EPL Season Preview 2014-15: Manchester City
Hey champions! So you think you can retain your Premier League crown in the 14/15 season? Well, history is against you (the title has been retained on just 7 occasions in PL history) and big bad Chelsea, managed by Jose Mourinho, look ominously strong after a summer transfer window that cannot be classed as anything but a roaring success.
Liverpool will attempt to challenge again, although the loss of Suarez and European football may may hinder any realistic attempt to do so. Man United have replaced the lackluster figure of Moyes with van Gaal, an upgrade, so we are told, and it is possible that Arsenal may improve with the smart additions they have made thus far.
The business of retaining the Premier League title is going to be anything but easy work.
Manchester City have a group of varied challengers to fend off, and they will have to do so with having made just one major signing this summer. Depth additions have been made to the squad, small tweaks, but this has been a summer of calm for Manchester City . No big changes, no upheaval. This seems to be the preferred way of business for the Pellegrini/Begiristain partnership, and it is one that succeeded in a quiet, yet pleasing to the eye, manner in 2013/14.
What Happened Last Season?
2013/14 League Finish: 1st!
Goal Difference: 1st (+65/0.73% Goal%)
TSR: 1st (65.3%)
SoTR: 1st (66.4%)
PDO: 1st (112.1)
Others: 1st in shots against at 9.5 per game, the lowest mark in the last 5 years in EPL, 1st in time spent winning, 2nd in attacking zone time, 1st in non-D zone time, 1st in final third pass ratio. 1st in many adjusted metrics. It goes on and on.
Manchester City weren't a great team from the get go in 13/14, they grew into their skin, the players gradually responded to Pellegrini's system and as the season wore not only were the topping a lot of the stats categories but they were regarded as the best team in the league. Well, that was until Liverpool's remarkable winning streak looked like being enough to beat City to the title.
In the end City's squad depth, range of options and overwhelming firepower was enough to capture the title. The stats told us Manchester City were the best team in the league and that is how it turned out. The trick for Pellegrini for the upcoming season is to recreate what made Manchester City great in 13/14.
Looking Ahead To 14/15
Mangala £32-45m (who knows!)
Sagna £0 free, but likely substantial wages.
Caballero £4.4 - 6m
Barry £2m ish (option)
This is a pretty calm summer, really. Depth signings in Fernando, Lampard, Sagna, Caballero and the one big buy in Mangala, who not many people know too much about.
Few outs, but I'd expect Javi Garcia to leave shortly, Sinclair and Richards are very real possibilities to leave, too. Many journo's expect Nastasic to leave now that a #1 left center back has been bought.
Going into the summer Man City had very few immediate needs to fill. Maybe a center back to play left side due to Demichelis' age and Nastasic's injury riddled season. Competition for Hart, a back-up right back. An upgrade for Javi Garcia. A replacement for Toure if he left, but birthdays, flash cars, insane agents and bereavements were all overcome and Toure stayed.
That wasn't a huge shopping list: one starter, a tactical option in midfield and some depth in net and at right back.
Man City will retain a good number of the title squad and will hope that squad continuity and increased contributions from men like Jovetic and Aguero, who missed significant time, will boost their title chances. Man City had a mighty fine squad last season, probably the PL's best, and they have added one sure-fire upgrade and an option for the midfield in those big away games.
Health will once again be a big factor for Manchester City. The core of Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero played just 295 minutes together in the 2013/14 PL. It is not unreasonable to suggest that Man City may have seen some kind of slight improvement in 13/14 had this core featured more often. Fewer injuries to these key players, along with better fitness from Jovetic, will be a key factors in deciding just how successful 14/15 will be.
It was a quiet summer, but one which will see Man City start the season with a better squad than last year. It is a squad which is likely the best in the Premier League.
13/14 was likely a steep learning curve for manager, Manuel Pellegrini. Early season away losses didn't help, but calm words and calm heads at that time steadied the ship and in the end Man City's quality, and the manager's systems shone through. Pellegrini is a fine coach who prefers a hybrid 4-4-2 system but that preference doesn't override pragmatism.
Pellegrini, towards the end of the season at least, used a lone striker system and a 3 in midfield which all went against the rigid 4-4-2 man that we were told he was. Coaches in general are pretty smart. They know their players, they know their systems - and the opposition's systems - and they will do both what is good for the team and what it takes to win. Pellegrini is no different.
Pellegrini had lights out attacking talent and created a system that enabled the players to maximize their strengths. The defensive system was very good too, but some untimely individual mistakes likely undercut any praise that should of gone Pellegrini's way for those systems. In fact, City allowed the fewest shots against per game in the last five seasons of the Premier League and it went largely unnoticed amongst the avalanche of praise for City's attacking play.
I'm not sure too much will change this season in regards to tactics or setup. Jovetic's health should allow some more rest time for Aguero and increased squad depth should allow for some rotation for men like Zabaleta, Fernandinho, and Toure.
Fernando's signing gives City the option of running a 3 in midfield: Fernando as the true holding player, which will allow the devastating talents of Toure and Fernandinho to roam around the pitch to create and destroy. It is possible that Pellegrini only opts for a midfield 3 in the big away games, but when he does play all three of the aforementioned players together it is likely going to be too much for whichever opposition they face.
Hell, Toure and Fernandinho were too much playing as a 2. As a 3, these guys should be sensational.
One domestic cup win, the title and a minimum of the quarterfinals in the Champions League? Does that sound reasonable, or too much? Maybe the CL bar is too low, but it's a mighty tough competition.
An improved squad, players who will be even more familiar with Pellegrini's systems and a manager who, in his 2nd year in England, should have a better grasp on the quirks and surprises of the Premier League.
This Man City squad is constructed to win now. It is not a young squad and the window to win it all is shrinking with each season as the core of the first XI ages. Thing is, this Man City squad is slap bang in the middle of that "win now" window and it is difficult to see, bar Chelsea's strong challenge, how Man City won't retain their PL crown.
Chelsea will run Man City close but the best squad in the league should have enough depth and the manager should have enough know how to finish as champions.
Predicted finish: 1st.