Marcos Lopes is held in high regard by City chiefs and City fans alike, and the 18-year-old showed the neutral just why with a man of the match performance against a full strength West Ham side last night.
Manuel Pellegrini fielded a strong team despite having a healthy 1st leg lead, which more or less indicated his desire to win every possible game, whether it’s a final or a dead rubber.
It was the usual fluid 4-2-2-2 formation with Aguero and Negredo upfront, Navas on the right, Lopes on the left, Fernandinho in box-to-box role, and Garcia the deepest midfielder.
With so much emphasis on offensive movements under Manuel, it’s imperative that players on the either flank put in a shift to help out the defence. Lopes provided just about the perfect cover possible for Clichy, preventing any possibility of overloading of wide areas by West Ham.
You don’t generally see an 18-year-old so aware of his defensive duties, which is why Marcos’ performance stood out. One would expect him to fizzle out towards the latter stages of the game due to his tireless running throughout, but it wasn’t the case, which showcased his desire to keep going.
Even with his defensive duties, he didn’t lose his effectiveness offensively, constantly making runs in the final third, shifting into pockets of empty space, getting into good positions, and making himself available to receive the ball.
His spatial awareness is as good as anyone in his age group, maybe even better. Lopes was continuously looking to move into vacant spaces throughout the game.
Due to his low centre of gravity, his balance enables him to ride over the challenges and to control the ball extremely well in tight areas (i.e. Aguero’s goal and a solo run towards half time), as if the ball was glued to his feet.
He used his pace to good effect, knowing when to accelerate and leave his marker for dead. So it came as no surprise that he made 4 dribbles, with only Kun (7) making more amongst City players yesterday. He is blessed with quick feet and has more than decent pace.
Marcos looked calm and composed on the ball and was not hasty in making passes, a common drawback one can see in inexperienced players. Even when he lost possession, Lopes was determined to win the ball back. His work ethic and tenacity warrants special praise, and he made 5 successful tackles, with only Fernandinho (6) making more in the match.
For someone of his physique, the former Benfica youth fearlessly went into 50/50 duels against a fairly physical Hammers. He also displayed his intelligence as a player by putting his body right behind the ball and thereby reducing the risk of losing the ball and helping in drawing a foul.
Lopes put it on a plate for Negredo’s opener, literally. The ‘Beast’ didn’t even had to move, just directed the ball towards the back of the net. Horrible defending by West Ham, I must add.
The second goal was purely about Lopes’ brilliance. He showed exceptional balance, taking on 3 players before pushing the ball through to Aguero. Technically speaking, the ball fell to Sergio from a deflected pass and hence doesn’t count as the youngster’s assist as per the widely accepted Opta method. That takes nothing away from him, though.
The only area where I felt Marcos could have done better was putting more weight in few of his passes. His passes were fairly accurate (88% completion rate is impressive) but he could have pushed the ball out with a more effort a few times so that it reached his team-mates a fraction quicker.
With our next game being against Watford at home, Lopes has a good chance of retaining his place in the team after a great performance against West Ham.
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