Club Focus – Manchester City – Defensive woes leave City looking drawn

Manchester City’s fifth consecutive league draw continues to raise questions about just how good Mark Hughes’ side are. Trailing Burnley by two goals to one at half-time, the Blues seemed to have recovered to steal victory from Owen Coyle’s side, only for Clarets substitute Kevin McDonald to turn the game on its head in the dying minutes.

City’s first-half attacking was sound, with Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips supplying their expensive teammates, but when the goal failed to arrive, Burnley punished their hosts ruthlessly. The penalty tucked away by Graham Alexander may have been debateable, but City were stretched by the overlap of Burnley full-back Tyrone Mears with Wayne Bridge nowhere in sight. Mears ran through the City midfield into the space vacated by Bridge and had time to produce the cross that won the spot kick. If the defending in the build-up to the first goal was poor, it got worse as Steven Fletcher doubled the advantage. Joleon Lescott, abandoned by Bridge, played three players onside and Fletcher was left in space to tap into an empty net.

Two goals either side of half-time put City level, but they came courtesy of a deflected Wright-Phillips shot that was speculative at best, while Kolo Toure took advantage of defending so poor it could have come from the home team. Ireland was at the heart of the move that sent City ahead, feeding Wright-Phillips. The former Chelsea winger found Craig Bellamy, who slotted home as the game approached the hour mark and, for 30 minutes, it seemed City would get away with their shambolic defending. With just three minutes to go, however, the Citizens failed to learn from their earlier mistakes and were punished again. As much as Ireland offers going forward, it was his lapse in concentration in allowing McDonald to pass him that led to Burnley’s equaliser, compounding Bridge’s latest error. Bridge, who spent more of the game attacking than defending, failed to clear a simple long ball and seconds later City had snatched a draw from the jaws of victory.

Shay Given must have thought he had escaped the horrors of a leaky defence when he left Newcastle for Manchester, but with Lescott and Bridge still some distance from their best, the Ireland international will be having flashbacks to his time at St. James’ Park. How can a side that cost over £150m drop two points against arguably the weakest of the newly-promoted Premier League teams? A team with serious hopes of breaking into the top four cannot afford to give up a lead against opponents without an away point this season. The finger must be pointed at City’s defence for the latest disappointing result for Hughes’ men. The left side of the back four was porous all day as Bridge’s misguided forays into Burnley territory left a gap too big for Lescott to fill alone. Bridge may have left Lescott stranded, but the England defender’s lack of positional sense only made things worse. Lescott took the headlines at Everton for his goals, but any Toffees fan who watched him regularly would attest the former Wolves man was often shaky, using his pace and power to atone for his positional mistakes.

There are problems at the other end of the pitch as well. Carlos Tevez alone cost City £47m in the summer, as revealed by The Times in September. That’s more than 15 times Burnley’s record signing, Steven Fletcher, but the former Hibernian striker has managed three goals to Tevez’s two this season. Was any consideration given to how Tevez would play with Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho? Or was appearing to get one over their cousins from Old Trafford all the City hierarchy needed to convince them to bring Tevez to Eastlands?

City’s only win of October came when a nearly full strength team welcomed Scunthorpe to Eastlands. They dispatched The Iron 5-1, but followed that result with a trip to Birmingham and were fortunate to come away with a point.

Hughes takes his players to Abu Dhabi for a friendly against the United Arab Emirates national team this week, and he may have some explaining to do to his bosses whilst there. City’s owners have invested a fortune in the Manchester club and they will be expecting greater reward this season than another mid-table finish. Saturday’s draw and Tottenham’s victory over Sunderland saw the Citizens drop out of the Champions League places. If they are still off the pace at Christmas, Mark Hughes might find himself out of a job by New Year.

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