With the 2012-13 English Premier League season on the horizon, Tezini’s crew of soccer experts is here to get you ready for all the cracking finishes, devilish challenges and unforgettable drama. Over the next two weeks, we’ll give each club its proper due in a free-flowing roundtable discussion. We wrap up with Manchester City.
AJ: Manchester City is so good now, that I’m actually more interested to see what happens to the players who might leave this transfer window — Edin Dzeko? Emmanuel Adebayor? Adam Johnson? — than I am to see who they bring in. That’s probably partially because they don’t really need to make any splashy signings, a point that is self-evident in the fact that they have two world-class strikers in Dzeko and Adebayor who are basically seen as deadweight and confirmed by the fact that they mostly seem to be focused on filling out the fringes and loading up for title run after title run years down the line (see Rodwell, Jack).
I’m on record as tipping Man U to pip City for the title, but that doesn’t mean I think the reigning champions aren’t consensus favorites. It’s often about depth at this level, and no one in the Premier League has more of it than manager Roberto Mancini. That’s inarguable in my mind when you consider that, even when they’re all fit and not suspended, one of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli or Carlos Tevez will begin every match they play this year sitting on the bench.
The flip side of this is that finding holes in this team is painstakingly difficult. Sergio Aguero might be the best player in the Premier League right now — an argument I’m happy to make depending on the day — but in the context of City, he’s not the most important. Even if he was lost for the season, Mancini could still cover his eyes, point at his bench and have a good chance of finding a replacement that would hardly miss a beat. Vincent Kompany and David Silva, in that order, remain the two most valuable players to this side, and I guess what I’m banking on is that they won’t be able to make it through another season with both again being so influential for so much of the campaign. I’m not sure they have someone around who can replicate what Yaya Toure does either, and what a player he was for them this past season. It’s just a gut-feel thing, I guess, and, oh yeah, the Sheikhs have plenty of time to paper over these holes (it doesn’t even feel right calling them that) before the transfer window shuts.
Ben: Somehow in this conversation I’m going out on a limb by predicting that the best team in the league, Manchester City, will actually win the title. Here’s why:
Despite all the hemming and hawing in the English media about Roberto Mancini’s quiet summer, Man City are fine. In fact, they’ve had the type of summer that’s common over at the other Manchester club, and that often augurs a title, where tweaks are made around the edges of a well-built machine but nothing new is thrown in that might throw the whole operation off. City, as currently built, are a juggernaut. They didn’t need Eden Hazard and they didn’t need Van Persie. In fact, given the murderer’s row of attacking options already at his disposal, not to mention the very real effects that Financial Fair Play will have on even the biggest clubs, Mancini’s best move this summer might just have been to keep still.
City’s one failing, as has been covered at length by Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox, is their lack of a deep-lying playmaker to pull apart sticky defenses. However, I feel like this is more of an issue in Europe than in the up-and-down English game, and while it may prevent City from advancing in the Champions League, they should be fine in the league relying on Gareth Barry, Yaya and Nigel De Jong when Mancini feels the opposition needs a good kick in the face.
They still have the best attacking corps in the league, and with RVP’s legendary fragility and tendency to not play nice with others (see: Robben, A. and Sjneider, W.), by next spring City may look back at that their failure to sign RVP as a blessing. I bet against Netherlands in the Euros this year under the principle that you should always bet against a team that doesn’t know what its best XI is. Both Chelsea and Man U will face that issue at times this year, and if they stutter at all in integrating their new toys, expect City to start to pull away. Of course, Chelsea and Man U have the type of problems that a team needs to have to win a title these days, so I’m looking to them to get it together and make a late run. But when I look at City I see a team with an identity, full of entitled egotistical millionaires who nevertheless know what their roles are. In a way, City is starting to look more and more like United.
In short, there’s no guarantee that the attacking options that Chelsea and Manchester United have brought in will be enough to push them over the top, especially given that City have the best defense in the Premier League. Sure, they are too reliant on Kompany. His absence in the second half of the season to injury and a ridiculous red card suspension that is still being debated in Manchester pubs exposed a glaring lack of depth at the center back spot, though it did provide the high comedy of watching poor Stefan Savic try do anything on the field last year (fun fact: Google autofill suggests that you complete your Stefan Savic search with “rubbish”). Joe Hart is indesputably the best keeper in the league, Joleon Lescott is rock solid and no other team can come close to matching City’s array of versatility and pace at outside back. Gael Clichy (pace), Micah Richards (imposing physicality), Alexsandar Kolarov (crossing and free-kick taking) and Pablo Zabaleta (tactical awareness and marking) all bring something unique to the table, and City found themselves relying on these guys’ attacking to break open stubborn defenses many a time last year. None of the pretenders to the throne, as we have discussed at length with regards to Chelsea and Man U, can rely on such a solid back line. If you’re of the belief that the English winter is dark and full of terrors (and away fixtures in the sleet at Stoke), and that titles are won by eking out the tough 1-0 games (as Sir Alex does), you have to favor City this year.
Then there’s Yaya. He’s the heir apparent to Patrick Viera and then some. No one wants to play against him, and there is no comparable presence in the middle of the field right now in the Premier League. He does it all.
Most importantly, though, City knows how to do it now. The last psychological edge that the famously cagey Sir Alex had over his upstart neighbors is gone, and without that, City are simply a more complete team than the nearest pretenders to the throne. Circle this date: April 6, 2013. Manchester City at Manchester United. City finish the season after that with Spurs and five teams you could reasonably expect to be in the bottom half. Get through that game with a result, and I expect it will be all downhill to the finish for them.
AJ: Attrition is always the theme when assessing the true title contenders, and you’ve just about got me talked into Manchester City.
But not all the way.
When the overall talent of sides are roughly the same, and I’d argue that Manyoo and Man City are essentially even with Chelsea a step or two behind, I like to look at the irreplaceable players and then ponder what happens if each team were to lose them. It’s kind of a cowardly, risk-averse prognostication tactic, but it has the least chance to make you look bad and that’s more or less how I settled on the Red Devils.
To follow that thought through to its logical conclusion, I see two truly irreplaceable players on City — Kompany and Silva — and a third that is just about there in Toure. There’s decent cover for Silva and Toure, but none really at all for Kompany. There’s one truly irreplaceable player at United — Vidic — and one who approaches that status — Rooney. There’s an absurd amount of cover for Rooney now that RVP is in-house and, like with Kompany, little to speak of for Vidic. There’s a little less risk at Old Trafford.
More to the point, though, this title might ultimately come down to who out of Kompany or Vidic starts more games for their respective club. It’s a dull way to decide the crown if that’s the key factor, but it certainly held true last season now didn’t it?