2010/11 was a significant campaign in the world of football for both Manchester City and their latest summer signing Eliaquim Mangala.
It was a notable season that saw City’s ambitious strategy to become a European superpower in the foreseeable future truly take shape, morphing into FA Cup winners at Wembley alongside qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Under Roberto Mancini’s tutelage, City made several big-name signings that year such as Yaya Touré, David Silva and Edin Džeko, and successfully laid down the foundations to ensure their successes in 2010/11 would soon become second nature and achieved in flawless fashion.
2010/11 was also a major chapter in Mangala’s promising career to date, who made the noteworthy leap from Standard Liège at the end of that season to then reigning Europa League champions FC Porto.
Mangala took bold steps forward by leaving a talented Liège setup that has nurtured the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Kevin Mirallas, Axel Witsel and Michy Batshuayi over the years to join the world renowned Porto, in a switch that has gone on to act as a rapid springboard to stardom for the boy born in the Parisian suburb of Colombes.
Porto’s acquisition of Mangala went hand-in-hand with the club’s cardinal philosophy of buying unheralded stars for cheap and selling them on for huge fees after a few years in the Champions League spotlight, which is a path the likes of James Rodríguez, Hulk and Radamel Falcao to name a few have followed in recent years.
Fast forward three years on from 2010/11 to present day and both City and Mangala have blossomed in that time, with the former winning two Premier League titles and a League Cup while the latter has strengthened his reputation as one of the finest young defenders plying his trade in Europe.
Mangala’s move to English soil is the latest supreme outlay made by City’s Abu Dhabi owners and also the most recent substantial profit made on a player inked into Porto’s hectic transfer books, with the defender possessing all the qualities to excite the Etihad faithful over the coming seasons.
Style of Play: What Type of Player is Mangala?
Mangala is widely regarded across European football as one of the most gifted young centre-backs in the game, who will help City get closer to their much-coveted target of having two top-drawer players in each position under Manuel Pellegrini’s stewardship.
The 23-year-old is known for his wonderful blend of power and athleticism within his first-rate skill set, which makes it incredibly tough for opponents to get the better of him in battles.
Mangala is also composed in possession and loves to get forward from defence, with each of these qualities suiting the attacking philosophy both City and Pellegrini embody brilliantly.
After several months of intense speculation since January this year, City have finally got their man in Mangala and he joins Fernando in switching from Porto’s Estádio do Dragão to the current Premier League champions this summer.
Mangala will most likely partner either one of Vincent Kompany and Martín Demichelis in the centre of defence as a result of being left-footed, with his arrival viewed as a firm upgrade on the departed Joleon Lescott and great competition for Matija Nastasić.
The Frenchman, whose excellent aerial aggression when tussling with opposition strikers remains one of his best strengths, won more aerial duels (11) than both Lescott (5) and Nastasić (7) in last season’s Champions League and also the same amount of interceptions (6).
Mangala, who narrowly missed out on the Champions League knockout stages by one point with Porto in 2013/14, furthermore made the same amount of tackles (7) as Lescott did and one more than Nastasić, while his speed is also one of the prime reasons why City were attracted to his signature.
There is no doubt that while City stylishly steamrolled to a domestic double in Pellegrini’s debut year in the dugout last season, they severely lacked pace and agility down the left-side of their defence through both Demichelis and Lescott, with Nastasić absent for most of the campaign.
However the addition of Mangala’s sharpness – as well as his sturdiness – will not just combine well with the powerful, fast-paced nature of the Premier League but will also patch up one of only a few concerns that accompanied City along their way to glory last season.
Pellegrini got a decent look at Mangala’s talents back in 2012/13 when the Chilean’s Málaga side tackled Porto in the Champions League last 16, with the defender producing a classy performance in front of his new boss in the first leg of that tie at the Dragão.
In conjunction with his stunning mix of power and speed in defensive areas, Mangala also uses those two traits to his advantage going forwards and has established himself as a lucrative goalscoring threat from crosses in the last two years.
As the above image from Porto’s 1-0 win over Sevilla in the Europa League last season shows, Mangala (circled) is so quick and strong that opponents struggle to prevent him bursting his way into goalscoring positions, latching onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from the left in this instance.
This header highlighted was one of many goals Mangala buried during 2013/14, with the France international scoring five goals in all competitions for Porto last season, including three in six Europa League outings.
As well as his defensive prowess and how he uses it to his advantage to find the back of the net, Mangala will also bring vast hunger to start attacking moves from defence – which bodes well for City’s spectacular style of play under Pellegrini, although he isn’t yet fully polished in the art.
Alongside bringing more velocity to City’s backline, Mangala’s arrival now means the Blues have a left-sided centre-back who crucially has the composure to build attacks and not feel anxious when asked to do so.
Mangala should slot into defence alongside another ball-playing defender in Kompany nicely and flourish under the principles Pellegrini preaches, having already experienced playing in an attacking, possession-based system from his time with Porto.
One of the main systems the Citizens operated in under Pellegrini last season was the 4-2-2-2 structure, which instructed Silva to float inside from the left and form a central midfield trio with Fernandinho and Touré for example, while either Aleksandar Kolarov or Gaël Clichy supplied the width from left-back.
Under both Paulo Fonseca and Luís Castro last season, Porto comparably played with a midfield three as their full-backs advanced high – although it was within a 4-3-3 arrangement rather than either of City’s 4-2-2-2 or the 4-2-3-1-ish formation they used during the second half of 2013/14.
Both systems require each centre-back to occasionally shift into wide areas when a midfielder drops in between or to cover their respective full-backs’ runs forward, in which Mangala – who originally started out as a converted left-back with Standard Liège – is well-equipped at doing.
As the above image from Porto’s 1-0 win over Napoli in the Europa League last season shows, the Portuguese giants had both Danilo and Alex Sandro positioned high up the pitch from their full-back slots, while Mangala and Maicon formed a good base to get on the ball in possession.
In last season’s Champions League as well, Mangala had a further average pass length (20.67m) than both of Lescott (18.25m) and Nastasić (17.50m), which is a slight reflection of how he relishes getting the ball under control and kick-starting attacking moves rather than keeping his distribution short and simple.
However, Mangala has proved in past games over the last few years that he can be too adventurous when bringing the ball out of defence at times and his willingness has sometimes cost his side dearly.
As the above image outlines from Porto’s 2-0 defeat away at Atlético Madrid in last season’s Champions League, Mangala was too high up the field as the Spanish outfit broke and although Sandro can be blamed for falling asleep to keep Diego Costa onside, the ball might have not been played if Mangala wasn’t miles out of position.
This is just one of a few areas that Mangala will need to sew up during his time with City in order to become the world-class centre-back he promises to be in the near future.
It’s important to remember that although Mangala has a dominant physique, he is still raw and has a couple of areas he needs to improve on alongside his desire to create attacks, such as cutting out the judgement errors he is currently prone to.
In last season’s Champions League, Mangala committed more fouls (10) than both of Lescott (4) and Nastasić (7), while he also received more yellow cards (12) in all competitions than every one of City’s central defenders.
As the above image from Porto’s 1-0 win over Sevilla in the Europa League last season shows, Mangala almost cost his side a goal when trying to keep possession in play from a dangerous area, with Coke closing him down when he should have just ushered the ball out for a goal kick.
And as the next above image from Porto’s 1-0 win over Napoli in the Europa League last season shows, Mangala – who originally let Gonzalo Higuaín get goal-side of him – almost cost his side a goal by trying to chest the ball down, rather than just heading it away or laying it off to Fernando.
As a result, Mangala was dispossessed by José Callejón and the Spaniard put in Higuaín, whose shot was brilliantly saved by Helton between the sticks.
On the flip side, although Mangala currently needs to iron out his sporadic judgement errors, such decision-making can be expected from young players still developing their defensive know-how and playing alongside the experience of Kompany or Demichelis will do wonders for his development.
As the image below from Porto’s 4-1 defeat against Sevilla in the Europa League last season shows, Mangala still needs to smell danger better too – failing to react quick enough in this instance to Vitolo’s run off Carlos Bacca.
While Mangala needed to react off his partner by closing the gap between himself and Diego Reyes, he just seemed to ball watch slightly and thus Vitolo wandered into the space too easily, scoring the second goal of the match as a result.
Mangala also needs to get some consistency under his belt as he’s only really had one great season to date in 2012/13; a campaign in which he was arguably the best defender in the Portuguese top-flight.
In 2012/13, Mangala made his breakthrough into the first-team after sitting on the bench for most of the year previous, helping Porto concede just 14 league goals all season as they marched to an unbeaten campaign under Vítor Pereira.
Porto’s constant tinkering in his position last season didn’t help him develop a fruitful partnership with anybody, with Nicolás Otamendi, Maicon, Abdoulaye Ba and Reyes all featuring in the centre of defence during 2013/14.
Now that the contract has been signed and everything has been concluded, City are signing a very promising defender in Mangala who will no doubt improve their squad with some of his key attributes.
Along with Pellegrini’s world-class management, Mangala will benefit from playing alongside better players at City, while he only has a few weaknesses at the moment which should be eradicated the older and more experienced he gets.
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