Squad Overview: Central Midfield.

Central midfield has been a puzzling one this season, i must admit. On one hand we've seen a squad player who most of us were happy enough to see the back of just twelve months ago transformed into as consistent a player as there's been in the entire division, on the other, despite investing anywhere between £19m & £24m, depending on which paper you read, on two central players who've impressed, we've still at times appeared threadbare and weak in the department.

To start off on the highest note, Stevie Ireland has obviously been quite brilliant. I can't imagine why a single person who's watched us regularly this season might think anyone else has been our best player. He seems to have turned into the complete midfielder pretty much overnight, and to imagine we almost sold him to Sunderland, christ. He's our engine, nothing less, and not only wins the ball, and is hungry for it, but can pass, pick out runs, score goals and has a terrific pair of lungs on him. Without him in the side this season we might've been in trouble, and the partnerships he's forged with Robinho has, so far, been an absolute joy to watch. He IS our side, it's that simple, i can't imagine being happy to see him replaced by anyone, i really can't.

In a way, i'm struggling to critique any of our regular midfielders, they all did well, but at the same time we managed to at times be bullied in the middle of the park, show a complete lack of organisation, and put so much pressure on a defence that probably isn't as leaky as it appears. Vincent Kompany, as i think i said in a previous post, did very little wrong all season. He proved to be a calming influence, a mature head, a simplistic approach, no frills. We suspect he'll move back to centre-half for next season but he did nothing wrong all year to warrant him not being in the team in midfield, we're just more likely to significantly strengthen there.

Nigel de Jong came in, admittedly overpriced, though i'm quite sure stories of us being able to sign him for a couple of million shortly down the line weren't true, and despite a little ring-rust initially, started playing really well. Having seen him play for Ajax i wasn't sure he was that sort of player, but like Kompany, albeit a bit deeper, he showed that he's a man who can do the simple things well, and put himself about a bit, too. He's a player i'm quite fond of, though admittedly haven't seen enough to say how good a buy he'll prove to be with any real authority. For next season, though, i'll be happy for him to start.

The recent signing of Gareth Barry, i'm guessing, will make up our midfield three for the coming campaign, especially if we do sign a targetman and, as the media are having a field-day with, either Carlos Tevez or Samuel Eto'o. I think Barry will prove to be an astute signing; he's got plenty of games under his belt, an England regular, captaincy experience, scores goals, makes goals, is a danger from set-pieces, and can play in a number of positions. Barry & Ireland infront of de Jong looks decent to me, no complaints there at all.

It does, however, leave us with a bunch of players in those positions who might not play, or even be needed, though i appreciate the need for a strong squad. Primarily, Elano and Michael Johnson. Now the latter, a touchy subject, i'm not counting my chickens over, but i'm much more likely to believe the club line of a tricky injury than the forum gossip/bullshit that's been floating around these last few months. There's little i'd love to see more than Ireland and Johnno bossing a City midfield whilst surrounded by some of the world's elite. Whether Ireland would've got a regular spot had Johnson been fit is probably a valid point, but there's no doubt in my mind that both are potentially real top-drawer Premier League players. I hope Johnno will play at least some part next season.

Elano proves to me every time i watch Brazil that he's a fantastically-talented footballer. Yes, he's generally part of an side that's better than ours, but even with the likes of Kaka and Robinho alongside him he seems to take charge, dictate play, score and create goals, when for us, despite being a spotkick king and offering sporadically exciting displays at home he seems half-arsed, uninterested, not up to it. I wonder if we can keep a player like him happy with not playing week in, week out. I'm not convinced he's a first-teamer now. I'd have him behind Barry and obviously Ireland, and he's not going to get in playing to either side. With that in mind i worry what sort of influence he could have on Robinho. Hughes really is stuck between a rock and a hard place; does he sell him and risk Robbie becoming unhappy, or does he keep him and not play him and have something similar happen a little further down the line? I guess it's up to the player to prove he's good enough to play every week, but for now he's a replacement for Ireland, in my opinion, and nothing more.

Remaining are Didi Hamann; who i'm expecting will be released after doing very little since being here, though a great player in his day, and Gelson Fernandes; someone who seems to have varied in form from being 'the latest Vieira' to a headless chicken, more often than not nearer to the latter. I'm completely unmoved about his future, i must admit. I thought he looked good early on, and for his country last summer, but he doesn't fill me with confidence. I suppose that we might need a backup for de Jong, though we do have other players who can cover, mainly Barry with Elano coming in. I'd get rid.

A player i've not yet mentioned is Pablo Zabaleta. I'm not completely convinced about him at full-back, as i've said, but he ended up proving a real success when pushed into midfield. You got the impression he didn't have his bearings there initially, but he got stuck in, never failed to put in a shift, kicked and harassed a few, really did an admirable job. Is he good enough to play there every week, no, not if we've got hopes of really pushing on, but occasionally, sure, i very much doubt he'd let us down.

To sum up then, for those of you forcing matchsticks into eyes after ten paragraphs, i think we'll go with a three, and i'm pretty happy with what we've got - Ireland, Barry & de Jong. Beyond those, too, Elano, Johnson if fit & Zabaleta covering, well, it looks pretty strong to me. It's probably one of only two areas of the side, along with Shay Given in goal, that i'm very happy with. Bring it on!

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