Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Manchester City
Manchester City, 12/1 Champions League chances with Coral, have not had it easy in Europe in recent times, but a Group D that also contains last term’s weakened runners-up Juventus, Borussia Monchengladbach and double Europa League winners Sevilla should allow them to lay down a marker.
Enjoying even-money favourites status to top the pool, and having made some superb summer signings (twice breaking their transfer record) to accompany and strengthen an already seasoned spine, this could be the time that the Etihad outfit makes a real impression on the elite club competition.
Domestic League: Premier League
How they qualified: As perennial top four finishers, Man City disappointed in their defence of the title but remain in Europe’s elite club competition.
Best Champions League era performance: The Etihad outfit have reached the last 16 in each of the last two seasons, but must surely target getting closer to the business end than that this term.
Coach: Chilean boss Manuel Pellegrini has a history of overachieving in the Champions League with less-lauded La Liga sides Villarreal (2005/06 semi-finals) and Malaga (2012/13 quarter-finals), yet with big teams City and Real Madrid he hasn’t got past the first knockout round. Can he do better this time?
Mild-mannered and softly spoken, Pellegrini has a degree in engineering and already won the Premier League and Capital One Cup during his two years at the Etihad. There’s something very likeable and dignified about him when measured up against the outbursts of Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal.
Ins and outs: An English exodus this summer saw four first-team players leave in Frank Lampard, James Milner, Micah Richards and Scott Sinclair, with only two effectively joining. Raheem Sterling cost £49m from Liverpool, while ex-Aston Villa captain Fabian Delph’s U-turn led to consternation in the West Midlands.
Fulham forward Patrick Roberts also joined, but he’s yet to play. Multiple foreign first-teamers left City, headed by striking trio Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo, plus defensive duo Matija Nastasic and Dedryck Boyata. Incoming through the revolving door are international calibre players Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne, though for hefty premiums.
Key players: It’s all about Man City’s spine; from goalkeeper Joe Hart to captain Vincent Kompany, midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure, playmaker David Silva and lethal striker Sergio Aguero, 16/1 to be Champions League top scorer. Should any one of them be absent through injury of suspension, then the jury is out on whether there is sufficient strength in depth to cover beyond the short-term.
Ones to watch: Big money signings De Bruyne and Otamendi must justify their price tags and will thus be under the microscope. Only Lionel Messi made more assists than the Belgium international, and that extra creativity plus goals from midfield should ease the pressure on Silva and Toure.
Argentina centre back Otamendi, meanwhile, is hopefully a longer term partner for Kompany than ageing compatriot Martin Demichelis and France counterpart Eliaquim Mangala, who was also a club teammate at Porto.
Emerging talent: Nigerian teenage attacker Kelechi Iheanacho is City’s third striking option behind Aguero and Wilfried Bony, while Belgian centre back Jason Denayer is also in this category, but has been loaned out to Galatasaray after an accomplished spell at Celtic last season.
CL group and fixtures: Group D
v Juventus (home), September 15th
v Borussia Monchengladbach (away), September 30th
v Sevilla (home), October 21st
v Sevilla (away), November 3rd
v Juventus (away), November 25th
v Borussia Monchengladbach (home), December 8th