When Manuel Pellegrini took over the reins from the ever divisive Roberto Mancini and the club bandied around the term ‘holistic approach’, little did anyone expect such a tight lid to he placed on all aspects of the club, and cake-gate aside, this summer seems to be following a similar pattern under the guidance of the reserved Chilean and the ex-Barcelona tag team of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain. With Eliaquim Mangala seemingly the only box left to be ticked on the ‘incoming’ list, the City brass can be satisfied with their second successful transfer window and will hope to use the pre-season to properly blood in the new talent and possibly determine if there is any deadwood left to be culled.
It would be wrong to assume that the champions are resting on their laurels; indeed, with so many big names completing moves to the rest of the top 4, it would seem that City are lagging behind and letting the rest of the pack catch up quite easily, more than a hint of déjà vu compared to two summers ago when Mancini couldn’t acquire his main target in Robin van Persie and tried to compensate with the deadline day signings of Scott Sinclair, Javi Garcia, Maicon and the somewhat successful Matija Nastasic. But although this window brings a sense of familiarity to City supporters, it couldn’t be more different this time around.
Fernando is a strong addition to a stellar midfield
One can’t see him easily getting past Toure and Fernandinho on their current form, but new signing Fernando will run them pretty close. ‘The Octupus’, as he is known, is an out-and-out defensive midfielder, allowing his midfield partner to push further up the pitch to join in City’s attack. Pellegrini will likely use all three for tricky Champions League away fixtures, moving away from his preferred 4-2-3-1 in these games to more of a compact 4-3-3, allowing City to take control in midfield, something they missed in their games against Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
He is a robust tackler, completing 2.83 tackles per game in the Europa League last year, but also has an eye for a pass; his pass completion of 89% in the Primeira Liga is higher than any of his Porto teammates and his chance creation rate of 2 surpasses Fernandinho’s stats in that regard. At 31, it is unlikely that Toure will reach the peaks he did last season again, and Fernando will be an able deputy to the Ivorian powerhouse.
Sagna provides much better backup to Zabaleta than Richards
It is nothing short of a minor miracle that Pablo Zabaleta didn’t burnout by the end of last season. He played the most minutes across all competitions for the Citizens, mostly due to a lack of a capable backup. Academy graduate Micah Richards seems perennially injured, and City fans’ adulation of him is coupled with a wariness caused by his horrendous injury record.
Bacary Sagna is a perfect short-term solution to the problem. At 31, he has a good couple of years left in him, and this would allow City to either develop one of their own in that time or scout for better long term options. A stats comparison between the two yield no clear winners; Sagna is a better defensive RB, he has won 62.2% of his battles across the season, a fact which sees him ahead of Ivanovic (60.8%), Glen Johnson (54.7%) and Zabaleta (54.2%) in those terms. An aerial duel success rate of 66.7% surpasses that of Zabaleta (54.2%), which makes him a threat from set pieces as well. However, Zabaleta’s creativity is unparalleled; with 5 assists at a pass completion of 85%, he is the most attacking full-back in the league. Sagna provides able cover for the experienced Argentinean, and his presence likely gives Zabaleta some much needed competition and a breather every once in a while.
Who is on the chopping block?
The one quandary that City now have is an excess of foreign players in their squad. The Premier League only allows 17 non home-grown players in the allowed 25 man squad, and if the deal for Mangala does go through as expected, City will have to cut ties with at least one foreign player. Javi Garcia seems the most likely to leave; although his form improved massively over the course of last season, it is possible that City will offer the fourth central midfield position to James Milner, who is in search of more playing time than he was getting last season. Matija Nastasic is also one who looks to be out the door; though he qualifies as an under-21 player this season, this classification expires at the end of next season and a mixture of injuries and Karim Rekik’s excellent form in the Eridivise on loan at PSV means the Serbian defender may be on his way out this summer. A lot will be decided during the Blues’ preseason tour, and players will be eager to push for a spot with the champions for the upcoming season.
It was widely accepted that Manuel Pellegrini had the strongest squad to choose from last season, and few solid additions and replacements at key positions means City can come back stronger next year to offer a better defense of the title than two years ago. And managing to snag a defensive midfielder, cover at right-back and a dynamic centre back within FFP regulations would represent something of a transfer window victory for Manchester City and would allow them to compete on all four fronts once again in 2014/15.