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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£43m for Toby Alderweireld would be great business for Tottenham Hotspur
It seems that the Belgian defender is definitely on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur.
It seems as though Toby Alderweireld is on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur.
It is being reported by Het Laatse Nieuws today that the Belgian’s contract talks with Spurs have been halted.
With the Belgian out of contract in the summer of 2019, Spurs will attempt to cash in on Alderweireld now.
A fee of £43 million has been mentioned for the player, who reportedly wanted a wage to match that of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
Tottenham’s stance of not paying out big wages to their top players has often been criticised. But on this occasion, the Lilywhites are doing the right thing.
On his day and when fit, Alderweireld might be the best centre-back in the Premier League. However, it has been a long time since the Belgian had such a day.
Most of this season has seen Alderweireld on the treatment table. When he has played, it has always seemed a precursor to his next injury.
Given his age and contract situation, the injury record gives Alderweireld three strikes. At £43 million, Tottenham would be getting a fantastic deal for their defender.
The report from HLN claimed that Alderweireld wanted a wage in the region of €180,000-a-week (£160,000-a-week). Such a sum is vast for a player with his current issues.
The fact Spurs were reportedly willing to go as high as €120,000 (£105,000) per week shows that Daniel Levy tried to keep the Belgian, even doubling his current wage, but Alderweireld is on his way.
It will be a shame for Spurs but breaking the wage structure at the club for an injury prone defender would not have been a wise move.
Eventually, Tottenham might have to be more lenient with their wages, but that should be saved for the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen.
Tottenham should take £43 million for Alderweireld and persevere with the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth.
Alderweireld’s next club will hope they can keep the Belgian fit long enough to reap the rewards of his potential signature.
Ronald Koeman admits he wanted Memphis Depay at Everton
But would Everton have benefited from his arrival?
Ronald Koeman is about to kickstart his managerial career with the Dutch national team. It is his first role since getting sacked by Everton and his first foray into international management. Speaking about his new role he discussed the former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay.
Speaking to the press, as reported by Football Oranje, Koeman revealed that he had tried to convince Depay to join Everton whilst he was manager at Goodison Park:
“I invited him to my home last year, when I wanted to get him to Everton. That did not work, he went to Lyon.”
Depay was with Manchester United at the time, where he had struggled to live up to his potential. Instead of joining Everton he headed to Lyon in France in a deal reported by the Telegraph to be worth £16 million.
So have Everton missed out?
Depay’s struggles to settle in English football are well known. Since his move to France things have certainly improved. Depay has scored 18 goals since his move to France. However, considering he scored 28 goals in his final season at PSV prior to his United switch it is still not a massive amount.
In the time he has been in France those 18 goals have come from 61 games. His form has been good at Lyon but certainly not to the standard many expected of him when he made the move to Manchester United.
That said, £16 million today in today’s market is not a lot of money. Looking at Everton’s team, having Depay playing from the left side would have been a massive bonus for Koeman, and now for Sam Allardyce.
Depay still has plenty to improve upon and hopefully Koeman can get the best out of him during his time as the Netherlands boss.
As for Everton, they did not get their man and paid a lot more for the man he would be battling for first-team football Yannick Bolasie – who has not yet been a hit at Goodison Park.
So, all things considered, Everton probably should wish Koeman had managed to convince Depay into a Merseyside switch last January.
Victor Fernandez furthers Newcastle United first-team claims on Spain tour
The 19-year-old impressed as he featured against Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp.
Newcastle United recently travelled to Spain for a training camp as they attempted to deal with three weeks without a competitive fixture.
Rafa Benitez is an experienced manager and he will have realised the danger that such a gap could pose for his team, especially when it came to the fitness of the squad.
He arranged a training camp in his homeland, which culminated in a unique 135-minute match against Belgian side Royal Antwerp.
It consisted of three periods of 45-minutes, which allowed the manager to give playing time to the fringe players in his squad ahead of the run-in.
Although it gave the opportunity to experiment, only two youth players made the trip to Spain.
Nathan Harker was the back-up goalkeeper as both Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow were struggling with injuries.
The other, Victor Fernandez, caught the eye of Newcastle supporters watching.
Fernandez will be encouraged about further involvement with the first-team, as he was the only young outfield player to feature against Royal Antwerp.
That is a sign that Benitez considers the 19-year-old as one of the best prospects currently with the club.
The Spaniard joined the club just over a year ago from UE Cornella.
The signing went under the radar, but Benitez has an extensive scouting network and he obviously saw something in Fernandez.
Although he is predominantly a winger, he can play anywhere across the front-line is required.
Soon after joining the club, he spoke of not wanting to aim for too much too early when talking to the Newcastle United official club website:
“My purpose was not to make an impact really quickly, because I’m new and I have to get used to English football – it’s really different from Spain. I hope, little by little, I can keep doing good things here.”
Considering this was very quickly after his move to a new country, Fernandez’s words show maturity and show a glimpse into his character.
Benitez is a thorough manager who likes to know everything about the players that he brings to a football club.
There must have been something about the Spanish winger that made the Newcastle manager believe that he could adapt to English football.
There are no guarantees in football when it comes to young players fulfilling their potential.
However, the fact that Fernandez was taken on the mid-season tour to Spain suggests that he is on the right path.
He would have been offered guarantees about a route to the first-team squad and his involvement against Royal Antwerp will have been a reward for his progression since moving to St James’ Park.
He came on for the final 45-minutes and showed flashes of his ability.
There was some nice interplay with Dwight Gayle that resulted in the teenager having a shot on goal.
His trickery and direct style caused problems for his marker and he continued to excite those watching when the ball was his feet.
There is more developing for him to do before he is ready for the first-team in competitive action, but his performance against Antwerp was a positive one.
There is clearly talent there and he will be a player to follow over the coming seasons.
Newcastle are at the early stage of their development under Rafa Benitez and that will mean opportunities are there for young players.
Fernandez could have the ability to take his.
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