A Gooner’s View of Other Clubs of the 2014-15 Season Part 9
Hi everyone. This is part 9 of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this blog, I’ll be focusing on Manchester City. Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
Manchester City started off the season as the reigning Champions, cruising to a title ahead of Jose’s “little horse” and the then Luis Suarez-led Liverpool. However, cracks were evident from the beginning of their season (I don’t count pre-season friendlies as starting off a season as they are not competitive matches) as a City team with a number of reserve players (including Dedryck Boyata) being fielded against Arsenal in the Community Shield and Arsenal dispatched them 3-0 on the day at Wembley.
City had spent a lot of money on players before the season started, with defensive midfielder Fernando joining from Porto for 12 million Pounds, goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero joining from Malaga for 4.4 million Pounds, young midfielder Bruno Zuculini joining from Racing Club de Avallaneda for 1.5 million Pounds and France international Eliaquim Mangala joining from Porto for almost 32 million Pounds as well as the free transfer signings of Frank Lampard from Chelsea and Bacary Sagna from Arsenal. Wilfried Bony arrived in January from Swansea for 25 million Pounds.
Amongst the exits were defender Joleon Lescott to West Brom on a free transfer, Gareth Barry to Everton for 2 million Pounds, goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon to Sunderland on a free transfer, defensive midfielder Jack Rodwell to Sunderland for 10 million Pounds and defensive midfielder Javi Garcia to Zenit for 13 million Pounds. City also had a number of players leave on loan, including midfielder Emyr Huws to Wigan (signing permanently on September 1st), midfielder Bruno Zuculini to Valencia (he played there for 45 minutes in 1 match!) and then to Cordoba in January, defender Micah Richards to Fiorentina, striker Alvaro Negredo to Valencia (made permanent at the end of the season) and striker John Guidetti to Celtic. In January, Matija Nastasic was loaned to Schalke, before signing permanently for them before the start of the new season and Scott Sinclair was loaned to Aston Villa and he has now completed a permanent switch to Villa following the conclusion of the season.
City had a largely disappointing and inconsistent season by their own high standards, suffering an exit in the last 16 of the Champions League to eventual winners Barcelona, humiliating exits in the League Cup at home to Newcastle United and from the F.A. Cup to Middlesbrough, also at home (both in the 4th Round too!) and having some pretty poor form in the Premier League from the Christmas period until mid-February with just two wins in this time (away to West Brom and home to Sunderland), which killed off their chances of catching the League leaders Chelsea – one of the key fixtures was at home to Arsenal, which City lost 0-2 against a resolute Gunners team who had struggled against City of late. In hindsight, draws with Queens Park Rangers and losses at home to Stoke and away to West Ham early in the season will likely be viewed as other pivotal lost points in the chase to defend the title by City’s fans. City also lost away to Manchester United, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Burnley, the latter of which must feel awful for City fans as Burnley is a local rival. That run of 6 wins at the end of the season was enough for 2nd place in the League, scant consolation for a tough season with some unlucky spells.
City’s poor form after Christmas can be partially accounted for by the absence of Sergio Aguero through injury and the resultant time it took for him to return to form – Theo Walcott is similar to Aguero in needing a few matches to acclimate himself again and regain form. The Argentina international has been a vital player since joining City in July 2011, scoring a large number of goals in relation to the matches that he has played, but he, like Robin van Persie, never has injury-free seasons and is often absent for a few weeks here and there, often, unfortunately, in very important times, such as the Christmas period – he was back about a week after New Year but only scored again in February. Arguably, this was during City’s worst spell of form of the season.
A second factor in City’s inconsistency this season is the unwillingness of Manuel Pellegrini to change his tactics during a match – City looked lethargic and occasionally lazy, possibly due to lack of preparation, poor choice in tactics and team orders and poor squad usage. Yaya Toure played a large portion of City’s league season in addition to being a key player in Ivory Coast’s 2015 AFCON-winning team. Sergio Aguero also played a large number of matches when not injured, which may have contributed in part to the injury he suffered right before Christmas – he could have been rotated more for Dzeko and Jovetic in my opinion, particularly against lesser opponents.
Another factor in City’s erratic form was the Africa Cup Of Nations, which kept Wilfried Bony and Yaya Toure out of the team through January and February – unfortunately for City, Ivory Coast won the competition so the players were unavailable for the longest possible period due to reaching the Final of the AFCON and thus needing rest and time to regain fitness due to the somewhat more lax training in national teams as opposed to the more rigorous training of clubs in the Premier League, which, in my view, did not help their league ambitions.
A further problem for City was a lack of cohesion in defence. Vincent Kompany, a player who has been in good form for City for the last 2 seasons, had a dip in form. City also rotated their defence a lot, possibly as a result of Kompany’s indifferent form, with Martin Demichelis, Fernando and their most expensive defensive buy Eliaquim Mangala all getting game time at centre-back. Demichelis did show some improvement in getting to grips with the pace and physicality of the Premier League but it is tough for him at his age (34) and subsequent lack of pace, which was something Demichelis hasn’t ever really possessed, but he did seem to make fewer errors than last season and seemed to improve his anticipation – he penned a one-year extension until June 2016 but a replacement will need to be found as it is my feeling he will not be able to compete for a title-chasing team like City beyond that point, aside from possibly emergency appearances due to injuries or suspensions of other players should he stay with City beyond June next year.
Fernando, while primarily a midfielder, did find himself in defence a number of occasions, although he was pretty average. Mangala, however, made a number of gaffes – he gave away a penalty away from home against Hull, which nearly allowed Hull to get back into the match. Mangala was also one of two players (the other being Pablo Zabaleta, the near ever-present right-back) to be sent off for City in the Premier League this season – Mangala could be a very good player for City if he could improve his discipline, as he has the physical presence, aerial ability and pace to excel in the Premier League. Aleksander Kolarov and former Gunner Gael Clichy shared the left-back spot – Kolarov missed November due to a calf injury with Clichy missing 3 matches due to a muscular injury, although both players exceeded 20 appearances in the Premier League this past season. Clichy and Kolarov have both shown inconsistencies and City may wish to look at upgrading in the left-back position, although it is my opinion that Kolarov is the better player, particularly going forward where his overlapping runs allow the attacking midfielders like David Silva and Yaya Toure to exploit the space opened up by Kolarov’s runs.
City had a number of good performers this season, though – most would argue that Joe Hart is not a top-quality goalkeeper, but he kept 14 clean sheets in the Premier League, which is a decent showing over a season, despite making a few errors. Yaya Toure, while still an excellent player, had a strong start to the season but there seemed to be a drop in his performances following the AFCON tournament – he still registered 10 goals in 29 appearances in the Premier League, though (12 goals in 38 overall). James Milner showed great work-rate and team ethic and scored a quality goal away vs. Bayern Munich in the Champions League, contributed 5 goals in the Premier League campaign with over 30 appearances despite more having a mandate to work the flanks to get other players like Silva and Toure into space. David Silva was excellent in midfield, scoring 12 goals in 32 appearances in the Premier League and largely proved a handful for most opposition teams. Sergio Aguero was City’s top scorer with 26 league goals and won the Premier League Golden Boot and City felt his absence when he was injured, but my player of the season for City was Pablo Zabaleta – a near ever-present in defence who always showed a willingness to run forward and aid City’s attack and is excellent in reading a match and is not often caught out.
City’s poor performers for me were Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri and Stevan Jovetic. Navas, sadly, is just not a good footballer in my opinion, despite making 35 Premier League appearances this past season – he is far too heavily reliant on his pace to beat opponents, often distributing the ball poorly in the attacking third and he does not offer much defensively. He has the capability to put in better balls into the box from an attacking perspective but he seems to rush his chances too much and needs to improve his defending abilities. Dzeko seems to not be wanted by Manuel Pellegrini, who used him rather sparingly and more often from the substitute’s bench (just 6 goals in 32 appearances for the target man) – Dzeko did not help his cause by looking laconic and disinterested on the pitch. Jovetic, on the other hand, suffered from inconsistency, which may well be confidence-related – it was not helpful for his confidence to only feature 17 times in the Premier League, scoring just 5 goals. Nasri, a player most Gunners love to hate after his acrimonious exit from Arsenal to City 4 years ago, had a poor season, scoring just 2 goals in 24 Premier League appearances (3 goals in 33 overall) – a poor return for an attacking midfielder and particularly poor considering that City have one of the best teams in the country for Nasri to work with.
So, what is needed for City? At the time of writing this blog, they have already moved to sign Raheem Sterling for 45 million Pounds (rising to 49 million Pounds with add-ons) as well as the promising young player Patrick Roberts from Fulham for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be around 12 million Pounds, which may well signal the end of Jesus Navas’ time at City. James Milner has departed for Liverpool on a free transfer and I feel his work-rate will be missed by City’s midfield. Fabian Delph was signed from Aston Villa for a rumoured 8 million Pounds recently and his work-rate may well compensate for Milner’s exit. Bruno Zuculini was voted in the worst team in Liga BBVA this past season whilst on loan at Valencia and then Cordoba so I can’t see him featuring at all for City and will likely be loaned out again. City, for me, need to work on their consistency – a new centre-back needs to be acquired following Nastasic’s departure to Schalke to compete with Kompany and Mangala, as well as a left-back who is able to put in more consistent performances than Kolarov or Clichy.
That’s all for this blog. What are your opinions? Let’s hear them!