Thoughts on the West Brom defeat

So, the first opportunity to put an end the trophy drought hit the buffers at the first attempt with a disappointing exit at the hands of West Brom last night.

Although having not seen the game, the reports in the press (and from those who attended) were universal in concluding it was a fair outcome. Of course the debate that swept around post game was all centred on Roberto Mancini’s team selection, or rather, lack of it.

Whilst he has his defenders, Mancini has been taken task for his decision to make eleven changes from the side that beat Wigan, in the process fielding a side that was extremely light on experience with four debutants in addition to Greg Cunningham, Abdil Ibrahim and Dedryck Boyata who possess barely ten appearances between them.

Mancini certainly offered a number of mitigating factors for his team selection, saying:

"I don't regret making the changes. I have big problems at the moment and we couldn't take any risks."

"If I had more players available it would be a different team."

"We wanted to win this competition but we couldn't taken any risks, both games were important to us. But we play Chelsea at 12.45 on Saturday and have only got 12 or 13 players.

"The time for players to recover is very short. It needs to be three days' minimum. It would have been better if the Chelsea game was an evening kick-off."

I do understand the criticism that has been levelled, and my own desire is very much for a trophy as opposed to Champions League qualification. I remain adamant though that the decision Mancini took to field the side he did was the correct one; the ensuing outcome should in no way alter that fact.

 

Primarily the criticism appears to stem from the fact that the defence was very light on experience, and that previously Mancini has fielded the likes of a Kompany (and possibly de Jong in midfield) to maintain a strong, experienced spine. He did not have that luxury last night.

The side is currently in a tough run of games with a number of midweek games recently in the Europa League in addition to many of the squad playing back to back internationals; not to mention having Chelsea and Juventus on the horizon. It is this run of games that prompted Mancini’s decision and without Europa League fixtures either side of the Carling Cup we may well have seen a different line-up.

I am sure that rather than simply dismissing the tournament as an irrelevance, or an unwanted distraction, Mancini viewed the game (and thus based decision) solely on this game and the circumstances surrounding it. Had progression been achieved, he would have once again considered a side for the next round at that point in time rather than continued to field weakened side out of disdain for the tournament. After all, his first ‘real’ introduction to the club was the pair of semi-final’s against United.

Equally important is that the defensive area is currently beset by injury. Not available for selection last night were Wayne Bridge, Aleksandar Kolarov, Joleon Lescott and Jerome Boateng. You imagine that the back four against Chelsea will be Micah Richards (if he can overcome his hamstring problems), Kolo Toure, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta and if Mancini hadn’t deployed the personnel last night he would have been forced to risk his strongest line-up with no real cover.

Of course Javan Vidal, Dedryck Boyata, Ben Mee and Greg Cunningham is a very lightweight defence, but had the quarter of Bridge, Kolarov, Lescott and Boateng been fit, it would certainly have had a far stronger presence. Ideally you would want some sort of ‘middle ground’ selection, whereby the Academy players can be introduced alongside more senior colleagues, but circumstances prevented that.

Equally, in attack, had Emmanuel Adebayor been fit, this area would have undoubtedly been stronger and meant that Roque Santa Cruz and/or John Guidetti would not have started. What is has worryingly shown is a real lack of depth behind Carlos Tevez, something that does need to be addressed in January.

As weakened as the side was, this should also not distract from the fact that West Brom themselves fielded a much weakened side, albeit one that did possess more experience than the City line-up. The fact that a lead was lost does suggest as much of a naivety as much as anything about the performance – and is perhaps something that was exacerbated by the tie being at The Hawthorns as opposed to The City of Manchester Stadium.

It is very easy to overstate – even moreso when taking into account the other casualties in round 3 – the significance of the defeat, as if fingers had been prised off the trophy. Whilst the potential draw may have looked favourable there is by no means any guarantee that the path to Wembley was all but assured.

When a decision as contentious as the one Mancini made is taken, criticism will always follow if the outcome is not positive, but when assessing whether it was the correct one; the decision itself should be viewed as separate from the ensuing outcome. However disappointing the defeat was – and particularly so after taking the lead – the decision was the correct one, and one that I’m sure Mancini would make again in the same circumstances.

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