After several years of scandals and unwanted newspaper attention, Manchester City have had a relatively quiet summer. The perceived ‘troublemakers’ – Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli – have left for good, and ex-manager Roberto Mancini, seen as a divisive figure among the squad, was sent packing after last season’s FA Cup Final defeat to Wigan. With Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini bringing harmony to the squad and an influx of expensive talent, should City be considered favorites for this season’s Premier League?
One thing that can be taken as fact is that last season, City had the most talented squad in the country, although the key players didn’t perform. Sergio Agüero failed to live up to his stellar 2011-12 season, Joe Hart was accident-prone between the posts and David Silva was well below his unplayable best. Despite this and injuries to some high-profile players, City only lost six games in the league, but what cost them most were the nine draws against teams like QPR and Stoke City. With no disrespect to the Rangers and the Potters, these are teams that Manchester City should be beating, and the failure to do so left Roberto Mancini under immense pressure. Eventually, his open criticism of players and failure to land silverware left him with nowhere to hide, and he was sacked in May.
Pellegrini was a good choice for City; he may not be a huge name, but he had a year in the pressure-cooker that is the Bernabéu in Madrid so the stresses of Premiership management will be nothing new to him. He is known for developing good relationships with players and is predictably clever with tactics, taking an unfancied Málaga team to within seconds of the Champions League semifinals.
His time with Real Madrid may have been regarded a failure, but in reality, he amassed a record number of points in his single season there, the only problem was that Barcelona ended with more. He also has experience in dealing with big-money players, having brought in Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká to the Bernabéu for world-record fees. But despite all this experience, he does not have a bustling trophy cabinet, his last trophy being the Intertoto Cup in 2004. This will need to change if he wants to keep his job at the Eithad.
Having already had the most talented squad in England, Manchester City have done well to strengthen even further over the summer. Some of the dead wood in Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Touré, and Maicon has been cleared out and replaced with true quality. Jesús Navas is finally free of his chronic homesickness and is capable of terrorizing any full-back in the league, Fernandinho could form a frankly terrifying partnership with Yaya Touré in midfield, and Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic plundered a massive 44 goals last year.
Whereas Manchester United rely on Robin van Persie and Chelsea have no proven reliable goalscorer, City have easily the best attack in the league in terms of quality in-depth; Negredo, Jovetic, Agüero, and Džeko can each score 25 goals this season depending on who becomes Pellegrini’s number one. They could hardly dream of a better team to play in front of, with Navas, Silva, and Nasri all certain to serve up chances by the bucketful.
Despite this, the league isn’t the only priority. City have endured disappointing seasons in Europe since they joined the big time, never navigating through the group stage. They could have been forgiven last year having been placed in the ‘group of death’ with finalists Borussia Dortmund, semi-finalists Real Madrid, and Dutch champions Ajax. However, three draws and three losses was a massive disappointment, and they didn’t even drop into the Europa League, a welcome source of silverware for Chelsea, who also dropped out in the group stage. Pellegrini took Villarreal to the semis and all of the new signings have experience in Europe, so City should have a better campaign this time around.
As well as their own strengths, City can play on their rivals’ weaknesses. Neighbors United are going through a period of transition, Jose Mourinho is capable of self-destructing at any given moment by dropping a club legend or poking a rival coach in the eye, and although Tottenham have strengthened impressively over the summer, the Gareth Bale saga may have an effect on morale whether he leaves or not.
With games against Cardiff, Hull, and Stoke preceding the Manchester derby, City should have plenty of points on the table before they meet United, who have yet to play Chelsea and Liverpool. A good start would leave a great squad high on confidence, and would put pressure on their title rivals. There isn’t a team in Europe they couldn’t beat when at their best, so there is no limit to what they can achieve, although the Champions League might still be a bit far-fetched this time around.