Wigan Athletic 0-2 Manchester City – Mancini’s tactical changes make the difference.

After a recent Champions League loss, Manchester City defender Micah Richards declared in the heat of the moment that his side were not comfortable playing in a back three. Later, manager Roberto Mancini said he wanted his side to be comfortable playing in any system he requires of them. On this cool night in Wigan that was put to the test and the players passed with flying colours.

Mancini may have won a title with this side and is coming up to his third anniversary in charge of City, yet it is clear he isn’t a manager who is content with one formation. He did, after all, go with a back three in the Community Shield just a few weeks after the club lifted their first top flight title in 44 years. While most managers find a system that they like and usually stick with it, the Italian has became a obsessed with the rotation of systems throughout games. Nowhere else is this more evident than in central midfield. In the six league away games, prior to this, he’s picked two holders three times and one holder three times from the start. He’s ended with two holders four times and no holders twice. At Wigan he opted for two holders in Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry with Yaya Toure pushed further forward. Maicon and Mario Balotelli also returned alongside Garcia who started his first match in almost two months.

football formations

The decision was a boost to those who feel Toure needs to be higher up the pitch but the experiment lasted 45 minutes and didn’t work. Toure spent the majority of the first half pressing Wigan’s back three but when City were in possession he was almost in David Silva’s way in an attacking sense as the Spaniard loves to roam vertically and have a free role. Against a natural two in central midfield, with a back three, it made sense to eliminate one central midfielder, go man-to-man, and push a man forward and try to create a 4-on-3 when Wigan’s wide players were advanced.¬†At the start of the second half he went to a 4-4-1-1.

football formations

Fifteen minutes after that, Mancini had seen enough from Garcia who was regularly being outrun in midfield. Barry was placed back centrally with Toure and James Milner was brought on to play wide right. This pushed Sergio Aguero central and closer to Silva who was now impacting the game a lot more.

football formations

The addition of Milner seemed to unleash Maicon. Milner is an underrated player who is excellent at defending his position and bringing comfort for forward-thinking full-backs. The pair connected well immediately and certainly helped Mancini in his next move, just nine minutes after his last one, when he boldly withdrew Aguero and brought on Aleksandar Kolarov. It was time for width and time for a back three:

football formations

Less than a minute later Mancini was made to look like a genius, when Ali Al-Habsi spilled a ball and allowed Mario Balotelli to pounce. 1-0. Two minutes later it was 2-0 and game over when Milner sent in a rocket of a shot past Al-Habsi. Both goals came from wide areas. The first via Milner on the right stretching Wigan’s back five, leaving space in the middle for Silva to run into and supply Barry whose shot was spilled by Al-Habsi. The second one came via the excellent Kolarov whose cross to Silva, drew in FIVE Wigan players, before the Spaniard laid it off for Milner to finish the game off.


This was probably City’s most complete away performance of the season, yet it was far from perfect. In their opening 45 minutes they were again too narrow and didn’t get service to Balotelli. However, as the game went on the tactical changes brought the best out of their players, stretched Wigan and led to a barrage of chances on Al-Habsi’s goal.

Mancini has quietly assembled a squad of versatile players who can play in different areas and even in this game when Milner left injured he was able to use Mr Versatile himself, Pablo Zabaleta, in central midfield and bring on Kolo Toure to play in a back three. The biggest problem Mancini continues to wrestle with is width and when to use it. It was natural to try and go narrow and win the game down the middle against Wigan but the moment he stretched his team later in the game he found that his players were able to prevent the Latics from creating overlaps themselves. It is clear that City continue to struggle to open up teams away from home but as the game goes on, spaces develop and their opponents tire, as evidence in the amount of first half goals scored compared to second half goals this season (2 to 7). What is still to be determined is whether Mancini’s changes regularly cause this or benefit only when their opponents lose their shape. Games at Fulham and West Brom, for example, were difficult to pinpoint. However, on this night it was clear this victory was on the manager who noticed the changes and reacted accordingly.

Kristian Jack

8 comments on “Wigan Athletic 0-2 Manchester City – Mancini’s tactical changes make the difference.

  1. I have to say, I absolutely love this website. First off I must be honest, I don’t know how you can watch football and analyse the game so simply. Whenever I watch, I can’t tell tactics besides what is given in the starting lineups. Any ways that’s not the point of this comment, I love the site. I feel as if every post you make, I get just a tad bitter more smarter at the game. I am a novice soccer fan who became a Liverpool supporter recently (Sorry KJ) and truthfully, the success of Euro 08, World Cuo 10, Euro 12, and the 2012 Champions League Semis/Final made me come and appreciate the game at its best. Lately, I’ve been listening to nearly all of the old Footy Shows that I can fine. I miss the show. I miss the days of Dobby, Punners, yourself and James (or as he was called one time Shunners). I miss the days when everyone was part of the Footy Blog. I miss Punners getting ripped for mediocre producing of TYK and supporting different clubs. I miss Dobby dropping Semin References like it was going out of style. It was a family, and now it’s as if everyone has drifted apart. So what’s the point of all this, while maybe this site won’t be what the Footy blog/Footy Show was earlier in my life, I can’t wait for more posts on the tactical side of the beautiful game (when there isn’t diving)!



  2. It almost seems like Mancini is flirting with a 5-2-1-2. He wont play with out and out wingers unless they can track back or contribute defensively, and he seems to love having a RDM and LDM in his systems. Do you think Milner will find himself in one of those roles in the future? When Richards comes back im assuming he would play on the far right of Mancini’s formation in a defensive role. This may leave little chances for Milner to play on the far right. He seems to play well enough in the middle of the pitch, and has great range in his passes. If he were to play in one of the deep roles when and if he decides to go for a run, the wing backs could slot into the hole he’d leave behind. I am not sure how often Milner has been used as a wing back this season, but it shows Mancini must think he has defensive quality in some form. As well with Milner in the middle there a chance of him smashing in some balls from outside the box, he doesn’t shoot as much as his Villa days but he is has very impressive technique. .

    • Sorry for the late response – I had my 5th annual charity footy tournament at the end of this week and spent 2 days dealing and running that. I am back and just read your message. I think Milner is very important to this system because he can play centrally and offer Mancini both defensive discipline as well as penetration going forward. Mancini tried this at WBA but then Milner got sent off – not his fault or the system mind.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read my stuff and look forward to more comments


  3. Very impressed with the work you do, thanks for the response. Can’t wait till Chelsea’s tactics eventually come up!

  4. couldnt agree more with sportsfan9923. Ive always loved the beautiful game so when i moved to canada when i was 16 i feared that there wouldnt be any quality soccer coverage on tv( or any coverage for the matter). That was until i saw/listened to the footy show. Your shows and pods were must watch tv/radio . Even though its sad that you sharms dobby dunlop have parted ways, im really looking forward to the new changes on the footy show(not to say your posts on this site)

    PS. I know all of you are busy guys, but if there was a year end quiz ”the crew” including joe ross, it would definitely make my holiday season.
    (btw ballotelli is awesome)

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