So, I’ve got the crystal ball out again. On Monday, I looked at Man Utd’s challenge, on Tuesday Liverpool’s and yesterday’s Arsenal’s. Today we take a quick look the outsider’s bet for the title – Manchester City.
However threatened fans of the current ‘big four’ might feel, what has happened at Manchester City has got to be just about the most exciting thing that’s happened to the Premier League since Roman Abramovich. I’ll save the debate as to whether the vast investment that’s been made at Eastlands – which in my view exceeds what was happening at Chelsea in the first couple of years of Roman’s ownership – for another time, but it cannot be argued that City haven’t at least shaken things up a bit. The simple question is however: do you want a league where more or less sides are capable of winning the league? Everyone seems to want the former (at least they did when Chelsea started winning the league, anyway). But if that’s the case, only the injection of cash can break hegemonies.
It is fascinating to see what’s being pulled together up at Eastlands. They have certainly brought in some real quality, but for me there’s something a little ‘unplanned’ about it all – it seems more wanton than what happened under first Ranieri and then Mourinho at Chelsea. How much control does Mark Hughes have up there, or is some faceless figure going through FourFourTwo magazine’s list of the top 100 players in world football and systematically lodging massive bids for their services? If you throw enough coconuts…
And this is where City will come unstuck: not just the players that they are targeting (or haven’t targeted), but the sheer volume of new recruits in a short space of time. Don’t get me wrong - City will certainly be a force over the next few years, but 09/10 will come just a little bit too early.
Ins and outs
Manchester City have done a huge amount of business and spent a huge amount of money. But, so far, it’s been weighted towards the attack, with Santa Cruz, Tevez and Adebayor joining Robinho et al. Needless to say, Gareth Barry and Toure are both top-class in their positions – but I still feel they a couple of signings short of a quality defensive unit and the requisite leadership in the team.
Despite all these signings, I’d still say that only one of their players would get into the Chelsea side: Robinho. Man City fans will disagree and say Chelsea were after Adebayor and Tevez – but I’m not convinced, certainly regarding the former. Besides which, I’ve made my anti-Tevez feelings well known…
City haven’t been nearly so active with players moving in the other direction. I liked the look of Joe Hart, who’s moved on loan to Birmingham, when he was playing in this Summer’s U21 European Championships, but he won’t be a major miss for the team with Given between the posts. Likewise Jo – who’s also back out on loan – won’t be missed with the new array of attacking talent Hughes has brought in. I’ve been impressed by Sturridge’s energy and confidence in Chelsea blue during pre-season, but hand on heart I can’t say he’ll be missed at City, either.
All this said, you get the impression there will need to be more sales from Eastlands – not only is the squad ‘top heavy’ so to speak, if they are too build a genuinely competitive first team squad they’ll need eventually to get rid of some of the players that were bought for a side playing mid-table football.
If he steps up, they’ll win the league
As with Arsenal, scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem, even if it takes time for the new recruits to gel. But what City are missing is a defensive lynchpin, a foundation around which the rest of the team can be built. You can see why City were so desperate to land John Terry.
From that perspective it was interesting that, having lost out on Terry, City snapped up Toure immediately afterwards. Not exactly a like-for-like deal there. Lescott will probably still join City, but I’m not convinced he’s the answer either. If Man City are to learn consistency and defensive stinginess, one of these two may well need to step their game up a level – provided another signing isn’t made to fill that void.
Where they'll lose it
Remarkably like Arsenal this, isn’t it? As I’ve alluded to, City may well have problems at the back, and you get the feeling that’s there’s little leadership in the team, no-one to grab a poor game by the scruff of its neck. The only difference with Arsenal that I can see is that the club and manager have both the willingness and the resources to take a pragmatic approach and fix the problem. And that’s why Arsenal fans should be concerned for the club’s future as an automatic candidate for Champions League qualification.
When Manchester City were bought in the final hours of last summer’s transfer window, it was genuinely a moment that changed English football, at least in the short term. Love it or loathe it, City will be a force in the next few years, and there’s another two ‘big’ games in the calendar. Deal with it. But this season they’ll narrowly fight off Aston Villa to finish 5th.
What do you make of Man City’s summer dealings – will success come quickly or will they have to wait? What do you think it means for Chelsea? Post a comment…