Man City Season Preview

man cityThe Football Lab spoke to Manchester City fan @MacNab63 ahead of the new season. Here, he discusses the attacking changes under Manuel Pellegrini, the added competition for Joe Hart with Willy Caballero arriving, and, surprisingly, tips his Manchester neighbours for the league title.

You’re yet to really cut it on the European stage. Is that something you need to change this season, or is retaining the title your main objective?

We have won the Premier League twice in the last three seasons. That has been a fantastic feeling but, if I had to, I would give it up this year to go all out for the Champions League. Our problem has been that the pot you are drawn from is based upon your last five years within European competition. Until you start progressing further into the knockout stages, and gaining points and improving your coefficient, you are always drawn against elite clubs in the group stages in the next campaign. Our lack of experience as a team in the CL has been exposed because of that system. No complaints though, it’s the same for everyone. Now is the right time to go for it. We are more than capable of winning it too.

You scored 102 goals, 45 more than you did the year before under Mancini. What has been the main difference with Pellegrini in charge?

Basically we play 10 yards further up the field! Mancini was tactically brilliant in the PL but probably restricted the natural flair in our players. We played banks of 4 or 5 in midfield depending on the opposition and teams rarely got behind us. He was happy to win 1-0 every week. Not a criticism, as a City fan of over 40 years, winning was more than enough for me!

Pelligrini trusts his his players more. He bought Fernandinhio, more athletic and quicker than Gareth Barry, to make the movement of the ball from the back to the front faster. We push teams into their own half, penetrate and put pressure on them in dangerous areas. The result of this is our achilles heal. The ball over the top of the defence, resulting in conceding ridiculous goals (Villa, Chelsea), has been a major problem and caused the fans palpitations!

Joe Hart struggled pre-January, many say due to a lack of competition. Will the arrival of Willy Caballero force him to up his game?

Absolutely. I don’t know many people who think that Pantilimon was a genuine No. 2 at the top level. Caballero definitely is. He is also trusted by Pellegrini and will be pushing Hart all the way. Never a bad thing for any player.

Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna were on the fringes of France’s World Cup squad. To what extent do they improve the current defensive options?

Sagna is a fantastic addition who is a vastly experienced PL and CL player. He can play anywhere across the back. He will also help Zabaleta with the RB spot and enable him to rest. Micah Richards has been injury prone all season a has been unable to share the load.
Mangala is an unknown quantity for the PL. He’s only 23 which is young for him to be considered the finished article as a Central Defender. I have heard good things from Simon Curtis (@bifana_bifana), a City fan living in Portugal. He is strong, athletic and comfortable on the ball (Not Simon, he likes a beer!). If we get him he will take his place next to Kompany. Demichelis will be a fantastic back up.

Pablo Zabaleta has been booked more times (11) than any other player. Does the relentless commitment he offers the side make up for this?

I am a big fan of Zabaleta. The best Right Back in the PL. He played virtually every game which increases the chances of picking up a booking. He looked knackered at the back end of the season and was a little slow getting to the ball now and again! The perfect role model and player for any club. He will retire as a City player. We will allow him the odd rest through suspension!

According to Who Scored, you conceded the fewest number of shots per game. Do you feel that the team’s counter-attacking force deterred opponents from attacking themselves?

I think that goes back to what I said earlier. We push teams right back into their own half under Pellegrini. Consequently teams rarely get the chance to pepper our goal. They mostly park the bus and break on us. I agree that the potency of attack keeps teams on the back foot more often than not.

Would you agree that Yaya Toure lacks the discipline to play in a midfield duo against top teams? And with Fernando arriving, will Pellegrini organise the midfield differently for big games?

I don’t think he lacks discipline. I think he just struggles to get about the pitch as quickly as others and sometimes gets caught out. I understand that too, he’s a big unit! This is another reason Fernandinho compliments him. Fernando is a more out and out CDM than Fernandinho or Yaya. I think he could, when required, play all three with Yaya the furthest forward. It could mean we go 4-3-3 more often.

With Sergio Aguero in the side, you scored 2.95 goals per game, and 2.39 per game without him. If he stays fit next season, could he be seen as on a par with the very best in the world?

If you mean Messi and Ronaldo probably not. A fully fit and firing Sergio is not too far behind them. He’s already in the next tier down with Suarez etc. An amazing player, great technique, work rate and a decent guy too. You are always going to miss a player of his quality.

Given you had the cheapest season ticket prices in the Premier League last season, are you surprised you haven’t been able to fill the ground more?

Ha ha! I get sick of answering this to be honest. Firstly, we sold out 18 of our 19 PL home games this season but there are empty seats for some games. One of the problems is night matches. The whole of the North Stand has been designated as the “Family Stand”. It is so families can go to the match without hearing too much bad language etc. It was a brave move. The price of a Season Ticket for a child in there is around £100. Families have snapped them up but, because of the low cost, do not feel compelled to use them all the time. There is a waiting list for Season Tickets. Says it all really.

With most bookmakers, Manchester City are at around 2/1 to win the title. Where will you finish?

Even though I want us to concentrate on the CL, I still feel we can compete for the title. I believe Chelsea will do much better this season but think Man Utd should win the title. They have no European football. They will play a maximum of 50 games this season and have a big, expensive and experienced squad. Their manager is a born winner. People will say it’s his first season but that didn’t stop Pelligrini winning a league and cup double whilst also changing a teams philosophy. They will be the biggest threat to us retaining our title. I will predict us to finish 2nd with Utd pipping us.

TFL Verdict

Man City’s chances of retaining the title depend largely on the fitness of Aguero, and the impact of defensive additions. 2nd