The 200% Pre-Season Previews: Manchester City
History, as every third-rate writer already knows, has a tendency to be written by the victors. In amongst the hysteria that accompanied the absurdly tight finish to last years Premier League season, it was perhaps forgotten amongst the celebrations and tears just how close Manchester City came to what surely would have had to be regarded as the failure of not winning the Premier League championship. No-one of the blue persuasion in Manchester probably cared that much at the time. Football may be considered a results business, but it is also an area which excels in providing snapshots mental images for preservation in our memories, and few of these from last season will prove to be more indelible than that of Sergio Aguero forcing the ball into the Queens Park Rangers goal through what seemed at the time like some sheer force of will to snatch the title from the grasp of Manchester United at the very last possible minute.
Similarly clichéed is the notion of the “difficult second season.” Winning a title, we are sometimes told, is the easy bit. It’s defending it which proves to be trickier, apparently. Such arguments tend to overlook the psychological hurdle that is overcome with a first league championship win for a long time, as well as the effect that such a win may have upon their opponents. Teams playing against Manchester City will no longer be playing against the prat-falling comedy fall guys of the past, the Manchester City who would by hook or by crook find a way to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. They will be playing against the Premier League champions, a club that is starting to look as if it could be a serious contender to be the European champions by the end of the coming season and which retains a personnel of frightening proportions and dimensions.
On the domestic front, the transitional nature of so many of the clubs rivals at the top of the table continues to play into Roberto Mancinis hands. Storm clouds are gathering again over Old Trafford as a result of Manchester Uniteds controversial summer IPO issue, Chelsea have been splurging in the transfer market to such an extent that we don’t know how long it might take for their new look team to gel over the coming months and Arsenal remain some distance from the sort of investment that could drag them back to the top of the table. Mancini, meanwhile, has had a quiet summer, with the now anticipated signing of Jack Rodwell from Everton for £15m having been their only significant activity in the transfer market so far this summer. The manager might well have decided that he has enough brilliance at his disposal. Players such as Pablo Zabaleta, Mario Balotelli and Vincent Kompany seemed to grow as players over the course of last season, and the settled nature of the squads summer means that talk of whether these players are “mercenaries” (as if players at other clubs aren’t) who have “too many egos” (as if there is some sort of level at which Premier League footballers become humble) are hopelessly redundant. They will start the season as the favourites to win the title again, and deservedly so.
With forty-four title-free years now over, though, perhaps winning the Premier League title will matter a little less to Manchester City this season. A lingering itch has been scratched, but it seems difficult to believe that the attention of many within the club will now turn to the thorny question of whether the club can become the champions of all Europe. There should be little doubting the scale of such a challenge. A little of the hype which has surrounded Barcelona in recent years seems to have worn off with the departure of coach Pep Guardiola, their exit from the Champions League and surrender in La Liga at the hands of Real Madrid last season, but no-one should forget that in the current Barcelona and Real Madrid teams Manchester City remain very much in the company of greatness. The idea that a managers minimum target – no matter how much money may have been thrown at him in the last four years – should be to become the champions of Europe seems thoroughly ridiculous.
Looking for chinks in their armour for this season can be an arduous task. More than once last season Mancini was accused of being too cautious when City played away from home, but whether they will be so again with the confidence that comes with lifting the league trophy is very much open to question. Similarly, the Carlos Tevez situation, which seemed to follow the club around last season like an effluent smell, also seems to have settled down over the last couple of months or so. If Chelseas newly-fortified team can gel quickly, they are certainly more than capable of challenging for the title in a way that they were unable to last season. The other contenders, however, all have weaknesses which same greater than those that can be – even if only under a microscope – be identified for Manchester City. It is possible that a concerted battle on the twin fronts of the Premier League and Champions League might prove to be a stretch, but there remains no other squad in England as well equipped to do so.
As such, in spite of the tight end to last season, it is difficult to see past Manchester City retaining the Premier League trophy at he end of this season. Perhaps Chelsea will click immediately into gear like a well-oiled machine. Perhaps Alex Ferguson will force his team into something greater than the sum of its parts again. These, however, are qualifiers, even for the two clubs most likely to challenge at the very top of the table. Manchester City, on the other hand, have fewer of these qualifiers and, as such, they remain the team to beat, and this season may be the one in which we get to identify the extent to which the money put into the club has built a dynasty that will last. Nothing is guaranteed, but it seems that the ascent of the blue moon has reached its fullest extent just yet.
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