Will the new season bring blues for Man City?
Manchester City, 2/1 to retain their Premier League crown, should be looking towards the new season with anticipation, having claimed the prestigious trophy twice in the last three years. However, their last nail-biting campaign contained many twists and turns, and some outlets diminished the Sky Blues’ victory with arguments that Liverpool let the title ‘slip’ out of their hands.
City may find their rivals are not quite so generous in dropping points this term, with Chelsea, who defeated the Sky Blues twice last season, making a dramatic statement of intent by signing Cesc Fabregas and, most crucially, striker Diego Costa. Now 7/4 to steal the Premier League crown, the west London club may also reap the benefits from brilliant boss Jose Mourinho’s famous record of second season successes.
Cross-town rivals Manchester United, meanwhile, have wasted no time in dipping into the transfer market themselves, with new coach Louis van Gaal hoping to patch up the Red Devils’ problem areas. After strengthening a lacklustre midfield and leaky defence by securing the signatures of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, United are 9/2 to win the title.
Therein lies the problem for City, as their competitors have already taken measures to cure their respective Achilles’ heels. A similar overall performance to last term, including poor away game form, will almost certainly ensure Manuel Pellegrini’s side surrender the league, with Arsenal and Liverpool also expected to splash the cash, leaving no room for error.
Whilst the blue side of Manchester have already made smart summer additions to their squad, they have bolstered right back and defensive midfield areas which did not necessarily require immediate attention. Free transfer Bacary Sagna jumped ship from the Emirates to the Etihad to compete with Pablo Zabaleta, and Brazilian-born Fernando also arrived for a reported £12m to challenge Javi Garcia and Fernandinho.
Although unusually shrewd business on the surface, the ‘bargain bucket’ deals highlight just how City may be restricted in improving their squad, with ‘big bucks’ quick-fixes seemingly off the menu following UEFA Financial Fair Play sanctions.
To retain the Premier League and make in roads in Europe, following last term’s dismal effort, the Sky Blues need to focus on their weak spots. A new centre back or two must be top priority, with back-up option Joleon Lescott having departed for West Brom, and Matija Nastasic linked with a switch to Serie A. Ageing Argentine Martin Demichelis could be a liability, so a new partner for indomitable yet injury-prone Vincent Kompany is integral to any title defence.
City will also need to examine the position between the sticks, with Costel Pantilimon swapping the northwest for the northeast following his transfer to Sunderland. First choice keeper Joe Hart was dropped last season, suggesting Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini is not wholly convinced by the Three Lions stopper’s credentials. His form at the World Cup is not likely to have eased any fears, so a top-quality understudy is essential.
Left back is another sore spot, but it is unlikely that defensively suspect duo Alexsandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy will be going anywhere at the moment, as a financially restricted City have more important holes in the squad to plug.
Pellegrini will have to face the most unusual of predicaments for a recent Sky Blues manager, and work with what he has. It is difficult to improve on the super striking quartet of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, but they will all be required to step up if the club wants to taste further silverware success. Fitness is key to this, with Aguero, 3/1 to be Premier League top scorer, yet again facing a spell on the sidelines, and Jovetic always an injury concern.
Whether prolific poachers Negredo and Dzeko are content to remain as expendable options for another season remains to be seen, but squad harmony is another issue Pellegrini will have to consider before the new campaign begins. Talisman Yaya Toure is arguably the most crucial cog in a incredibly costly City side, but is reportedly a source of discontent following ‘birthday cake-gate’, and the more serious matter of his brother Ibrahim’s tragic death.
It is no exaggeration to claim the Sky Blues’ trophy hunt hinges around the form and happiness of Toure, with the Manchester club needing to make a crucial decision on whether to retain a reportedly disgruntled superstar. The Ivorian had an understandably disappointing World Cup, and it may be time to cash-in and plump for some young potential instead.
City are 11/1 to win the Champions League, however, with rivals flexing their financial muscle, failure to capitalise and build on last season’s success could prove costly in the long-term.