Earlier today, Alvaro Negredo announced on his Twitter page that he would be missing out on a ‘few months’ of football following a metatarsal injury suffered during Manchester City’s 2-1 pre-season win over Hearts. With this announcement came a plethora of dejected messages of sympathy from City fans, seeing his absence as an early omen for the season to come. Not only will Negredo’s injury sadden the many obsessive fans who came to his aid via Twitter, but the absence of ‘The Beast’ will be looked upon grimly by Manuel Pellegrini, who last season found his ultra-attacking football marred by relatively constant injuries to Kun Aguero and Stevan Jovetic, along with City’s Spanish striker.
Should Aguero stay fit, Negredo’s absence shouldn’t cause too much bother to last year’s champions in terms of attacking options, with both Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic currently fully fit and ready to fight for an attacking spot that is not quite held down by any particular striker as of yet. However, with Aguero’s World Cup campaign hindered by a thigh injury (which can be added to Aguero’s list of ailments throughout last season, along with groin, calf and hamstring injuries), the striker’s ability to maintain a high enough level of fitness could cause Pellegrini’s men further problems down the road, particularly if Negredo is out for as long as expected.
Should Aguero suffer an early injury, City will be forced to either pair up relative strike partership strangers Dzeko and Jovetic, or adjust their formation to a one striker setup in a deliberate attempt to avoid this. In either scenario, City will find themselves finding it slightly harder than usual to find the net.
If Aguero does stay fit, the question on everyone’s lips will then be ‘Who will be his strike partner?’ – and I believe the best answer is still Negredo. It’s no secret that Pellegrini prefers two men up front (preferably one a target man and the other more free roaming), and Negredo and Aguero provide the perfect complement for this style. Aguero’s quick, powerful dribbling allows him to slalom around – and through – defenders, an ability that is only ever made more effective by Negredo’s flair for link up play, which is characterised by the flicks and backheels he performs in game in order to place Aguero in a dangerous position.
To many, Manchester City’s traditional poacher Edin Dzeko serves as a perfect replacement for Negredo during his absence – with many believing that he should permanently replace the Spaniard as Aguero’s strike partner. Despite his habit of scoring in matches just when City fans begin cursing him, and his knack for scoring important goals (see QPR 2010/2011 and Aston Villa last season), I, along with many City fans, see him as a constant frustration for the majority of a match, making lazy runs and misplacing passes all over the park.
This sense of frustration simply can’t be felt with Negredo, with his style of attacking as much to do with setting up others as it does with finishing chances. Even throughout his disappointing spell in the second half of the season, his shorter contributions on the pitch as a result of Dzeko’s higher place in the pecking order were still marked by the creation of chances and moments of brilliance Dzeko simply cannot achieve.
Should Negredo be out for the few months expected, he will miss at least the first two of City’s Champions League group stage matches, a competition in which he was deadly, with 5 goals and 1 beautiful assist in 8 games.
Dzeko may perform decently in Negredo’s absence, but this absence will also see the scoring of goals become a bigger chore for the City players as they work to put the ball on a plate for Dzeko to finish. Should Negredo have been fit, City would enjoy the free-flowing, creative attacking football of Pellegrini to a greater extent than with Dzeko. While Dzeko stands in the box for a chance, Negredo is constantly moving in order to get the ball and make a chance, which is why City will suffer while his wounds heal.