With the Premier League season less than a week away we’re looking at how Manchester City performed last season, as well as previewing and predicting the key players for Manuel Pellegrini’s side this season.
Story of Last Season
The abiding tale of the last few months for Manchester City was one of missed opportunities. Level with Chelsea on New Year’s Day, Manuel Pellegrini’s men hit a terrible patch of form, winning just four times in 15 outings from this point forward. Six consecutive victories to complete the campaign did ensure that the season did not end in abject failure. The club finished just eight points behind Chelsea, although Jose Mourinho’s men took their foot off the gas after the league was secured. City have won the Premier League twice in the last four years but after each triumph a disappointing season has followed.
Along with the Premier League failure, early exits in the League and FA Cups coupled with another failure to compete with Barcelona in the Champions League mean that Manuel Pellegrini enters this season needing a good start. Patience has been shown to the man who brought double-winning success in his first season in England, but if Manchester City fail to impress in the opening few months of the season then the Uruguayan boss could all too soon find himself searching for a new club.
Raheem Sterling has joined the club from Liverpool for a fee of £49m after his protracted move dominated much of this summer’s transfer window. During the pre-season, his link up play with David Silva was superb and showed a glimpse of what fans can expect to see this year. The Spanish wizard is at his best when he has players willing to make runs into gaps between or behind defensive lines. Sterling doesn’t just add danger himself, but along with Sergio Aguero he is the outlet that Silva craves and the Spaniard will love playing alongside the England international. Sterling also showed a willingness to take players on that Manchester City have been severely lacking and represents a significant upgrade on Jesus Navas.
Fabian Delph has joined the club from Aston Villa despite turning down an initial switch to the Manchester club. At just £8m, the England international surely represents excellent value for money and could be an upgrade on Fernando who struggled in his first season in England. Although he was injured during his debut for The Citizens against Real Madrid in pre-season, Delph will add energy to a midfield severally lacking dynamism last year.
Manchester City have also used the window to secure talented young footballers for the future. England U19’s international Patrick Roberts has joined the club from Fulham although it remains to be seen if he will link up with Patrick Vieira’s Elite Development Squad, or if he will spend some time out on loan this season. Youth prospects Enes Unal and David Faupala; unlikely to have an immediate future in the first team, have also arrived from Bursaspor and Lens respectively.
Sergio Aguero – Raheem Sterling and David Silva are both incredibly important to any potential success the Sky Blues may have this season, however keeping their Argentinian talisman healthy is the key to winning the Premier League. Last season’s Golden Boot winner can be unplayable when he is in the mood. With Stevan Jovetic gone, Edin Dzeko rapidly stepping further and further out of the door, and Wilfried Bony yet to quite hit his Swansea heights, Aguero will once again be the key to unlocking success for City.
Vincent Kompany – He was a rock at the heart of Manchester City’s defence for several years, when all else appeared to be crumbling around him, he stood firm amidst the chaos. The captain’s form during the 2011/12 title run-in was nothing short of imperious. Since then however, his form has been variable to say the least and for the last 18 months, it is difficult to pick out a run of games where the Belgian has performed at his consistent best.
After an impressive loan spell last season at Celtic as well as a strong pre-season, Jason Denayer has emerged as a real contender to replace his compatriot at club and international level. Despite Kompany signing a five-year contract just a year ago, fans must be wondering if the previously untouchable captain will ever rediscover the form that made him one of European football’s fiercest opponents. You cannot imagine Manchester City truly challenging for honours without Kompany achieving this personal objective.
Joe Hart – Given the array of attacking talent at Manuel Pellegrini’s disposal it’s easy to overlook England’s number one but he has been in superb form over the past year. After being dropped 18 months ago due to several high profile mistakes, Hart played a crucial role in ensuring City’s Champions League qualification. His contribution has not gone unnoticed by the club’s fans who have ranked him alongside David Silva and Sergio Aguero as last season’s top performers.
He has also emerged as a real leader and it has been clear for a while that he holds a high standing within the dressing room. Being an external observer, it certainly appears that players around him gravitate to the England goalkeeper. Manchester City’s stopper is a hugely important player and will need to replicate last seasons form if The Citizens are to hunt down Chelsea.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini has significant depth to call upon should City catch an injury bug this season. Jason Denayer and Martin Demichelis will push Kompany and Mangala in central defence, and there will certainly be full-back battles between Zabaleta and Sagna on one flank, and Clichy and Kolarov on the other.
The formation is another bone of contention. Reports suggest Pellegrini may start with one up front and given the embarrassment of attacking riches at his disposal, it is difficult to predict how Manchester City will line up. The starting eleven could be as featured, with Nasri, Navas, Delph and Bony all pushing the current starters for a first eleven spot.
Given the expectation levels at the Etihad, Pellegrini is a lucky man. The post New Year form was so poor it was suggested his job had hit perilous levels, but Manchester City chiefs stuck with the Chilean and he ended the season in respectable fashion.
Having said all that, there are a few different theories for Pellegrini keeping his job with the most popular one being that he is simply keeping the seat warm for when Pep Guardiola takes over next summer. Fresh reports have emerged over the past few weeks suggesting the Bayern Munich boss has agreed to take his position in The Etihad hot-seat.
Attacking football at all costs is the agenda in the blue half of Manchester, although Pellegrini has often been accused of tactical inflexibility and never has this been more evident than in the Champions League. Though the same could also be said when City play teams near the bottom of the Premier League, as George Boyd suggested last season after Burnley’s excellent win over Manchester City at Turf Moor.
It may well be that he is this season’s caretaker manager, maybe those reports regarding Guardiola are wide of the mark, but either way Pellegrini needs a strong start.
First Six Fixtures
West Brom (A), Chelsea (H), Everton (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (A), West Ham United (H)
There are couple of tricky games to negotiate for Manchester City but they will be relatively happy with the opening six fixtures. Wins will be expected against Watford and West Ham at home, but three tough away trips including Everton at Goodison Park, which is somewhat of a bogey fixture for City. Expect Chelsea to be cagey for their trip to the Etihad, much in the same way as they did last year.
Predicted points after six games – 14
Final Standing Prediction – 4th
The top four is extremely tough to predict this season and City’s predicted finish represents this, although there is a recognition that; if all goes well, they could finish anywhere in the other three top spots. Arsenal have added a huge piece in the shape of Petr Cech and United have attempted to plug the gaps in central midfield and right back. Manchester City have added Sterling but I don’t think any club has done enough this off-season to overhaul Chelsea.
City will also have to replace the goals that Edin Dzeko provides. Admittedly, The Etihad outfit coped last year and although the Bosnian can be frustrating at times, it is worth noting that he has provided some extremely vital goals for the club. His form during the last six games of the 2013/14 season in particular was very impressive. Whether Wilfred Bony can replace those vital goals as Sergio Aguero’s understudy remains to be seen. So much rests on keeping Sergio Aguero free of injury and because of that it is difficult to predict where Manchester City will finish. The Argentine is the undoubted talisman and although Manuel Pellegrini found ways to win games without a recognised striker last season, they will need Aguero to fire on all cylinders if they are to overtake Chelsea.
The biggest issue however is the defence, which has become a concern for Pellegrini. Mangala impressed on an individual basis during parts of last season and his partnership with Martin Demichelis was fairly solid, however the Frenchman still seems prone to bouts of an erratic nature. He is also not always as imposing as his frame suggests he should be. The problematic left back position has still not been addressed, and Zabaleta suffered a loss of form for a large part of last year. Manchester City need Kompany to rediscover the form that drove the side he captains to two league titles if they are to bring the Premier League trophy back to the Etihad.
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