This years Community Shield between Chelsea and Man City saw Roberto Mancini deploy a new formation. Last season City mostly played a 4-2-3-1 but so far in their friendly matches City have tried out a 3-5-2 formation. This is a formation that is more commonly seen in Italy where Napoli are one of the best sides at using this system. In the Premier league it is not as common but some clubs have tried it in the past. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan played this way at the end of last season and managed to drag themselves out of relegation.
Why this move away from a back four is so interesting is because it represents change in a league that is not commonly known for its tactical innovations. Although the bigger clubs have tried out different formations in recent seasons they have all played with a back four. The move to a three-man defense by City shows that Mancini will deploy a more attacking style of play this season. This is surly a preemptive move as he anticipates most sides will play more defensive against his team. A 3-5-2 can be an extremely effective formation but it all depends on the intelligence of your players as they need to fully understand their roles and roles of the players around them. Here I will attempt to break down the formation and explain how each players roles affects the entire system.
The Back Three
The back line is where this formation will flourish or faultier. The most central of the three defenders has to be good at reading the game he can get away with being a bit slower if he can read the game well. He should also be someone who can organise the defense. In this case Man City are well served in Vincent Kompany. He is their captain and an excellent defender who showed against Torres that he can dominate a striker. The two wide defenders is where the problems lie. No matter what these two players are going to get dragged wide at some point in the game. Therefore these two defenders must be comfortable and coming into the wide areas of the pitch and defending one-on-one. That is why you wouldn’t usually see three normal central defenders in the back three. These kinds of players are uncomfortable being dragged out of position and could leave space for the opponents wingers or full-backs to exploit. Hence why we saw Zabeleta and Savic start along side Kompany on the weekend. Both of them are a bit more mobile than Kolo Toure or Lescott. In fact Savic was replaced by a full-back (Clichy) at half-time and not a central defender.
The two wide players are the two most important players to this formation. If they do not track back then the whole formation falls apart. They are effectively advance full-backs more than they would be traditional wingers. They will be asked to get forward and provide width to the attack and get back to help track the opponents wide players. It is a physically demanding role and these players have to pick the right time to go forward or know when to sit. In defense they turn into wing-backs and can turn the back three into a back five. So you need two players who aren’t afraid to get forward but are disciplined enough to get back into formation. James Milner fills this criteria well as he is a work horse who does what is asked of him, but not much more.
In the centre of the park you need some who will sit deep and allow protection to the defense while the rest of the team goes forward. No surprise that Nigel DeJong performs the role as midfield enforcer for City. In Yaya Toure City have a fantastic all-round midfielder who can perform a number of roles. He can carry the ball forward out of defense with confidence and offers a goal threat with his late runs into the box. He is also good at defending and along with DeJong offers an imposing barrier to the oppositions attacks. The final midfielder (here Nasri) has the luxury of not having to track back as much and concentrate more on acting as a playmaker. Nasri is a player that is not comfortable at defending and Mancini must have recognised this as he has allowed him to act in the hole behind the strikers instead of starting out wide where he was asked to do more defensive duties. Nasri will have to grow into this role as he hasn’t been ask to perform this role at his previous club (Arsenal) or with his national side. So expect David Silva to play this role throughout the season.
The two forwards (here Tevez and Aguero) are asked to act how modern-day strikers perform. To continuous close down the opponents defenders when they have the ball in an attempt to force them into a mistake. Carlos Tevez is one of the best when it comes to this job, he is a ball of energy who does not stop running. One forward will be asked to sit higher while the other will drop in between the lines to drag players out of position. The two forwards will most likely interchange if they are similar players, as Agureo and Tevez are. But if you are Dzeko you wouldn’t be expected to drop deep, he would sit more forward and act as a traditional target man. With this system Tevez, Aguero and Balotelli would be the first choice strikers but Dzeko may find himself on the bench throughout the season as he is a little one-dimensional.
It’s exciting time to be a City fan as the evolution of this side continues. Mancini’s men were worthy Champions last season but they will be well aware they only won the league on goal difference. They will need to step up their game if they are to retain their title. It is much harder to defend a title then it is to win it. Clubs will now target them as they attempt to knock them off their perch. So Mancini has responded in kind as he looks to get more out of his players. There will be teething problems with this side as they attempt to adapt to this system. No team can change systems without consequences but there were signs to be positive against Chelsea. The introduction of new ways of playing can only be a good thing for a league that for too long has been obsessed with 4-4-2.