Last season one of the recurring weaknesses of Manchester City’s attack was the lack of width, pace and variety. This was compounded by some errant finishing but often the out of form strikers would have little opportunity to get a few shots on goal. This was because their attacking patterns were too one-dimensional. If they couldn’t rapidly pass their way through the middle of the opposition they were left without a Plan B. Although full backs Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy provided some attacking width they don’t possess the kind of guile or creativity they needed out wide.
Roberto Mancini’s first choice team often featured David Silva and Samir Nasri as the supposed width but they were usually given license to meander infield. Both of them have the natural compulsion to play in behind a striker and occasionally drift wide, rather than being out wide all of the time. With them drifting in, Carlos Tevez drifting back from his forward spot and with Yaya Toure getting forward from midfield, the sight of four or five City players within the width of the penalty box, but just outside, was not uncommon.
With this in mind, they are being strongly linked to Spanish winger Jesus Navas and versatile attacking midfielder Isco, believed to be main targets for expected new manager Manuel Pellegrini. They are logical connections to make, with Isco having emerged as such a desirable prospect under Pellegrini at Malaga and ,Navas a consistent menace for Sevilla who have run in to financial difficulties and may be willing to sell their prised local boy.
Isco is very much reminiscent of Santi Cazorla of Arsenal, his ex-teammate. Indeed, when Cazorla left last summer, Isco assumed his vacated central position and took on the mantle of the main playmaker for the Malaga side, which despite financial troubles reached the Champions League quarter finals and the top six of La Liga. Isco is two footed, has excellent vision, glides around the field and this season has increased his goal tally to nine, which is pretty similar to Cazorla, and more than possible new team mate David Silva. His main asset, as you would expect from a young Spaniard, is exemplary technique and football intelligence. Like Juan Mata, he has an impish creativity but also has a bustling and direct style, which makes him a dangerous runner with the ball. The question really, is fitting him in at City.
Isco certainly has different tools to what City currently have. His powerful dribbling and improving goal getting give him an edge over Nasri and Silva. He is capable of making things happen without the need of a team-mate’s help; at times City play as if everything needs to click in to gear with everyone for it to work. He wouldn’t offer width, but he would bring much needed directness, inventiveness and pace in possession. Plus, he is on record with his admiration for the Premier League and has worked with the new probable new City boss, so persuading him should be easy enough.
Jesus Navas on the other hand, would offer width. He is a bit of an anachronism in Spain because he is more like an old-fashioned winger. He is very fast with the ball at his feet and a very skilful dribbler. He is a creator of chaos and a creator of goals. He won’t score many, none in the league this season, but he will create them. If anything, the English game should suit him more than the Spanish game. The English propensity for wide-open, fast-paced football with big spaces to roam around in should be an ideal environment for him. He is a pure right winger who would stay out wide and provide not only creativity but a constant out ball, an outlet to switch the play to.
The big questions with Navas have never been on the pitch though, it is with the homesickness that has blighted him. The joke in Spain is that he gets homesick in games outside Seville, so how is he going to cope in England? He doesn’t speak the language, and unless he brings his entire family over his adjustment to life in Manchester will be difficult. It might be reason enough for him to turn down such a move, preferring to stay in Spain.
Isco and Jesus Navas would combine to offer Pellegrini the width, pace and variety that they lacked last year. They would bring with them Plans B and C for City and surely supply enough chances for Aguero to find his shooting boots again. City can afford them both, even if the deal gets up towards £50m, but they need to invest time and effort in settling them in, particularly with Navas. If they do, it could be the jolt they need to compete for the league again next year.