Earlier in the season Roberto Mancini commented that we would not be able to see the full potential of the side until he had a full set of players available to him, particularly at full-back:
"Without flying full-backs like Boateng and Kolarov, who can push forward, I've had to adjust the team in order to get results and stay in touch with the leaders until everyone is back and fit."
It has taken some time of course for both Boateng and Kolarov to be fully fit, but now both are it could have an interesting consequence on the dynamic of the side.
Fielding three central midfielders, there is a requirement for the full-backs to be dynamic and energetic in supporting the midfield and attack as much as focusing on their defensive duties. At Fulham we saw the perfect example of it.
Although it was Pablo Zabaleta and not Jerome Boateng at right-back, Aleksandar Kolarov now looks settled at left back and as a duo turned in a very impressive performance indeed. Not missing a beat defensively, they were excellent going forward; full of energy and industry as they helped the side completely overrun and dominate Fulham's midfield - evidenced by this chalkboard from The Guardian illustrating how far into Fulham territory Kolarov's passes were attempted:
Mancini clearly wants full backs to get up and down. Although Boateng has shown promise in being able to do this, it is Kolarov who has really emerged as the ideal player to fit Mancini's system. Whilst the right-hand side has featured Micah Richards, Dedryck Boyata, Pablo Zabaleta and Boateng - all players competent when going forward and joining the attack - it has been less so on the left hand side.
Featuring a rotation of Joleon Lescott, Pablo Zabaleta and Wayne Bridge over the start of the season, there has not been the ability of the full-back on the left hand side to impact going forward. Zabaleta was certainly the most competent but restricted by playing on the wrong side, whilst Lescott (although solid defensively) was very static and uncomfortable in advanced positions. The disappointment of course was Wayne Bridge. Pegged as a full-back who would contribute to the attack, he has been suspect defensively and lacks an end product going forward. Surely his days are numbered come the January window.
As a result, what Mancini has deployed for the most part on the left has been a midfielder who can compensate for this, namely James Milner. Without an energetic full-back who can contribute offensively, Milner has been used to provide the energy and industry required. Whilst this has worked in this regard, it also detracts somewhat from an attacking perspective. This is something not seen on the opposite flanks where for the most part Adam Johnson and David Silva - naturally attacking, creative talents - have featured.
On Sunday at Craven Cottage Mancini pulled a surprise by featuring Jo ahead of Milner, who was expected to start. The Guardian Chalkboard had a look at a benefit this brought with an analysis of Joe Hart's distribution at Fulham in comparison to the previous game against Birmingham.
With Kolarov in the side, what this did allow though was the option for Mancini to field a more attack minded player on the left, with more licence to get forward, whilst still maintaining the 4-5-1 formation with the three central midfielders dictating tempo and possession; Kolarov's ability to be part of both the defensive and offensive play negates the need for a Milner-type on the left hand side that does mean a more rigid, static and defensive performance. It also provides the midfield with added options and it was no surprise that a marauding Kolarov (and Zabaleta of course) saw the midfield look far more purposeful.
This is vitally important as we now that by adopting a 4-4-2 line-up this can detract from the impact Carlos Tevez makes, a second central striker taking the space from him. With Jo, or looking forward, surely Mario Balotelli, they can take some of the weight from Tevez by drifting inside to support him, but crucially (by not playing centrally) not crowd Tevez in the areas he uses to such great effect - giving the attack an even more potent feel.