In the wake of City’s defeat to Barcelona, there are a bunch of “What’s Wrong with City?” pieces floating around on the interwebs. Michael Cox writes a good piece on how it’s the limitations of City’s players, not the system, that are bringing the team down. In particular, he highlights how Kompany has struggled to find consistency and how City have never adequately replaced Nigel De Jong. While I think that City’s problems offensively have been worse (and somehow less noticed) than their defensive struggles, it is certainly clear that Toure does need a strong defensive-minded partner beside him (as I’ve written before) and that Kompany is not able to lead the defensive line effectively. I suggest that both problems are fixable with one simple move: moving Kompany to midfield to partner Toure.
That suggestion might sound odd, but remember that Kompany is no stranger to the defensive central midfield role. When he first arrived at City in 2008 he played there exclusively for half a season with aplomb, until none other than Nigel De Jong came in to that role in January and Kompany settled at center-back. Kompany is faster, quicker, and a better passer than Fernando. He is stronger, a better tackler, and more positionally aware than Fernandinho. In midfield, his efforts to constantly win the ball wouldn’t leave the team as exposed. His penchant for the occasional individual error wouldn’t lead directly to goals. And his greatest strengths - his energy, his determination, his drive – would come through more strongly. Partnered with Yaya, he would be able to provide the needed defensive cover, but would also be able to hit balls over the top to Aguero and Dzeko and drive forward with purpose when space appeared. It should also be noted that he’s in good Kompany (sorry), as a number of maverick center-backs have made a home for themselves in central midfield, with David Luiz probably the best example at PSG
Perhaps more importantly, putting Kompany in midfield removes him from the defensive line. Under Pellegrini, City have favored a tight line, and Kompany just hasn’t been able to lead it. A line led by Demichelis has fared better, which was particularly noticeable at Hull last year (my favorite game of that season by far) when Garcia and Demichelis caused about 55 offsides on Jelavic after Kompany was sent off. A pairing of Demichelis and Mangala allows the experienced defender to lead the line and the more athletic one to support. The combination has actually fared pretty well this year as well, winning 4 games and drawing one. In fact, City have won all 6 games without Kompany this year in the Premier League, albeit against a pretty weak schedule. City’s defensive stats improved as well in those games, as our Defensive Efficiency improved from 88 to 82 and our Opponent’s Finish Rate dropped from 25% to 18%. When you combine this with the fact that Kompany ahead of the back four would likely further reduce the pressure on the center-backs, I think it’s safe to say we’d see even more defensive improvement.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think Kompany is a bad defender or that City is a bad defensive team. I think we are still likely to finish second even without this change, due to the remaining schedule and the quality of the team. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there are some pressing long-term squad issues, and as I mentioned the other day it is unlikely City will be able to bring in a ton of new talent this summer. This means Pellegrini will have to get creative with his squad, and this would be one way to do so that solves a number of issues.