Season Preview: Manchester City
August 10, 2012 in Premier League
For more years than many of their number care to remember, Manchester City fans have had to suffer in silence as city rivals Manchester United, with Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm, swept all before them. Founder members of the Premiership in 1992, City flattered to deceive in those early years and only became a permanent fixture among the elite of English football in 2002. Prior to that, the club had spent five of the first ten Premiership seasons in lower categories, including a year in the third tier, the second division of the Football League, before successive promotions back to the top flight. For the sky-blue half of Manchester, everything changed in 2008 when the Abu Dhabi United Group assumed control, thereafter putting the club on a firmly upward trajectory. In December 2009, Italian Roberto Mancini was the surprise choice to replace the sacked Mark Hughes and led City to fifth place, their best ever Premier League finish. It would prove to be just the start.
Going into the final match of the 2011/12 campaign level on points with United and with a hugely superior goal difference, City simply had to match the result of their hated near neighbours to become only the fifth different Premier League winner in the competition’s twenty year history. They almost blew it. Only two late goals, both of which came deep into added on time, secured a 3-2 home win over relegation threatened QPR in front of the largest crowd the Etihad Stadium had welcomed all season long. Their title, the first in 44 years, came hard on the heels of an FA Cup win the year before and really wasn’t that big a surprise given the vast resources – reportedly in excess of 400 million pounds – that owner Sheikh Mansour had spent on players since taking over the club. Cynics would suggest success has come solely from an Abu Dhabi cheque book which is somewhat harsh on Mancini because last season City and United finished streets ahead of the best of the rest. But what about the head-to-head between the two sides? No contest actually, City did the double over United, and, just for good measure, racked up an astonishing 1-6 victory at Old Trafford in October 2011.
As the 2012/13 season kicks into gear, City manager Mancini will have gone from hunter to the hunted in the three and a bit months since his May triumph, as his title contenders morphed into reigning champions. It’s abundantly clear his motivation, having tasted success once, burns as brightly as ever, but the hardest task will be to motivate his playing squad to do it all again a second time. Many club managers envy Mancini’s spending power, yet few would like to take on his seemingly thankless task of massaging those millionaire egos who expect – no, make that demand – first team places. Superb tactician that he is, the most important work Mancini undertakes is off the pitch, where every member of an expensively assembled squad has to understand that hardly anyone is guaranteed a starting place. Exceptions to this general rule will probably include goalkeeper Joe Hart, brilliant central defender Vincent Kompany, Spanish playmaker David Silva and centre-forward Sergio “Kun” Agüero, scorer of the title winning goal. If Mancini can keep these four fit and in form, there’s every chance City will again be the team to beat.
Predicted transfer movements
Thanks in large part to Uefa’s impending Financial Fair Play regulations, the Eastlands exit door has been far busier than the welcome mat this pre-season. It’s a sign, though, of how far Manchester City have come that they are now spoken of in the same breath as the giants of world football whenever the futures of the most sought after players are discussed. With no major pre-season signings announced thus far and Robin van Persie odds on to end up at Old Trafford, rumours abound concerning incoming players of the calibre of Liverpool defender Daniel Agger and Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi. Nine days ahead of the season opener and with just about three weeks to go before the transfer window closes, Mancini remains upbeat – albeit tight lipped – about the chances of adding to his squad. Confirmed departures include Wayne Bridge on a loan deal to Brighton, Joan Angel Romain to Barcelona, Vladimir Weiss to Pescara in Italy and Omar Elabdellaoui on a season long loan to Feyenoord. Up front, City have an embarrassment of riches and it seems possible that Edin Dzeko, amongst others, will be on his way out, with AC Milan said to be interested.
It will be interesting to see how Manchester City react to being the team everyone wants to topple. Their squad has depth and quality and should be able, with careful rotation, to sustain assaults on both the Premier League and UEFA Champions League, which this season is sure to be a higher priority than hitherto. Only Manchester United and Chelsea have thus far won back to back titles, and 2012/13 will be no easier for City with both Arsenal and Chelsea adding excellent signings to their squads. Sir Alex Ferguson will still be smarting from his final day loss and won’t want his noisy neighbours to repeat the trick. I’ll take City to heap further punishment on United, this time by a point, with the clubs trailing in their wake far closer than last year’s nineteen point gap. 1st place.