Manchester City had a difficult time between the two most recent international breaks. While on paper the squad looks impressive, the lack of depth especially given the financial outlay on many of these players is quite worrying. Sergio Aguero has begun the season in terrific form, but there’s always the fear that an injury might be right around the corner. The decision of the Sky Blues to let Alvaro Negredo leave the club over the summer without buying an adequate replacement has already cost the club and could further dent the side’s chances of title glory if Aguero injures himself.
Samir Nasri has suffered an early season injury coupled with a crisis of confidence. This has made David Silva’s recent fitness issues a greater concern than it would have been last season had a similar injury occurred to the Spanish playmaker. Central midfield has been a concern as Yaya Toure’s form has been indifferent, while Fernando and Fernandinho have both proven to be off the pace at times this season. James Milner’s work rate in wide areas has been admirable but his final product has at times been lacking after an outstanding September. Jesús Navas continues to be an enigma – a bit of a one-trick pony whose pace is blistering but a player who adds little else to the side.
The Sky Blues woes at the back have been much discussed and perhaps overdone. Vincent Kompany has not had his best season thus far, but when fit Aleksandar Kolarov has been outstanding at left-back and Pablo Zabaleta always gives a decent performance at right-back. The issues have been largely down to former Arsenal men Gaël Clichy and Bacary Sagna’s poor performances when deputizing for Kolarov and Zabaleta. Eliaquim Mangala’s adjustment to English soccer has been difficult, though some of his problems are down to the poor performances from the central midfielders in front of him. Martín Demichelis remains a capable veteran presence for the defense, however, he has been exposed for his lack of pace at times thanks to the mistakes of others around him.
Joe Hart played very well in October and early November and has erased all doubts as to whether he will remain City’s No. 1 goalkeeper.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini’s lack of a plan B is now on full display. His one built-in tactical change late in games involves bringing Frank Lampard on to supplement the attack. However, Lampard’s October 18th injury against Spurs deprived the side of this option for three weeks, and not so coincidently produced the worst soccer of the Pellegrini era. The manager has enough players at his disposal outside of the striker position to craft a different tactical plan but seems bereft of ideas. His job security is now in question, despite winning two domestic trophies earlier this calendar year.
What areas need to be addressed in the transfer window?
The only position that clearly needs an upgrade is at striker. Letting Negredo go without an adequate replacement was a colossal error. John Guidetti was loaned to Celtic and chances are he will not be recalled, meaning City must purchase a new striker whose movement replicates what Negredo brought to the side at times last season. Edin Džeko and Stevan Jovetić have shown a lack of tactical awareness at times this season and both players while possessing a decent finishing touch have struggled with the movement required to keep the side’s attack fluid.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this side is the lack of improvement, except for Aguero. Even in the 2012-13 season when the Blues defended their Premier League title meekly and crashed out of Europe finishing last in the club’s Champions League group, players like Zabaleta and Milner clearly improved from the previous season. Only Aguero’s increased production is down to being fully fit and the lack of quality finishing coming from the rest of the team. The loan signing of Lampard has been a plus, but otherwise the team appears stale and stagnant. Wild spending in January will likely do nothing but further destabilize this underachieving team, who must find consistency in their game sooner rather than later.
Zabaleta Kompany Demichelis Kolarov
Milner Lampard Silva
Rating (out of 5 stars): 2.5
The solution for City’s problems probably has to come from within and will rest almost entirely on whether this group of accomplished professionals can engineer confidence and a sharper mental capacity. Should they fail to do so, despite all the contract extensions dished out over the summer, this side whose core has been together for four seasons could be finally broken up.
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