Club Focus – Manchester City – Mancini’s selection headache is waiting in the wings

As Roberto Mancini continues to tinker with his preferred starting line-up and formation at Eastlands, one choice the Italian has regularly made may have revealed his thinking on a number of other areas. Martin Petrov, a left-winger and one of the most one-footed players in the Premier League has started recently on the right side of the pitch, in theory unbalancing the side. So what is the reasoning behind what appears to be an odd decision?

There are many tactical benefits to placing Petrov on the right, the most obvious of which is allowing him to cut inside onto his stronger foot and unleash a shot towards goal from a good angle. As evidenced by his rocket past Scunthorpe United in the last round of the FA Cup, Petrov can strike a ball as firmly as anyone in the league and working him into dangerous positions could be a successful tactic. Also, with Carlos Tevez having led the line in the absence of Emmanuel Adebayor, Petrov’s flights in field create much space for the Argentine to pull wide and attempt to forge an opening away from the opposition’s central defenders. Adebayor also loves to attack the full-back, and so Petrov’s darts inside suit the Togo captain nicely.

Petrov, at his best, is a devastating winger with impressive speed and pinpoint delivery from crosses. But he only goes one way, leaving his left-back exposed and vulnerable to counter-attacks or clever movement from a striker drifting wide. By shifting Petrov across and deploying the more combative Bellamy on that side, Mancini may feel his left back is better protected, especially with Bellamy also possessing the pace and stamina needed to trek the whole of the left flank. But that still leaves Petrov on the right, threatening to expose whoever is handed the right-back spot. And Micah Richards, capable of rampaging runs forward, has often been left wanting by his positional sense and ability to recover ground – Petrov would offer no help there. Pablo Zabaleta is a more solid defender than Richards, but has been used all over the field during Mancio’s brief time at the City of Manchester Stadium, popping up not just on the right of the City defence but also on the left wing and in central midfield. Zabaleta has the positional sense to back-up Petrov on the right but lacks the kind of forceful attacking runs Richards excels at. Coupled with Petrov’s desire to wander in field, Zabaleta’s relative deficiencies could leave City short on the right if one of the forwards does not take Petrov’s space.

Petrov’s crossing ability will trouble any defence, and by starting on the right and looking to whip a cross towards goal with his left foot, City’s diminutive strike force, shorn of Adebayor’s physical presence, was given a better chance of getting a decisive touch on the ball by the way the Bulgarian arrowed it across goal. Now Adebayor has returned to the side, City will get more benefit from Petrov by stationing him on his natural side, whipping crosses into the box for the giant ex-Arsenal forward to head home. But Mancini faces a selection headache, albeit the kind managers always say they like. Bellamy, a serious contender for Player of the Year, will always look to utilise the left-wing, Petrov’s zone. Shaun Wright-Phillips will soon return from injury to fight for a place on the right hand side, while Carlos Tevez’s form means he cannot be dropped and without Adebayor, City’s front line will be worryingly lightweight against some of the more uncompromising Premier League defences. Matters are complicated further by the suspected signing of Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson, a Petrov with an English passport. Although Johnson is more one for the future and Petrov is 31, the England U21 international will be loathe to sit on the bench for long.

Mancini has yet to settle on his favoured formation in England. Primarily a 4-4-2 man with Inter Milan, so far he has experimented not only with that system but also variations of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. Petrov, like most high-class footballers, can fit in any system and offers City a great deal wherever he plays, but few would argue Bellamy has been City’s key player this season primarily from a left-sided berth. Cutting in from the right leaves Petrov’s game a little predictable and the day may come when the flying winger is dropped for the good of the team. Until then, however, Petrov’s dazzling runs, lethal crosses and explosive shots will continue to light up whichever part of the field he graces.

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