This season, a lot has been made over why City have failed to find their form. Last season, City got off on a scorching start, with gobs of goals scored. Here are the first 10 fixtures from last season, and the back line for City in those games.
City v Swansea City - W 4-0 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
Bolton v City - W 3-2 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov
Tottenham v City - W 5-1 Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
City v Wigan - W 3-0 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
Fulham v City - D 2-2 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
City v Everton - W 2-0 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
Blackburn v City - W 4-0 Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov
City v Villa - W 4-1 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
United v City - W 6-1 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
City v Wolves - W 3-1 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov
In those 10 fixtures, there is a remarkably stable back line. Kompany and Lescott in every start in central defense. Richards started 8 of those games at RB, and Clichy started 7 of them at LB.
In that run, City scored 36, conceded 8, and took 28 out of 30 possible points. This is the kind of football to be emulated. It put an enormous amount of pressure on United, and gave City confidence. This confidence was relied on when they finished out the season, coming from 8 points back to win the title.
As the season went on, Zabaleta began to be preferred to Richards, and Kolarov and Clichy traded starts. Savic even got 11 appearances throughout the campaign. The back line knew each other, each having played together for several seasons (except for Clichy), and were able to rely on each other.
This season is an entirely different story. By comparison, the start has been absolute rubbish.
City v Southampton W 3-2 Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
Liverpool v City D 2-2 Zabaleta, Kompany, K. Toure, Clichy
City v QPR W 3-1 Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov
Stoke v City D 1-1 Maicon, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
City v Arsenal D 1-1 Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
Fulham v City W 2-1 Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
City v Sunderland W 3-0 Richards, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kolarov
WBA v City W 2-1 Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy
City v Swansea W 1-0 Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
West Ham v City D 0-0 K. Toure, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy
4 draws from 10 played, 8 dropped points. 18 goals scored, 9 conceded. Scraping wins against illustrious sides like Swansea and Southampton. Dropping points against West Ham, Liverpool, and Stoke.
The back line has been rotated constantly, with only one lineup repeated in those first ten games (and none played in back to back weeks). This constant rotation has lead to a lack of understanding between the back line. When watched, you can see the hesitation on their faces, as they are never quite sure when they are supposed to move forward or not. There is no established trust for who will cover their position.
Last season, the rampaging runs of Clichy and Zabaleta/Richards down the touchline lead to dangerous crosses in the box. More importantly, space was given for Silva, Nasri, Milner, and Yaya to operate in. Without those same runs, teams have been able to pack the box, giving no room for them to work in. A major reason for the lack of goals scored by the strikers is the fact that they are not receiving dangerous passes in dangerous spaces.
The reason for the rotations is due in no small part to injuries, which have knocked Richards out for months, Clichy out for weeks at a time, and hampered Kompany, Kolarov, and Maicon.The effect of these injuries should not be downplayed.
In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the strange lineups of Roberto Mancini have also caused this lack of confidence. Lescott is prone to make mistakes (as seen when he tried to give United the title last season), but he is still an international player with years of Premier League experience. It is difficult to throw 19 year old Nastasic into the lions den (giving him his first start against Real Madrid???). I think that Nastasic can be a great player, but he needs to be brought along more slowly.
I believe that many of the problems currently hampering Manchester City will be solved as Clichy and Kolarov return to full fitness. This will allow Zabaleta to return to right back, which gives a more stable back line. As City faces more and more teams willing to pack the box, the importance of playing our first choice fullbacks grows in significance. While not all of City's woes will be solved by this, it will help tremendously. Whether Mancini survives long enough to see this happen is a different story.