Manchester City: On Paper They Have Everything...

They still have most of the players who won the title two seasons ago, gained some stars and have lost some combustible characters and their error-prone manager...

Last Updated: 15/08/13 at 16:55 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON

Premier League 2nd FA Cup runners-up League Cup third round Champions League group stage Community Shield winners

Manager Manuel Pellegrini (since June 2013) Odds on being first out of his job 50-1 (18th=)

Players in Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk, £30m), Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina, £22m), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla, £20m), Jesus Navas (Sevilla, £14.9m)

Players out Carlos Tevez (Juventus, £12m), Kolo Toure (Liverpool, free), Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga, free), Maicon (Roma, undisc), Wayne Bridge (Reading, free)

Club turnover in 2011-12 £231m (4th)

Handicap betting to win Premier League +1 point (2nd=)

Two years ago, Manchester City won an absurdly dramatic title race, leaving Manchester United bereft on the pitch at the Stadium of Light after Sergio Aguero's late winner. With that first championship since 1968 secured, Roberto Mancini had the chance to build a City dynasty. Instead City failed to mount an adequate defence of the Premier League, did worse in the Champions League and, amid rumours of the manager's impending departure, lost an FA Cup final to a Wigan side heading for relegation. The billionaire's boys were suddenly easy to laugh at, especially over the cack-handed manner in which Mancini was removed, undermining the FA Cup final effort.

Everyone should take City seriously now, though. They have a new, capable manager and spent early on four high-profile signings. There should be more stability, with the departure of Carlos Tevez following that of Mario Balotelli in January. Manuel Pellegrini knows that Sheikh Mansour and friends will place high demands on him, but he has every reason for quiet confidence.

Even last season, things could easily have been different. City were leading Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernabeu in the 87th minute of their Champions League opener; hold on and that abortive campaign takes on a very different complexion. In the Premier League, although there were too many draws, it was not until December that they lost, the dramatic 3-2 defeat at Eastlands allowing United to open up a six-point gap. Mancini failed to find the right answers when it mattered and made some well-publicised mistakes - persisting with three at the back, starting with Balotelli in that critical derby - but without the self-inflicted mistakes City would have been there or thereabouts again, rather than only just ahead of third.

City had some expensive, combustive personalities on their books, a product of their need to buy quality players in a hurry without Champions League football as an initial lure, and they had a manager who eventually seemed to make matters worse. With the most divisive players gone, Pellegrini will feel that City can be that much more united.

Pellegrini will also fancy his chances of securing those 11 points that Mancini let slip away compared to 2011-12. Stefan Jovetic brings a good scoring record in Serie A and for Montenegro, but not as fine as Alvaro Negredo's in La Liga and for Spain. Fernandinho looks expensive at £30m but will bring drive into a midfield that will be less reliant on Yaya Toure. Jesus Navas is not a regular for Spain but Negredo's former Sevilla team-mate brings trickery to the wings. It is difficult to discern the impact of financial fair play on his plans.

Pellegrini is looking to bring in fresh blood, too, to strengthen the defence. Pepe and Martin Demichelis have been mentioned as fourth centre-halves, to bolster Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany, initially in the absence of the injured Matija Nastasic. His hurt ankle, rather than the pre-season form especially, will be weighing on the manager; City had appreciably the best defence in the division in terms of goals conceded. If they can start to overwhelm opponents in the manner of much of their title-winning season, then many of the 27 goals fewer in the last campaign may be rediscovered.

Pellegrini's introduction to English football is a home game against Newcastle on Monday night, followed by games against two promoted sides: first at Cardiff City, then the visit of Hull Too Special To Be City. It is a pretty generous start, followed after the international break by an eminently winnable away game at Stoke.

The Chilean has managed Real Madrid. He will not be under any illusions about the challenge awaiting on 22 September, when United come back looking for a repeat of last season's critical win. It comes the Sunday after the Champions League opener, too, and Pellegrini knows that the odds are City will be in the third pot; it will take three out of Arsenal, Lyon, Milan and Schalke to miss out on qualification to lift them any higher.

Nothing will be easy for City but the champions of 2012 are for the most part still together. He is a new manager but so are those of United and (albeit a returnee) Chelsea. If he can acclimatise quickly and his new purchases do the same then he has the squad to end that two-year title drought.

Philip Cornwall

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