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Growing internet whispers suggest Man City are prepared to part with approximately £47m to seal the signing of Kevin De Bruyne. Wolfsburg’s director of sport, Klaus Allofs, admits the Belgian’s “head has been turned” by talk of a transfer. If De Bruyne, who enjoyed one of the most entertainingly productive seasons in Europe last season, does decide upon a return to the Premier League with City, how would his arrival affect their setup?
De Bruyne was brilliant in the number 10 role for Wolfsburg last year, and has successfully operated deeper for Belgium, but with David Silva or Yaya Toure likely to be used there at City, £47m or not, De Bruyne may have to be re-positioned in order to make the starting line-up.
Stationing him on the left of a front three, with £49m laughing gas enthusiast Raheem Sterling on the right would directly address several lingering problems for City – specifically, the lack of goal-scoring support in the wide areas, and the lack of flexibility in central midfield.
Meagre goal-scoring returns
Meagre goal-scoring returns in the wide areas has hindered City’s attack. Pellegrini, like Roberto Mancini before him, expects his wingers to stretch the play, create chances and assist defensively, and to rarely score.
James Milner, now Liverpool’s vice-captain, and Samir Nasri both prefer to be central but were/ are generally used in traditional wide roles by Manuel Pellegrini, along with natural winger Jesus Navas.
On average, the trio accounted for just one league goal per player per year at the Etihad. This is simply not good enough for a title contender. It’s time City’s wide players took on goal-scoring responsibility; De Bruyne and Sterling represent a great way to tackle the problem.
Deployed either side of Aguero, the duo would inject the energy City consistently lack – particularly during the Argentine’s regular injury layoffs – offering lightning quick assistance on the counter. 17 goals and 27 assists combined last season (compared to Nasri and Navas’ two and 14) prove De Bruyne and Sterling’s ability to make decisive interventions – positioning them on the wings of a four-man midfield is unlikely to get the best out of either.
Allowing both to link with Aguero, whilst demanding they pressure out of possession, plays to their strengths and should make things easier for those further behind. Silva and Toure can then slot into preferred positions, conserving energy and controlling the game from deeper.
Of course, repositioning De Bruyne on the left isn’t without risk. He has after all played his best football centrally, and occasionally frustrated with derelictions of defensive duty out wide. This latter aspect may offer a route into the side to Fabian Delph who impressed in a left-of-centre midfield role for England.
With Toure likely to take one of the central spots, alongside – probably – Fernandinho, Delph is sure to find opportunities limited given his lack of top level experience. Forging a partnership with De Bruyne, whose price tag would effectively guarantee a starting place, could be an achievable short-term goal for him.
A Possible Change in Tactical Set-up
Pellegrini’s default insistence on two central midfielders (by virtue of his two-striker tendency) has looked outdated and naïve, particularly in Europe, as control is sacrificed in midfield. His often enforced one-striker ventures have led to City’s frontmen becoming isolated – stranded in attack, easily passed around in defence.
Whilst clearly not his favourite set-up, unleashing a livewire Sterling-Aguero-De Bruyne front three would tackle both problems, and buy Pellegrini time to get to grips with various arrangements of three-man central midfields – arguably his weakest area tactically.
Beyond their obvious goal threat and youthful exuberance, De Bruyne and Sterling will help address deep-rooted problems at City.
Written by Chris Smith
Follow Chris on Twitter @cdsmith789
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