Season Preview: Manchester City

by Thomas Gaunt

Since their FA Cup victory last May, Manchester City have been regulars on the back pages, connected to every player under the sun. Until recently there were precious few signings to back up the rumours. That was until they secured their first marquee signing of the summer, Sergio Kun Aguero. With the Tevez saga reaching ludicrous levels of farce City fans will be glad to see their club securing such a talent and will feel they can now move forward knowing that the want-away Argentine’s replacement is a class act.

The end of the 2010/11 season saw City finish as the in-form team, resulting in them overtaking Arsenal and drawing level with Chelsea on points. It seems that the noisy-neighbours are finally clicking. Whilst many of the other ‘Big Six’ are going through a transitional period following disappointing seasons, City will need to add to an already solid base. Signing Sergio Aguero is a very good start. Off the field the Etihad stadium deal has been brought into question by both Arsene Wenger and John W Henry. If the deal is cleared by the FIFA fair play committee, they will have pulled off a very clever trick and crucially given themselves further licence to spend.

Manager: Roberto Mancini
Last Season: 3rd
2011/12 odds: 7/2
In: Stefan Savic (£9m), Gael Clichy (£7m), Sergio Aguero (£38m)
Out: Jo (£Undisclosed), Shay Given (£3.5m), Jerome Boateng (£11.8m), FilipeCaicedo (£880,000), Patrick Viera (Retired), Michael Johnson (Loan)

Keys to the season

It will be important for City to continue last season’s fine form. Having got rid of a lot of dead-wood and having now had 18 months to assess his squad we can expect Mancini to know his best eleven and how he wants to play. Aguero’s success will be vital as he has big shoes to fill, but similarly he will need help from Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko who both had inconsistent seasons. Mancini may have to decide how long he can persist with Balotelli’s petulance or Dzeko’s poor form, but you would imagine for such quality players at least one of them will turn things around; my money’s on Dzeko.

The defence will again be the key for City. Hart, Kompany and whoever joined them offered little respite for opposition strikers last season and with Nigel De Jong offering excellent cover one would expect more of the same this year. It was only in the second half of the season that David Silva and Yaya Toure really found their feet, but they will be vital. Thought to have been bought as a defensive midfielder Toure has proved himself anything but, with goals assists he grew into one of the stand-out players in the league. Once settled Silva also proved himself to be the player we knew at Valencia, impish and intelligent he showed unparalleled guile.

The Team

Mancini likes to play a 4-5-1 and I don’t see that changing too much, although whether he will play Aguero as the lone striker remains to be seen. Expect Silva to be the furthest forward of a midfield to also include Toure, and De Jong shielding the defence. The wide positions are less straight forward. At times he may play with Adam Johnson and James Milner, but Mancini has also been known for caution and may pack a traditional centre midfielder like Barry into the mix and push Silva further forward with only one traditional winger, resulting in more of a 4-4-1-1. I also expect City to purchase a World class winger before the window closes, as options in this area are limited. The back four changed from game to game, causing headaches for Fantasy Football managers across the land, with the only regular fixture being Vincent Kompany, who was outstanding throughout and unfortunate not to receive more recognition when the Premier League end-of-season awards were handed out.

Key Player

Although Hart, Kompany, Toure and Silva form a rock solid spine, last season’s game changer was more often than not Carlos Tevez. That is why I believe Sergio Aguero is the key player for City next season. If he does not hit the ground running and become an instant success there will be a big Tevez-shaped hole in the City team. The fans will be prayng he isn’t another Robinho, and from what we have all seen of Aguero he certainly looks like the real deal. He is 14/1 to be top-scorer which is good value for someone who scored 49 goals in his last 100 games for Athletico Madrid.

Opening fixtures

Swansea (H), Bolton (A), Tottenham (A), Wigan (H), Fulham (A)

With such levels of expectation at Eastlands, City will want to be fast out of the blocks and make sure they do not get left behind the other title contenders. On paper you would expect both home games to be wins. Although everyone will expect Swansea to get a thumping on the opening day, but they will be full of enthusiasm and belief and it will not be easy. The away games are tricky. Three teams traditionally good at home will take some beating, and I expect City to amass about 11 or 12 points.

Where will they finish?

Where City finish also depends on who else they bring in this season. If they buy two or three more world class players then I think they will be the team to beat. I recently wrote an article on why Manchester City can win the league, and I truly believe they can. They have improved their team more than Chelsea and Arsenal and I do not expect Liverpool to make up all the lost ground this season. However I had to put my money on who, with their current squads, will be top of the pile at the end it would be Manchester United. They will be well aware that City are now true contenders which will give an added incentive to Alex Ferguson, who has made some sensible purchases. So as it stands I think City they will finish 2nd.

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