EPL 2013/14 Preview: Manchester City
Change. It is all about change for Man City in this upcoming season, which is now excitingly close. An old manager, beloved by the fans and seemingly despised by everybody else, has departed and a new man with a more holistic approach has been hired.
Holistic, it's a funny word which was used in it's correct context when explaining Mancini's firing. The issue I have with the word is that it didn't need to mentioned. Roberto Mancini was fired for a couple of very simple reasons: he wasn't good enough; City had stagnated and we were tactically short in the CL.
If Mancini had managed to keep Man City fresh, astute and, importantly, successful then he could have been the re-incarnation of Vlad the Impaler as far as upper management was concerned. Scott Sinclair could have been on a spike outside the training ground as a message to those players who don't 'work' or 'try to improve'. Mancini wasn't that different to most managers: he was a hard bastard. Unfair at times and he lost his job due to results falling short of expectations. Happens every day.
The old man has gone, the new man is Pellegrini. And this could be a crucial hire for Man City. The Chilean is a tactical sharp, wily and cunning in Europe and a man who managed to get his teams to punch above their weight in La Liga (tactics here). His single season with Madrid may have ended in his dismissal, but I implore you to go back and look at Madrid's underlying numbers for that season - they were out of this world good.
The second big change for Man City was the addition of Txiki Begiristain as Director Of Football. A well-connected deal maker with a mixed transfer history (link), this is Txiki's first summer window and it has been curious to say the least. But we'll get into that later.
Let's look back at City's performance last season and see where it all wen't wrong.
Goal Difference: 4th
Close GD: T2nd
Shot Dominance: 3rd
Close Shot Dominance: 3rd
Tied PDO: 11th
Europe: Fuck. Possibly the hardest CL group of all time but still, gotta do better than 3 points
Man City's league form last year wasn't too terrible was it? Yes, they finished 11 points off the top, but ya know they kind of gave up, no? Ok, stop. I know I am trying to kid myself here.
Man City were hugely disappointing. They looked stale as an attacking force, fragile (again) away from home, and generally never really seemed to hit that full stride which was so evident in 2011/12. Potential reasons for the drop off in form? Strikers, stale attacking scheme, lack of width and pace? These are all reasonable excuses, and they may all be true (link). The Shot Dominance was stable year on year, but Man City spent far far less time in a wining position in 12/13 and this had an effect on their PDO, which looked like this:
Now, PDO doesn't tell you everything, but we are talking about a big regression here year on year. This wasn't the cause of Man City's poor title challenge, but it certainly didn't help either.
Can Pellegrini fix some of these issues? Can he heal the away form which, although very good, needs to be exceptional in order to breach ~85 points? We don't know.
Dietmar Hamann went on record recently and said that Man City have the best squad in the Premier League, and it is pretty hard to disagree with him.
City have a good goalkeeper who may have had a bit of a down season. They are pretty well set in their first-choice back 4 - the depth in Lescott, Kolarov, and Javi Garcia is a little frightening. A midfield of Yaya, Fernandinho, an aging Barry and a promising, but oft-injured Rodwell is a very good corps. The attacking midfield options are as strong as any with Silva, Nasri, Navas and Jovetic supplying the bullets to Dzeko, Aguero and Negredo.
It is a fearsome team. A manager who has the command of the players and the tactical setup to allow them to succeed may well find that this squad has plenty enough to win the Premier League.
This is where Txiki, his contacts book and his desire to not repeat the previous regime's mistakes came into play. Txiki got his transfer business done early. Really early. So early that Man City had no competition for Fernandinho or Navas. Then again, you could argue that in Fernandinho's case, no other club in their right mind would pay that much for a recently turned 28yo.
Fills a definite team need. Width and pace and a direct option to complement the band of mighty schemers was badly needed. Navas's price isn't too steep, but you do worry about his age and the decline which may creep into his game in the 3rd or 4th year of this contract.
Steep. It is a ransom for a player who is 28 year old. He has a fairly unique skill set - an agile destroyer who can dribble, shoot and drive forward. He is also equally comfortable in a holding role breaking up the opposition's attacks with his speed and anticipation. His underlying numbers last year in the CL were crazy good. If Fernandinho can replicate that CL form, then Man City have a hell of a player.
It is a purchase that again fills an immediate team need. He is a significant upgrade over Barry, and his partnership with Yaya Toure could destroy opposition teams this year.
The strangest purchase for me. This looks like a Pellegrini recommendation. Negredo is a true power forward: muscular, brutish and a fair finisher when inside the box. He has some issues with 5-yard speed and shot discipline and his price is a little scary, but it appears to me at least that Pellegrini wants to have two power forwards available for selection.
Can Negredo adapt at 27 years of age? Can he cover the bet at an age when he might be expected to have only 1 or 2 years of peak performance left? He will score, but it's hard to see him being anything more than Man City's 3rd choice striker, and that is a lot of money for a #3.
Young, versatile and bought at a very good age. Jovetic will continue to improve at City and his peak years may be outstanding. I really like this signing, but in 2013/14 I think he will play the least of the 4 new boys. Jovetic, if he is deployed as an attacking midfielder or left-sided player, has Nasri, Milner and Silva for competition and it is a steep ask to expect the player to play north of 60% of the available minutes. This signing replaces some of Tevez's versatility, but it has one eye on future performance also.
Three of these new signings are over the age of 27, and it is a little difficult to see how City get full value on such a lavish outlay. But we must remember that these signings very much fill immediate team needs and are signings for the here and now that provide the new manager the best chance to win immediately.
Navas and Fernandinho are significant upgrades and should make Man City better immediately. Negredo offers tactical variety, and Jovetic, with his flexibility, goes someway to replacing Tevez's deep-lying creativity.
Man City definitely improved their squad with these signings and although the money could have been better spent on younger players, it is abundantly clear that Man City have a significantly better squad than last year.
A new manager and some significant upgrades in areas of team need should improve Man City this coming season, but what aspects of their performance have room for improvement?
Mancini was aware that Man City needed to freshen their attacking scheme, hence the aborted 3-5-2. Pellegrini really needs to work on keeping Man City's attacking play fresh and, importantly, varied. Navas should help with this and it will be interesting to see if Man City go into full beast mode and pair two of the biggest forwards in the league together against certain opponents.
Defensively, City really need to work on their recovery shape when defensing counter attacks. City were butchered in the Champions' League against intelligent teams like Dortmund and Madrid. This is a vital task for Pellegrini. It may well have been why such a premium was paid on Fernandinho, who is massive defensive upgrade on Barry.
City's goals for tally dropped significantly last season and this trend needs to be reversed. A healthy Aguero, a confident Dzeko, and the beast of Vallecas should all help. Navas's Lennon-like wide play should really help too. Man City need to rediscover that ability to score their way out of 1 goal deficits and PDO-crushing tied game situations. The goals will come if the attacking scheme is freshened. A return to form of Silva would help immensely.
This is Man City's aggregate points for home and away fixtures last year. It's clear to see that Man City's away form came unstuck two thirds into the season, which resulted in Man City's away form coming in at 5th best in the league.
Man City's underlying shot dominance was good away from home, but City spent too much time in drawing and losing positions and it cost them points. Improvement in away form, I believe, is Pellegrini's biggest challenge and it is vitally important that he can add 6 to 8 points to last season away points total.
Pellegrini's away tactics could be vital here.
Anything other than disaster would be an improvement. Man City are likely to get another tough group in 2013/14, and Pellegrini's performance in this competition will go along way in determining how successful his reign will be.
Though we can expect significant changes on both sides of the ball due to managerial differences, this was the shot chart for City last season (provided by Colin Trainor).
Shots in prime and secondary were second only to Manchester United (among teams that shot a lot). This is maybe another indicator that the final race could have been a lot closer if City hadn't given up the chase along the way.
What Does It All Mean?
Man City are a fine team. The underlying numbers just love them, they are stocked at every position, and have some of the best players in the world playing for the club. Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero is about as good a spine as you can get. The new manager and his tactical schemes may well be the deciding factor in the title race.
Chelsea look strong, Man United will be there or there abouts despite concerns about Moyes in his first year, but I believe that Man City should be feeling very bullish about reclaiming the Premier League title.
Pellegrini's management and the astute filling of team needs by Begiristain only further add to what was already the best squad in the league. If a team betters Man City's points total, then that team will win the league.