One of the talking points of The Citizens’ season so far has been the performance of Eliaquim Mangala, their star summer signing. Joseph Solomon tries to analyse why the Frnech defender has struggled in his short career at City.
£31.8 million for a 23 year old, naive or a stroke of genius? – is the question surrounding Manchester City’s defender Eliaquim Mangala. Playing in a position where experience and tactical know-how are of paramount importance, Manchester City splashed out on a defender who lacks in both traits. Signed to constitute the centre back pairing with captain inspirational Vincent Kompany, life for Eliaquim Managala in the blue half of Manchester has been full of crests and troughs.
Signed from Porto for a hefty price tag, Mangala was one of the best centre backs in the Portuguese league which produced defensive stars like David Luiz, Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe, in the past. In a league where clipping the ball – before the opposing forward, is often the basic method of defending, Mangala thrived with his physicality. Following a transfer to Manchester City, Mangala has often been lamented as the ‘scapegoat’ in the thick of defensive frailties, whilst being all over the park.
Now first and foremost, life for any central defender is not as easy as it seems. Often crucified for a single error – which could gift a goal to the opponent, life for a central defender fitting right into an existing system is much tougher. Although, it may seem that their movements and their passing might not contribute much to the game – attack wise, their chemistry with the other members of the contingent and especially with the pivot (given that most teams in Europe play with 2 defensive mids) is of utmost importance. Come Mangala, a 23 year old fitting (forcefully) right into City’s system of 4 men at the back alongside Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure with Fernando/Fernandinho operating in-front.
Settling in hasn’t been easy for Mangala, as he has failed to strike a chord with that pivot in-front and also with Kompany, for that matter. Getting into the nitty gritty of things and Mangala has been all over the park. Can we blame him? Well yes and then no!
Manchester City often play with a 4-2-3-1, leaving the front four which contribute heavily to the attacking and goal scoring department – led by the sensational Sergio Aguero, focusing on the working of the back four defenders and two pivots. In the heart of defense is Mangala alongside Kompany, deployed behind Yaya Toure and Fernandinho or Fernando.
To understand Mangala’s torrid season, thus far, we can easily zoom into his performances from two angles. The first being ‘Individual’ and the second being ‘Tactical’.
To start with, the Frenchman has not displayed signs of complacency in one on one battles and has often used his imposing figure very effectively. Although, Mangala’s embedded tradition – to knick the ball infront of the opposing forward (much like David Luiz) has resulted in one or two problems for him, this front foot defending has not resulted in horrid situations . However it could be a problem in the long run if Mangala does not gauge his opposing forward’s movements to perfection.
Front foot defending might be marginalized with the passing of time and evolution of Mangala, but what the Frenchman needs to focus on is his distribution of play. His distribution has let him down in various matches and concentration in games, still looks like it eludes the Frenchman. Often committing to unwanted tackles and being forcefully dragged into uncharted situations, Mangala should improve on these personal errors. These ‘small’ mistakes which can be often blamed on the change of ‘footballing style’, might erode with every passing moment.
Needless to say, Mangala has been exposed by almost every defensive unit contributing to Manchester Ciy’s defensive structure. Often caught in two minds, stuck between providing a cover and committing tackles, Mangala has been crucified by Manchester City’s midfield and defense. First off, Gael Clichy – a former Arsenal left back bought by Man City, vacates a large space bombarding forward, and this space is often capitalized upon by the opposing teams – who hit on counters. If Clichy has been a crown of thorns, then Yaya Toure alongside Fernando has certainly proved to be the rugged cross. Although Yaya Toure might be considered as one of the forces which drives City forward, the Ivorian has suffered a dip in form lately.
Defensively, almost similar to Clichy, Toure fails to trace his opposing players back – and that results in Mangala being outnumbered by opposing attackers. Also, Toure has often been complacent in his ball playing abilities and has lost possession in his own half – a situation which once again puts the heart of defense in jeopardy. It is pretty evident that City lacks the covering often provided to the back four by the pivot, especially when Fernandinho is not playing. Fernando has been a slight knock above average and has often lagged in defensive duties. His imposing figure rarely compliments his pace and the midfielder keeps loosing track of opposing players, often inside the Man City half.
Defensive understanding with Vincent Kompany has also not been up to the par – as the duo (i.e Mangala and Kompany) have often lacked a mental bond. But, with Mangala playing a mere fourteen matches alongside Kompany, Can we blame the former?
It might be naive and highly inaccurate to say that Eliaquim Mangala, has been individually brilliant and tactically poor. The Frenchman has lagged in both departments and although individual performances will climb charts with time, the tactical performances could spiral downwards if Manuel Pellegrini does not look into the nitty gritty of things.
Written by Joseph Solomon.