The new Premier League season is just over a week away. New signings, and managers, will be looking to make an impact in their new surroundings. This Manchester City season preview looks at what their facts can expect over the coming nine months.
Last year’s position: Fourth
There can be no doubt that Manchester City have seriously underachieved over the last two seasons. Since lifting the 2013/14 Premier League title, the expectations of Sheikh Mansour have not even come close to being met. The City owner has made is clear that domestic and European domination has always been on his agenda from the day he took over.
Last season, City secured Champions League qualification on the last day of the season, edging out rivals Manchester United on goal difference. They also added the League Cup to the trophy cabinet, beating Liverpool in the final at Wembley. The club also recorded their best ever showing in Europe’s elite competition, reaching the semi-final.
Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving the club at the season’s end midway through the campaign. The above achievements would be celebrated at many clubs. It’s probably safe to say that he would have been axed anyway, even if Mansour hadn’t already lined up his replacement. Even second best is not good enough for their billionaire owner.
Current Manager: Pep Guardiola
Josep “Pep” Guardiola was undoubtedly the most sought-after coach in world football. After announcing that he would leave Bayern Munich, there was much speculation regarding his next destination. It was no major surprise when it was announced that he would be the new man in charge at the Etihad. Guardiola has previously worked with Director of Football Ferran Soriano, and CEO Txiki Begiristain, at Barcelona.
Guardiola has just come off the back of winning three successive league titles at the Allianz Arena. Before that he spent four years at Barcelona, winning three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies, amongst others. The Premier League will no doubt provide a bigger test than any he faced in Germany or Spain. How quickly he adapts to English football will be a key factor.
The Tiki-taka style for which Guardiola became famous worked wonders at Barcelona. It involves playing with a high defensive line, with the onus on safe passes in order to keep possession. This patient style of play is designed to create freedom in the final third. It remains to be seen if this will work in the frantic pace of the Premier League.
Positives from last season
Kevin De Bruyne was, without doubt, the major positive from City’s campaign. Many eyebrows were raised when they spent £55 million on a player discarded by Chelsea just eighteen months previously. His time in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg saw them make a huge profit on their £18 million investment. It’s not hard to see why City took such a huge punt on the Belgian. His range of passing, incredible work rate and superb long-range shooting saw him become an instant hit at the Etihad. Sky Blues fans will be hoping for more of the same this season.
Sergio Agüero proved once again that he is one of the finest strikers in world football. He finished joint second highest scorer in the Premier League. His 24 goals came from just 30 appearances, a much better goals-to-games ratio than Jamie Vardy or Harry Kane. Agüero would undoubtedly be an asset to any club in the world.
Fernandinho is a player who definitely grew in stature during 2015/16. After a solid first two seasons in England, he was probably their most consistent player last term. A definite upturn in form for the Brazilian, who has finally begun to win the home fans over.
Kelechi Iheanacho is the most exciting talent to come out of the club’s academy for a number of years. He’s still only 19, but after scoring his first Premier League goal against Crystal Palace in September, he never looked back. He finished as the club’s third top scorer, with 14 goals in all competitions.
Weaknesses from last season
The spine of the team is starting to look rather fragile. Vincent Kompany, one of the best Premier League centre-backs over the last five years, made just 22 appearances. Injuries have started to take their toll on the 30-year-old, who should be at his peak right about now. The same could be said for Pablo Zabaleta, who made his 200th appearance for the club last season. He has been a model of consistency since arriving at City, but he too only featured 22 times.
Yaya Touré has been one of the key components to everything City have achieved in the Mansour era. Last season saw many of the fans get on his back following several lacklustre displays. Guardiola already sold him once, when manager of Barcelona. It’s very possible that the man who sold Touré to City could be the man who ends his Etihad career.
Most of the players City bought last summer have not been viewed as a success. Raheem Sterling started the season in fantastic form, and netted eleven times during the campaign. It is a measure of how poor he was in the final few months that he is regarded as a flop by fans. It’s no exaggeration to say he carried that form into Euro 2016.
Nicolás Otamendi was brought in from Valencia to partner Kompany at the heart of the defence. After some initial erratic performances, he knuckled down and began to show some consistency. If the Argentine can begin the season the way he finished last term, City may not be so reliant on Kompany at the back. Before moving to England he was voted in the La Liga team of the year, hence why his side spent almost £30 million on him.
Fabien Delph made a dramatic U-turn to move to the Etihad, after previously committing himself to Aston Villa. This was perhaps the biggest impact he has made for City so far, after spending much of the season injured. Teenage forward Patrick Roberts was brought in from Fulham for £12 million. He made just three appearances before going on loan to Celtic in January, where he will stay until next summer.
Close season progress
Judging by the way City have invested in their forward line, it seems clear that attacking football will be on the agenda. This week alone has seen them add Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus and Schalke’s Leroy Sane. City reportedly beat Barcelona to the signing of Jesus, who will be loaned back to Palmeiras until January. Spanish international Nolito was a surprise signing from Celta Vigo. His presence will provide competition on the flanks.
The midfield hasn’t been ignored either, with İlkay Gündoğan joining from Borussia Dortmund. Having missed Euro 2016 through injury, he revealed he is targeting the Manchester Derby in September for his comeback. Ukrainian teenager Oleksandr Zinchenko, a £1.7 million signing from FC Ufa is something of an unknown quantity. It would be a surprise, however, if he was in Guardiola’s immediate plans.
A defender also remains high on the manager’s priority list. Should City be successful in their pursuit of Everton’s John Stones, it will probably take their spending over the £150 million mark for this summer. If the Goodison Park side can hold onto their man, Juventus centre back Leonardo Bonucci has been earmarked as a fall-back.
One concern that Guardiola made no secret of upon his arrival was the fitness of certain players. Samir Nasri is one player who was not allowed to train with the first team, after being judged overweight when arriving for pre-season.
So far this summer has seen no major departures from the Etihad. Centre-back Martin Demichelis and goalkeeper Richard Wright have both been released. Winger Jesús Navas, full-back Aleksandar Kolarov and striker Wilfried Bony are all thought to be surplus to Guardiola’s requirements. This would not be a major surprise given that he has already strengthened in two of those positions.
It is also understood that he has reservations about goalkeeper Joe Hart. His poor showing at Euro 2016 won’t have helped his cause in any way. In July, Talksport reported that full back Pablo Zabaleta had agreed personal terms with Roma. At present he remains a City player, but it seems likely that he won’t be at the end of August.
City have only played a couple of matches so far this pre-season, during their tour of China. A 1 – 0 defeat to Guardiola’s former club, Bayern Munich, was followed by a 1 – 1 draw with Borussia Dortmund. Agüero got on the scoresheet in the latter. A game against city rivals United was meant to be played in between those two matches. It was called off due to concerns regarding the pitch.
Their final match before the commencement of the new season will be against Arsenal on August 7th. This will be played in the Ullevi Stadium, home of Swedish giants IFK Göteborg.
City’s first big test will be against United at Old Trafford on September 10th. This will provide an early indication of which of the two title favourites has the early upper hand. The return fixture at the Etihad is on 25th February. By the time they meet again, we should have a much clearer picture. Most bookmakers believe these matches will go a long way towards deciding the destination of the Premier League.
In December City will face Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in the space of a month. The end of March and beginning of April sees them face all of these teams in successive fixtures.
To add to the December mayhem, an away trip to champions Leicester City is thrown into the mix. The return game at the Etihad is in May; City’s last home fixture.
Hopes for the season
On balance, the domestic advantage lies with City. They have a number of players who lifted the title for them two years ago. In addition to this, there are plenty who were at the Etihad when Roberto Mancini oversaw their first Premier League title back in 2012. While Mourinho has experience of winning the Premier League, so do a lot of the players in Guardiola’s squad. It just remains to be seen how many of them will still be there when the transfer window closes.
It’s no secret that Sheikh Mansour values European success more than anything. Despite losing to eventual winners Real Madrid in the semi-final, this is further than the club has ever gone before. Their expectant owner will be hoping that Guardiola can push them that one step further.