Man City could do with a morale boosting victory when they return to Premier League action on Saturday (5.30pm BST, Live on ESPN) at home to Swansea following a midweek loss that put their Champions League future in severe doubt.
City went down 3-1 away to Ajax on Wednesday to leave them with just one point from the opening three matches of the group phase. With Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid looking strong at the top of the group, City’s chances of reaching the knockout phase now look limited.
The result again raised doubts over the tactical proficiency of City manager Roberto Mancini (pictured), who was out-thought by his opposite number Frank de Boer. Three changes in formation did little to change the flow of a match that Ajax enjoyed the better of from the opening whistle, in spite of City taking an early lead.
Mancini’s tactical tinkering, in particular his desire to experiment with three central defenders, has been more of a hindrance than a help in overcoming opposing teams so far this season. For instance, City’s awkward performance in a 2-2 draw away to Liverpool in the second week of the campaign displayed players’ ill-at-ease in a 3-4-1-2 formation.
Despite this, City are thus far unbeaten in the Premier League, recording five wins and three draws from their eight matches to date.
Their defence has been a little shakier than it was during last year’s title winning campaign, conceding just over a goal per match in comparison to just 0.76 per match last season. Attacking output has also decreased, from 2.45 goals per match last season to 2.13 this time around.
Expressed at a per match average level these differences seem insignificant, but over the course of a season would amount to 13 more goals conceded and nine less scored.
It is clear that the last-gasp manner in which City won last season’s title has imbued the squad with a steadfast belief in their ability to get a result. This is demonstrated by winning goals in the last ten minutes against Southampton, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and an 80th minute equaliser in the aforementioned draw with Liverpool. That will get them by for now, but more is likely to be required if they are to hold onto their title.
Swansea’s first season in the English top flight began with a 4-0 thrashing away to Manchester City last August. Following that result you would have found few willing to back Brendan Rogers’ side to extend their stay for a second season, but Swansea gradually grew accustomed to their new surroundings, found their rhythm and ended the season in 11th.
Rogers moved onto to a bigger stage by taking over at Liverpool and was replaced by Michael Laudrup, a world-class player in his time but a man with a patchy managerial record. What he did bring was a commitment to passing football, a pre-requisite for Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins in his search for a man to continue to work of Rogers, and Paulo Sousa and Roberto Martinez before him.
In the opening weeks of the season, in which Swansea thrashed Queen’s Park Rangers 5-0 away and comfortably swept West Ham aside 3-0 at home, it seemed that Laudrup had added increased incision to the controlled passing of the Rogers era.
Two draws, three defeats and one win in the subsequent matches have evened the statistics out a little, but there is certainly evidence that Swansea under Laudrup are thus far creating more opportunities than they did under Rogers.
Swansea have averaged almost exactly the same amount of possession as last season and completed almost exactly the same percentage of passes. However, they have averaged just over three more shots per match than under Rogers and two more shots on target.
It could be argued that Swansea are yet to face any of the league’s biggest clubs, but considering Laudrup had to contend with the summer departures of Joe Allen, Glyfi Sigurdsson and Scott Sinclair, three of the key components of Swansea impressive first Premier League season, he has done a solid job to date.
The signing of Michu from Rayo Vallecano for £2 million already looks a steal. The midfielder has notched six goals thus far, more than adequately replacing the goal threat provided by Sigurdsson in the latter half of last season. Jonathan de Guzman has been neat and tidy in central midfield and has three assists to his name, while right winger Pablo Hernandez opened his account for the club in last weekend’s 2-1 win at home to Wigan.
Manchester City v Swansea Betting Tips Verdict
Swansea (14/1 Bet365 & SkyBet to win) have shown promise under Laudrup, but were comfortably beaten 3-0 by Everton in their only match against a top six contender to date. Manchester City (1/4 to win this with BetVictor, Betfred, Coral) are not firing on all cylinders but carry enough of an attacking threat to do damage to a fairly leaky away defence. Best odds for the draw are 11/2 (BetVictor, Stan James).