Manuel Pellegrini and Manchester City were accused of “disrespecting” the FA Cup when they fielded a team full of exciting youth players against Chelsea on Sunday.
Even though the selection of youth ahead of the usual stars was viewed as the main reason for this supposed insult to, and defeat in, the FA Cup, the poorest performances came from some of the more experienced heads at the defensive end of the pitch..
Willy Caballero played in a team with six teenagers, saved a penalty & was still the worst player on the pitch. Quite a feat.
— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) February 21, 2016
Tonight in Kiev, City went through the gears and were, at times, in cruise control as they defeated Dynamo but three goals to one. The decision, and the disrespect, now appears to be fully justified.
Goals from Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Yaya Toure saw City pick up three away goals in the victory, but it was the subtle changes to the team and the attractive, front-foot football which stood out for the away side in this last-16 first leg.
David Silva played in a number 10 role behind Sergio Aguero, and with Raheem Sterling in his usual position on the left, the trio were part of some excellent flowing football on a cold night at the Olympic Stadium.
Behind them, the midfield trio of Fernando, Yaya Toure, and Fernandinho have struggled to combine effectively in recent times, and it’s not unfair to say that they’ve even been more of a hindrance than a help to Manchester City on certain occasions.
But tonight their manager made a few tweaks to his usual system and had his stars firing on all cylinders. Even though it could be said that this tactical change has arrived too late in the season, it worked to devastating effect.
The deployment of Fernandinho in a shuttling role on the right side of midfield was a masterstroke from Pellegrini.
It allowed the Brazilian to use his energy, work-rate, and considerable footballing talent in the areas of the pitch where he would be most effective.
The former Shakhtar man was able to use his defensive traits to help out right-back Sagna, as well as the midfield pair, while also utilising his abilities as an attacking midfielder to link play effectively in the final third.
He won the ball back in midfield on numerous occasions with help from Fernando and pass-reader extraordinaire Nicolas Otamendi.
Two of the Argentine centre back’s interceptions occurred inside the opposition half, such was his eagerness to step out and win the ball.
With Otamendi, Fernando, and Fernandinho playing in this manner, the likes of Silva, Aguero, and Sterling were able to concentrate on their work in the attacking third, though the three weren’t averse to tracking back themselves when needed.
Even Toure looked at home, finding a place within the system as opposed to being the detached, roaming juggernaut, whose individual excellence can be cancelled out by the fact he’s often in the wrong role.
In Kiev the Ivorian dictated the play from midfield, knowing that he had a few separate insurance policies should he decide to roam. His pass success rate of 98% shows the control he had, and only Silva had more touches of the ball (82) than him (72).
He rounded off the display with a well taken goal which gave spectators, whether inside the stadium or watching in warmer climes, a reminded of his immense talent.
The midfielder goes from looking injured to effortlessly gliding before an opposition defence has had chance to adapt, and to say he scored this goal with a weaker foot, is almost an insult to his highly competent left-boot.
Fittingly, the assist for Toure’s goal came from Fernandinho who added a statistic to his performance which will satisfy the Opta generation, as well as those who merely appreciate the aesthetic or perceptible side of the game.
With Vincent Kompany quietly commanding at the back, plus a good contribution from Joe Hart who made an important save in the second half, City looked like a team rested but match fit, star-studded but coherent, and one which is ready to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in its history.