Robin Sainty: Is Alex Tettey causing City chief a selection headache?
PUBLISHED: 08:18 25 August 2018
Football often involves fine margins, but fortune does tend to even itself out over time.
On Saturday, after a torrid opening 15 minutes, City more than matched Sheffield United and could easily have ended as winners, hitting the bar and squandering a three-on-one breakaway before succumbing to the sort of error that has been all too prevalent so far this season, with Ben Marshall left isolated against a taller player and Timm Klose slow to react to the resultant knock-down.
It was a gut-wrenching experience for players and fans alike and appeared to have produced a hangover on Wednesday when City looked out of sorts and seemed to have regressed to last season’s tedious build-up and lack of incisiveness as Preston produced the best chances, only to come good in the last 10 minutes through two quality finishes.
It wasn’t pretty, nor particularly entertaining, but it was the win that was needed and ultimately that’s all that mattered on the night. However, Daniel Farke will be well aware that there are still things to work on.
Leaving aside the individual defensive errors that we’ve seen, but which happily weren’t in evidence against Preston, the big issue for me is the balance of the midfield, which currently doesn’t seem to be getting the best out of the greater quality in front of them this season.
It’s paradoxical that Alex Tettey, while the most effective screen for the back four, using his great physical presence and ability to read the game to break up attacks, lacks a great first touch and has a limited passing range, which often results in City’s ability to break quickly being handicapped.
In both of this week’s games he has found himself on the ball almost as much as Moritz Leitner, but whereas the German has the ability to pick a defence-splitting pass like the one that freed Onel Hernandez to create an early chance on Wednesday, Tettey will invariably go backwards or sideways, and this could be an issue if he starts today against a Leeds midfield which is full of movement and energy.
While Louis Thompson or Ben Godfrey would offer better distribution and greater mobility the issue in playing them would be whether they could get replicate Tettey’s ability to break up opposing attacks. It’s a big dilemma for the manager.
However, I think that there are more positives than negatives. Tim Krul, showing all his experience, has bounced back from his costly error against West Brom to make key saves in both of this week’s games and show the sort of command of the penalty area that settles a defence.
Jordan Rhodes and Teemu Pukki are developing into an effective partnership with five goals between them already, and while City’s attacking performance against Preston was stilted, prior to the game they had apparently had more shots at goal this season than any other Championship team.
I think that Rhodes also deserves huge credit for his performance against Preston because although he didn’t get a chance in front of goal he continued to battle against a centre half who was allowed to get away with murder and always offered a target as well as making some key clearances. One suspects that Nelson Oliveira wouldn’t have been quite so persistent.
Hernandez has already made a mark this season, but the 15-minute cameo from Emi Buendia against Preston suggested that opposing defences may soon have even more pace and trickery to deal with.
And so to the visit of Leeds or rather “Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds”, to give them the full title bestowed upon them by a salivating Sky Sports. There’s no doubt about their attacking capability, but they play a high-risk game at the back and City will get chances. They will certainly be more open than Preston, so we could be in for a cracking game.