Pablo Zabaleta Goes Public on Manchester City's New Tactics in Defence

Tim OscroftContributor IAugust 27, 2013

Pablo Zabaleta and Manuel Pellegrini will have plenty of work to do in the wake of City's defeat in Cardiff.
Pablo Zabaleta and Manuel Pellegrini will have plenty of work to do in the wake of City's defeat in Cardiff.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester City's surprising, some might say shocking, defeat at Cardiff City on Sunday had a familiar feel to it, harking back to a loss to the similarly unheralded Southampton last February.

One big difference between then and now is that then City were run by the martinet that was Roberto Mancini, whose Italian nature detested the thought of conceding sloppy goals—or indeed goals of any nature.

Now City are under the control of Manuel Pellegrini, but the 3-2 defeat in south Wales had some traits from his predecessor's reign that will be depressingly familiar to Blues fans.

Adding to the fallout are some words from Pablo Zabaleta, who has revealed that Pellegrini has abandoned the zonal marking system favoured by Mancini for a man–to–man method.

Whatever way you slice it, City's defence and Zabaleta in particular looked horribly static at the corners that Fraizer Campbell rose to with some ease.

Zabaleta's revelation is a refreshing one and a nice contrast to the usual "obviously we're a little bit disappointed" sort of quotes that mostly pass for player analysis these days. I've been privy to plenty of post-match interviews firsthand, and the Argentine's honesty is the kind of thing that has club press officers tearing their hair out as they can foresee the kind of newspaper stories heading their way.

That's the case here, with the Daily Mail's Laurie Whitwell saying City are "struggling to adapt to Pellegrini's demands for man-marking." He also flags up Zabaleta as being "culpable" for Campbell's two goals, which is a fair comment and makes the fact that Zabaleta fronted up to the media afterwards even more admirable.

Many players hate doing post-match media even when their side has won and even to their own club's media outlets—believe me! Zabaleta is an honest, old-school professional down to the studs on his boots and should be praised for saying what he said, while journalists will be grateful to him for giving them something to get stuck in to.

Of course, it wasn't all sweetness and light under Mancini, with the Guardian's Jamie Jackson pointing out that the Italian drew criticism for his use of the zonal system.

It's also worth pointing out that City were shorn of their first-choice central defensive pairing of Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic through injury. If Pellegrini puts them back together when they are fit again, it will be interesting to see how City cope at set pieces.

Meanwhile Zabaleta may stay in the side as Micah Richards is struggling with another injury—hamstring this timebut once he is available the nuggety Argentine, City's player of last season, could be under pressure.

Sunday was a bad day at the office for City, without a doubt, and while the defence needs looking at their attacking threat needs sharpening to get them out of trouble. At home they are still likely to steamroll many opponents in the way they swept aside Newcastle United, but when away they are going to have to be a bit "cuter around the box", as Stuart Pearce used to say.

David Silva looked to be back to near his best on Sunday, and Alvaro Negredo's cameo suggested a start cannot be too far away.

That Stevan Jovetic is yet to feature underlines that City have an embarrassment of riches, in attack at least. Pellegrini promised to play more attacking, stylish football but if the defence continues to leak like a sieve the pressure will be on.

It's only one defeat, and the goalless fare at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Chelsea suggests the title race will be closer this season, but both David Moyes and Jose Mourinho will have taken note of City's defensive problems at Cardiff.