Previous League Position: 2nd
Key Players: Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero
Predicted Position: 1st
Last season City started the season in invincible, implacable form. They knocked in three, four and five goals in any number of games and tore through the lesser opposition. Even when they began to lag, they out-United’d United and scraped the league title with the most dramatic final day of Premier League history, not top-flight history (look up Arsenal vs. Liverpool 1989, or just play a match as Arsenal on FIFA an Alan Smith’ll mention it eventually). Kompany lead a solid backline, Yaya Toure was a juggernaut in midfield and David Silva could lay claim to being one of the best creative midfielders in the world. A strike force of Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli was lethal and even Gareth Barry somehow looked decent. It’s terrifying to think he was regarded as one of England’s most important player a few years back
This season though, things changed. City bought appallingly in the summer window, with Sinclair, Rodwell and Maicon all terrible buys and only Nastasic proving effective. Furthermore, the mentality was off, the players looked more mercenary than motivated and rifts started to grow between Mancini, his superiors and the players. This was made worse by Mancini’s attempts to change a winning formula, with a switch to a back three proving catastrophic and the abandonment of Lescott completely underserved after his prior performances.
This all culminated in an unorthodox onset of upper table second season syndrome; Kompany was average and error-prone, Hart even more so, the creative players, especially Silva, all simultaneously lost their spark and when they did dig out the right pass the strikers fluffed their lines. I don’t know how Aguero, Silva et al declined so quickly, but City soon became almost completely reliant on Toure, and even he wasn’t at his dominant best. Although they were United’s only challengers and beat them relatively comfortably after the title had been pretty much decided, few really thought they were in with a title shout even with a third of the season left. There have been a few bright sparks, the aforementioned Nastasic being one of them and the incredibly impressive Zabaleta another, but other than that it’s been incredibly disappointing for City fans. Which is sort of funny when you think about it. Maybe they’ll move back to Chelsea.
Unfortunately, I really can’t see this lasting. There are two main explanations for why City underachieved, and their owners seem to have covered both of them. The first explanation is lack of spending; United bought V*n P*rsie, Chelsea bought Hazard, City bought Sinclair. City have already looked to rectify this, spending a colossal £30m on Fernandinho and looking to spend a further £17-24m on Jesus Navas. If they’re willing to spend that much on relatively unestablished players – I’m talking more Fernandinho than Navas here as I really don’t think he’s done enough to deserve that sort of money – I’d be surprised if a real big name player wasn’t brought in, someone like Cavani or Isco.
Isco is especially likely, due to the second explanation for why City underperformed: the manager. Whilst Mancini’s sacking a year after winning the league is undoubtedly harsh, it’s perhaps unsurprising and probably actually the right choice. Mancini was at odds with the Director of Football, the players had lost faith in him and the motivation wasn’t there. Plus their Champions League performances were woeful for the money spent. Pellegrini, who will almost certainly be his replacement, is experienced working in the Spanish model with a Director of Football etc, was well loved by all his players at Malaga and was within seconds of taking a weakened, debt-ridden team through to the semi-finals of the Champions League. If he can do that without even being paid, I can’t imagine what he could achieve fuelled by City’s cash.
That’s why I see City as favourites to overtake United and win the league this season. A new, fresh manager without the burden of having to live up to past events (a la Mourinho) and the money to buy whoever he wants to fit his new image for the club and City look to finally be in a position to realise their potential for the long term. Whilst they’ll be going through a bigger period of turmoil and transition than the current Champions, they have quality players in more positions than United and the money to add stars to that lineup without batting an eyelid. Whilst United’s targets seem either unrealistic or unlikely to make as big an impact as a certain traitor did this season, the likes of Cavani and especially Isco seem imminently plausible for City, and any team including Toure, Cavani, Isco, Aguero and Silva is a force to be reckoned with, let alone Navas and Fernandinho. I’ll be honest and admit I don’t know much about Fernandinho – I have an image of him as a Modric-esque playmaker that players slightly deeper than the traditional number ten and would likely partner Yaya Toure behind a the advanced midfield three – but Navas seems a shrewd buy that can stretch the play, add pace to the side and provide a killer cross, yet is still disciplined enough to track back and Spanish enough to play a shorter passing game when required. I seem to remember someone saying Fernandinho was also quite quick although I could be wrong, so we’re likely to see a faster tempo from City next season, especially on the counterattack. This could be important as City this season had the tendency to play a bit like, well, us. In the latter part of the season especially they were ponderous and tippy-tappy, with Na$ri showing us exactly what we were missing by appearing like a Gallic, chinless Denilson at times.
Howevr, stick Isco in the no. 10 position and move Silva outside and, with Toure and Fernandinho behind them you’ll have a far more technical and intricate side than one with Barry and Dzeko. With Navas wide right and Aguero up front you’ll have the passing ability to keep possession and the pace and directness to punish any lapses and make the counterattack a real weapon. I’ll admit, I’m a bit scared about what might happen. This fear is increased by the fact that City spending big is a real threat to teams of equal repute but less financial power – i.e. us – being outbid for every player we go for. In a recent David Dein interview on Sky Sports he pointed out that there are only a handful of players available on the required level. He’s got a point: how many players can you name that are, to quote Wenger, ‘top, top quality’ and actually available for sale? Not many. And whoever we’re after, it’s a fair bet City will have looked at them too. Jovetic is one of these players that’s been linked with just about everyone, City included. For me, I don’t believe it as I think they’ll choose Cavani or someone of that ilk in a far higher price bracket, but if they did go in for the Montenegrin then we’ll struggle to beat them to it and we’d have to rely on Wenger’s ideological pitch to overcome City’s billions. Unlikely, even to the purest of footballers, especially with City’s recent trophies that make them seem less like of a greedy, money-grabbing option and the star in question less of a sellout. Not like when a certain Frenchman chose them whilst they were still trophyless. I’m really not bitter.
Of course, there’s a large chance this won’t happen and like I’ve said the majority of these predictions are based on guesswork, but these possibilities seem a lot more likely than the ones I’ve laid out of the likes of Liverpool and Sp*rs and makes City, with Chelsea, the most potentially dangerous rivals next season. With United we know what we’re going to get: consistency, determination and a treacherous goalscoring bastard. We know that they’ll be top four and title challengers, but we also know there’s a chance a preposterously good summer could see us overtake them. City are more uncertain; they could bring in a host of stars, play beautiful, ruthless football and dominate next season or they could Rodwell it again. However, if they do spend to their potential and Pellegrini is as successful as I think he could be, we have very little chance of matching them on or off the pitch. That’s the harsh truth when facing megabucks and unfortunately I can see them really dominate next season.
Watch them re-sign Stephen Ireland and Wayne Bridge now.
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