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Lee Dixon's tactical view

Emmanuel Adebayor
Adebayor's form up front has been a revelation for Manchester City this season

MOTD2 pundit Lee Dixon
By Lee Dixon
Match of the Day 2 pundit

Three league games, three league victories for Manchester City, and the question most people are asking is can Mark Hughes's side break the top four monopoly this season.

Obviously so early in the season it is very difficult to predict what will happen - most teams are still settling down, with squads still to be finalised and players bedding in - but the signs do look good for City.

All you can do at this stage is compare them to last season - and the difference that stands out for me is that they've got someone now in Gareth Barry who is an expert at that holding midfield role.

His performance in Sunday's 1-0 win at Portsmouth was a prime example of the skill and balance he brings to the side.

This campaign, even more than last, Manchester City have an abundance of riches going forward.

But the victory at Fratton Park, while not a perfect performance by any means, showed the importance of having a strong, disciplined midfielder in Barry.

City are fortunate to have snapped up a player in Barry who I believe would strengthen any of the top four teams in the league

The Englishman was all over the park on Sunday - right-back, left-back, covering the back four at all times. That meant that when City's forwards lost the ball, the defence was not exposed like they were at times last season.

That balance is the vital difference for any side, and City are fortunate to have snapped up a player in Barry who I believe would strengthen any of the top four teams in the league.

Of course, it's not just him who has made the difference. Manager Mark Hughes is a shrewd operator and he knows the game inside-out.

I'm sure he was frustrated last year that he wasn't able to get the blend he wanted sooner, but now that he has, he is able to ask more of the other players as well.

That means we are seeing more discipline from the likes of Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland. All have license to get forward, but all are showing the willingness and ability to drop deep and support the defence when needed.

And that is another reason why I would consider the signings of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott vital. Last season City lost too many games away from home because they were vulnerable defensively.

Gareth Barry
They have the squad balance and depth to suggest they are capable of pushing on

Now, in terms of personnel at least, they have the players who can frustrate teams. They are good enough to soak up pressure when needed and, supported by Barry, nullify attacks. And when they can't, they have in my opinion the best keeper in the league in Shay Given.

I'll say it again, balance will be the key to City's success this season.

But they are still a tour de force going forward as well.

At Fratton Park, they employed Emmanuel Adebayor as the key frontman, with Carlos Tevez, Bellamy, Wright-Phillips and Ireland supporting and inter-changing behind.

There's something Arsenal-esque about City this season. All the forwards swap positions, drift wide, drop deep, as well as burst behind the defence. They have a similar fluidity and movement - even if they are not quite up to Arsenal's standards on that front just yet.

And Adebayor is on fire with three goals in as many games. On his day he's probably one of the most difficult strikers to play against.

You look at him and you know - at 6'4" - he can hold the ball up and cause problems to defenders with his stature and strength.

But what he is showing at City is that there is more to him than that. At Portsmouth we saw him dropping deep, almost like a midfielder, and controlling play from there, spraying the ball around and switching play like an attacking fulcrum.

Around him, that allowed Bellamy et al to burst into the areas he vacated, up against and beyond the Portsmouth defence, and that made it so difficult for the defenders to pick up City's runs.

And, lest we forget, Robinho - a real individual talent - didn't even play at Fratton Park.


There's no doubt Adebayor looks back to his best. By the end of his time at Arsenal, his performances had dipped, he didn't look happy for one reason or another, and the fans had turned on him because he just didn't look like he wanted to be there.

But City have got the "good" Adebayor at the moment and when he is in the mood he can be unplayable.

Of course, what that also suggests is that the Togo international is capable of or prone to dips in form, confidence and enthusiasm. How will he cope when he's not on the crest of a wave, in the middle of winter when things aren't going so well for him?

And that's why it's too early to say City are on course to break into that group at the top of the table - there is still too much to find out about them.

Another example would be the centre-back pairing of Toure and Lescott. The latter is rated by Hughes as one of the best in the league, but for me I think he still has a bit to prove.

It may only have been their second game together, but there were times when those two did not have a clue what the other was doing against Pompey.

One would push forward, the other back, there were gaps across the line - and while you can get away with that against the poorer sides, the top four will punish every time.

That understanding will take time to come, but it needs to happen and it needs to happen quickly if City are to push on.

Arguably Hughes's biggest task, though, is to make sure he keeps everyone happy week in, week out

Arguably Hughes's biggest task, though, is to make sure he keeps everyone happy week-in, week-out.

Only 11 players can be on the pitch at any one time and while the absence of a European competition might help them in terms of fitness, injuries and being able to concentrate on the league, that just means less games for the fringe players.

The only way to keep everyone happy is to keep winning.

The potential is there. They have the squad balance and depth to suggest they are capable of pushing on and a manager in Hughes who knows what it takes to be a winner.

However, next up for them is Arsenal and Manchester United - and only after those games will we really have a good idea of just how far the blue half of Manchester can go this season.

Lee Dixon was talking to BBC Sport's Sam Lyon.

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see also
Portsmouth 0-1 Man City
30 Aug 09 |  Premier League
Lawro on Manchester City
10 Aug 09 |  Man City
Lee Dixon's tactical view
17 Aug 09 |  Premier League

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