Jack: Samir Nasri, an unlikely solution for club, country

Kristian Jack
10/16/2013 9:43:17 PM
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Samir Nasri has a face people just want to punch.

If it wasn't Arsenal fans outside of the Emirates last season it was his manager.

"I would like to give him a punch!" said Roberto Mancini after Nasri's performance against Newcastle last season. "Because a player like him should play like this always, always, every game. Maybe one game he can't play well, but that's it.

"I can't understand why sometimes a player with his quality doesn't play like this every game."

Nasri had been sensational that day in late March, as City won 4-0, but it was just his fourth start in the last three months and his manager was beyond frustrated with him.

The Italian had already spoken out earlier in the month about Nasri's prospects of starting games: "When I was a player I always took responsibility," said Mancini. "When I didn't play well, I said: 'Sorry I didn't play well and will do my best in the next game' and it should be like this. I don't like players that never think it's their fault."

Mancini continued: "These players can't play with me because this is impossible. I want strong players that are upset with me when they don't play but, after that, show me on the pitch that they deserve to play. Samir knows this because I have spoken about this situation many times with him. He can do better because he has quality, technique and he's strong."

Against Newcastle it appeared Nasri got the message.

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Having not started four league games in a row all season, the Frenchman went on to be picked in City's next seven Premier League games, shining in a win against Manchester United and scoring at Tottenham, before eventually finding his way into Mancini's starting XI for the FA Cup final at Wembley.

City's inconsistent performances in the final few months, highlighted by that loss to Wigan, meant any individual performances were off the radar, but Nasri definitely saved his best games in a City shirt for then.

Perhaps, it was a coincidence that these came at a time when many of City's games lacked importance, but upon reflection, it is also worth noting that Mancini, when fighting to save his job, turned to Nasri when he most needed him.

It is similar to what has happened with France. Last Friday, Nasri started his first international game since Euro 2012, in a 6-0 friendly win over Australia, and finally started a key World Cup qualifier for the first time this campaign on Tuesday when France beat Finland in Paris.

Both games showed just important Nasri is to his country. In a four band 4-2-3-1 system, Nasri offers French boss Didier Deschamps a number of key traits required to master a wide position inside the 3. Nasri, when he is committed and happy, can be a complete player, capable of dribbling past players, picking a pass into a tight space and even working back to help his right back in defence.

Against Finland there was a moment in the first half when he picked the ball up in his own half, played it out wide to right back Mathieu Debuchy, ran alongside him, got the ball back, sprayed it cross field to left back Patrice Evra, ran into the central space ahead of the two central midfielders, played a one-two with Franck Ribery, the wide left player, and got the ball back on the edge of the area to play a ball in behind the defenders for striker Olivier Giroud to run on to. It was the perfect example of what is required of a player in that position, by getting the best out of teammates by keeping an attack going at a good speed.

It is the same kind of form Nasri has shown this season for City, blossoming under new manager Manuel Pellegrini, who he admits has made a difference in his game.

"I am more confident with this manager," Nasri said recently.

"He has given me a lot of freedom. I'm a guy who likes to have affection with the manager. I like a manager who likes to talk about what's good and wrong.

"I'm still young and learning. When you have a manager who will talk it's always good for a player."

It is clear Nasri is sensitive, something many inside the game, including Mancini, have no time for. Some will ask, how can a man be so sensitive when earning 150K pounds a week? He is only human, after all. Part of being a great leader is knowing what kind of players need an arm around their shoulder rather than a good shouting at. Where Mancini failed, Pellegrini seems to be succeeding.

"I talk often with him because I know he can be a big player," said Pellegrini.

"I don't talk about what happened in the past; but at this moment Nasri is playing very well.

"He has great technical quality. He works the whole game a lot, not just the last 25 minutes. He's a very creative and classy player."

After coming on as a sub in City's first three games this season, Nasri got his chance to shine for Pellegrini when David Silva got hurt earlier this season. Nasri was excellent in City's 4-1 demolition of United, using width intelligently, to help overlaps with full backs, and knowing when to cut in to make a midfield three.

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The last point is a crucial one for club, more than country and it was no surprise the most pass combinations in the Manchester derby came from Nasri to Yaya Toure. In a way to fit in Sergio Aguero and one of Edin Dzeko or Alvaro Negredo, City have adopted a 4-4-2 this season but have found themselves overrun in midfield on occasions, particularly when Silva has played. Cardiff and Hull benefited when they attacked through the middle in transitions targeting Toure and Fernandinho, with the Brazilian often being the lone man protecting the centre-backs.

When Nasri came into the side, City - aside from five minutes of madness at Villa Park - looked more defensively solid. However, now that Silva is fit it appears the Spanish maestro is Pellegrini's first choice, but there is a tendency for City's attacks to be more cautious and laboured when he is in the team. One thing that is clear, there doesn't appear a spot for both Nasri and Silva on the field from the start as the pair haven't played more than 35 minutes together this season.

Not long ago the thought of Nasri being preferred to Silva would have been ludicrous but the Frenchman's impressive form, combined with the issues around the team's shape and style with Silva in it, means there is a legitimate chance Nasri could make some significant starts for City very soon, particularly if he continues to improve.

At 26, he remains young but not too young for comebacks. After all, he had to talk about one to the French press this very week.

"I have stepped into line, I worked hard, accepted all the decisions to bring what I could bring. I know what it is to not be in the French team anymore. During my absence, I could think about it a lot."

He was wearing a different shade of blue but it appears he had similar thoughts while sitting for his club also.

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