Man City Preview
It’s easy to feel sorry for Man City. Okay, perhaps not easy – but possible. The point being, an awful lot of the talk, punditry, even interest that surrounds Man City is generated by off-the-field stuff. The money, the uber rich owners, the new training complex, the signings, the revolving door on the manager’s office and so on.
Any success they have – and there has been plenty in recent seasons – is expected because of the limitless money. Any failure – and there has been some in recent seasons – is not tolerated for the same reasons. And regardless of what future success does or doesn’t happen at the Etihad, or across town - you get the feeling they will always be the ‘other’ team in Manchester.
Last season will be seen as a partial failure. On the face of it, runners-up spot in the Premier League is no mean achievement. Likewise, three seasons in the top two would be manna from heaven for many PL chairmen. But this is a division of divisions, where top ten, six, top four and top two finishes are viewed as minimum requirements rather than aspirations. Man City’s 79pts gave them a gap of four on third place Arsenal, but was eight behind Champions Chelsea. The cold, hard truth of the matter being that City never looked capable of disrupting Jose’s cakewalk from as early as September.
Dropping points to top four rivals Arsenal and Chelsea and inexplicably losing at home to Stoke within the opening five matches had City in the role of playing catch-up. More spilled points at West Ham and QPR and the role was playing for second place. Both the West Ham and QPR blips came immediately after disappointing Champions League results (the Arsenal and Chelsea draws book-ended a defeat v Bayern Munich too). This has been a feature of the last few seasons. City’s failure to kick on in the CL has badly impacted on their PL fortunes. They have had tough groups, granted. And even when managing to squeeze through last season, they had the misfortune of a second round meeting with a Barcelona team showing the first signs of blossoming into the force of nature that lifted the trophy. But City’s moodiness has been arguably their most dangerous opponent in recent seasons.
Nobody scores more goals than City and nobody has more potent, or decisive attacking tools at their disposal. But their title chances were permanently derailed by two further fickle periods in January and March. Four draws in six just after the turn of the year and four defeats in six (all away from home) made the perfect post-Easter run-in nothing more than a promise of what might’ve been.
In days gone by, pundits would point to the pitches slowing down from January to March, making it more difficult for the ball players. The now perfect PL pitches reduce the validity of this argument, although Chelsea did slow down during these periods too – but are light-years ahead at the art of ‘winning ugly’. But it has to be said that City’s ‘big’ players weren’t at their best. Vincent Kompany looked short of confidence and authority. Yaya Toure came back from pre-season with a backside like Beyonce and only hinted at former glories. None of the four full-backs owned their place and the mercurial talents of Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas and Stevan Jovetic promised more than they delivered.
Shining lights were again David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Silva’s 12 goals and seven assists put him in the top ten in Fantasy midfielders (again) and Aguero was arguably the best forward on show with an outstanding 26 goals and eight assists from his 33 PL matches. The fitness of these two is key to any success City have this season, but who else can we rely on for FL points in the coming campaign?
Home grown additions…
The summer has been rife with comings and goings at the Etihad. And that’s just the story of Fabien Delph’s transfer! Raheem Sterling was the number one target and three weeks of hardball and, oh yes, £49 million made it happen. Paul Pogba and Kevin de Bruyne are/ were targets two and three. Neither has arrived as yet, but de Bruyne appears the more likely at time of writing. The 18-year-old Patrick Roberts has also arrived from Fulham as part of City’s agenda to refresh their squad with young, homegrown players. The flipside of which has seen Dedryck Boyata, John Guidetti, Jordy Hiwula, Matija Nastasic and also English trio Scott Sinclair, James Milner and Frank Lampard exit. Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic also look to be on their way.
Man City are never far away from their next signing so we shouldn’t be surprised if there is more movement before the window shuts. But we can hazard a guess as to how Pellegrini intends to line-up next season…
Joe Hart is a ‘gimme’ in goal. Willy Caballero only featured twice last season and third choice goalkeeper Richard Wright is yet to play a single minute in three season, but earned another year contract (nice work if you can get it). No-one had more clean sheets than Hart and he has a 150+ five year average (PremierLeague.com game), which is top drawer.
Man City’s full-backs have come in for a bit if stick of late. The normally solid Pablo Zabaleta was below par last season, reflected by his worst FL showing for three. But he is regularly City’s best performing defender and looks the most reliable in terms of game time among the full backs. His direct competition Bacary Sagna has made little impact, starting just eight matches last season. And another year older he makes less appeal this. Gael Clichy and Aleksander Kolarov could only be separated by a single (PL.com) point. Clichy started seven more matches, but provided three less clean sheets (six to Kolarov’s nine) but they matched on three assists apiece. The decision of for FL managers is to toss a coin, or swerve both of them.
At center-back Eliaquim Mangala finished the season partnering Martin Demichelis, with club captain Vincent Kompany on the bench. The giant Frenchman has found his feet in the PL – as oppose to those of opponents. After six yellow cards and one red in his first ten matches for City, he didn’t pick up a single booking in his most recent ten. Looks the pick, with 34-year-old Demechelis probably the odd man out.
The acquisition of Raheem Sterling (and possibly Kevin de Bruyne) suggests that Manual Pellegrini is going to bow to criticism of his rigid 4-4-2, by playing a 4-2-3-1. The deeper lying players will be any two from Fernando, Fernandinho, Fabien Delph and possibly Yaya Toure. Providing freedom to creatives Samir Nasri, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas. Only Silva and Sterling managed 30+ matches last season and also rank highest in terms of reliability and cutting edge.
The forward position is a much easier pick for Pellegrini and FL managers alike. If Sergio Aguero is fit, he plays. His Copa America efforts might slow him down a little, but 26 goals and eight assists in 30 starts meant that only Harry Kane got within spitting distance of him among forwards (PL.com) in the last campaign. And he was one of only three players who topped 200pts (Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez were the others. Good company). Plus, he is equally effective in a lone role or in a two with Wilfried Bony – whose two starts don’t allow him fair judgement, but equally probably rules him out of most managers thinking. Edin Dzeko has always performed well in his limited opportunities (50 goals in 74 starts is approaching Ronaldo and Messi territory) and Stevan Jovetic delivered a remarkable five goals and three assists in just nine starts. But neither record has been enough to nail down a place in the starting line-up and both are likely to be playing their football elsewhere come September 1st.
We can anticipate a bit of tinkering as City bed-in new faces as well as fighting on four fronts this term. But hedging out bets, City’s starting X1 will resemble this most weeks…
Fernandhino – Yaya Toure
Kevin de Bruyne could squeeze Samir Nasri out of the picture, should he arrive. And such is the depth of quality at Pellegrini’s disposal there will be plenty of rotation. Man City are destined for another top four season. Chelsea might still be out of reach, but City look in at least as good shape as Arsenal and Manchester United. There are solid FL picks throughout the side, with Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Eliaquim Mangala, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero all destined to be among the top of their individual categories. Your choice will come down to price and – if you’re anything like me – those that have done right by you previously. But if you are looking for a shortlist, Aguero and Silva are ‘bankers’. With Mangala the best of the rest.
Matt Nesbitt’s unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much more successful but miserable one writing and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt