City left chasing shadows
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, whose players have found his enthusiasm for shadow play without a football one of the most unexpected changes to their training regime, yesterday insisted that they must adapt to his new philosophies if they are to prosper.
Mancini finds his approach to match preparation under scrutiny after three tepid draws and a difficult FA Cup Fifth Round replay at Stoke tonight, with Craig Bellamy sceptical about some elements of the training regime. Mancini responded to the doubters yesterday. "I understand that maybe they are not happy working on tactics but this is my method. I work because if you want to win the Champions League and Premier League you must be prepared very well for every situation: tactics, power, running," he said. "If these things are not good, it is impossible to win. I don't know if they don't like that. They are working very well."
Shadow play – in which two full sides go onto the training pitch without a ball, with one of the sides running into areas of the field where threats are anticipated in the next match and the other side responding to them – is relatively uncommon in English training regimes. The continual focus is on the shape of the team as they move around the pitch.
Even the contingent of England players at City are understood to be unfamiliar with shadow play, which does not tend to form part of Fabio Capello's training sessions, though those who have trained under Capello do talk of similarities between the two Italian coaches in the work demanded of players in chasing back to defend in numbers.
The City player best acquainted with the new approach – which is far different from Mark Hughes' preference for quick, high-tempo games in training – is goalkeeper Shay Given, who has experienced it under Giovanni Trapattoni in the Republic of Ireland set-up. "Sometimes it can be a little bit boring, walking through things and doing shape and shadow play in practice matches," Given said of Trapattoni's methods recently. "But you do benefit from it as a team – knowing what the manager wants is crucial."
Despite Mancini's assertion yesterday that he expects Carlos Tevez back in Manchester by Friday, in time for him to play against Chelsea this weekend, there are still no flights back from Buenos Aires booked for the player, whose prematurely-born daughter remains in intensive care in Buenos Aires. Tevez is waiting for news that she is out of danger before returning to England.
Mancini also faces the challenge of keeping Shaun Wright-Phillips focused – his advisers are convinced that he should be awarded a longer and more lucrative new contract, despite his current deal having over two years left to run. City have indicated that they do not feel any pressure to rush through a new deal and the situation is deadlocked.
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