Despite their struggles in the Champions League, Manchester City remains unbeaten in the Premier League and currently sit on top of the table thanks to their 5-0 pasting of Aston Villa on Saturday. It hasn't been calm, quiet or without drama in the Blue side of Manchester, since we last left them, but then it seems nothing ever is with Roberto Mancini's squad.
City's failure to defeat Ajax at the Etihad Stadium essentially ended their Champions League campaign and ignited a firestorm of criticism and recriminations directed towards Mancini. Much has been made of his twitchy tactical decisions and switches over the past few months, none more so than his decision to utilize a back three, most notably in the first match against Ajax in Amsterdam which helped produce a shocking 3-1 City defeat. Mancini told reporters that he "changed because Ajax were only playing with one striker" and that "when we want to be more offensive, we leave only three defenders back."
Playing three defenders against an Ajax system that featured a lone striker struck many observers as odd. Michael Cox has also noted that some City players such as (the now injured) Micah Richards seemed noticeably uncomfortable in the system, which prompted the manager to publicly say ""If you don't understand a system like that, you cannot play for a top team."
Mancini has had a little more success with the back three in the Premier League, particularly in a recent 2-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur where his decision to shift into the formation was a crucial factor in deciding the match. Mancini is nothing if not unpredictable tactically and with a big squad at his disposable it's hard to imagine what alignment he may use on Wednesday. City will certainly attack Real Madrid to try and salvage something (even if it's just for morale and confidence) from their disappointing Champions League season. So, I guess, judging by Mancini's aforementioned comment the back-three could be viewed as a potential option for the English Champions as they'll likely attempt to go out in a blaze of offensive glory.
One interesting development over recent weeks has been Mancini's use of Maicon, essentially as a wide-player given license to attack down the right flank. Many in the football world wrote the Brazilian off, but he has really responded thus far and added a dangerous, desperately needed element to the side. Much had been made in the English press with regards to City's noticeable narrowness and lack of width, as Scott Sinclair, the player many thought would provide it, has seemingly failed to impress Mancini. Even David Silva, obviously never a true wide player, has played more central than in previous seasons when healthy. Interesting, that for now, Maicon has been slotted into that role.
Another day, another operatic Mancini/Mario Balotelli meltdown/fallout-I honestly can't even recall what kicked off the latest Balotelli saga (even though I feel like I've watched City for 52 straight weeks) but the mercurial Italian striker has been left completely out of the side in recent days. Luckily for City they have a healthy Sergio Aguero, who since returning from an early-season knee injury has developed a really solid attacking partnership with his fellow countryman Carlos Tevez. If this dangerous Argentinian duo weren't enough to worry about, Edin Dzeko has emerged as true-blue match winner coming off the bench, notching a team-high 6 goals-all of which have seemingly rescued, secured or outright stolen points for the defending champions.
These ingredients combine to produce a dangerous team with wounded European pride that I hope Real Madrid are truly prepared for.