Manchester City didn’t really have to huff and puff to win the Premier League title under Mancini. But they must now prepare themselves for the following season as their competitors are doing so too.
It’s a unique pre-season this for Manchester City. As the holders of the Premier League title, City will enter the new season as clear favourites. The onus will be on them to take the stage and play as worthy champions, and at the same time, try and fight off the dreaded second-season syndrome.
The Champions League is also on the list of must-haves, but not at the cost of domestic turbulence. Chelsea managed to pull off a miracle in the last edition and retain their place in Europe’s elite club competition, even as the Premier League campaign went from bad to worse. City doesn’t need that at this critical juncture, so the League has to be the priority.
The importance of the coming season hasn’t ruffled any feathers at the Etihad stadium either. There are no big changes being planned, nor are there any signs of panic-buying. It’s all being done behind closed doors this time around, with transfer targets being shrouded in mystery. As always, the usual suspects have already been lined up by the media as “done-deals”, but even that has failed to draw any comments from the club. City is keeping its cards close to its chest this year, a welcome deviation from their usual way of doing business since the takeover.
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There are a few things that we do know. Roberto Mancini has been offered a ₤20m 4-year deal as a reward for a successful season and is thought to be close to signing. David Silva, coming off a victorious Euro 2012 campaign, is also reported to have blanked Real Madrid’s approaches and agreed to an extension on his current deal which has 2 years left. In both cases, the clients are expected to sign after returning from their holidays, before jetting off to Austria for a pre-season camp from July 9. There is also the small matter of playing Arsenal in the Beijing Olympic stadium on July 27, so both teams could be in favour of a quick, amicable end to the Van Persie saga should he choose to announce City as his preferred destination.
Joe Hart remains the undisputed No. 1 at Manchester City. The goalkeeping position is one that Mancini will probably not have to worry about in the coming years.
Every champion side has a rock at the back, and Vincent Kompany is City’s. Deservedly made captain, Kompany rose to the occasion and scored the all-important goal in the last Manchester Derby. Joleon Lescott’s performance at the Euros must have thrilled Mancini and should be enough to nail down a first-team place. Kolo Toure and Stefan Savic continue to be back-ups, with much expected out of the latter.
Man City has arguably the best fullbacks in the Premier League. Clichy and Richards should start as first-choice, despite Richards’ non-appearance at the Euros. Clichy, meanwhile, seemed to have won over coach Laurent Blanc and replaced Evra as first-choice left-back within the group stages. Kolarov and Zabaleta are on stand-by, although Kolarov has been linked with a transfer to Italy.
Young Defender to Watch Out For: There’s also competition from Dedryck Boyata, who made 14 appearances on loan at Bolton for the 2011/12 campaign. Able to fill in at right-back or centre-back, the 22-year old Boyata could end up with some game time at Manchester City.
Central midfield is an area that Mancini could look to strengthen, as teams found it easier to park the bus against Manchester City and wait patiently. City has plenty of ball-winners and attacking midfielders, but apart from Yaya Toure, there is no one to provide quality from deep midfield. With de Jong having an average Euro 2012 and Gareth Barry being injured before the tournament, an addition might be imminent. Daniele De Rossi would be an expensive signing, but he is a player City could move on to another level with.
Adam Johnson’s 26 appearances last season gave glimpses of his potential, and at 24, the time is right for him to shine. A move away from the club might be the only option, as he faces competition from Samir Nasri and David Silva, players Mancini cannot afford to drop.
Young Midfielder to Watch Out For: Vladimir Weiss, a quick right winger, could be taking up the mantle of super-sub. Having spent a year on-loan to Espanyol, the 22-year old Slovak will be looking to kick on and break in to the first team.
How fitting was it that Sergio Aguero sealed the championship for Manchester City last season – A superstar laying the bricks for a successful foundation. Mario Balotelli’s near-victorious Euro campaign will hold him in good stead for the new season. Mancini must have been impressed with the youngster’s composure and performance against Germany and this could be the year that Balotelli finally starts making headlines for the right reasons.
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Carlos Tevez appears to have completed his resurrection at the Etihad after getting back into the manager’s good books. Edin Dzeko is the weak spot of this multi-million pound attack, with his inconsistent displays leading to transfer rumours.
Of more importance will be the futures of Adebayor and Santa Cruz, with the latter being asked to consider taking a pay-cut to join Real Betis. Adebayor had a stand-out season with Spurs, but City would be ill-advised to sell him to a potential title-challenger.
Young Attacker to Watch Out For: John Guidetti could be the benefactor of an overstocked yet under-worked attack department if things fall his way. After a stupendous loan spell with Feyenoord where he managed 20 goals and 8 assists in 23 appearances and guided the team to a surprising 2nd place finish, the Swede is primed to jump the queue and become a 4th choice striker.
Having joined the academy as a 16-year old in 2008, a first-team place for the youngster would go a long way in quieting the din that Manchester City buys titles. It would also stop the recent exodus of academy players with Greg Cunningham being the latest youth product to leave for Bristol.
Manchester City is 2-3 players short of leveling up to the elite European teams in terms of squad depth. With teams around City already active in the market, it remains to be seen if Mancini is content with his current squad.
The addition of a deep-lying playmaker and a versatile attacker could be the difference between City running away with another title and getting dragged in to the battle for supremacy. The margins of victory continue to grow finer, and it could all come down to a smart signing or a calculated gamble. This is where the manager’s experience is vital, because it is very easy to become complacent with a title-winning team.
There is still plenty of time for Manchester City to make changes, but the initial impression is that of satisfaction and confidence. And why shouldn’t this squad go on to win again? They are the Champions, after all.
Possible Reinforcements for Manchester City
1)Left-back : With Jordi Alba moving to Barcelona, 27-year old Adriano could be available for cheap if Kolarov is to be sold. Adriano appears surplus to requirements at Nou Camp and would be a good alternative to Gael Clichy. Federico Balzaretti impressed at the Euros for the Italians and would be available for less than ₤8 m with just 1 year left on his contract.
2)Striker: Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi might have been sidelined with 2 cruciate ligament injuries within the last year, but with his club having been relegated, he could be available on the cheap as the club will no doubt try to reduce its wage bill.
3)Centre-back: This 19-year old Serbia and Fiorentina defender is already being tipped by many as the next great defensive product to come out of the country. A fee of ₤7 million could be enough to land Nastasic, who managed 27 appearances for the Viola at such a tender age.