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July 24th, 2013 by Michael Cox
1 – Manuel Pellegrini
The Chilean coach might not yet be considered one of the world’s top managers – and with no experience of English football and no major trophies won since his move to Europe, he’s far from a guaranteed success.
But Pellegrini’s appointment is a shrewd move by City – he’s an intelligent, methodical strategist that appreciates incessant ball retention and intelligent, structured movement upfront, which should work well with City’s current squad. It’s also notable that he consistently wins the support of players extremely quickly, and builds excellent relationships with his key players.
Both tactically and in terms of man management, Pellegrini is an upgrade on Roberto Mancini. While the Italian won the Premier League in 2011/12, he often seemed unable to get his best players on top form simultaneously. With a more structured starting XI and a more harmonious atmosphere amongst the players, Pellegrini should prosper.
2 – The Premier League’s best defence
In 2010/11 Manchester City had the joint-best defence in the Premier League (33 goals conceded, along with Chelsea), while in 2011/12 (29 goals conceded) and 2012/13 (34 goals conceded) they stood alone as the Premier League’s most miserly defence.
Mancini had his faults, but it’s undeniable that he created an extremely reliable defence over the past three campaigns. Crucially, none of the four arrivals since Pellegrini’s appointment have been defensive-minded players, because there’s absolutely no need to change the defensive unit that excelled last season.
The surprise consistency of Matija Nastasic in his debut season, along with Pablo Zabaleta’s continued excellent form, were both reasons to be positive – although both Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart’s performances dipped after being excellent throughout City’s title-winning form. If those two can return to their best, and Gael Clichy continues to be steady at left-back, City’s defence this season could be the best the Premier League has seen for many years – and Pellegrini’s emphasis upon possession football helps restrict the number of chances opponents enjoy.
The side with the best defence only wins the Premier League around 40% of the time, whereas the side with the best attack triumphs in 60% of league campaigns – but there’s every chance City could excel in both respects.
3 – More attacking options
Mancini was rather blunt about why City failed to win the Premier League last season. “The difference is that we score 20 goals less than last year,” he said. “This is the only difference: we scored less goals than last year. We conceded the same, and we have the best defence, we are missing only these goals.”
It’s no wonder, then, that City have concentrated on increasing their number of attacking options. Alvaro Negredo scored at a rate of better than one-in-two during his four seasons in Sevilla, and has taken then number nine shirt. He’s perfect for that role – he’s a big, bruising centre-forward who likes getting on the end of crosses, but also has a good touch and links play seamlessly.
The arrival of Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic is even more exciting – an extremely talented but unfussy attacker, Jovetic is a brilliant all-round talent capable of playing in a variety of roles: upfront, behind the main forward, or cutting inside from the left. His goalscoring record is decent, but Jovetic is really about his clever movement and his ability to link excellently with a strike partner, something not all modern-day forwards are capable of.
World Cup winner Jesus Navas is the type of player Mancini wouldn’t have appreciated – a classic winger. He’s fast, a skilful dribbler and a reliable crosser – and his relationship with Negredo at Sevilla was excellent.
Powerful midfielder Fernandinho is another exciting arrival, but the trio of attacking threats – each offering a different option – have significantly improved City’s strikeforce.
4 – The squad is in place early
It’s not merely the fact City have added to their squad, it’s the fact transfer business has been done extremely early.
This is relatively rare for City – in 2010/11, James Milner and Mario Balotelli hadn’t yet linked up with the squad by the time of the opening game of the season, the same was true for Samir Nasri and Costel Pantilimon the following season. Meanwhile, in 2012/13, Maicon, Matija Nastasic, Scott Sinclair and Javi Garcia were all signed on deadline day, and unable to contribute in the league until mid-September.
Of course, City might still make further signings this summer – but this time around, they have a settled squad in place weeks before the season starts, and any subsequent additions will be a bonus, rather than a necessity.
It’s also in stark contrast to City’s title rivals – Manchester United are yet to make any significant purchases this summer, with the apparent pursuit of two central midfielders sure to have a huge impact upon the structure of the side. Chelsea, meanwhile, are continuing their pursuit of Wayne Rooney, a signing that would change the way they operate in the final third.
With Arsenal yet to sign a star player, Liverpool in danger of losing Luis Suarez and Spurs fretting over the future of Gareth Bale and chasing a centre-forward, there’s little doubt that Manchester City are currently in the best shape to start the season.
5 – No troublemakers
Mancini’s spell at City was heavily dominated by the behaviour of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. Both forwards contributed to the title victory – Tevez returned after a lengthy absence in time for the run-in, while Balotelli was instrumental in the famous 6-1 victory at Old Trafford – but both had repeated disciplinary problems. The list of incidents is too lengthy to detail entirely, but Tevez once handed in a transfer request while the club captain, and Balotelli and Mancini had to be separated after a training ground bust-up – these type of incidents are hardly ideal.
With Tevez and Balotelli now playing in Italy, City shouldn’t experience such problems – Samir Nasri can be a pain, but he’s actually an intelligent man and a football obsessive that should get on well with Pellegrini. Jovetic, Navas, Negredo and Fernandinho are all good, hard-working professionals – and there’s no reason for tedious personal squabbles to get in the way of a solid title challenge in 2012/13.
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