It's time for Javi Garcia to prove his worth to Man City
Manchester City spent much of their summer transfer window finding a replacement for outgoing defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong, who eventually moved to AC Milan.
Jack Rodwell was a surprise signing from Everton Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂd always been touted as a promising youngster, but never quite found his best position under David Moyes, and his purchase seemed more about introducing homegrown talent into the City side.
City really wanted a top-class international with Champions League experience to play at the base of midfield, and their transfer strategy hinted they wanted something specific. They were strongly interested in Athletic BilbaoÃ¢ÂÂs Javi Martinez, who eventually joined Bayern Munich, as well as Daniele De Rossi, who remained committed to Roma. Meanwhile, links with Sergio Busquets are ongoing.
The common theme? All three midfielders also played as a centre-back last season, often for significant periods. Perhaps this is a coincidence, but when considering Roberto ManciniÃ¢ÂÂs sudden fondness for switching between a three- and a four-man defence within matches, it makes sense.
With Martinez, De Rossi and Busquets all unavailable for various reasons, CityÃ¢ÂÂs next choice was Javi Garcia. He, too, had often filled in at the back for Benfica, and was a similarly reliable passer. The only problem was judging his actual quality Ã¢ÂÂ the other three are World Cup winners, whereas Garcia hadnÃ¢ÂÂt proved himself outside of Portugal.
Still, his performances last season in the Champions League had been encouraging. Take his display against Basel, for example: solid defensive work in front of the back four, combined with assured, consistent passing Ã¢ÂÂ exactly what Mancini wanted.
But Garcia has only started four league matches for City, and hasnÃ¢ÂÂt fully settled in English football. This weekend, he will start at Newcastle because of Gareth BarryÃ¢ÂÂs one-match suspension. So what has he brought to City?
Garcia made his debut at the classic test of a continental newcomerÃ¢ÂÂs ability to adjust to English football Ã¢ÂÂ the Britannia Stadium, although the setting was a disappointingly pleasant Saturday afternoon in September. His initial impact was impressive Ã¢ÂÂ defensively he was happy to get stuck in, completing three tackles, and he was an aerial force throughout the game, winning duels in the centre of the pitch, and also heading in CityÃ¢ÂÂs equaliser.
However, his debut remains his best performance to date. The next week against Arsenal, he continued his good defensive work Ã¢ÂÂ but his distribution was extremely sloppy, constantly conceding possession when attempting to play simple sideways passes.
His next start, away at Fulham, was the complete opposite: Garcia only misplaced three passes all game, but he was constantly beaten in the air.
His most recent Premier League start was at Wigan, where his distribution was consistent and reliable Ã¢ÂÂ but he was substituted after an hour, with Mancini introducing James Milner to provide more attacking thrust. Mancini doesnÃ¢ÂÂt see Garcia as a player able to provide creativity Ã¢ÂÂ compare his passing with Yaya ToureÃ¢ÂÂs when used in that role, and Garcia is clearly less incisive.
In May, City memorably won 2-0 at Newcastle after Mancini made a notable switch, replacing Samir Nasri with Nigel De Jong and pushing Yaya Toure higher up the pitch. However, this weekend BarryÃ¢ÂÂs absence means Toure will start alongside Garcia Ã¢ÂÂ and with Toure keen to charge forward, Garcia will play a solid defensive-minded role.
If Newcastle continue playing a 4-4-2 system, Garcia wonÃ¢ÂÂt have a direct opponent, and his game will be about breaking up counter-attacks and distributing the ball calmly. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a standard job for a holding midfielder, but after a mixed start to life in England Ã¢ÂÂ and with Toure set to leave for the Africa Cup of Nations in the new year Ã¢ÂÂ itÃ¢ÂÂs time for Garcia to show his true quality.
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