Ending City's charitable defending
The Community Shield, a match that's undergone a cosmetic update which makes football marketers froth excitedly at the mouth, used to be called the Charity Shield. They were simpler times of plain shirts and crowds that got in for a tenner, but Manchester City's defensive performance in a 3-0 loss to Arsenal on Sunday certainly brought the word "charity" to the forefront of many minds. Simple times, simple errors, simple solutions?
Charitable defending of the kind witnessed at the weekend may be at an end, however, as the long-awaited transfer of Eliaquim Mangala has at last been finalised. The late-arriving Mangala Express from Porto may be the answer to one or two early-season questions being posed of City's defensive line.
Will Mangala be able to make a difference so quickly? You can say plenty of things about the tough-tackling Mangala's defensive style, but charitable is not one of the adjectives you will hear too often. The young Frenchman joins an elite list of expensive central defenders who have left the FC Porto stables in recent years to further their careers.
It must also be said that their departures bolstered the coffers of the northern Portuguese giants. Mangala earned the club 30.5 million euros; Chelsea paid 30 million for Ricardo Carvalho in 2004; Real Madrid coughed up 30 million for Pepe in 2007; and Porto received the same amount from Zenit Saint Petersburg for Bruno Alves in 2010.
To believe that Mangala can be the answer to all the problems that arose against Arsenal is of course ridiculous. He will need time to settle in and learn the ways of his teammates. It takes more than a week to work out Aleksandar Kolarov's positioning, for example -- it took this correspondent 18 months, and I never had the pleasure of playing alongside the Serbian wonder.
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What will change things is the imminent return of both Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany, who were very visibly missing against Arsenal at Wembley. A prospective back four of Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala and Gael Clichy/Kolarov already has a much more menacing look about it than the rickety, part-finished pontoon bridge of Clichy, Dedryck Boyata, Matija Nastasic and Kolarov that we saw Sunday.
Clichy as a right-back is a questionable exercise in geometry, while Boyata anywhere near City's back four is a puzzle akin to a Sophoclean knot the size of a fist. The Belgian is plainly struggling to make the grade, and has been for some time. Loan spells at Bolton and FC Twente may have found him at a level closer to his current abilities, but at the age of 23, he is no longer an up-and-coming prospect and needs regular first-team action at a different level than this to enable him to find his true game.
What of Nastasic? The Serbian defender, bought in amid great fanfare from Fiorentina as the haphazard and erratic Stefan Savic traipsed off in the opposite direction, has obvious quality but has not progressed after a good opening season in Manchester. Last season saw Nastasic bypassed by the older and even more frighteningly dozy Martin Demichelis. It was Nastasic's luck that, having started dubiously with a set of slow turns and fumbled misplaced passes out of defence straight to opposition forwards, Demichelis suddenly got a hold of his game by the scruff of the neck, turned in some great performances and changed everyone's perception of him.
Nastasic, you get the feeling, is another in the last-chance saloon at the Etihad. A big season awaits him if he gets his chance.
But was it just the defence that was asleep versus Arsenal, or might there be deeper issues to address?
Fernando's debut was patchy at best. He picked up a yellow card and narrowly missing a red for a handball inside the area. Alongside him, Yaya Toure was quietly grazing on the luscious Wembley grass in one of his autopilot performances. David Silva's introduction made quite a difference to the urgency of the team, but players of this calibre need to be on top of their games straight from the start of the season, and here City were let down badly.
Clearly at this stage, punters will have to sit on their hands and see what transpires. City's defence has not been the No. 1 priority for various reasons in recent seasons. The attacking power this team is capable of firing up often makes defence an afterthought. If a team is going to smash forward with such unerring self-confidence, it follows that leaving the back door slightly ajar is not taking much of a risk.
However, as Arsenal have already displayed, City's main rivals for the pots this year have all strengthened significantly. Knocking six goals past the Gunners, four past Manchester United and 11 past Tottenham may not be quite as easy this season as it appeared to be last.
It will be fascinating to see how the men in sky blue counter these plucky adversaries, who want a piece of the action. The only charitable thing to be said at this stage is that every one of the big clubs begins this weekend with a more or less equal opportunity in a sport where these days only a precious few can prevail.