We all remember that ‘Aguero’ moment, a moment that was said to shake the very foundations of the Premier League landscape. Yet Manchester City’s crowning glory, the Premier League Title, never got the defence that it deserved. The result of which meant that Roberto Mancini was not even given the dignity of seeing the season out after his quick dismissal, following a humbling defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup Final. A quick look at the concluding statistics from Manchester City’s 2012/2013 season in comparison to their 2011/12 title winning season shows us that MCFC’s performance levels did not match that of the previous seasons with significant drops in points won and goals scored.
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It can be simply stated that City’s season suffered from a combination of being a much less potent attacking force, with the drop of 29% in number of goals scored (27), and having a poorer home record, with the sky blues gaining 0.53 fewer points per game (17.99% decrease) which equates to a massive 9.88 points across the season. This may not have won them the title outright but would have at least meant a more interesting title race. Conversely, a comparison of their away record shows only a slight decrease, 1.79PpG in 2011/12 to 1.74PpG in 2012/13. The question is what could have caused such a dramatic decrease in both number of goals scored and overall poorer performances from 2011/12 to 2012/13. This article attempts to answer these questions by looking at the three main facets of a football teams performance, the defence, the creativity and the goal-scoring prowess.
A Case for the Defence
Despite having a comparative defensive record across the two seasons, with goals conceded in 11/12 being 29 and 34 in 12/13. Manchester City’s solidity at the back was one of the main facets behind their 2011/12 title win, with City ranked first for minimum number of goals conceded during that season. However, this does not take into account the circumstances of when these goals were conceded. The table below shows a comparison of the number of goals City conceded in two different scenarios: one been the percent of the total number of goals conceded that affected the results of the match and the other the a percentage of the number of goals conceded during a victory of more than 2+ goals.
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These results show a clear indication that during the 2012/13 season Manchester City conceded 6 fewer ‘unimportant’ goals during high scoring victories and 9 more ‘important’ goals that had a direct impact upon the result of the match. The harder question to answer is why? Could teams be getting more opportunities to score in 2012/13 or is it a case of differing tactics from City and their opposition?
Further investigation into the defensive competency of the Etihad giants throws up a couple of surprising statistics, as can be seen in table 3 below.
This figure compares the shooting statistics of all the teams facing Manchester City across the two seasons. What is surprising is that despite having a superior goal conceded record in 11/12, City actually conceded a similar number of shots on goal with only 15 (11.45%) more shots finding the target in 12/13 when compared to 11/12. This suggests that the increased number of goals conceded could be down to one of two things: 1.) better chance conversion rate by opposition or 2.) more defensive errors by MCFC.
An examination of the oppositions clear cut chance conversion shows that Man City conceded more clear cut chances (46) in 2011/12 than 2012/13 (37), again something of a surprise. However it was the opponents increased efficiency in taking those chances that lead City to concede more goals this season than previous (26% in 11/12 and 41% in 12/13). Does this mean that their defence actually performed better in 2012/13 and that perhaps they were merely unlucky that their opponents took those chances? Or was it individual errors that lead to these opportunities?
Mancini’s defence as a whole appears to have functioned better in 2012/13 than 2011/12, however, it was let down by individual mistakes. A comparison of the number of errors conceded by City’s defence shows that the team’s main defensive stalwarts conceded twice as many errors in this season (12) when compared to their last (6). This tables clearly shows that the main culprit for the number of errors in the 2012/13 season as being Joe Hart, who Mancini singled out for criticism during the season. In defence of Joe Hart his role as a goalkeeper means that any mistake is more than likely to end up in a goal scoring or goal scored situation. Yet his decline in performance combined with the likes of Kompany, Lescott and Richards being involved in fewer games, who between them only conceded one opportunity from a defensive error in 11/12, or suffering from a lack of form meant that the likes of Nastasic, a player unfamiliar with the Premier League having to play more games than expected, lead to twice as many goal scoring chances being conceded in the 12/13 season. The increase in errors may have also been a consequence of Mancini’s decision to adapt the 3-5-2 formation during various parts of the season causing the players to struggle to adhere to a formation that they felt was unfamiliar or the adoption of differing tactics from the opposition.
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However, as Statto points out in his fascinating piece on defensive errors during the 2012/13 season, the one question does need to be asked. Does luck play a part? As Statto states, any defensive error, whether it leads to a goal or not, should be taken as a total as it could depend on how lucky/unlucky you are that a goal is conceded from that chance. For example if you are playing Manchester United and the error leads to a goal scoring opportunity you would be lucky if it fell to say Evra or Jones and relatively unlucky for it to fall to RVP. It could also be argued that due to RVP playing as a striker the errors are more than likely to fall to him but that is a discussion for another day. This can, conversely, be applied to the clear cut chance conversion rate of the opposition as well with it depending regularly who the opponent is and who the chance fell to. Conversely, this does not excuse the increase in errors and MCFC’s defensive performance in 12/13, but once you excluded Joe Hart from the equation the team only suffered from 6 defensive errors in 12/13 compared to 4 in 11/12.
Style over Substance
Despite showing that MCFC’s defence was actually more leaky in 2012/13 than 2011/12 when it really mattered, questions still need to be leveled at their inability to score as many goals in 12/13. Regular watchers of Manchester City may point towards a perceived change of style and philosophy, perpetrated by the arrival of Txiki Begiristain. It was suggested that Bergiristain’s history with Barcelona would lead to a more forward pressing and short passing style of play. However, the pressing game failed to materialise with City winning the ball back 161 fewer times in 12/13 to 11/12. With an increased focus on the pressurizing the ball player it would have been expected for this number to increase.
There is some indication, however, that a shorter passing game was adopted in the 12/13 season. During the season City’s percentage of balls played forward decreased from 43.45% in 11/12 to 34.39% in 12/13. This was combined with a rise in the spreading of the ball from side to side with a 9.54% increase of passes to either flank in 12/13. This suggests that they changed from a more direct approach in 11/12 to a style that attempts to emulates the styles of Barcelona and Arsenal with short passing and stretching the opponents defence to exploit gaps that appear. However, an increase in the total number of OPP played and an increased OPP pass completion would have been expected with an adoption of this approach, but in fact both of these decreased slightly. Consequently this may have had an effect on City’s build up play, attempting 70 fewer dribbles and just 17 more crosses in 12/13 when compared to 11/12. These varying factors may have been the result of a ‘crisis of identity’ for the players who where caught between a style that they have had success with in the past and the adoption of a new philosophy or the new philosophy not been implemented properly and the team being one nor the other.
The result in this change of philosophy appears to be two fold. Firstly, the sky blues’ chance production declined by 12.24% with 71 fewer goal-scoring chances been created, yet their clear-cut chance creation efficiency increased by 2.36%. However, this only equated to an increase of 2 more clear-cut chances over the course of the season. This indicates that overall Manchester City’s ability as a creative force declined in 12/13 as their ability to create goal-scoring chances faltered.
Finally, an examination of the teams goal scoring efficiency throws up some disturbing reading for the MCFC players and fans alike. Unsurprisingly, as City created fewer goal scoring chances this also lead to 41 fewer shots on goal in the 12/13 season. This is not what should worry Man City, rather it is the massive 14% decrease in clear-cut chance conversion. This resulted in city taking 15 fewer clear cut chances than the previous season. The reasons for this, though, are quite unclear. Could it be down to luck as muted before? Or playing personal issues. Could this decrease be due to Sergio Aguero missing 679 minutes of premiership action after a series of injuries? A further result of which could have caused his individual chance conversion rate drop from 45% to 28%? Could it have been the opponents adapting their tactics to neutralize MCFC’s top threats in Aguero, Tevez and Silva?
What does this mean for Manchester City?
It is clear that Manchester City struggled to emulate the previous years performance in a limp title defence. Blame can be pointed towards both players and manager, with neither living up to their own expectations. Despite a similar defence record between the two seasons, when it really mattered, City’s defence failed to come up with the goods, with Joe Hart particularly disappointing in contributing 5 defensive errors that lead directly to goals. City’s attack also struggled despite creating a similar number of clear-cut chances, their conversion rate dropped substantially. However, beneath the surface may lay a bigger problem. The 2012/13 season appeared one of a shift in philosophy for MCFC from a direct, counteracting approach to a more tiki taka short passing style of play and it would not be to harsh to critique and say that it was a failure on behalf of the management at all levels within the club. With a number of players appearing to struggle to adapt to such a system, and with the imminent arrival of a certain Chilean manager also famed for his philosophy and style of play does this season count as a watershed moment for some of these players? Do the likes of Barry, Lescott and Milner have a place in this new Man City world or is a major overhaul of the squad required? With Ferguson retiring to the golf course and the arrival of the ‘Special One’ of these shores do City have the time for a transitional year or is this their chance to become the English Big Boys once again? At least one thing is for sure, this summer and next season are going to mad and I for one cannot wait.
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