In lifting the Premier League crown last season, Manuel Pellegrini ensured that for once, the strongest squad on paper actually went on to fulfil their potential. City’s second title in three years signifies that they are becoming stronger, and although their actions will be limited within the transfer market due to breaching Financial Fair Play rules, City fans can rest assured that the squad will rightfully be one of the favourites for the title again.
Yaya Toure was easily the most influential player for City during a title-winning season in which Sergio Aguero’s injury problems, along with Alvaro Negredo’s dramatic drop in form, placed the goal scoring responsibility firmly on the Ivorian’s shoulders. For this reason, City fans will be delighted and equally relieved that after the infamous ‘Cakegate’ incident, Toure has stated that his future lies at the Etihad. Toure’s experience will be vital for City’s title defence, so preventing his departure is the best piece of transfer business done by the Manchester club.
In an attempt to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, fourteen players have been released or sold, while only four have been officially brought in. Fernando, Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard have cost a combined fee of around £16.5m, and the pending transfer of Eliaquim Mangala will take that total closer to £48.5m, which is much lower than the total spend over the last few summers. However, as mentioned earlier, the squad is pretty much complete, and any player coming in will only strengthen the already very talented squad.
In Caballero, Sagna and Lampard, City have signed three extremely experienced and reliable back-ups. Lampard will not be expected to start many games, Sagna will be second choice behind Zabaleta, and even though Caballero has stated that he intends to fight for the number 1 spot, it’s fairly clear that he will be playing second fiddle to Joe Hart. Fernando, on the other hand, will feature. The Brazilian is one of a modern breed of deep-lying playmakers that sits in front of the defence to win the ball but then has the ability to start an attack from the deep position. He’s very comfortable on the ball but isn’t the paciest player in the world. He relies more on his vision and positioning and likes a dribble every now and then, often breaking forward towards the opposition goal. With Pellegrini using Fernandinho for this role last season, it will be interesting to see if both Brazilians can play in the team together. What seems certain is that Javi Garcia has moved even further into the periphery.
Another Porto player who seems to be on his way to join City is Eliaquim Mangala, the French centre-back. At £32m, he will be City’s biggest investment of the summer, but could prove to be a bit of a gamble. There are big question marks over the defender’s decision making as he falls into the category of defenders who fancy themselves in the opposition box. There is no doubt that he is a physical presence with great aerial ability, a crunching tackle, and an eye for goal, but his adventurous nature could prove to be costly in a league where the counter-attack dominates. If he does make the move, there will be pressure on him to vindicate the big transfer fee, but at 23 years of age, he has plenty of time to improve.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
If Sergio Aguero can remain fit, he will be City’s key player. Even in a season disrupted by injury, the Argentinian striker still managed to bag an amazing 28 goals in 34 games, which is just two fewer than his debut season, in which he played 48 times. His tenacity and work rate have made him a firm fan favourite, but his all-round game makes him one of the two best strikers in the Premier League alongside Robin van Persie. The relationship and understanding between Aguero, Silva and Toure is frightening for any opposition, and if the three of them are firing on all cylinders, City fans can be confident of matching or surpassing last season’s goal tally of 102. Toure’s freedom to attack is extremely important, so the role of Fernandinho and Fernando will be vital if City hope to attack with flair. This is signified by the fact that City failed to score in four of the five games in which Fernandinho did not feature last season, as Toure was forced into a deeper and more defensive position.
Given the success of last year and the players that City have brought in so far, finishing outside of the top three would be a disaster. The bookies currently have City as favourites for a second title in succession, but with the work that Chelsea have done in the transfer market this summer, along with the fact that their players have had another year to gel with each other, it’s possible that the West London club will pip Manchester City to the title this year, but there is almost nothing to split the two. However, the one thing that City fans can expect is to see their team reach the latter stages of all cup competitions, including the Champions League; the depth of the squad practically demands it.
PREDICTED FINISH: 2ND