It’s been another whirlwind off season for the blue half of Manchester with plenty of wheeling and dealing in the transfer market, such is the luxury afforded to them by their affluent owners.
City have undoubtedly been strengthened by the signings of David Silva, Yaya Toure, Jerome Boateng, Aleksandar Kolorov, and latest coup, Mario Balotelli, but question marks still remain over a squad that has had its fair share of problems. Mancini has fallen out with Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy amongst others, with the latter expected to leave the club shortly along with former Player of the Season, Stephen Ireland. Another man now set to exit the City of Manchester Stadium is Shay Given who appears to have lost the battle with returning England international Joe Hart for the number 1 shirt.
The new 25-man squad rules have meant that the likes of Bellamy and Ireland have no choice but to move on as, if not selected in the final submission to the FA, they will be unable to play Premier League football until January at the very earliest. On the flipside, City do have the distraction of European football this season and will need all hands on deck should they progress to the latter stages of the Europa League after Christmas.
Already gone from the club are Martin Petrov (Bolton Wanderers), Javier Garrido (Lazio), Sylvinho (released), Nedum Onuoha (Sunderland on loan), Benjani Mwawauri (released), and Valeri Bojinov (Parma), while the likes of Jo Silva and Roque Santa Cruz will be wondering where their future lies.
Last Season: 5th
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Ins: Aleksandar Kolorov (Lazio), Yaya Toure (Barcelona), David Silva (Valencia), Mario Balotelli (Inter Milan), Jerome Boateng (Hamburg), Alex Henshall (Swindon).
Outs: Martin Petrov (Bolton Wanderers), Javier Garrido (Lazio), Sylvinho (released), Nedum Onuoha (Sunderland on loan), Benjani Mwawauri (released), and Valeri Bojinov (Parma), Robert Mak (Nurnberg), Ryan McGivern (Walsall on loan), Paul Marshall (Walsall).
The home and away kits. Despite having arguably the nicest collection of shirts in the league last season, City have opted to change two of the three much to the dismay of a large section of the supporters.
The team itself is also its yearly change and the five big name signings will all be expecting to feature heavily in the first eleven. Whether they do or not is a different story altogether. There are some concerns about the fitness of David Silva following the World Cup and Mario Balotelli’s registration hasn’t gone through in time for the first game against Spurs so it may be a few weeks before we get a proper look at those two. Both Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolorov featured heavily in preseason while Jerome Boateng looked excellent in the friendly win over Valencia where he orchestrated the first goal for Gareth Barry.
Tactics: It will be quite interesting to see what strategy Mancini adopts early in the season. For much of his tenure so far he has favoured a 4-4-2 set up with two defensive minded midfielders in the centre, two attacking wingers, and a pair of strikers. If he is to play the same system then Adam Johnson and David Silva could flourish and create an endless supply for Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez. The downside of this formation however is the lack of a central ball player, i.e. the position in which Stephen Ireland would excel if picked. The De Jong/Toure, Barry/Vieira type combinations are too negative and, while understandable given the attacking nature of the forward players, it doesn’t offer a lot of balance with big spaces between the two ‘holders’ and the rest.
The other option is to revert to a 4-3-3 with Tevez as a lone central striker. Again this would allow Johnson and Silva a lot of freedom but there would then be room for another possibly more creative midfielder. The issue here though is that Mancini opted for a De Jong/Barry/Vieira trio at times last season and it was incredibly painful to watch.
Of course, none of the above scenarios have included Mario Balotelli and Shaun Wright-Phillips who also offer a lot of attacking prowess. Mancini has some interesting decisions on his hands.
Key Player: It might be a little bit obvious but it’s hard to look past Carlos Tevez. He has had a full season at the club and was an absolute revelation so it will be imperative that he maintains the great form with so many new faces around him. If he does then the potential is there to exceed last season’s 29 goals in all competitions.
Fixtures: The fixture gurus haven’t been too kind to City with the first two games against Spurs (away) and Liverpool (home). After that, nine points will surely be the target against Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic. It will be improtant for Mancini to get off to a good start as the knives will be out as soon as there’s a slip up.
First five fixtures: Spurs (A), Liverpool (H), Sunderland (A), Blackburn (H), Wigan (A).
Where will they finish? Champions League football is the ultimate goal and anything less than that will be deemed a failure given the amount of money splashed out during the summer. The squad is incredibly strong throughout with a collection of genuine match winners so if the defence can hold up then it will be a good year. 4th