With the departure of Carlos Tevez anticipated for much of the summer months, much has been made of quite how stark his contribution to Manchester City has been these past two seasons.
The undoubted heartbeat of the side, City often appeared to go as Tevez did. His energetic and infectious play a constant torment to the opposition and his worth to City (despite some trying to play down his contribution) was clear: top scorer in both seasons by some margin and scoring or assisting on 42% of all goals scored by City. Equally too, the defence received plenty of plaudits with Vincent Kompany a selection to many a Premier League XI and the returning Joe Hart justifying Robert Mancini’s confidence in him to see off Shay Given and establish himself as England’s first choice.
But the one area that was often focussed on in a negative light was the midfield. Early in the season the vogue opinion was to lament Mancini’s deploying of three holding and defensive midfielders, but anyone who formed an opinion based upon more than MoTD highlights knows the fallacy of that statement and that rather than three shields in front of the defence, the midfield trio were complimentary, fluid and interchangeable, equally capable of supporting the likes of David Silva and Adam Johnson as in nullifying the opposition threat.
As Mancini was acutely aware, the midfield areas were the key factor in determining games; the ability to control the game, maintain possession and restrict time and space for the opposition were the responsibility of the Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure.
It was little wonder that they were his preferred unit for virtually the whole season due to the success they played such an integral part in creating. The three are very different players; de Jong tenacious and unyielding, Barry economical and patient and Yaya powerful and marauding, as the figures below illustrate well:
|Nigel de Jong||1419/1579 (90%)||72/95 (75.8%)||161/262 (61.5%)||88||14|
|Gareth Barry||1527/1818 (84%)||66/87 (75.8%)||153/299 (51.2%)||72||23|
|Yaya Toure||1570/1877 (84%)||38/50 (76%)||165/378 (43.6%)||39||33|
The trio unsurprisingly led City in average passes per game (Barry 54, Yaya Toure 52 and de Jong 49) demonstrating their ability to re-cycle possession and the high number of interceptions was such a key factor in them being the starting point of launching attacks and utilising the pace of the forwards in front of them.
De Jong ranks very highly in all of the categories, lending weight to the argument put forward by City fans that he is not merely just a stopper, but an underrated passer and offensive threat.
What is also important to look at though is how this compares with their competitors and looking at their rival top four midfields:
|Paul Scholes||1228/1361 (90%)||19/28 (67.8%)||44/119 (36.9%)||35||17|
|Darren Fletcher||1201/1454 (83%)||27/29 (93%)||73/168 (43.5%)||39||21|
|Michael Carrick||1245/1443 (86%)||42/61 (68.8%)||95/163 (58.3%)||60||16|
|Cesc Fabregas||1307/1665 (78%)||23/41 (56.1%)||163/264 (61.7%)||25||61|
|Jack Wilshere||1659/1966 (84%)||42/58 (72.4%)||178/339 (52.5%)||56||57|
|Alex Song||1634/1907 (86%)||79/103 (76.7%)||215/413 (52.05%)||84||30|
|Frank Lampard||1085/1362 (80%)||38/53 (71.6%)||76/145 (52.4%)||30||50|
|Michael Essien||1999/2316 (89%)||41/48 (85.4%)||180/321 (56.07%)||57||32|
|Jon Obi Mikel||1626/1820 (89%)||43/54 (79.6%)||141/250 (56.4%)||56||22|
Whilst Arsenal’s superior creativity is clear and Chelsea’s trio rate rank well individually, it is the combination – the sum of its parts – of City’s trio. What the midfield trio has particularly been successful at has been in being the lynchpin in City’s ability to close out games. The ability to obtain victories when scoring first and maintain half-time leads has been so crucial: 63 points accrued over the course of 2010/11 when scoring first, ranking fourth in the Premier League. City was also ranked fifth in points won when both winning and drawing at half-time.
As much as other areas are heralded and garner the headlines, do not underestimate the contribution the midfield trio makes to City’s success and whoever the big money acquisitions may be, they will continue to be the platform for success.