Today’s pre-season interviews kick off with Danny from City’s Bitter and Blue:
TheChelseaBlog: So, you’ve started with defeat to United but a new season awaits – what are you hoping to get from it?
BitterandBlue: Having rid themselves of the monkey from their backs City will go into the season facing bigger pressures. I wrote in the wake of lifting the FA Cup and Champions League that the season was the fulfilment of expectation; the days of a trophy win were no longer the stuff of fantasy but what was required. Expectations now though will be raised considerably, and rightly so. Would a trophy-less season bring calls for Roberto Mancini’s head? What if City failed to repeat 2010/11’s top four finish? The easy part has been achieved, the hard work just beginning.
The main difficulty will likely be in contending on two fronts in mounting both a challenge for the Premier League and Champions League. History shows it is a difficult act to balance but expectations are now such that this will be the expectation. In the Premier League, City have to make up a nine-point gap on United and that will be a difficult task but last season success will provide the belief within the squad that they can do it, something that shouldn’t be underestimated. In Europe, much may hinge on the draw as City could be paired with tough opponents that make qualification to the knock-out stages tricky, yet equally they will be a side the top seeds will not want to be drawn with.
TCB: Ok, so we know what’s expected but realistically, what do you think you’ll win?
BAB: Of course City can win the Premier League and Champions League (the latter far less likely of course) but I don’t see it this season just yet. What is important is that stability has finally been achieved within the squad after a succession of summer overhauls. Over the course of a season, City has lacked that touch of consistency that United and Chelsea have shown time and again and the killer instinct hasn’t always been there. That may sound harsh considering last season, but these are traits needed to lift the Premier League and for City to triumph they need to be right at the top of their game with others less so.
In terms of Champions League the picture is less clear. A kind draw and they will almost certainly advance to the knock-out stages and I would be surprised – despite their lack of experience in the competition – if this wasn’t the minimum achievement. Once you get into the last sixteen, who knows?
TCB: It’s no surprise City have spent again this summer but do you think the transfer window has been kind to you?
BAB: For the first time in a number of years the club hasn’t seen a raft of new signings, which despite the flagrant nature of it were necessary to improve the side from mid-table outfit to top six challengers to FA Cup winners and Champions League qualifiers. The side now is settled for the first time so the need for 4, 5 or 6 new faces is not there and there should be a natural progression and improvement shown by virtue of familiarity and continuation of selection given the spine or core of the side is very much settled.
We have seen with the signings of Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic that there were areas Roberto Mancini felt the squad was light in and neither were too costly so could be good moves. Savic I haven’t seen play but would be surprised if he immediately challenged the Kompany/Lescott due (with Kolo Toure also waiting in the wings) whilst although an upgrade, I’m yet to be convinced that Clichy was improvement enough.
I haven’t seen much of Sergio Aguero but him settling in at the club, England and Premier League will be important, particularly if he ultimately ends up being Carlos Tevez’s direct replacement.
As much as bringing players in is key, the club would dearly love to permanently offload up to half a dozen players – the likes of Adebayor, Santa Cruz, Bellamy, Wright-Phillips and Bridge – which would be a significant chunk off the wage bill with this season being the first under the new FFP regulations. The reality is that another raft of funded loan moves may be the likeliest option.
TCB: So 3 signings and the window still open – time for you to get numbers 4,5 and 6 yet but is there anyone you’d give your right arm to bring in?
BAB: Mancini may state otherwise but I don’t see a real glaring need when you run through the squad. The squad has a solid feel with a strong spine throughout and cover in virtually all positions but the rigours and demands of combining, successfully so, a run at the Champions League in tandem with domestic competitions are unknown so Mancini’s concerns may well be justified.
With the possible/likely/inevitable (delete as appropriate depending on the day’s news) departure of Carlos Tevez, this will see a big hole created in terms of the value he brings in terms of goals (scoring or assisting on almost half of goals in 2010/11). Whilst there are plenty of options in attack (especially with the acquisition of Aguero) you do wonder – and for all David Silva’s creativity – whether the midfield can generate enough goals. Perhaps then a Nasri or Sneijder type figure who can be central to the midfield but equally effective in attack.
TCB: Who are your most important players?
BAB: There were a number of high level performances during 2010/11, notably from the spine of the side which was the basis of success: Hart, Kompany, de Jong, Yaya Toure, Silva and Tevez – all pretty much ‘untouchables’ within the side. All played a different, but key role within the side and the formation and system that Mancini deploys but it is hard to look past the importance of Tevez to City’s success. Not just his goals and assists record (considerable as they may be) but his style is such that he is the heartbeat of the side, setting the tempo that the side follows. We saw when he was missing through injury that the side struggled to play the same way and lacked the offensive punch that he brings. Should Tevez indeed depart, not only replacing him but adapting to life without him leading the attack will be a big obstacle to overcome.
TCB: What about opposition players? Which PL player worries you most?
BAB: I’m not sure there is one opposition player that worries me per se, as you will only face each team in the Premier League twice a season so the damage they can inflict is very limited and certainly not fatal over the course of a season. But, if you are looking at the teams you expect to be challenging against then the importance of Wayne Rooney to United is perhaps the most important given the way he can elevate his game and drive a team forward. United are far from over-reliant on Rooney but he is the one player who is capable of impacting more than any other.
TCB: How do you think your manager stands up against the rest?
BAB: I like Mancini and he has achieved what has been expected of him so far, certainly quashing talk that his position is under threat. The question will be whether he is the right man to take City a step further and land the title and Champions League, the latter of course eluding him at Inter, whilst the former was achieved with the assistance of the Calciopoli ruling.
I generally like his in game management and by and large he gets it right tactically, although he has come unstuck at times when City have struggled to create opportunities and break sides down – something he will need to address. It is interesting to note that in Italy he had problems with the boards at the clubs where he managed and sought to exert himself far more than shown at City, although after banking some credit with a trophy and Champions League qualification will he look to do the same?
TCB: Oh knowing Mancini, I expect he will. And your supporters – can they exert themselves a bit more and maybe give the opposition a run for their money?
BAB: It has taken some time but I do think that fans are now ‘settled’ into the new stadium after almost a decade there and the atmosphere (helped by some bigger games) was as good as it has been since the move and that is something that become even more so this season.
TCB: Where do you think you’ll finish this season?
BAB: I have seen predictions of City winning the title but for me, it is difficult to ever predict that until you have actually done it. United and Chelsea have the recent experience and wherewithal of course and until you have landed a title it is difficult to wholly believe you can win one. The FA Cup win will of course help, but I predict a third-placed finish: closer to United and Chelsea and further away from the battle for fourth spot.
TCB: Any predictions for the top four?
BAB: Same as last season: United, Chelsea, City, Arsenal. For me, Arsenal would have to flop badly for either Liverpool and Tottenham to take advantage and I’m not sure that either (a) that will happen, and (b) Liverpool and Tottenham quite have enough.
TCB: Cheers Danny. Not sure whether placing us above you is a bit of kidology but would be nice anyway.