Premier League preview - Manchester City
Premier League - Winners
FA Cup - 3rd round
League Cup - Semi-final
Champions League/Europa League - Group stage/Round of 16
No football club in the land does melodrama quite like Manchester City. With extraordinary élan under the most extreme pressure, a famous last-minute swish of Sergio Aguero’s right boot earned Roberto Mancini’s men their first English league championship since 1968 and, what’s more, conjured a seasonal denouement of operatic proportions which will perhaps never be repeated.
There can be no more emotionally gratifying a way of winning the league than Aguero’s Roy-of-the-Rovers intervention. Despite this, the investment ploughed into City since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nayhan’s takeover in August 2008 demands a more serene route to success. For Manchester City the objective is clear: total dominance. Perfection must be strived for. Naturally, this being Manchester City, certain issues need to be dealt with to achieve it.
Keeping Carlos Tevez content may go some way to fulfilling the aim. For most of last season a noxious aura surrounded his presence - or lack thereof - in the City squad following his infamous refusal to warm up during a Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. Testament to football’s transience, with a series of influential performances upon his return, this has all but dissipated. The summer’s break brought with it twangs of nostalgic affection towards his Fuerta Apache childhood home - as evidenced in the message revealed following his devastating strike against Chelsea in the Community Shield - and a renewed commitment to the City cause. Cynics, of course, may need a little more evidence to be fully convinced.
The second major cause of controversy in the City ranks, Mario Balotelli, returns to the Etihad Stadium on the back of a swashbuckling European Championships. There were no catastrophic strops, no insolent displays of self pity; only a display of awesome muscularity which obliterated much-fancied Germany. Ironing out the inconsistencies in his character would prove as important as any potential transfer activity.
Although 2011/12 saw the forwards attract the headlines, the key to sustained City success lies with eradicating lapses of concentration at the other end. Even on the season’s final day, a dreadful Joleon Lescott slip gifted QPR’s Djibrill Cisse an equaliser. Lescott’s propensity for clumsiness is echoed by his understudy Stefan Savic, and it is owing to similar concerns that Pablo Zabaleta is often favoured to the more adventurous Micah Richards at full-back. Expect Jack Rodwell, once signed, to compete in central defence.
Furthermore, with Joe Hart missing for the 3-2 Community Shield defeat of Chelsea, Costel Pantilimon set hearts palpitating. He looked like he had fairy liquid in his gloves as he allowed a tame Daniel Sturridge shot to elude his grasp like a naughty toddler escaping the clutches of a befuddled parent. Ryan Bertrand cheaply pick-pocketed the rebound. City may be wise to seek a more experienced replacement.
Nevertheless, one must be blunt: these problems are the envy of the 19 other Premier League clubs. Roberto Mancini holds in his palm one of the most expensively-assembled, talented squads English football has ever seen. It is demonstrably capable of retaining the Premier League title. It too can scratch the Champions League itch in going far beyond the group stage at which they fell last season. They will also do it with an insouciant, intoxicating swagger. Even if the problems remain, it would be difficult to look beyond City when predicting where the honours shall fall come springtime.
Manager - Roberto Mancini: On the one hand, Roberto Mancini is a Premier League winner and a purveyor of proactive, aesthetically-pleasing, attacking football. However perfection is required, and to achieve it he needs to demonstrate control; something that, for all his success, he is yet to achieve. His position, perverse though it may seem, remains slightly precarious.
Key signing - Jack Rodwell: This being the first season that UEFA monitor European clubs’ spending, Manchester City have great reason to tread carefully around the transfer market. Consequently, the imminent arrival of Jack Rodwell represents the only significant manoeuvre of the summer thus far. Yet given football’s capricious nature, who would be surprised by a change in mindset come 31 August?
Key sale - Vladimir Weiss: Having spent the previous three seasons out on loan, his departure will not be lamented by City. However, the Slovakian’s acceleration, inventiveness and direct touchline-hugging style ought to have caught the eye of fellow Premier League managers. Instead he makes the switch to Serie A, Pescara the beneficiaries.
Keep an eye out for…The Doomsday Scenario: September has passed and City trail to Manchester United. The Champions League anthem provides haunting flashbacks to last season’s farce and progress looks unlikely. Carlos Tevez is eyeing the quickest flight home and Mario Balotelli is spending his free time playing saxophone with avant-garde Wythenshawe jazz bands. It’s not going to happen, is it?