It can be tedious to see teams written off before the season has even started. I do not intend to entirely “write off” Manchester City (it would be foolish to do so), but merely point out some noticeable weaknesses the team is suffering from as they look to defend their title.
Manchester City have come a long way since their billionaire take over in 2008. In hindsight the new owners looked to have underestimated the ability of the team they were pouring their hundreds of millions into. Their aspirations, primarily at least were to achieve the top four in the first three seasons after their arrival. They in fact surpassed this expectation, winning the league in the most dramatic and pleasing style from their rival Manchester club in 2011. However, long term followers of the Citizens will be far more accustomed to seeing their team achieve back to back promotions as opposed to back to back league titles. Manchester City have never won consecutive first division titles. In my opinion, they won’t be able to alter history again like they have so spectacularly in recent years, here’s why.
Manchester City Will Fall Short This Year
All champions have a solid spine of players in their team. For City last year: Kompany, Toure, and Agüero ( I purposefully missed Hart out after his blip, otherwise he would certainly be part of it). However, when that spine and indeed the creative heartbeat of the team – Yaya Toure is unhappy you have a serious problem. You would have been forgiven for primarily thinking that the Toure debacle was an elaborate joke, perhaps even a cover story. After all Manchester City went to the effort of bringing him a cake onto the team plane, unfortunately to the deaf ears of headphone-wearing Toure who seemed disinterested. But that’s beside the point, this “elaborate joke” left no Manchester City fan laughing. If you are to lose a midfielder who scored 20 goals last year, whilst simultaneously creating golden chances, dominating midfield and being a player other teams quake in fear over playing against, you are likely to lose a degree of your team’s success. Maybe even a large enough degree of success to lose out on a Premier League title. It seems tears from more passionate City fans are more likely than laughter at the bizarre antics of Mr Toure and his agent.
In 2011 when City nearly slipped up in the title race, pressure was a large contributing factor. Fans might very well argue that the team got the job done (and in a remarkably exciting fashion too). The reality is though they were up against a team lucky to escape relegation that day, down to ten men. The pivotal reason a game that should have been going through the motions one final time that season and the game which eventually (and perhaps preferably for a neutral) turned into the affair it did was because of pressure. Pressure breeds mistakes and results in teams negating the most effective style of play at their disposal. The fans’ tension was tangible in those dying minutes and it will continue into next season a little too, after yet another title success last year. In Europe, Manchester City are still beginners, learning how to adapt against outstanding teams like Bayern Munich and Barcelona to name a couple in recent years. Their lack of continental success generates a desire for domestic trophies for fans. Although they are showing they are capable of attaining them, this title race is set to be as close as ever. The old, often labelled along the lines of “predictably disappointing”, Manchester City may be a thing of the past. In the inevitable tightness of next year’s title race , I expect to see Mourinho’s men handle the pressure best.
First things first. Pellegrini has proved a suitable leader, but as manager in an actual game scenario, barking out orders can only make so much of a difference. What will make the difference is a strong leader on the field. Vincent Kompany will of course be running through people’s minds. Rightly so, but there are a few reasons why he cannot solely be relied upon.
Firstly, and certainly most harshly, his form in the latter stages of last season showed some unwanted chinks in his armour. All players go through poor periods of form but this is where the problem lies. You can just about justify getting away with dropping Hart but not Kompany as easily. Not only is there no centre back near his standard, but also no leader. Joe Hart’s brief removal from the team, demonstrated that Pellegrini is not scared to drop high profile players. Secondly, if the unthinkable were to happen and Kompany went through a spell of form bad enough to get him dropped there is no replacement as captain, however unlikely that may be. What is much more likely is if he was to get injured, something which almost seems obligatory for title challenging teams to endure, City simply don’t have any strong defenders to replace him let alone one who will be able to lead the same as Kompany in that centre back role. These are hypothetical scenarios, but the kind that need to be running through Pellegrini’s head in the remaining time of this transfer window. Unfortunately, and as I’m about to come onto, questions surrounding the depth of certain areas of their squad remain, in particular the defence.
Strength in depth
“Strength in depth” might sound like a positive and indeed it is. Unfortunately for City, Chelsea are showing it in their squad in abundance too. In Black and White, Chelsea came close last year but just fell short of Premier League success. Logically to counter act this failure, money has enabled the purchase of 3 high-quality players: Costa, Luis and Cesc Fabregas (arguably a new spine to the team with Courtois back in the picture too). Fellow challengers City, despite signing Chelsea hero Frank Lampard, have not signed any players who will significantly improve the squad. Do the signings add depth? Yes. Do they strike me as league winning purchases like rivals Chelsea’s signings? No.
Jovetic effectively acts as new signing though potentially. The issue is what’s to say injuries won’t ruin his season again? The questions I have poised still seem to remain unanswered. Jovetic’s injury record doesn’t fill you with confidence to simply not consider another striker being purchased either. Admittedly there are not many high quality strikers realistically in the market, one of the few there were went to Chelsea. This perhaps could prove crucial if Agüero doesn’t find outstanding form, again a lot of pressure lies on an individual player. Dzeko might enter into the equation but for me a striking partner for Agüero and solid defender to accompany Kompany (ahem) are still needed.
I said I wouldn’t write City off and I have a little, in truth. This is without mentioning other teams who might contend too. For me, this year looks destined to be successful for Mourinho. After a successful campaign last year, winning the League Cup and Premier League respectively, City will want to continue that run of form. If they are not to win the league, longer runs in Europe and either of the cups will be expected and are realistic expectations to have for such a squad. This year I believe Manchester City will fall just short, but it will be very, very close.
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