One of the aspects of Roberto Mancini's management that isn't afforded enough credit is his in-game management. He has faced criticism this system (much of the narrative pre-determined) - mostly in Europe - over his switch to a 3-5-2 and whilst not fallible the method behind his decisions is sound.
Yesterday's game against Stoke was a prime example of this. We know that recent trips to the Britannia have resulted in 1-1 draws but as well as the result being similar the games themselves tend to revert to type with a buoyant Stoke side pushing City on the back foot and coming away with a point is a blessed relief.
There were two key decisions yesterday - one enforced, one not - which bucked the trend however and helped seal what was a deserved victory.
When Vincent Kompany went down injured, immediately signally to the bench that his afternoon was done twitter very quickly became restless when it took some seven minutes to replace him. Were they checking he was definitely out or were Mancini/Platt deliberating as to how to line up. The options appeared to be either like for like with the rookie Karim Rekik coming on (albeit another left footer) or adjust the midfield with Javi Garcia dropping back alongside Joleon Lescott?
No, Mancini went for a 3-5-2 with Gael Clichy replacing Kompany as one of the three defenders alongside Lescott and Pablo Zabaleta. This was not a bad move at all, particularly against Stoke who do not possess pace in attack or like to push onto fullbacks and press them back. The additional central defender (albeit a natural full back) could also help contend with balls hit forward. Interesting to note was the fact that Zabaleta was the only first choice defender (including the goalkeeper) on the field following Kompany's absence.
This worked well in continuing to restrict Stoke and whilst City enjoyed the upper hand neither Aleksandar Kolarov nor James Milner really threatened from an attacking standpoint. The threat continued from the left foot of David Silva, with both Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko linking well with him.
With little under half an hour remaining on came Sergio Aguero for Kolarov and City switched again to a back four, with a 4-2-3-1 formation; Garcia dropping back with Milner and Gareth Barry anchoring the midfield behind the trio of Aguero, Tevez and Silva (has the feel of a pretty potent line in hockey doesn't it?). This allowed City to stretch the tiring Stoke defence; Tevez a bundle of energy as always but the pace of Aguero utilised well on the left hand side. Stoke themselves committed more forward (and they went close with their only real chance from Peter Crouch's header), opening up the game with the fresh legged Aguero in particular profting.
As David Platt explained post-game:
"We went to a back three when Vincent came off and Gael came on, but we felt we needed to go back to four later in the game and Javi Garcia was superb when he went alongside Joleon [Lescott]."
The move of course paid off with Zabaleta, back in the right back position and moving the length of the field, striking the decisive winning goal.
Kudos, Roberto. Kudos.