With a giant bull’s eye painted on their back, Manchester City start the 2014-15 EPL season in the unenviable position of defending champions.

Given the competitiveness of the league, each of the other 19 clubs would look to extract their pound of flesh from the champions for bragging rights. For the second time in as many years, City have the chance to emulate Chelsea and Manchester United to become only the third club in the Premier League era to retain the League title. Bookies however place Manchester City at odds of 5/2 to retain their title (via oddschecker.com). With this in mind, let’s take a look at what the season holds for the blue side of Manchester and how it could pan out over the course of 9 odd months and 4 competitions.

Squad

After Chelsea, Manchester City probably have the most well balanced squad in the league. Manuel Pellegrini has, however, stated that City are not yet ready for the league from the squad point of view, an obvious finger-pointing at the A?49 million net spend cap imposed on them by UEFA due to Financial Fair Play irregularities. Given this, City’s transfer window has not been as busy as their manager would definitely like to have been. Yet, they have made significant reinforcements across the field.

Goalkeeper

Fans and experts alike agree on the fact that the goalkeeping resources of Manchester City are the weakest compared to the rest of their champion squad. English stopper Joe Hart has been erratic over the course of the last two seasons and finally fell out of favour with manager Manuel Pellegrini being replaced by Romanian Costel Pantilimon. Pantilimon did not fare much better than his English predecessor and consequently City played Russian roulette with the man between the sticks. In spite of all this chaos, however, they managed to hang on till the very end and win the League albeit no credit to the goalkeepers. At the end of the season, Pellegrini released Pantilimon to join Sunderland on a free transfer. Instead, the Chilean manager opted to bring in Argentinian Willy Caballero from Malaga for A?6 million. A player whom Manuel Pellegrini has worked with in his days at Malaga, Caballero will put incumbent Joe Hart under pressure, a fact evident from the former pipping the latter for the spot in City’s Community Shield clash with Arsenal yesterday.

Defenders

In their captain Vincent Kompany, Manchester City have one of the best centre backs in world football currently. The Belgian international has been a rock in defense for his club for almost 5 seasons now, having lifted the league title twice in that period. His contribution to his team’s success is significant as more than one striker has found out to his disadvantage how difficult it is to get past the big defender. Demichelis was a key member of their last campaign but he will be 34 before the year runs out and his speed has been suspect for some time now. City have therefore bought reinforcements to partner Kompany at the back in the form of highly rated Porto centre back Eliaquim Mangala for A?32 million. The 23-year old had been on Pellegrini’s wishlist for the better part of three transfer windows but the player as well as (now) the tight spending restriction led the Chilean on a merry dance before he was able to seal the deal on the transfer. 21-year old youngster Matija Nastasic, whose fantastic work last season caused the ouster of Joleon Lescott first from the squad and finally out of the club to West Brom, will also be eager to throw his hat in the ring when the manager picks the centre backs for his starting line up. City also added to their current collection of right backs – Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta – by bringing over Bacary Sagna from EPL rivals Arsenal on a free transfer. Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy will continue their vigil from the left back position with Mangala as cover for the position.

Midfielders

Manchester City’s midfield boasts the likes of vice captain Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri and James Milner. Pellegrini added Fernando and Zuculini to the mix before he brought over ex-Chelsea star Frank Lampard from sister club New York City FC on a loan deal. With the view that on any given day, City would need to start 4-5 midfielders on a regular basis, Pellegrini’s immense muscle in this department begins making sense. Yaya Toure has been the powerhouse in midfield for the last couple of seasons and is not showing any signs of slowing down. He will definitely be one of the first names to go onto the matchday teamsheet. James Milner has hitherto starred while coming off the bench for City having to compete with Samir Nasri, David Silva, and Jesus Navas often for the starting spot. His strength and tenacity however have been widely appreciated and Pellegrini may think of trying to play him in central midfield as Aston Villa did in 2009-10. Lampard, at 36 and on a short 6 month loan deal, looks more like a player City want to utilise to comply with their homegrown player quota requirements of 5 in the reduced Champions League squad of 21 rather than as a midfield reinforcement.

Forwards

City have suffered a major blow with the serious metatarsal injury to Alvaro Negredo that has ruled him out till almost mid October. That leaves City with a rather lean supply of forwards in Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic. Aguero spent extended periods out of play due to injuries last season and Pellegrini would have undoubtedly loved to splash some money on an established striker. However, given that strikers are the most expensive type of players, this looks less and less likely and one can see David Silva doubling up in the stiker’s role. 24-year old Stevan Jovetic who has been very promising last season may also see more involvement in City’s campaign.

Manager

The manager is an important part of the squad (as David Moyes amply proved last season while sinking with Manchester United). Manuel Pellegrini has done well to lift the league title in his first year as manager. Now, however, begins the even harder part of retaining the title. Playing 4 competitions and that too with a depleted squad for the European fixtures will obviously be akin to a tight rope walk for the Chilean manager where the price of failure could be very high, even costing him his job at the helm. While managers like Mourinho thrived last season on making a lot of noise, Pellegrini kept his head down and concentrated on the job at hand and his calm and calculated demeanor was reflected in City’s league season. Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea all had performance surges when they leaped to the head of the table but City’s patient, consistent and relentless performances finally saw them clinch the title as the other contenders ran out of steam as the race drew to a close. City have begun investing in their own youth training facilities and at the moment Pellegrini seems to be the best man for the long term job to nurture a fresh batch of youngsters from City’s own academy.

Transfer Summary for Manchester City so far

Transfer Summary for Manchester City so far

Formation

Manchester City will start in a formation best suited to their squad of superstars

Manchester City will start in a formation best suited to their squad of superstars

Though Manchester City may line up in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation, the playing formation would be closer to a 4-2-3-1 as it gives City the best chance to play to their strengths. Yaya Toure will continue to play through the middle carrying the ball deep into the opposition half before crossing wide to the flanks. City have good speed down the flanks and it will not be surprising to see the likes of Nasri, Silva, Milner and Jovetic playing in crosses from the sidelines to the lone striker as target man in the box. Edin Dzeko is particularly well-suited for this role owing to his height that gives him an advantage in aerial challenges. Aguero however cannot be ignored and it would be interesting to see how Pellegrini lines up his stars while balancing his commitments across 4 competitions.

Prediction

– Runner’s up in the EPL

– Good chance to lift either or both of the FA Cup and Capital One Cup

– Should clear the group stages of UEFA Champions League but further progress would most probably be draw dependent

The amount of pressure City will face as defending English champions cannot be overstated. Rival clubs Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all reinforced their squads. Their city rivals, Manchester United look a rejuvenated side with the arrival of Louis van Gaal to take over the reins of the club and with the lessened burden of European competition, United will look to reinstate pride and compete for the league title as well. City will have their work cut out against most if not all of these teams as they look to defend their title. However, City do have chinks in their armour that can be exploited by opponents. Chief among these are how injuries to key personnel will affect the balance of the side especially for crucial encounters.

Key Players

Toure has kept the City midfield ticking for the last couple of years and his influence on their game doesn't seem to be diminishing anytime soon.

Toure has kept the City midfield ticking for the last couple of years and his influence on their game doesn’t seem to be diminishing anytime soon.

The usual suspects – Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero would be key to City’s 2014-15 season success. Mangala can play a major role in the mix of things too while Negredo, on return, could provide some major impetus to City’s forward play.

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