Have you ever seen a live train wreck? Well, in Manchester City this season, you might get to see one play out over 38 games of an English Premier League season.
Obviously, they have talent – and lots of it. If I were Roberto Mancini (I’m not so sure I would want to be at this exact moment, although I’d take his paycheck. And his scarf, of course) here would be my current options off the bench, in no particular order: Shay Given, Micah Richards, Wayne Bridge, Nedum Onuoha, Pablo Zabaleta, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Adam Johnson, Roque Santa Cruz, Felipe Caicedo, Patrick Vieira, Jo, Vincent Kompany, Dedryck Boyata, Craig Bellamy, Vladimir Weiss, Yaya Toure, and Mario Balotelli.
Not only would that team win a lot of games, it’s got more depth than 90 percent of Premiership squads, although more than a few will soon be unloaded to the grateful poor of the league in the next couple of weeks.
However, people want to compare Chelsea and Manchester City, but forget: a) Chelsea was already in the Champions League before Roman Abramovich came aboard; and b) Jose Mourinho won back-to-back titles largely with defense, conceding only 15 goals in 2004-2005, and 22 the following season.
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More importantly, do you really think this team will mesh over a grueling 9-month season? Their talent will win a lot of games, but there will be some other days where talent alone won’t dig them out of tough spots:
6) MANCHESTER CITY
2009-10 standing: 5th
Gaffer: Roberto Mancini (2nd season)
Best new signing: Aleksandar Kolarov – The Serbian left-back didn’t get quite the hype or the attention of several of City’s other signings, but – as I mentioned before – they need to defend, and Kolarov appears to be a better option than Wayne Bridge (can anyone get the vision of Dane Richards abusing Bridge out of their head?) right now. Kolarov had a decent World Cup, but the 24-year-old will be under a kind of pressure he hasn’t even come close to experiencing before. He needs to handle the tough times, as well as the good.
Biggest loss: Martin Petrov – There will be plenty of others to come soon, but Petrov – while far from flashy – was a calming influence in the midfield as someone who could hold the ball and not worrying about his ego or scoring a lot of goals. There won’t be too many of those guys left once the Manchester City roster is finalized.
Key player: Emmanuel Adebayor – Adebayor scored 14 goals last season, but never really seemed to hit top form. The tragedy at the African Nations Cup had to be tough to deal with, and he made only 26 appearances. But at 26, he’s coming into his prime, and when he’s on his game, is as good as any striker in the world. But keeping him motivated will have to one of Mancini’s top priorites. Interesting fact, too, Adebayor’s only booking of last season was this back in September. Not that one wants to get booked, but you’d like Adebayor to mix it up every once in a while.
Random fact: With the World Cup fresh in our minds, I’ll point out that Nigel de Jong committed only 44 fouls in the Premiership last season, far less than Gareth Barry’s 64 and some 80 less than Kevin Davies’ league leading total. De Jong also didn’t even lead City in yellow cards, Pablo Zabaleta had 8 to De Jong’s 7. And De Jong was never sent off last season, either.
I’m just not sure how Mancini keeps everyone happy over the long haul, especially with some of the personnel he has on his roster (I’m thinking keeping Balotelli, Adebayor, and Carlos Tevez pleased might not be easy). The defense is certainly improved, but will the likes of Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Jerome Boateng, and Kolarov be able to form the tight partnership that have pushed teams like Birmingham and Aston Villa forward? Toure and Lescott had some tough moments last year. There are also questions about Given (if he is the man in goal) and his ability to organize that back four.
Sure, they will have their moments, but can they be consistent enough over the long haul?
Just look at the roster, world-class players up and down, and – at some point – talent has to count for something, doesn’t it? Tevez and Adebayor might be two of the top five strikers in the Premership, Tevez was fourth in the league with 23 goals and he is most certainly one guy that shows up every night. They seem sure to get James Milner, who was third in the Premiership in assists (12) with Aston Villa in 2009-2010. Boateng and De Jong obviously went deep into the World Cup and new signing David Silva won it.
If they do get some injuries, Mancini can pretty much just cut and paste whomever he wants and plug in a similar player.
Despite the fact that I have them sixth, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility – if Mancini is a better psychologist than I give him credit for – that Manchester City could actually win the league. Adebayor and Tevez are dangerous, Milner is a tremendous talent, David Silva is a World Cup winner, I could go on for a while. There will likely be days, some of them probably against the best teams in the Premier League, that City will look like world beaters.
But league titles are not won with flashes of brilliance, or the occasional win over Manchester United when everything goes your way. League success comes from grinding out 1-0 wins at Wolves, or 2-1 victories at Bolton. Last year, City had the same amount of losses as Manchester United (7), but had 9 more draws (13 in all, 9 coming away from Manchester).
Jose Mourinho understood that. Alex Ferguson understands that. I’m not sure Roberto Mancini and Manchester City do. But we’ll find out together.