City In Danger Of A Deja Vu Stalling

According to Roberto Mancini, there is little doubt as to where Manchester City's last title defence came unstuck.

Last Updated: 18/07/14 at 13:59 Post Comment

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According to Roberto Mancini, there is little doubt as to where Manchester City's last title defence came unstuck. "We would probably be at the top, probably also in a Champions League quarter-final if we had signed better players," the Italian claimed after Manchester United opened up a 15-point lead at the top in early April 2013. "We had a chance to get three or four players that would have improved our team but now it is finished with."

It is easy to see Mancini's point. Whilst United and Chelsea were buying Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Eden Hazard and Oscar, amongst others, City recruited Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Matija Nastasic, Javi Garcia, Maicon and Richard Wright. In a title race as competitive as the Premier League, making a summer statement is crucial when aiming to defend your crown - City had abdicated before the coronation crowds dispersed.

It was not the only reason for Mancini's demise, of course. 'Can we put the champagne on ice yet?' was the text reportedly sent by one player to a journalist given the Italian's eventual unpopularity at the club, and when Mancini's departure was revealed, the reply from within the squad was equally pithy. 'It's a shame we have a game against Reading on Tuesday,' one unnamed player joked. 'We could have gone out to celebrate.'

In that respect at least, Manuel Pellegrini is markedly different. Where his predecessor preferred passion and publicity, the Chilean favours discretion and understatement. Charisma is often deemed as a requisite faculty for successful modern football management (see Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone for details), but Pellegrini bucks that trend admirably. The in-joke amongst journalists attending his press conferences is the competition to prise any bloody quotes out of a dreary stone - there is something intensely pleasing in that.

However, whilst the manager of 2014 may be entirely dissimilar to two years ago, Manchester City's current situation bears some rather alarming resemblances, a worrying sense that whilst the club are being sluggish (or even reluctant) in their transfer business, those around them are operating far more proactively and effectively.

Chelsea, who finished just four points behind Pellegrini's side in May, have bought Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis, with Sami Khedira apparently another target for Jose Mourinho. Manchester United have appointed a high-profile and high-quality manager and will surely add to the purchases of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera after Louis van Gaal has assessed his squad, whilst Arsenal have added Alexis Sanchez and Matthieu Debuchy, with a holding midfielder also seeming likely. Liverpool's ability to continue their resurgence post-Suarez remains incredibly difficult to predict, but signings have been made.

City, meanwhile, have moved in rather less auspicious circles. Fernando has arrived from Porto for a fee of £12million and, whilst the 26-year-old holding midfielder should have gained more than his three Brazil caps, it would surely be a case of Fernando or Fernandinho, rather than both.

Eliaquim Mangala's costly move from the same club is also likely to finally be completed at some point. Mangala will start alongside Vincent Kompany in a City defence that wobbled and creaked at various points last season, with Bacary Sagna and Willy Caballero also recruited from Arsenal and Malaga respectively. Both will presumably be utilised in back-up roles rather than players that impact on City's strongest starting side.

And that's about that. The issue is not simply that Fernando is the only body through the door, but that this seems the height of City's ambitions this summer. There has been hushed discussion over a bid for Ross Barkley, but with Roberto Martinez bullishly declaring that it would take a "world record" bid to persuade Everton to sell, we might draw a line under any potential transfer (for this summer at least) in thick-tipped pen.

Such a status quo would be more understandable were this City squad in rude health, but that is so evidently untrue. Sergio Aguero's hamstrings have looked suspect for the best part of six months, and the Argentinean has started just 55% of City's Premier League games in the last two seasons. Add Alvaro Negredo's concerning goal drought (the Spaniard has failed to score in 22 matches in all competitions since January), and it is clear just how reliant Pellegrini's side were on the majestic form of Yaya Toure.

Therein lies City's biggest issue. Although understandably overshadowed by the tragic family news received by the Ivorian last month, the end of last season brought the bizarre scenario of the Premier League's finest leaving over an apparent birthday-related slur. It's a farcical situation, but no-one at Eastlands is laughing.

Player power is such that if Toure is serious in his engineering of a move away from the club, he is more than likely to be successful, leaving City with a huge hole to fill. Alongside Pablo Zabaleta, these are the only two players to have formed the backbone of both title victories. Even if he stays at the club, the sour taste left in the mouth amongst City supporters is likely to be longer-lasting than any sweet taste of cake.

There is another problem for Pellegrini to contend with too. UEFA's FFP punishments now limit City to a 21-man squad for the Champions League, of which five must be home grown. Although the manager may be looking to remove some of the deadwood from his squad, it is precisely these players that will be required to meet such demands. City named eight homegrown players in their Premier League squad last season - Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Dedrick Boyata and Richard Wright accounted for five of those. It is a quandary.

This has not yet reached the stage where panic or melodrama is necessary, and there are still six weeks remaining in this transfer window, but there still exists a lingering sense that City are again becoming guilty of a tendency to rest on footballing laurels - that's a risky tactic indeed.

There is little doubt that in order to match the marker set down by City last season, their peers were forced to play catch-up, whether through squad investment or managerial change. Unfortunately for Pellegrini, that has largely been achieved by mid-July. Now it is City themselves that must push on to avoid their resurgence under the Chilean from plateauing ominously. Their fans have seen it happen before.

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