the opposite flank Gael Clichy provided solid support to Toure, posting a similarly successful completion rate and whilst his final third passing numbers were lower (completing seven of eight), he did have six final third entries and the shot on goal from distance (that took a deflection) that put City ahead in the game:
Both graphics display the involvement of both Toure and Clichy from an attacking sense, demonstrating exactly on the pitch where their passes were attempted to show how well they link with the attacking game.
Where City have been impressive this season is in utilising both full-backs in games and although it has taken some time under Mancini’s tenure, he now has full-backs and a system he can trust to execute his game plan. Although Toure stepped in at right-back on Saturday City have rotated (to some degree) their full-back pairing, predominantly opting for Micah Richards and Gael Clichy but comfortable in the quartet as the following table shows:
The numbers in the table do show some interesting points, with all posting impressive passing numbers in the opposition zones and in particular showing that Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov (the left backs) being heavily involved in the final third (137 and 61 entries and 53 and 61 crosses ). All four have also created a number of chances for the side and whilst not hitting too many goals (or even shots for that matter) as a unit, Micah Richards has contributed five assists.
It is easy to overlook some of the less-heralded areas within City’s line-up given the outstanding play they have received from an attacking and defensive sense, but what Mancini has instilled within the side is a very disciplined and controlled style of play and one where the team very much functions and operates as a whole: shown by the integral part that the full-backs within City’s side play.