by Suhith Kumar
Jesus Navas, contrary to popular belief, had a very good 2014/15 season, during which he made 42 appearances across all competitions for Manchester City and proved his worth away from the spotlight.
The Spanish winger, during his two seasons at the Etihad Stadium so far, has oft been criticized for not being able to complete his attempted crosses from the right flank or miss the man at the near post when he takes corner or free-kicks. He has also not been able to come up with goals when his teammates have teed him up and he has only had the goalkeeper to beat. On that note, however, he is a right-footed player who always plays on the right flank, meaning he is not going to give you goals unless he uses his left foot astutely. His forte too, lies in his ability to take on his opposing fullback and, more often than not, beat them in 1v1 situations. Taking those aspects into account, Navas has been a valuable player for City in the last two seasons.
In 35 league appearances for the Sky Blues last season, he registered 8 assists, one more than what he managed in his first season. However, he did not find the back of the net even on one occasion – something which he did 4 times, in the league alone, during his debut season for the club. His assists were the most by a City player, with David Silva following him in second place with 7. You have got to give credit to the former Sevilla man for the number of assists he racked up, considering that City were devoid of Alvaro Negredo last season and Edin Dzeko endured a horrendous campaign due to injuries, which subsequently hindered his form, too.
Negredo and Dzeko are the classic No.9s as they call it, who give you an aerial presence and generally score more headed goals than the likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney, strikers who are of a different breed, although Javier Hernandez, who is good with his head as well as feet, is an exception to this rule. It is only an afterthought, but Dzeko or Negredo’s presence in the side may have suited Navas’ style of play. With Wilfried Bony to aim at next season, Navas will hope to thrive as the archetype winger.
Navas is a compulsive crosser, if you might call him that way, and his cross success percentage is probably not prolific, but neither is he as bad as it feels to the onlookers. Overall, the 29-year old created 79 chances (44.3% of them from the right flank) in the 14/15 Barclays Premier League season, creating an average of 2.3 chances, which again was bettered only his compatriot (2.6), per game. He couldn’t impact his team on the UEFA Champions League stage as much: creating only 8 chances in 7 appearances for the Cityzens, who unsurprisingly lacked the cutting edge against the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Last season, there was a slight change to Navas’ game: the Spaniard, who usually thrives on holding the byline and swinging crosses into the box, sought to cut in from his right flank, carrying the ball for long distances, through the middle of the pitch. What it did was create large oceans of space for the likes of Silva and Samir Nasri to weave their magic in. It was good to see Navas add a bit of variation to his game, and I think he needs to do more of it in the coming seasons. Last season, he had a take-on success rate of 74% (37/50) in the league, while he also completed 0.7 take-ons per game in the Champions League.
Coming to the defensive side of Navas’ game, he is probably not like some forwards – Luis Suarez comes to mind – who excel at tackling and rarely allow people to dribble past them. Navas’ tackle success rate in the league last season was only 31% (25/81), but he rarely shied away from dropping alongside Pablo Zabaleta or Bacary Sagna, and helping them out defensively. If he can improve his defensive game and is willing to work hard for the team – something which James Milner epitomizes – I think he could play in some of the big games, in which City may have to defend for large periods and rely on counterattacking, to score goals or just to get up the pitch.
Looking ahead to the next season, City are coveting two players – Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling – who could carry a direct threat to Navas’ place in the side. If Manuel Pellegrini captures even one among the duo, you would think that Navas’ chances of being a regular starter for the leading club in Manchester currently, would dwindle. In his two seasons at the club thus far, he has had to compete only with the likes of Silva, Nasri and Milner, and it is safe to say that he is different to the trio at least in one aspect; but de Bruyne and Sterling are equally quick as Navas, and are probably better finishers than the ‘Pajarito’.
However, Navas is usually fit as a fiddle and during his time at the Etihad, he has rarely missed games due to injury. So he should be there and thereabouts in City’s title-winning ambitions, even though he might drop down the pecking order as a result of the new players coming in.
With his inherent ability to go past people, Navas will always command a significant role at City, who will once again be involved in 4 competitions and every player will get his fair share of chances to prove his worth. Another aspect that could work in Navas’ favor is that Pellegrini’s men rarely play against teams willing to engage them in an open game. Therefore, when playing against packed defenses, City will need Navas’ pace and dribbling ability to stretch the opposition backline, which is yet another reason why the Spanish winger will continue to be a crucial player in the City squad.
Navas has already been a wonderful signing for City, and there is no doubt that he will continue to be an indispensable cog in the Sky Blues’ insatiable hunger for trophies.
About the author
Suhith Kumar is a freelance sports writer, who specializes in covering Team India, The Mumbai Indians, Manchester City FC and other big boys of the English Premier League.
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