Bobby And The Dreamers

By Chris in London, Wed 10 April 2013 13:04

Bobby And The Dreamers

I don't know about you, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the media's reaction to the derby win on Monday night. Negative (from a City point of view) coverage had been pretty intense in the 48 hours before the game, but on Tuesday our win was swept under the carpet by the usual media suspects in a way which many people suspect would not have been the case had we lost. Probably because I hadn't had my thirst for positive coverage sated, and was not yet quite ready to move on from the derby to the semi final, I decided to look back in a bit of detail at how we have fared against the rags since Mancini became manager. What led me to think of the title of this piece (which does I admit sound a bit like a doo-wop band from the 50s) was the spin coming out of the Theatre of Dreams since Monday - that Van Persie had played a blinder, that the rags had outperformed their blue counterparts and were undone by a solitary moment of brilliance from Aguero, that Tevez was offside for Milner's goal but the two footed tackles from Welbeck and Rooney didnt happen. That, of course, and that banner which read "normal service has been resumed".

First, the basic stats. We have played Them 12 times under Mancini's watch. (I thought twice about including the Community Shield as a meaningful fixture as it is more of a pre season friendly than a competitive game - see eg the changes made at half time. In the end I thought on balance the better approach was to include it but to be cautious about drawing conclusions from that alone, since (a) against Them there is no such thing as a 'friendly', and (b) anomalous or otherwise it is still a match which decides where a trophy will go.)

The results of our derbies under Mancini are as follows (our score first whether home or away):
09/10 - CCSF(h) 2 - 1; CCSF (a) 1 - 3; PL (h) 0 - 1
10/11 - PL (h) 0 - 0; PL (a) 1 - 2; FACSF (Wembley) 1 - 0
11/12 - COM SHIELD (Wembley) 2 - 3; PL (a) 6 - 1; FAC3 (h) 2 - 3; PL (h) 1 - 0
12/13 - PL (h) 2 - 3; PL (a) 2 - 1

The bare statistics are not at all depressing. Under Mancini we have won five, drawn one and lost six times against Them - one defeat of course being the Community Shield. We have scored 20 times to their 18. We have knocked them out of one tournament at the semi final stage, they have knocked us out of one. Looking at our record against Them since Mancini became manager, we probably come out level pegging with the rags taking the period as a whole.

When you factor in the development of our club, and what has been going on off the pitch at the same time, the position is even more encouraging. It is interesting to compare the starting XIs from our first starting match against Them under Mancini, the Wembley semi final and the most recent derby:
19/1/10 CCSF (h) Given, Richards, Zabaleta, Garrido, Kompany, De Jong, Wright Phillips, Boyata, Barry, Tevez, Bellamy
16/4/11 FAC SF (Wembley) Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Johnson, Barry, Silva, De Jong, Yaya Toure, Balotelli
8/4/13 PL (a) Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy, Barry, Yaya Toure, Milner, Silva, Nasri, Tevez
What is noticeable is that the change between the starting line ups from January 10 to April 11 is a fair bit more pronounced than that from April 11 to April 13. The Wembley team looks a lot like a Mancini team of today might look - 9 of the Wembley team have featured regularly for us this season whereas only four of the CC team has. This of course reflects the major rebuilding of the team done in the summer of 2010 - Given, Garrido, Wright Phillips, Boyata and Bellamy were no longer first team choices by the beginning of the 10/11 season, being replaced by new signings such as Silva, Yaya Toure and Kolarov, and the return of Joe Hart from his loan spell at Birmingham.

So if you strip out the results produced by the teams Mancini inherited from his predecessor (Mark Hughes, obviously) and look solely at the results Mancini's teams have achieved, we have a rather better record against them than they do against us, especially if you attach less importance to the Community Shield. Since the beginning of the 10/11 season, we have played Them eight times (not including the Community Shield) and beaten them four times, drawing once and losing three. The total goals for and against is much happier reading too - 15 for and 10 against. Moreover, if you look at just the last two seasons, again excluding the Community Shield, in the five 'competitive' matches we have beaten them three times, and their victory in the FA Cup was somewhat anomalous for two reasons - first, Kompany was of course sent off so early that 90% of the match was 10 v 11, and secondly both sides had played slightly less than full strength teams given that it was the 3rd round rather than for instance a semi final.

To put the same point in perhaps a different way, in Mancini's first five games against the rags we won only once, but of the next 6 fully competitive games we have won four of them. Added to that is the fact that the two really massive, trophy-defining matches of the last two years have both been won by us. Admittedly, Mancini's very first encounter with them (with the team he inherit from Hughes) was a semi final which we lost, and there is no doubting how much that hurt at the time, nor how glad they were to stop us from winning a trophy at long last at least for another year. But since then, on both occasions where the derby has had a massive influence of the eventual destiny of a trophy (the Wembley semi final and the PL game last April) we have beaten them. Wembley was a significant game: the first ever Manchester derby played at Wembley, with the winners being Clear favourites to win the tournament, and we beat them. Last April was one of the most intensively watched, high stakes/high pressure games that you will ever witness in domestic football in any part of the world, and we beat them: where we stepped up to the plate when the world was watching from South America to Japan, they bottled it.

So if you look at the head-to-head record in recent times, we come out of it significantly ahead of Them, as three league wins in the last four matches shows. Our trend as against them is firmly on the up, whereas theirs against us is heading downwards.

Another measure of this is the way we have approached derby games: Mancini was criticised in his first home league derby for being too defensive. He later explained that it was a lot more important to avoid defeat at that point of our development, that we could cope much better with the absence of a victory than we could with a defeat, and with the benefit of hindsight he was spot on. The rags were there for the taking that night, but we didn't necessarily have a team which was ready to take them. Later that same season, much the same team was by then ready take them, and did so at Wembley. Now, home or away we go into every game against them with our primary objective being not merely to avoid defeat, but to beat them. Of course, as fans, lots of us did that anyway: but nowadays it is realistic, and we have more ammunition than just our passion and desire.

This I think is significant: there is I believe somewhere else on the forum a thread in which Mancini's merits as a manager are debated, but one way (not the only way by a long chalk) of testing his merits is to see how he fares against the pisscan. Whatever faults Taggart has, I can't remember many seasons where the scum have finished outside the top two in the last 20 years, nor are there many seasons in which they have finished trophyless, so a good head-to-head record against him is not to be sniffed at.

Statistically and tactically Mancini comes out ahead. The home league games against the scum in 10/11 and 11/12 are an interesting illustration of this. In 11/12 they went into the game as we did in 10/11, the primary objective being to avoid defeat. The difference is that we achieved our objective, they did not, and when they set out for a draw they had the league title on the line. We all saw Taggart lose it that day on the touchline. He doesn't like losing to us, no manager likes losing derby matches. But he couldn't handle us taking the league title away from him in front of his eyes and being unable to do anything about it. We now go into derby day cautious, but anticipating a win home or away. Before the 6-1 we went in to derby day hopeful of victory but not really expecting it. The shift in attitude that has been achieved in this respect - our strong new mentality, if you like - is in my view Mancini's third most important achievement at City, coming behind only the ending of the 35 year trophy free period, and bringing the first title home since 1968. Mancini may or may not be the manager for the next three seasons: but if he is, mark my words, regularly beating the scum will be a hallmark of his tenure. In future years, as last year, having the edge over the scum in the head to heads might have a big impact on the final destination of the title.

There are some other interesting statistics which arise under Mancini. Joe Hart has kept goal against Them under Mancini eight times, has kept three clean sheets and has let in a total of ten goals including three in the Comm Shield - so seven goals conceded in seven fully competitive games. By contrast, De Gea has kept goal against us five times (also including the Comm Shield). He is yet to keep a clean sheet against us and has let in 13 goals in total, 11 of them in matches other than the community shield. The only time he has not conceded at least two goals was last April, the game that set us up to win the league.

More concerning, under Mancini we have entered injury time in a game against Them with the scores level on five occasions (I include the CCSF in this, as although we were losing 2-1 on the night the tie was level at 3-3). Only once however have we then gone on to draw the game. The Community Shield is a little anomalous in that when they scored the winner, we had piled everybody upfield in search for a winner ourselves, something we probably would not have done if extra time or a draw had been available. It is also noticeable that two of those four last minute winners came in Mancini's first half-season, namely the CCSF and Scholes' header at our place in the league. Nonetheless, it is a concerning statistic.

On the other hand, we have entered injury time against them level or ahead in 9 games of the 12 we have played under Mancini. It says something about them (something we have learned from) that so many times they have found last minute winners against us, but whatever that says about their mentality, it suggests that for the last two or three or years they have been inferior or at least no better than us over 90 minutes in terms of pure ability, but (until recently) ahead in terms of self-belief. Moreover, all of our wins against Them under Mancini have been by a single goal margin other than the 6-1 (where they were of course down to 10 men): so even though they have scored four late winners, not once have they scored a late equaliser against us under Mancini. It is a curious feature of their much vaunted self belief that - at least against us - they can drag themselves ahead when they are level and the game enters time added on, but they cannot drag themselves level when they are behind and time is almost up.

A similar curiosity is the fact that in the 11 games under Mancini against Them which have not ended in draws, the team which has scored first has won on nine occasions - and of the other two, one was the CCSF which is slightly anomalous because it is played over two legs and the other was the Community Shield. So in every fully competitive game in which the result was decided on that occasion, the team who scored first went on to win the game. Of course it can happen that a team comes from behind to win, but the importance of the first goal cannot be over emphasised.

Speaking of which, it is worth thinking about the style in which they have scored against us. A very large proportion of their goals against us have come from either fast breaks or balls delivered from wide areas (or both). By my reckoning, 14 of the 18 goals conceded under Mancini against them have come in one of these two ways. For every time they score from a long shot (eg Fletcher in the 6-1) or play their way through us (Nani in the Comm Shield) they score three or four on the break or by whipping in balls from wide positions. It was noticeable on Monday night that they seemed most dangerous on the break and from set pieces. We have played them four times since the 6-1 and it has been noticeable every time since that they have set themselves up to defend in depth but counter attack at pace, moving the ball out wide at the earliest opportunity. It is again a tacit acknowledgement that if they go at us toe-to-toe they expect to come off second best, but they see another way to beat us. In his post match interview on Monday Mancini seemed to be hinting that they are starting to play anti-football, and he seems to have a point at least when it comes to playing us: contain and press hard, and hope to score on the break or with a set piece. Stoke and Everton do much the same thing.

By contrast, our goals against them have come in a number of ways: we have sliced them open several times (whether playing 10 or 11), we have loaded pressure on them until they have broken, we have scored with fast breaks, shots from distance and headers from set pieces, we have pounced on their mistakes, we have kept possession and made it count by working an opportunity. (We have curiously had only one penalty given against them in the last 12 meetings, which is a little odd given how frequently we get them generally.) Monday was not the first time recently that they have been given a footballing lesson by us. I think in derby games of the next few years a common feature will be that win lose or draw we will have more possession than them and the goals we score will largely come as a result of that, whereas the goals they score will largely come from breaks and set pieces.

There's lots more that you could say about our recent derbies, but for now, I have drunk my fill, no thanks to the media. It is uncomfortable that we seem to be particularly vulnerable to last minute winners, that we are vulnerable to wide balls whipped into the box and to fast counter attacks. On the other hand, we are better than them: simply being better doesn't guarantee victory, as their last 2 wins at our place have shown, but it does produce the situation (as the stats demonstrate) that we are winning more games against them than we are losing. Given how many times they have finished as either champions or runners up in the last 20 years, and given the number of trophies they have won in that time, that is not a bad yardstick of how good a team Mancini has built.

Now, Chelsea.