Is Mark Hughes the man to make City a top four team and win trophies? (part two)
Concerns about Mark Hughes
- Man management – One thing we quickly learnt last year was Hughes didn’t have the samba style to win over our Brazilian contingent. A pre-season boot camp (which was noticably less rigorously enforced this year) is his preferred method for bonding. In fairness, he does inspire loyalty from some, notably Ireland and Bellamy, and respect from others. Bellamy in particular has always played his best football under his fellow Welshman.There’s definitely a coolness to the way Hughes goes about his job, and there’s no apparent closeness with the players. Even Ferguson is known for his arm around the shoulder moments. Harry Redknapp would surely have coaxed more out of Elano last season.There are of course different ways of managing people successfully, and no-one would dispute the effectiveness of Capello’s toughness. Generally, the tougher managers are more disciplined tactically and results focussed.If the results don’t come, then Hughes may have problems with players who don’t feel especially fond of him and his methods.
- Defensive coaching and tactics – The big concern!Q: How do you make an average defender look good?
A: Put him in a well drilled defensive unit.
Q: How do you make a good defender look bad?
A: Put him under a bad manager.
More than any other players on the pitch, defenders are reliant on tactics and coaching to do their job effectively.
One outstanding question is why defenders who look good under other managers, suddenly look bad under the tactics of Mark Hughes and his coaching staff. It’s not as if it’s just one player:
Richard Dunne – Dunne and Micah Richards were an effective centre-back pairing under Sven. As soon as Hughes came in, both looked a liability. Dunne was often played out of position on the left-side, asked to play a high line, and to win one-on-ones with little cover. He was soon floundering and never recovered.
Playing in a well drilled defensive unit under Giovanni Trappatoni, he remained a solid and reliable defender. Since moving to Martin O’Neill’s Villa, and being asked to play alongside fellow new recruits James Collins and Stephen Warnock, the Irishman has immediately returned to his best form. There’s been no need for ‘time to gel’ excuses there.
Micah Richards looked good under both Stuart Pearce and Sven, where both managers sent him out with clear instructions and utilised his attributes. He continues to play well under Pearce and was captain of the England under-21’s at the weekend.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/international/article6917252.ece
Under Hughes his form has collapsed to such an extent he might soon be struggling to get a place on the bench. Where once he was linked with champions Chelsea, now there’s talk of a move to Villa or Everton to rejuvenate his career. I hope he stays and fulfills his early potential, but it would be interesting to see how he performed under the tutelage of Moyes or O’Neill. Would there be a Dunne-like renaissance?
Wayne Bridge was slaughtered for his performance against Burnley and has often been criticised for being out of position, yet surely it was the manager who told him to get forward whenever possible against Owen Coyle’s side. It was clear that Coyle was targetting the space behind him, but there appeared to be nothing coming from our bench to combat it.
Zabaleta and Richards can both be found out of position on the opposing flank. It betrays a lack of organisation where our full-backs aren’t attacking at the right times or aren’t receiving sufficient cover when they go forward.
It’s also worth remembering that Bridge was left-back for Chelsea during much of their 2004-05 title winning season under Mourinho.
Joleon Lescott – A solid and reliable central defender under David Moyes who didn’t put a foot wrong against Brazil on Saturday. For City I don’t believe he’s been as bad as some people make out, though there have been mistakes. Like Richard Dunne before him, he’s now being asked to play higher up the pitch, defend a lot more of the pitch and win one-on-ones with precious little cover behind him. It’s a tall order that looks a long way from the well-drilled unit he enjoyed being part of under Moyes.
With Fabio Capello in charge, Bridge and Lescott were England’s two best defenders against Brazil on Saturday. It begs the question of why they can keep Brazil at bay under Capello, but not Burnley under Hughes?
Even Tal Ben Haim is a better defender than he showed in his time with City.
Stacked up in this way, the case against our coaching team looks damning. Only Onuoha can be said to have blossomed under Hughes. Toure has done ok, but his comments as captain show he is far from happy with the overall situation.
As soon as Hughes took over, the defence lost the organisation previously instilled by Pearce and maintained on the good days of Sven’s reign. One only has to think back to the gameplan employed by Sven in the derby at Old Trafford, stifling our opponents and taking the sting out of the game. Compare that to the desperation of the four goals conceded this season.
Defensively, we don’t look like a team being coached by a top class manager. The situation was never properly resolved last season and, despite all the new signings, is continuing this term. Missing out on John Terry isn’t a satisfactory excuse. Martin O’Neill doesn’t have John Terry, and David Moyes didn’t have him last season.
Going to Sheikh Mansour and asking him to buy more defenders in the next transfer window smacks of desperation. Roy Hodgson does a better job with less quality than we currently possess.
- Offensive coaching and tactics – The number of goals scored, both this season and last, is respectable, so any criticism is made with that in mind. There is an old-fashioned English style to Hughes’ offensive tactics with the emphasis on wide players utilising the flanks, and the option of a big man up front.Elano clearly didn’t fit, and it remains to be seen whether Robinho does this season. The presence of Tevez in making two up front has forced Ireland either into a midfield pair or out of the side altogether.Tevez and Adebayor have yet to click as a pair, with both known as unreliable finishers at their previous clubs. Carlos lacks pace, while Adebayor drifts offside when asked to play as furthest man forward. However they still have enough qualities, along with Bellamy and Santa Cruz to make a powerful attack, and it is now up to Hughes to perm then in a way that works.When things aren’t going well, there has been to much emphasis on long balls, and getting the ball forward to quickly. Doing this brings us down to the level of others and has negated our technical superiority in recent matches.Ireland, Barry, Petrov, Wright-Phillips, Tevez, Adebayor, Bellamy and Robinho all do their best work with the ball at their feet. There’s no point in spending hundreds of millions to bypass this.In recent fixtures against Wigan, Burnley and even Birmingham it was noticeable that the opposition were playing the better pass and move football. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham also displayed a better understanding of one another’s movement.When he arrived, Kolo Toure was bringing the ball out of defence and instigating attacks with good short passes. Micah Richards spoke of being impressed by this aspect of Toure’s play. It was therefore demoralising to see Kolo resort to belting the ball forward against Burnley. Let’s hope good habits aren’t being coached out of him.
It’s unfair to expect Hughes to turn City’s attacking movements into those of Arsenal overnight, but some of the tactical nous being displayed by Ancelotti would be welcome in someone who seeks to be a top class coach.
As for Arsenal’s style of play, one might wonder how Elano would have fared under Wenger, and whether Arshavin would enjoy his current success if he were playing under Hughes – the Russian tracks back even less than the Brazilian.
- In-game decision making – The ability to spot where things aren’t working and change them effectively during a game is a key quality for the sharpest coaches. It’s often most apparent in tournament football, where everything can be lost in a single match. The sharp eyed Venables could do it in Euro 96, while Scolari demonstrated it against England on several occasions.As mentioned previously, the failure to stop Burnley finding space down the left flank was costly in our last match. Watching Capello organise the team throughout the game against Brazil was a revelation and certainly seemed to help Wayne Bridge.Hughes isn’t afraid to make bold substitutions as the regular introduction of Petrov has shown, but game changing tactical switches are seen less often.
- Match by match assessment – The run of draws against teams whom we look stronger than on paper has led to the start of the season being described as ‘blistering’. Sure, the victories and clean sheets were excellent, but the warning signs were also there.On the opening day, after taking the lead through Adebayor, we were indebted to Shay Given and some wayward Blackburn finishing before sealing the victory in the closing minutes.Against Wolves, we were again under pressure in the second half and wayward finishing ensured a victory. Crystal Palace also missed chances while the Carling Cup game was goalless. David Nugent missed a sitter for a Portsmouth equaliser.The team were then chasing shadows for large parts of the game against Arsenal. Next it was the derby where the controversy surrounding Michael Owen’s goal shouldn’t mask a poor performance. If it wasn’t for the individual brilliance of Craig Bellamy we wouldn’t have been level after 90 mins.All the victories had their plus points as well, they were just far from complete performances. Subsequent games have seen other teams take their chances.Recently the draw against Wigan featured the home side playing the better football, even when it was 11 against 11.From then on there’s been a steady decline with the draws against Fulham, Birmingham and Burnley. It’s difficult to imagine a team managed by the likes of Ancelotti, Wenger or Mourinho producing that sequence of performances.
- Relationship with the Academy – The desire of Hughes to bring in his own people has proved most controversial with the Academy, which was most clearly demonstrated by Jim Cassell moving to Abu Dhabi.Nobody wants the previous success of the Academy undermined, and one would think that Cassell would be central to that. At least he is still with the club.Where it is possible to have sympathy with Hughes is in giving opportunities to younger players. While there is much talk from the owners about bringing through youngsters, there is clearly pressure on Hughes to produce results in the short term.At the top end of the Premier League, you need top quality players throughout the side, and opportunities to blood youngsters who inevitably make mistakes are few. Even in the Carling Cup, most would agree with Hughes that it’s a competition we should be trying our best to win.Hopefully if we pick up an initial trophy and get into Europe, the Carling Cup will be open to young players in future seasons.
- Do you have any other concerns with Mark Hughes?