Well, that wasn’t a bad end to 2013, was it?
After the disappointment of last season (losing the title, the FA Cup final, our most successful manager in recent years), August to December 2013 was just what every City fan needed. Brilliant, attacking and exciting football, plenty of goals and progress in Europe, not to mention an always welcomed tonking of the neighbours in the Derby!
Manuel Pellegrini arrived at City with lots to contend with: fans upset with Mancini’s departure, a reportedly unsettled group of players and an expectation from the board for immediate improvement, specifically in the Champions League. But the Chilean, with his ‘we’ll score more than you’ philosophy to football has worked wonders. He’s reenergised a team that looked to have taken a step back last term and has completely rejuvenated a number of individuals with his good man management skills, most notably Samir Nasri.
Now we begin 2014 second in the table and one point behind the leaders. Many are saying its City’s title to lose. So what things need to happen in order for the Blues to claim their second Premier League title?
1. Vincent Kompany needs to stay fit
City have got a great squad of players, including an experienced bunch of international defenders. But there’s no hiding from the fact that we are a completely different side without our skipper. Our defence looks shaky and unorganised in his absence, whilst the team as a whole suffers without his leadership. Many opposition strike forces lick their lips when they don’t see Kompany’s name on the team sheet. Any recurrence of his thigh injury from earlier in the campaign could prove costly with a tough run in.
2. A new centre back to be bought in the January transfer window
As it stands, City don’t necessarily need to spend this month. The one place where, if you had to pin point a possible area to strengthen, would be at the back. This would, however, become a more pressing issue if Kompany was to get injured again. Martin Demichelis, despite his fanatastic positional sense, doesn’t have that turn of pace needed to play week-in, week-out in England. Matija Nastastic, as talented as he is, is still only 20-years-old and is arguably vulnerable without Kompany alongside him, whilst Joleon Lescott clearly doesn’t tickle Pellegrini’s fancy, despite adulation for the Englishman from the fans. This then leaves us a little short of adequate back up. Pepe of Real Madrid was linked earlier in the season; although perhaps not the player wanted by every Blue, a player of similar top-level European and international experience, still in his prime, would certainly not hurt us to add.
3. Decide upon 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 away from home
Two months ago it was just the away form in general that was the problem. Thankfully, we appear to have turned a corner on our travels and now look a lot more assured and confident. However, which formation should we be looking to stick with on the road? At times a five man midfield forces us to lose tempo and resort to having a lot of the ball on the edge of the box without doing a lot with it. On the flip side, playing two up top can lead to us getting swamped in midfield. Of course, the opposition and the type of football that they play might dictate which formation we go with; 4-4-2 against sides like Swansea who’ll look to attack, and a five man midfield against sides like Sunderland who’ll look to defend and counter?
4. Back Joe Hart until the end of the season
Pellegrini has handled the goalkeeper situation magnificently. His decision to drop Joe Hart has been well and truly vindicated, with England’s number one impressive over the festive period. It must have been a difficult decision to make, but there’s no denying that Hart looks refreshed and more composed following a time on the sidelines. It must have been just as hard a decision to then drop Costel Pantilimon, with the Romanian having not put a foot wrong. But bringing Hart, one of the best keepers in Europe, back is the right thing to do- now he must back him for the remainder of the campaign for the sake of a settled defence, not to mention Hart’s long term confidence.
5. Fernandinho and Alvaro Negredo need to maintain their form
So many individuals have excelled so far this term. Sergio Aguero has been that good he’s been put in the same bracket as Ronaldo and Messi by Pellegrini, Aleks Kolarov and Samir Nasri have been completely different players, whilst James Milner and Jesus Navas have shone in recent weeks. But it’s been Fernandinho and Negredo that have really stood out. The Brazilian Fernandinho arrived with a big price-tag on his shoulder and, despite struggling somewhat in the opening weeks, just keeps getting better and better. He’s a great tackler, is calm on the ball and is now even adding goals to his game. He is becoming just as vital a cog in our midfield as predecessors Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong were. As for Negredo, “The Beast” has taken to English football like a duck to water. But it hasn’t just been his strike-rate that’s impressed; his work rate, hold up play and exquisite touch makes him a joy to watch and the perfect strike partner for Aguero. If the pair maintain their form, it should help us to be there or there abouts come the end of the season.
What else do City need to ensure that they are champions for a second time in three years?