Watching Manchester City last season was a privilege. The passing and control, the fluidity of movement and the individual brilliance which secured the Premier League title were breathtaking to observe at times. And yet I want more.
That desire is perhaps a touch churlish when considering that attacking options can feature the likes of David Silva, Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tévez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, but if City are to have continued success, then one area of the squad must be strengthened: the wing.
In amongst the majesty of Silva, the sheer physical presence of Yaya and the tireless, consistent excellence of Aguero, it would be easy to overlook the importance of a wide man for City. Indeed, much of our game is based around midfield possession, with the criminally underrated Gareth Barry breaking up play, Yaya, the Ivorian powerhouse, retaining the ball and then the more creative players causing havoc further forward.
And for the most part last sea son, that tactic was hugely successful. At the start of the season especially, we swept sides aside with a brand of free-flowing football that many City fans had never seen before. Silva was pulling the strings, threading eye-of-the-needle passes through to our strikers, whose clinical finishing meant we secured numerous comfortable victories. Whereas the 2010/11 campaign was about establishing a solid foundation upon which to build, last season was full of world-class talents expressing their ability with a football.
That was, at least, until sides altered their plans when facing the Blues. Initially, unsuspecting of our attacking superiority, teams attempted to outplay City, leaving space in midfield as they pushed forward, space which was exploited at will. But as the season progressed, opposition managers wised up and realised that instead of trying to attack the Blues, there was a chance of frustrating them by sitting back, soaking up the pressure and then, possibly, breaking on the counter-attack.
It was notable how many sides employed at 4-5-1 formation against City, irrespective of whether they were home or away, hoping to pack the midfield and defence and make life tough for the Blues. On many occasions, it was unsuccessful as the array of talent in a City shirt still managed to find a way through, but the back-to-back fixtures on our travels to West Brom and Sunderland highlighted how, if a side was defensively sound, organised and committed, they could achieve 'success'.
Naturally, in both those matches, we controlled the play but it was the lack of incision in attack that was our downfall. It was all well and good passing the ball sideways, retaining possession and waiting to find the breakthrough, but if the opposition defence was resolute, as both West Brom and Sunderland were, that, combined with a worrying lack of intent from the Blues, meant we never looked like scoring. That the Black Cats actually secured the three points with the last kick of the game through their only attack is almost by the by, deflecting attention away from our absence of cutting edge.
Those, of course, are merely two losses in a memorable campaign but they should not be ignored. In fact, our struggle to break sides down became more pronounced as the season wore on and although it ultimately proved to be an incredible end to the campaign for all the right reasons, our play at times was crying out for the presence of a top quality winger with pace, an alternative option to our passing and movement, possession-based play. Our width last season was generally provided by the fullbacks: Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta offering an outlet on the right with Aleks Kolarov and Gael Clichy doing likewise on the other side of the pitch, but for all the efforts of that quartet, there was a noticeable lack of quality in the final third. A winger, one who can provide assists, score goals himself and also, crucially, stretch the opposition defence is a necessity.
And that brings me to Adam Johnson.
He is a player non-City fans seem to rate highly. Those who don't watch him every week question why he doesn't appear more often for the Blues or why he is only used, infrequently, from the bench. They point to highlights on Match of the Day, clips of him beating a defender with silky footwork, and wonder what more he has to do to earn a starting berth. City fans view the matter differently.
Johnson signed for the Blues on 1st February 2010 and his arrival was greeted with optimism. Here was a player, a young, English one at that, who had shown glimpses of his potential at Middlesbrough. He was a winger who could play on both flanks, pose threats to opposition defences with his direct approach and trickery and was capable of scoring his fair share of goals, too. In all, it looked like a promising addition to our squad.
For his first season or so, as he was used mainly as an impact substitute, he impressed. He was a player that could be introduced for the last half-hour of a match and could cause problems. He offered a different option, someone whose skill and quick feet out wide created numerous opportunities. Even if he wasn't prolific, he chipped in with assists and at that time, while he was still regarded as a young talent, fans were patient with him. An underwhelming performance when given the chance to start was accepted as part of his learning curve. His next step would be to show greater consistency and make the step up to playing regular first-team football.
But that step never came. He was given plenty of chances but for whatever reason, whether down to fitness issues, attitude or something else, he disappointed. Someone of his ability should be capable of grabbing matches by the scruff of the neck and making an impact, but far too often, the game passed him by, an occasional flick and stepover keeping those non-City fans enthralled.
Last season was the perfect example. He started just ten Premier League games, seven of which came at the Etihad Stadium and he did not start a match against any of the sides who finished in the top eight. Roberto Mancini felt comfortable letting him loose when facing the likes of Blackburn and Bolton at home, but as soon as a fixture against a better team came around, Johnson was confined to the bench at best. Indeed, when Mancini had a full squad available towards the end of the season, the England man was not even named as a substitute. In terms of the Champions League, he started just once, at home to Villarreal, and was replaced after only 40 minutes.
Still, there were those who suggested he was a fantastic impact option from the bench. In his first season with City, I would have agreed with those sentiments, but not last year. He was introduced as a substitute in sixteen Premier League games during the last campaign and scored three goals, but it is worth looking at those goals to provide more of an overlook. He added the fifth when we were already 4-1 up against Norwich at home, and the sixth when we were leading 5-1 away at Carrow Road. The other goal as a substitute came at the Etihad Stadium against Wolves, when we were already leading. Yes, the league was won on goal difference so it could be argued that his goals were crucial, but in terms of making an impact, of making a difference to the contest and changing the course of a game, he was sadly lacking.
He is now 25 and can no longer be considered a youngster. At his age, he needs to be starting regularly but, put bluntly, he is just not good enough to do that for City. What is perhaps the most frustrating element is that he has the potential and we have seen glimpses of his talent but the consistency is not there yet and we cannot wait forever for it to arrive. The brutal truth is that if he were to move on, I'm not sure too many City supporters would be overly upset. We need a winger to improve to the squad and to offer an alternative option to our style of play, but Adam Johnson is not the answer.
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