2) MANCHESTER CITY
Pts: 41 (12-4-5)
Preseason Prediction: 6th
Accuracy: Buzzer, please
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. Emanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez are dangerous, James 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.
I was underestimating Mr. Mancini a bit there, probably because of his shaky start last season with City. But this year he’s had a plan – albeit a somewhat defensive one – and his team has performed accordingly. He’s also shown the ability to adjust a little on the fly (which is obviously easier when you’ve got a complement of a couple of dozen big-time internationals to choose from). Once Mancini moved Yaya Toure into a more advanced position, City has been as good as anyone in the league.
They have the players to get the job done, and you’re starting to get the feeling they might have the belief now. There have been minor uprisings from people like Adebayor and the ever-volatile Mario Balotelli (and obviously the whole Tevez saga), but nothing that’s affected the team on the field for a long period of time, and that’s a credit to Mancini as well.
Preseason best new signing:
Aleksandar Kolarov – Kolarov had his struggles at the beginning of the season, and was replaced by the more reliable Pablo Zabaleta. But, of late, Kolarov has gotten a little more time to show himself and has been slightly more comfortable. He’s made 8 starts in the league, and has come off the bench a couple of other times. He’s still got potential, and with the depth Manchester City have, they can afford to bring him along slowly. Must be nice.
Preseason key player:
Emanuel Adebayor – You’d have to say I missed this one. Adebayor has been rendered expendable by City’s enormous roster, starting just 2 games and coming in 6 other times off the bench (with 1 goal). I still think he’s got a little left in him, and there are plenty of teams that can use a player like him. It appears, however, his next stop is Italy.
Key player now:
Jerome Boateng – Boateng was brought in to solidify the right back position, and he’s had to fight off injury, but he has made 10 starts and seems to be Mancini’s first choice when healthy. I say “seems to be” because you can never really be sure with the rotations and number of players he has at his disposal. Micah Richards has also been a solid right back for City.
James Milner also deserves some mention here. He has 5 assists, and with City’s woeful record of headed goals and Edin Dzeko arriving on the scene, they will need Milner’s mostly unused service to continue.
Inside the numbers:
16 – Goals conceded by Manchester City this season, fewest in the league (by 3). Almost Jose Mourinho-esque the way Roberto Mancini is operating. Minus the funny quotes and arrogance. Oh, and trophies, too. Yet?
Outlook: I don’t think they’ll fade away, but I don’t think they’ll have quite enough to make their way past Manchester United in the end.