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2009/10 squad review - midfield

What on paper looks to be the most stocked and talent-laden unit out of any at the club however does go into the summer with the most focus on it due to the fact that there is a glaring need that (so far anyway) Roberto Mancini has not yet managed to plug.

Mancini's preference - certainly when Adebayor was available to partner Tevez - was to adopt a 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation which provided plenty of attacking support for the front pairing yet at times in crucial games we simply lacked the wherewithal to create or carve out opportunities . Too often the gap between the defensive aspects of the side and the attacking options was too big, with no player to really pull the strings or connect the two areas. Games such as those against United, Arsenal and Tottenham drew a blank when a goal could have made so much difference.

What the midfield needs is a truly dominant player capable of linking both attack and defence. Someone who can impose themselves on the game and add the option of ten goals a season that could make the difference between true success and merely progression. These players are not often available though so searching may not prove fruitful, although Napoli's Marek Hamsik continues to be linked and he appears to be the best option from the suggestions I have seen.

It is a pity that Michael Johnson was again injured for the most part as a fit and in form Johnson could well be the answer to this problem position.

Looking through the midfield there is no questioning Nigel de Jong. He had a fantastic season and there is a definite argument that whilst Tevez reached higher levels, de Jong was consistently better. Tenacious, strong in the tackle and influential, he looks set to be a mainstay for years to come.

The other position in midfield is less secure though. Whilst Gareth Barry saw a dip in form, he started and finished the season brightly and always picks the right pass at the right time. However - and this maybe due to the formation - the attacking element to his game so often seen at Aston Villa never quite materialised and he did lack an imposing presence in the middle.

Patrick Vieira was added to the midfield in January and was not a success it has to be said. Clearly he was not going to be the Vieira of old, but although he can clearly pick a pass, the pace of the Premier League seemed to much for him. Reports do indicate he is set to be offered a further one year deal, but I'm certain this will be as much a foot on the ladder to a coaching career as much as anything. Pablo Zabaleta also ably stepped in on occasion when Mancini opted for a central three, with his versatility and attitude endearing him to the manager no end.

The big question remains Stephen Ireland. For the second season in succession, Ireland went backwards and the 2007/08 wonder season is fast fading. Rumours of an exit persist but neither club or player would view this as a positive step. His playmaking abilities and runs from midfield should see him as a viable option (particularly in the 4-5-1) yet the feeling persists that he is not best suited as part of a midfield two, particularly a more deep lying one where he doesn't have the licence to roam quite as much as he did under Sven-Goran Eriksson. There is still a place for Ireland, but he may have to adapt and adjust to fit in.

Playing with two attacking midfielders, Mancini is well served with options. On the right hand side, there is Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson, whilst on the left it was a choice usually between Bellamy and Petrov. Johnson arrived a surprise in January, and surprised even more with the way he adjusted and stepped up so early on. So much so that he earned a place in England's initial World Cup squad. His play on the right (the 'off wing) saw Wright-Phillips marginalised for the most of the 2010, yet when used as an impact substitute he showed he is more than capable of being a starter. Whether he will want to continue mainly from the bench is a difficult thing to gage and of course there is the potential for a contract stalemate.

The left hand side is interesting. Bellamy - despite reports of clashing with Mancini - was a favoured choice and his form was amongst the best at the club during the season. Concerns over his fitness may limit his effectiveness next season, if indeed he does remain at the club with suggestions that Tottenham may be ready to step in. Martin Petrov was plagued by injury again, but reminded us of his obvious talents at times during his sporadic appearances, but with a contract running down it is doubtful that he will return for next season.

Added to this group is the returning Vladimir Weiss - although he may likely see another loan spell during 2010/11 - and of course Robinho. The talented and talismanic yet largely underwhelming Brazilian is unlikely to play again for the club but it is difficult to see many options elsewhere for him on a permanent basis. A swap of two problems between him and Zlatan Ibrahimovich has been mooted, but the possibility at this stage is another loan.

It looks as though Mancini is happy enough with this area of the squad, and there is no real urgency to strengthen yet the degree of uncertainty that hangs over the futures of Robinho, Petrov and Bellamy may well jolt him into action to bring in reinforcements depending if his hand is forced.