Not too long ago, Manchester City hardly ever shared the same expectations as their Red counterparts. Then, in August 2008, the Abu Dhabi United Group bought the team and their impact has been immediately felt with an unprecedented number of signings. They struggled under the first season and just missed out on their aspirations in 2009. Yet, after more signings, the team started to show they could be a top 4 club. The 2010 season ended quite well with their first trophy in more than a third of a century as well as gaining access to the coveted UEFA Champions League.
As a result of these strides, Manchester City has now become the greatest threat to United’s chances for repeated success in 2011. The question is, are they up to the challenge?
Right now, City looks better than any other team competing with United. Chelsea’s squad looks too old to muster competition for the title. Arsenal, as usual, look like they have the potential to compete for the title but lack the resolve and mental toughness to win crucial matches. Liverpool look greatly improved under Kenny Daglish and could certainly make a run this year but I still feel that at best, they’ll finish in the top four. By default, that leaves City as the best team to compete against United for the title.
Manchester City looked like they were finally starting to show chemistry with each other during the last months of the season. In prior seasons, the roster seemed to lack an understanding of how to play with one another as they looked like a bunch of expensive talents struggling to work together. The first thing that seemed to take shape for City was their back line which has proven to be one of the best in the Premier League. Led by co-captain Vincent Company, whose form at center back has been amazing, they have done well with the consistently good performances from Micah Richards Aleksander Kolarov, and Pablo Zabaleta. Joleon Lescott, who sometimes has looked quite shaky, has held his own overall in a defense that was tied with Chelsea in allowing the fewest goals in the past year. Of course, the play of Joe Hart has also been phenomenal as he had the most clean sheets with 18 and was the winner of the Barclays Golden Glove.
In midfield, they have enjoyed two of their best signings in Yaya Toure and David Silva. Toure has been simply a monster on the field, whose pace, physical prowess, and timely goal-scoring have made him an instant favorite with the City faithful. Silva has added a crucial touch of creativity in their central midfield as his technical ability and vision is nothing short of magnificent at times. Nigel de Jong will continue his solid play as a defensive midfielder while Gareth Barry will likely still factor heavily up front in the central midfield in terms of building up chances.
The trickiest situation will be determining the striker situation at City. Carlos Tevez is a prolific finisher entering the prime of his career but he’s repeatedly shown his desire to leave the club. While he has been a central figure of their attack, it may be too risky to depend on him when he could want to leave at any moment. Emmanuel Adebayor will return from loan at Real Madrid and while he’s struggled at times to play with City, I feel he could still have a lot to offer considering he’s only 27 and is a proven goal-scorer in the EPL. That then leaves two of City’s young strikers of the future; Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli. Dzeko struggled in his first few matches but he should be given more opportunity to improve this year. Balotelli meanwhile has been inconsistent, at times showing a lack of maturity and understanding on the field. However, he has recently showed his potential after being the man of the match in the FA Cup Final and City will hope that this will be the year that Balotelli moves forward in England.
In terms of coaching, while Roberto Mancini has proven to be a quality manager, he may be to blame for holding back their potential. The biggest question surrounding him is why he so often tends to favor using defensive tactics. Mancini is of course a product of Italian football, where defense often comes before anything else when it comes to winning. However, considering the potential of City’s roster, they were overly defensive and cautious against the top teams — often settling for a draw. They played ugly football especially at home against Manchester United where their safety-first approach took any life out of the game.
If this is City’s year to take charge, Mancini has to become more adventurous and creative in his tactics against elite teams. Creating goal-scoring opportunities is how the EPL is won and Mancini may be too afraid to gamble on his team going forward for the win against the best. As a result, I wonder whether this team has the character, spirit, experience and resolve to challenge United and the rest of the EPL for the title.
One thing about City that needs to be improved is the squad having more faith and belief in themselves as a team. While City greatly improved in terms of chemistry, they still need to get even better as they rely too often on individual performances.
City also fields a lineup that greatly lacks experience when it comes to winning trophies especially in England. The pressure may be too heavy for this team as they’ll enter next season with higher expectations than they probably have ever had before. After all the money that has been pumped into this club, it is time they take it to the next level in both England and Europe.
Overall, the 2011-2012 season should be a fascinating year for the squad. They have the individuals to win but it will all come down to their strategies, team-play, and resolve to be the best.
The United vs. City matches, especially, should be even more fun next season.