Sunday, 16 May 2010

Season ratings: midfielders

Gareth Barry (42 starts, 3 goals)

Before the arrival of that striker from Manchester United, Barry was set to be the most important signing of last summer. His experience and assurance meant that Hughes trusted him sufficiently to anchor a 4-2-4 formation, initially alongside Stephen Ireland but then with Nigel de Jong. It worked very well: Barry dictated the tempo of play, tasked with moving the ball quickly to our front players, putting out fires where necessary and, well, 'winning' free-kicks. He faded slightly as the season went on, though, presumably from fatigue - as well as showing a frustrating tendency to hide in the biggest games. By the early months of the Mancini reign he was barely worth his place in the team, and there were rumours of much-needed groin surgery being postponed. But he improved towards the end of the year, and looks unfortunate to have his World Cup jeapordised by an ankle knock. B+

Nigel de Jong (37 starts, 0 goals)

After the bedding in period during the second half of last season he pushed on as we hoped he would this year. Didn't get into the side at first, but as soon as Mark Hughes realised the folly of playing Stephen Ireland deep in a 4-2-4 de Jong was in the side and there to stay. When in the side he did what he does best: patrolling and dominating the space in front of our penalty area like a good guard-dog does his owner's front garden; aggressive, territorial, snarling, relying mainly on the threat of violence but certainly not afraid of hurting intruders' ankles. There are concerns that sometimes he is played when we don't need him, his distribution is cautious rather than creative and so there are matches when we would be better off with Ireland there instead. But there are times when we would be lost without him; he was heroic in the 2-1 win over Chelsea in December, and produced a consistent level of performance throughout the season. A

Stephen Ireland (23 starts, 3 goals)

A sad story. It would be easy to blame the managerial change for Ireland's wretched, regressive season but I think that would not be accurate. The problems started with Mark Hughes' decision to switch from a 4-2-3-1 towards a 4-2-4, with Carlos Tévez playing off a front man. This forced 'Superman' back into a deeper midfield role alongside Barry. And for all his many gifts he didn't have the tactical discipline to do it. He was sidelined for Nigel de Jong, brought out occasionally for his preferred role in a 4-2-3-1. But with Tévez just starting to find his voice, we could not justify playing anyone else in that space behind the front man. When Mancini took over Ireland got a few more games, on the right, even in the hole when Tévez was back in Buenos Aires. Ireland is such a confidence player, though, that he needs a run of games rather than the odd start here or there and he never settled. This is a definitive summer for him. C-

Adam Johnson (14 starts, 1 goal)

The success story of the Mancini era. Bought by Brian Marwood in January - a precursor of the 'Boateng plan' perhaps - from Middlesbrough for £6m. He came off the bench at the KC Stadium for his debut, almost swinging the game back in our favour. His first start was the next match against Bolton, where he won us a penalty and tortured Paul Robinson throughout. A left-footer playing from the right, he might not be in the Leo Messi/Arjen Robben bracket but he does have a touch of magic about him, shown by his willingness to run at defenders and ability to dart either side of them, his taste for a trick and that audacity which inspired his equaliser at Sunderland. I do think at times that he is not as good as he looks: in his four games against United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal he did the sum total of nothing, and was quiet in the play-off with Spurs. But a very promising start to his City career. B+

Martin Petrov (11 starts, 5 goals)

More involved than he was last season. He was always going to find it difficult with Craig Bellamy and Robinho in front of him but did carve out a brief spell in the side under Mark Hughes, scoring in three consecutive appearances in September/October. When Hughes was sacked Petrov played more, scoring the first goal of the Mancini era and continuing to play - atoning for the 8-1 by setting up Benjani's goal at the Riverside - before the arrival of Adam Johnson limited his opportunities. He still has the talents which made him such a favourite under Eriksson: pace, fantastic delivery and an eye for goal. His strikes against West Ham and Scunthorpe were as powerful as anything this season, those against Fulham and Wigan as well crafted. Relative to his limited opportunities he produced very well for us this year. But the problem is that he's 31, his knees cannot be trusted and are only going to get worse. He has only started 19 games in the last two seasons and it's just not enough for him. His contract's out this summer and I can't see him staying. B

Patrick Vieira (8 starts, 1 goal)

Signed in January to be for Mancini what Craig Bellamy was for Mark Hughes: his eyes, ears, and voice in a dressing room predominantly loyal to a previous regime. He may have done that job well, he may not. But on the pitch we could see that he is not the player he was. He was just too slow - not across the pitch, that was expected - but sluggish, dulled, second to everything , unable to turn or retain possession. He did play well against Aston Villa, to be fair, but one good performance out of eight isn't enough to deserve retention. He might well stay, for the benefit of his experience, particularly in Europe, but I can only foresee a peripheral role next year. D

Shaun Wright-Phillips (26 starts, 7 goals)

The one man who lost most from the Hughes/Mancini changeover. For the first part of the season, he was integral - playing on the right of our 4-2-4, scoring and providing assists. Those two final high points of the Hughes era - the Eastlands defeats of Chelsea and Arsenal Reserves - when it looked as if Hughes had cracked it, but just weeks before he was dismissed - were personal successes for Shaun, excellent in both games. But Mancini clearly didn't like him so much; preferring Adam Johnson on the right wing and therefore relegating Wright-Phillips to a role from the bench. His run to set up Craig Bellamy against Villa was a thrilling reminder of what he can do, if only Mancini could let him. Another popular home-grown player whose future at MCFC is unclear. B-

The other midfielders to play a part are all Academy graduates. Greg Cunningham and Abdi Ibrahim both snatched a few minutes here and there, primarily in the FA Cup but with some EPL exposure too. Vladimir Weiss played a few League Cup games, and scored his first senior goal at Eastlands in the 3-0 against Arsenal Reserves, before struggling in the rain at the Riverside and then going on loan to Bolton. Michael Johnson did well to recover from his groin and core problems - came on twice, scoring against Scunthorpe - before rupturing his cruciate ligaments in training and missing the rest of the season. A real shame.


thomas said...

A c is very generous.

BigMalfan said...

"Patrolling in front of OUR penalty area" Is that all you need to do to get an A!!!! Time was when a MIDFIELDER had to get box to box, tackle, pass, create, and score just for starters. When you have a weak defence surely the answer is to buy better defenders and let them defend rather than simply put extra bodies in front of them thereby reducing your effectiveness going forward.

Jarrad Liam said...

SWP should get a C-/D... his only trick now is giving the ball away. AJ all day long.