We continue our look at the three clubs from the North that are expected to challenge the London clubs and are close to completing their squads. We took an extensive look at defending champions Manchester United in part one of the series. Now, we turn to the two rivals of United – one with historical hatred, the other with geographical hatred.
Players considered are the first-teamers, who are expected to contribute considerably over the course of the season.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart
Manchester City have one of the best young goalkeepers in world football in the form of Joe Hart. Hart, a keeper with world-class reflexes needs to continue improving the finer aspects of his game such as his composure, decision making and positioning. The absence of reliable cover or any form of competition though is a problem for Mancini as the likes of David González, Gunnar Nielsen and Stuart Taylor are inadequate should Hart experience any form of long-term injury.
Defenders: Touré, Richards, Lescott, Kompany, Boyata, Zabaleta, Kolarov,Onuoha, Clichy, Savic
The left-back position appears to be decently covered. Both – Clichy and Kolarov – have their faults, though. Kolarov’s faults lie in his defending (positional sense) and his strengths lie in his attacking qualities (crossing and set-piece threat). Clichy’s crossing is nowhere near Kolarov’s but his speed allows him the ability to recover even when dribbled, though his positional sense could also use work. At right-back, Richards and Zabaleta are the options. Zabaleta is a decent player in most departments while Richards is a superb physical specimen of little technical refinement. Right-back is another decent position with no stand-out player.
Mancini will have to worry about the centre of defense, though. Kompany is a good footballer, possessing excellent ability and personality, who performs superbly in defence. But like Vermaelen at Arsenal, he could use a sound old head as a partner; a top-class defender but one with less tendency to go forward. Milan’s Nesta-Silva type partnership for Kompany would solidify the defence. Defenders like this are hard to come by and Manchester City would have done well to move for Joris Mathijsen before he got snapped up by Málaga. Mancini may have to work with what he has but this isn’t too promising as Manchester City will also be competing in the Champions League.
Midfield and Attack: de Jong, Y.Touré, Barry, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Silva, Johnson, Balotelli, Tevez, Agüero, Dzeko
With the future of a number of players being unclear, it is difficult to define the system Mancini will utilize during this season. Hence, the treatment of midfield and attack as one subject. The major question is how can the creative talents of David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Carlos Tevez – if he stay – and Nasri – should he join – be fitted into the same system assuming they will all consider themselves worthy starters based on their ability? Another question is how does Mancini intend to use Dzeko? Should Nasri join, it is likely Yaya Touré’s position will be deeper in midfield. How much freedom will he have in attack if he’s part of a midfield base? These questions and more surround the Manchester City squad and by the end of the transfer campaign, a more definitive analysis can be made of the City midfield and attack.
Manchester City has depth in terms of numbers across the defence, though the defence is fairly average. Kompany lacks a capable partner of equal repute in the centre; hence, the defensive core is not as strong as it should be for a club of Manchester City’s ambitions. Numerous questions remain over the rest of the side. If Mancini’s plans are completed, how does he intend to deploy his creative midfielders and forwards? One thing looks increasingly likely though, Yaya Touré may not enjoy the same level of freedom that wowed audiences at the City of Manchester Stadium last term.
Goalkeepers: José Manuel Reina, Brad Jones, Doni Alexandre
Liverpool possesses one of the strongest goalkeeping contingents in world football and a strong contender for the best goalkeeper in the premier league in Reina. While Doni has not enjoyed the best of periods recently at Roma and it is unlikely that he can provide any competition for Reina. Reina hardly ever gets injured and a new season with high ambitions should see him play to the best of his ability in goal
Defenders: Johnson, Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Aurélio, Wilson, Insúa, Flanagan, Enrique
Liverpool are expected to go with a back-4 for this campaign. Glen Johnson is a good right-back and Martin Kelly has shown himself to be a good enough back-up or a decent starter at the position. Right-back appears to be the best zone in the defence. Centre-back comes with its problems for the club.
While Carragher possesses the kind of mentality required as part of the framework at a club like Liverpool, his performances have waned. Ideally, he shouldn’t be considered a starter going into the season. Skrtel, an example of the Eastern European centre-back experiment gone wrong (also see Branislav Ivanovic), is another below-par defender that shouldn’t be considered a starter. Daniel Agger, a proper ball-playing centre-back, has quality but is extremely prone to injury. Kyrgiakos, a limited defender in the Carragher mold, impresses with his aerial strength but is another who at best is a squad player. Centre-back options for Dalglish are poor and need to be addressed; something the Liverpool manager seems to know judging by his unsuccessful pursuit of Phil Jones.
At left-back, Fábio Aurélio is even more injury prone than Agger, while Insúa was promising before his departure on loan to Galatasaray. Jose Enrique has joined the club from Newcastle United and can be considered a wonderful signing by Dalglish. The defensive positions – especially the centre – are probably the weakest of all areas in this Liverpool side.
Midfielders: Meireles, Gerrard, Henderson, Spearing, Leiva, Adam, Poulsen, Shelvey, Aquilani
With Liverpool, it remains unclear what the tactical system of choice is. As with Manchester City, there are questions as to how players will be deployed but unlike City, for good reason. Dalglish has a wealth of midfield options with different players capable of playing different types of roles. The key midfielders can be grouped into player types. Lucas (starter) and Spearing (back-up) can play as holding midfielders who are progressive on the ball. Adam and Aquilani (should he stay) are midfield directors. The problem with Adam is his poor decision-making. At times, he is overly enthusiastic with his approach and if he’s guided to use the ball more intelligently, he can be a superb asset especially when his threat from set-pieces is considered.
Aquilani showed he is capable of playing in the thick of midfield last season at Juventus and though the English game is different from the Italian game, his intelligence should guide him. Even though Aquilani is a technique-based player, his technical attributes can still be enhanced to bring out the maestro in him. Henderson, Gerrard and Meireles are box-to-box type midfielders with strong presence in the opposition box. Henderson uses his pace, crossing and passing ability to create chances for the team. Gerrard and Meireles both possess good shots from range and Gerrard’s eye for the killer pass is impressive. All this tries to highlight is a method to the supposed madness of Liverpool’s midfield. Liverpool are now in a position in midfield where there is more than enough depth in terms of numbers and quality.
Forwards: Suárez, Kuyt, Cole, Rodríguez, N’Gog, Carroll, Downing
The team is supposedly built to bring out the best in Carroll – Downing’s acquisition, for example, as a diverse winger brought in for his crossing. While this is somewhat true, the players present in the Liverpool squad can also allow the team to function in Carroll’s absence and his absence might be beneficial in some games. In games where the opposition intends to sit deep and “keep things tight” against Liverpool, Carroll’s presence becomes a big plus as it provides a focal point for all running and dribbling around him. He also creates a distraction allowing his teammates more space to weave their magic.
In other games where Liverpool intends to play on the break, Suárez is a realistic choice leading the line having shown himself to be a complete forward in the just concluded Copa América. Carroll isn’t the “lumbering 9 feet 12 tree trunk” he has been described as by some. He is quite mobile, usually has a good touch and is good off-the-ball. The key in attack like in midfield is the Dalglish’s ability to diversify and keep opponents guessing in terms of his starting line-up with Kuyt providing the needed versatility.
Defence is a major problem for Liverpool going into the season. Given the amounts spent in strengthening the squad, Champions League qualification may be a realistic objective but is this defence capable of supporting such ambition? If the defence isn’t capable, the other areas are more than capable. With Steve Clarke providing the necessary tactical variation/input, the side might just be able to surpass expectations especially when one considers the factor that is, and has been, Kenny Dalglish.
Written by guest author Uanhoro James