Mancini gives Johnson chance to flourish
So that's what Manchester City look like when they play with one less central midfielder in the side as they did in the 5-0 drubbing of Sunderland on Sunday?
Following a defeat by Chelsea two weeks ago where Roberto Mancini's side rarely threatened the goal with a familiar midfield of Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure, this time City ditched Barry and started with a two-man frontline of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli.
At this point it should be mentioned that Sunderland are not Chelsea, City were without Tevez for the loss at Stamford Bridge and they preferred Edin Dzeko as a lone front man.
But even so, there was a marked difference to City's play at Eastlands where they were 2-0 up within 15 minutes and had five different scorers.
In this instance, Tevez and Balotelli led the line with David Silva starting on the left while Adam Johnson patrolled the right flank.
That might sound like a more orthodox 4-4-2 but with the likes of Tevez dropping deep into midfield and Silva cutting inside to allow Aleksandar Kolarov to rampage down the left, it was anything but rigid.
This is the key point though. With such intelligent players who instinctively interchange positions, is it any wonder that with another attacking force in the team they can so easily find space to work in?
The other major influence on the side was Johnson. Amongst all the talk of England's future promise on the flanks last week, he was a notable omission.
Arguably a more talented dribbler than either of Aston Villa pair Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, Johnson's biggest problem seems to have been the approval of his club manager.
In the Chelsea game James Milner was preferred on the right flank in order to negate the attacking threat of Ashley Cole.
But would Johnson have curbed the Chelsea left-back's attacking instincts by making him concentrate on defending more often?
Average player positions from the game against Sunderland show that Johnson (11) was their most advanced attacker, whereas Milner (7) against Chelsea was more tucked in and deeper.
He also went close to doubling his tally in the second half when he played a wonderful one-two with Silva before his shot was saved by Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet, even though the return pass was wrongly flagged for offside.
Mancini took Johnson off on 66 minutes with his job done and the game won at 3-0 but putting a run of games together is now the target for the former Middlesbrough player.
Injury has played its part with Johnson this season, with the game against Sunderland his first start in 10 weeks after coming back from an ankle problem. But of his 24 Premier League appearances he has only managed nine starts.
That is a puzzling figure when you consider that City's Premier League record is markedly superior when Johnson begins games since making his full debut in February 2010.
City's average goals per game rate jumps from 1.29 to 2.09 when Johnson starts games compared to when he does not, their win percentage also rises from 42% to 57% and points per game increases from 1.54 to 1.96.
Mancini is obviously a fan of the 23-year-old, who has six England caps, but he still considers the left-footed winger as a game changer from the bench.
"When we lost Adam [to injury] we started our problems because Adam is the one player that we have who can change the game," Mancini told BBC Sport after the Sunderland game.
"When he starts from the bench he can come on and change things because we only had one winger very briefly with Shaun Wright-Phillips. Adam was very important for us [on Sunday]."
In the Chelsea defeat Johnson replaced Milner in the 78th minute and by that time, following waves of Chelsea pressure, the game was as good as over.
So if Mancini truly believes that one of his most creative players can leave his mark on the game it would surely be better to give him more time and freedom to flourish.