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Manchester City's inability to strengthen has compromised the defence of their Premier League crown
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Transfer failings undermine City title defence

By prolifik on February 16th, 2013 in English Premier League Analysis 2 comments
Transfer failings undermine City title defence
Unconvincing - Javi Garcia
The 2011/12 season brought Manchester City their first league title in 44 years, the culmination of over £400 million worth of transfer spending since the Abu Dhabi United Group took over the club in summer of 2008. Still, that campaign was not quite an unqualified success – the club’s Champions League debut ended in group stage elimination (albeit from a very difficult group), and while they showed great resilience to overhaul an eight-point deficit and pip city rivals Manchester United to the title with virtually the last kick of the season, there was a sense that they had been overly reliant on a handful of individuals for such an expensively-assembled squad.  

It seems almost obscene to say it, but even after an unprecedented outlay on new players, the Citizens’ chances of building on that league triumph rested on their ability to strengthen during the ensuing close season. Mancini’s bellyaching about the need for new blood has understandably drawn more than a few chuckles, but despite the inflated cost of City’s playing staff there was still considerable room for improvement.  

The spine of the team was one of unquestioned quality: goalkeeper Joe Hart, skipper and defensive lynchpin Vincent Kompany, midfield dynamo Yaya Toure, playmaker David Silva, and striker Sergio Aguero. Mancini’s side also boasted enviable strength in depth at full-back (Micah Richards, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Alexsandr Kolarov) and up front (Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli) but lacked genuine width in attacking areas and were too dependent in midfield on the creativity of Silva and the drive of Toure. When either player was absent or off-colour, there was no like-for-like replacement, and for a team which relied so heavily on the full-backs to spread the play, this made their attacking play rather predictable at times.  

Despite their seemingly unlimited resources, acquiring the needed reinforcement proved a major challenge for City. They lost out to United in the chase for striker Robin van Persie (a development which Mancini presciently declared would be the difference in the title race) and only a last-minute flurry of signings prevented ex-Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell from being their only addition. A glance at the league table, which sees City 12 points behind leaders United with just a third of the season remaining, reflects the negligible impact those acquisitions have made thus far.  

Rodwell, a jack of all trades and master of none at this point in his young career, has made just six league appearances (and one since October) due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Scott Sinclair, to the surprise of absolutely no-one, has not proven the answer to City’s problems on the flanks, while proving eminently replaceable for former club Swansea. Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia, signed for £15.8 million from Benfica, has offered little besides his aerial prowess. Brazilian right-back Maicon was already on the decline at Inter, and for a side featuring Richards and Zabaleta, his was always a curious addition.  

The only relative success story has been Serbian centre-back Matija Nastasic, whose £12 million price tag should prove a bargain in the long run. At just 19 years of age, the former Fiorentina man has adjusted to the English game remarkably well given his tender years, ousting Joleon Lescott as Kompany’s first-choice central defensive partner. Even so, City already had the league’s strongest defence with Kompany and Lescott last season; in the short term, adding Nastasic to the mix has had little impact on the club’s fortunes.  

Instead, familiar collective failings have been exacerbated by a dip in form for several individuals. Kompany has performed at his usual high standards, but behind him Hart has been a bit shaky. Toure has often lacked his usual dynamism, while Silva has blown hot and cold all season; Samir Nasri, the only other player with the talent and pedigree to step into the breach, remains as erratic as ever. In attack, Aguero has lost some of the sharpness he showed in his debut season, Dzeko remains wasteful despite an impressive goals-to-games ratio, and Balotelli was little more than an unwelcome distraction prior to his January move to Milan. Tevez has been the club’s most consistent attacking force, yet appears to lack the complete trust of Mancini. In related news, City have managed only 48 goals in 26 games (or 1.85 per game) compared to a league-best 93 in 38 (2.45) last season.

With the summer recruits providing scant relief, and no new faces brought in during the winter window, City’s squad actually appears to be worse than a year ago. Balotelli may have struggled in 2012/13, but he did notch 17 goals the season prior, and one have expected the club to at least draft in a replacement for such a talented player. Nigel de Jong, who moved to Milan in the summer, was one of the league’s better holding midfielders, and although no longer a regular starter, he was undoubtedly a more valuable squad member than Garcia has been thus far. Similarly, while winger Adam Johnson, now at Sunderland, was no world-beater, he was a far more useful option to have on the bench than Sinclair.  

Given the way United threw away a seemingly unassailable advantage last season, it would probably be unwise to write off City’s chances just yet. The more likely event is that the sting of that collapse is enough to prevent the Red Devils from allowing lightning to strike in the same place twice. In that case, City will be left to rue a summer recruitment drive that has proven an almost unmitigated disaster, especially compared to that of their fellow Mancunians.
By prolifik on February 16th, 2013 in English Premier League Analysis

Transfer failings undermine City title defence
2 responses
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