Man City signings and Shield slaughter suggest season slump
Manchester City’s preparations to begin the defence of their Premier League title had a setback, as they were humbled 3-0 in the traditional season curtain raiser by a spirited Arsenal in the Community Shield. They are 5/2 second-favourites to be top-flight champions again this term.
Granted, the Sky Blues were arguably without eight important players, due to them being rested from the World Cup or still not ready, but their display lacked any kind of threat or determination as they managed just one shot on target.
The likes of Sergio Aguero, Martin Demichelis, captain Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho and Pablo Zabaleta were all left out due to their contributions in Brazil. New signings Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard as well as Alvaro Negredo, meanwhile, joined them on the sidelines as they are not yet fit.
“It’s difficult to be ready in two weeks,” City boss Manuel Pellegrini said ahead of the new Premier League season, prior to his side’s defeat at Wembley. “The players Aguero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Kompany, Sagna, Fernandinho just arrived seven days ago.
“They will have 15 days before we start the Premier League, so we will see which of them are ready and which of them are not ready.”
But despite those absentees for City, they still possessed a strong line-up that featured the likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and new boy Fernando Reges. The Gunners were even without World Cup winners Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski.
Pellegrini, it seems, will need to dip back into the transfer market for some much-needed talent, especially as all the clubs around them, including Arsenal, have strengthened considerably. The Chilean has added defender Eliaquim Mangala, though.
Arsene Wenger has brought in former Barcelona superstar Alexis Sanchez, while Chelsea have finally found a threatening forward, Diego Costa, as well as taking Cesc Fabregas back to the Premier League. Liverpool, meanwhile, has splashed heavily on new recruits after selling Luis Suarez to Barca, and Manchester United, who seem to have got their confidence back under Louis van Gaal, have improved their line-up with Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera.
Can the same be said for City? Is new goalkeeper Willy Caballero, uncapped by his nation Argentina, any better than Joe Hart? Are Fernando, 27, who has also not played for his country (Brazil), and ageing Lampard improvements to their midfield? And will other supposed high-profile signing Sagna edge out Zabaleta at right back? Young Argentine Bruno Zuculini is the other new City transfer.
Even newest recruit Mangala would only add a slight improvement in quality. The Frenchman would be challenging Pellegrini favourite Demichelis and Matija Nastasic to start alongside Kompany at the back but, for his reported £32m price, is over-priced for his experience.
Mangala, 23, did sign from Portuguese giants Porto, but the club only finished in second place behind rivals Benfica last term. On top of that, although he went to the World Cup with France, he was an unused sub, and behind Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Laurent Koscielny in Les Bleus’ pecking order.
City failed to defend their last league title they won in the 2011/12 season, and it is difficult to see them do so again.
The club have seemingly managed to keep hold of superstar midfielder Toure, though, despite the Ivorian reportedly wanting to leave following various incidents that upset him this summer. But will he have the same desire and be able to match his incredible feat of netting 20 Premier League goals last term?
Pellegrini’s men start the 2014/15 season away to Newcastle United, where they are odds-on favourites to win at 4/6, but the Chilean boss doesn’t sound very prepared.
Following the Arsenal game, he said: “We have seven players who have just worked five days who were not considered for this game.
“We have another five players who just worked eight or nine days. I put the players who worked more in pre-season and nothing more than that.
“First-half, we didn’t play with the pace that we did the whole pre-season. Arsenal scored two goals because we didn’t defend very well.
“The second half we played well and had possession and the chances to score. It was more near the team I saw the whole pre-season.”
At least Pellegrini has realised what his side lack, so there is certainly room for improvement. But the Sky Blues will do well to finish ahead of the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and even a resurgent Man Utd. They are 8/1 chances to be outside of the top four at the end of the season.