With the recent reports that Bacary Sagna is unhappy at City due to the lack of playing time, Pellegrini now must decide who his first-choice is, after flitting about between him and Pablo Zabaleta for much of the season, probably contributing to the defensive instabilities and failings that we’ve seen so far this season.
Back in August, I wrote an article for this site about the rotation of full-backs given the recent signing of Sagna gave Pellegrini more options, and the success of rotation between Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy last season. In that article I wrote that I believed it would be a good thing for there to be rotation between the full-backs, and if we were to win the league that would be a contributing factor. Now though, it looks like I was probably wrong, and Pellegrini needs to pick either Zabaleta or Sagna to see out the rest of the season.
Of course, the obvious answer might seem like Pablo Zabaleta, given his ability, his effort, and just the sheer brilliance of him, as he’s shown for a few years now. However, he hasn’t looked his best these past few weeks, and has been left out of some big games this season, such as the visit to Stamford Bridge a few weeks ago. That might indicate that Pellegrini trusts Sagna ahead of Zabaleta somewhat, surprising given that the Frenchman’s main concern is a lack of games.
In my eyes, Sagna hasn’t looked bad in the games he’s played since he joined, looking more than good enough to play for us quite a bit of the time. Of course, he isn’t as good as Zabaleta and that shows, but for a player who is now 32, who we signed for free, he’s not done badly. He’s not as good at attacking as Zabaleta, who’s one of the better right-backs in that department, looking solid when he goes forwards. However, Sagna looks just as solid and is less likely to be booked, having picked up just one so far this season. My main – and probably only – real qualm with Zabaleta is his tendency to accumulate yellows, especially fairly early in a game. It leaves him more likely to be sent off than most other players and considering his hard-hitting defending he’s at even more of a risk.
I do have to question just how justified Sagna’s concerns about playing time are however. When he joined, it was clear to most that he’d almost certainly be playing second fiddle to Zabaleta, the younger and superior full-back. Sagna is on something like £140,000-per-week, and whilst that is a lot to pay, it doesn’t automatically make him first choice. Also, 7 of Sagna’s 8 league appearances for us have come from the start, so he’s being given a chance to show himself.
Pellegrini is probably on a different page to me regarding this, and will probably stick with rotating the full-backs on both sides, which I still believe is a good idea in theory, even if it isn’t working as much as it could do. However, I will hold firm with the belief that Zabaleta is our best full-back, and if we want to retain a challenge on Chelsea this season (although that looks less and less likely by the week) then we need to play him over Sagna. At least for the big games.