It has been surprising that, of last year’s top four, it is perennial spenders Manchester City who have been the most understated in their transfer dealings. Manager Manuel Pellegrini is clearly happy with the squad that won the Premier League last season and does not want to make a lot of changes. Add to that the Financial Fair Play restrictions and the lack of transfer activity is easily explained. However, a few important changes have been made as last year’s second meanest defence has been shored up further.
Europe’s most formidable squad?
With four world-class strikers – Stevan Jovetic, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko – and some of the best attacking midfielders in Samir Nasri, Yahya Toure, David Silva and Jesus Navas, there are few teams in Europe that can match City’s attacking strength in depth player-for-player.
The Citizens scored 102 goals last season, just one shy of Chelsea’s record tally in 2009-10, and did so despite long injury layoffs for Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic. It is, therefore, understandable that Pellegrini has opted not to add to his already formidable group of attacking players.
The Chilean is known for his focus on attack, which sometimes tends to leave his backline exposed and enforcer Fernando has been brought in to protect the back four and allow Nasri, Toure and Silva to wreak havoc further up the field without having to worry about tracking back.
Reinforcements have also been brought in for the back four. Bacary Sagna joins on a free transfer from Arsenal and Eliaquim Mangala has been signed from FC Porto for a fee that is being reported to be around a whopping £32 million, making him the most expensive defender in Premier League history.
Sagna will most likely provide backup to Pablo Zabaletta but Mangala will slot right into the first team and partner captain Vincent Kompany at the heart of the defence.
While Sagna’s signing has been hailed by many as a shrewd one – considering the question marks surrounding Micah Richard’s immediate future at the club – Mangala’s lack of pedigree at the top level means that there are those who are wondering whether City would have been better advised to buy someone more established like Mats Hummels or Mehdi Benatia.
However, with Matija Nastasic likely to follow Joleon Lescott through the exit doors and Martin Demichelis on the wrong side of 30, the promising Mangala can help establish City as a true European force.
Perhaps Pellegrini’s biggest masterstroke last season was benching an out-of-sorts Joe Hart and replacing him with Costel Pantilimon. Hart quickly earned his position back in the side and was perhaps the best goalkeeper in the league after reclaiming his place.
To prevent another episode of complacency from his English Number 1, Argentine Willy Caballero has been signed from Malaga. Caballero has already fired a warning shot at Hart by stating that he is not here to warm the bench and will surely help keep Hart on his toes.
City proved last year that the league title is all about longevity, and it was their squad depth that proved decisive in the end as they edged out their title rivals. With the same squad being largely retained, City will fancy their chances of defending the Premier league crown but will need to learn from last year’s mistakes.
Improving away form
Had it not been for the genius of Jose Mourinho, City would have gone unbeaten at home in the league last season. Their title challenge was based on their strong home form, where they won 17 out of the 19 matches, boasting a +50 goal difference.
However, away from home, the Citizens were often exposed; winning only 10 out of the 19, with a much more modest goal difference of +15.
All of City’s title rivals have strengthened considerably, so Pellegrini will have to ensure that his side performs better on their travels if they are to win a third title in four years.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2014.