Friday, 16 August 2013

Preview of the Season: Manchester City

Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?

Morpheus: No, Neo. I'm trying to tell you that when you're ready, you won't have to.

In this scene Morpheus is trying to explain to Neo that he can bend the rules of time and space in the matrix because it isn’t real, just part of a computer program. Neo can ignore the usual way of things if he can just tap into his power within. This season it is time for Manchester City to reach inside themselves and turn the talent that they have into a title.

If the league were decided purely on total talent level then it would be hard not to argue that City would be champions every year. City have such a rich abundance of talent that their bench is often valued at more than the oppositions squad in entirety. What this team has lacked for a long time is an identity, a guiding hand on ideology and player selection that will mould a coherent and complimentary group. Last week I accused QPR and Mark Hughes of signing players in the same way. QPR have learnt their lesson and shipped out the riff raff, including Hughes, and now things are beginning to change in the blue half of Manchester.

Heeey, How you doin'?
Two factors will help City to be successful this season, their appointment of Manuel Pellegrini to replace Roberto Mancini and the rising influence of Txiki Begiristain in his role as Director of Football. Chilean born, Pellegrini is a consummate tactician who has excelled previously in Spanish football at Real Madrid, Villareal and Malaga. Villareal and Malaga also performed brilliantly on the European stage under his guidance despite their relative lack of resources, reaching the semifinals and quarterfinals respectively. The Champions League is an area that City will be targeting for improvement following their terrible performances under Mancini in the last two seasons. Last season’s displays, albeit in a tough group containing Madrid, Dortmund and Ajax, where so abject that they failed to secure a single win in the group stages. Mancini’s autocratic style alienated him from the senior management and players last season, particularly Ballotelli and Tevez, and I expect that the urbane and jocular Pellegrini will be a vast improvement at creating the necessary squad harmony required in title winning sides. The City management certainly think so as they described Pellegrini's approach as 'holistic.'

This harmony has extended to the boardroom where he is working hand in hand with Begiristain. In the past City have signed players like a five year-old choosing toys by stamping their feet and screaming, “I don’t care how much it costs, I want that one!” This year some method has been applied to the madness. Begiristain has a history of success, especially at Barcelona where he was one of those who helped run La Masia, Barcelona’s famed youth academy. These roots in Barcelona’s tiki taka ideology and footballing
Txiki Begiristain - Did his parents just throw
letters at a wall to come up with that name?
philosophy can be seen in City’s confident early dealings in the transfer market this season. Two attacking maestro’s from Seville, Negredo and Navas, certainly fit the Spanish style that Begiristain is trying to replicate. Both have long been part of the Spanish squads, dominated as they are by Barcelona players, which have replicated the flair and style of the Catalans. Both should have little trouble adapting to what their coach will want from them and I would expect their connection and understanding with David Silva to help ease their transition into the side.

Another attacking forward brought in to replace the loss of Tevez and Ballotelli from last year is Stevan Jovetic. A creative forward with instinctive finishing skills, Jovetic has been coveted by many of the top clubs in Europe for some time. Capable of leading the line but most comfortable in the role of deep lying striker, (look how often he picks up the ball in deep positions in this video), Jovetic plays in a similar way to Dennis Bergkamp. Jovetic, being of Eastern European stock, should have little trouble with the physicality of the Premier League but may initially struggle with the pace of the game given that he has come from the glacially paced Serie A.  

For those of you who have never seen this mystery £30m man!
Along side these signings is Brazilian centre midfielder Fernandinho. Surprisingly ignored in the media, despite being the Premier League’s most expensive signing this summer, Fernandinho is a key component of City’s new vision. As a box-to-box midfielder, Fernandinho’s energy and ability to transfer the team quickly from defense to attack will be a massive improvement the on the aging and increasingly static Gareth Barry. Fernandinho’s excellent motor, especially his ability to cover the back four, will have the added bonus of allowing Yaya Toure to release forward much more regularly, often a sign of when City are at their most dangerous.

Don't try this at home kids...
Pellegrini has all of the options, all of the tools. Pellegrini himself said that, “I think we have the best squad in England. We already had a very good team and, with these four players, we improved." It is all down to Pellegrini to get it right tactically and acclimatize to the League quickly. They start with Newcastle at home, a team they cremated twice last season, and follow it up with games against relegation candidates Cardiff, Hull and Stoke. If they can get off to a flying start confidence will flood into the side and then anything is possible. I would be incredibly surprised if City were not challenging for the title on the final day of the season. Pellegrini shouldn't need to dodge bullets, his squad is so talented he shouldn't have to.