Roberto Mancini has been at pains to insist that, in spite of the unfathomable riches available, he is still impoverished by a threadbare squad. Naturally envious eyes narrow in suspicion of such claims as sceptics wonder just how a man who has spent in excess of £250 million has the audacity to claim he is struggling to field a full squad over the arduous winter months. However, bereft of the suspended Vincent Kompany and international-bound Kolo Toure, defensive travails once again undermined the Citizens swashbuckling attacking talent during Sunday’s pulsating defeat of Tottenham.
The ability to position oneself correctly, to be able to judge the flight of the ball, the movement of one’s opponents and to instinctively calculate where to be at precisely the right time is perhaps the most fundamental of all attributes required of a centre-back. Yet as that harmless punt from Younes Kaboul arced over the midfield, Savic was engulfed with nerves. Yards too far forward, he miscalculated. Backtracking to make contact, he could only nudge a weak header towards his own goal. Too weak. In a flash Jermain Defoe pounced on the error, rounding Joe Hart to score.
Inevitably Savic suffered. The desperate expression on his face screamed of a man momentarily out of his depth. Shorn of confidence, he cut the figure of a man utterly sure of his misfortune. Suddenly every mistake he makes is the decisive one. Little wonder his was the careless pass central to the game’s thrilling climax. The instantaneous relief which met Defoe’s heartbreaking final-minute miss will have subsided, replaced with self-doubt, inner voices and indecision.
Savic’s worries will be compounded with the onset of the trip to Liverpool as City attempt to overturn a one-goal deficit. His first-leg performance smacked of inexperience, repeatedly attempting to outmuscle Andy Carroll. Emerging battered, bloodied and, most importantly, second best against a striker so evidently lacking in confidence as the beleaguered Geordie emphasised just how much he has to learn.
Mancini is placed in the rather invidious position of deciding whether to reorganise his starting line-up once more, or persist with a player stricken of form and confidence. An alternative posited is to move Micah Richards to centre-back. Yet to do so would inhibit the team. Richards’ coruscating charges from right-back have been an engrossing feature of City’s attacking play this season; something so patently lacking when the more doughty talents of Pablo Zabaleta have been favoured. And wasn’t a criticism of Richards in his earlier incarnation at centre-back that he lacked the composure, the innate sense of timing and anticipation required to truly excel in the role? These, tellingly, are the exact facets of Savic’s game so recently lacking.
The former Partizan Belgrade man looks likely to retain his place for Liverpool clash. A hitherto undiscovered capacity to learn from his errors, to play with intelligence and calm, is vital to building a defensive foundation from which City can work their way back into the tie. Savic has the perfect opportunity to prove the detractors wrong, confounding his manager’s doubts about defensive strength in depth in the meantime.
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