5 Biggest Early-Season Concerns for Manchester City
Seven of Nine is not just an iconic Star Trek: Voyager character -- it's how many points Manchester City Football Club have secured from their first three matches this season.
So what's to worry about, you ask.
Fair enough. City do not have the concerns of Southampton, Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa, clubs whose form has "relegation" written all over it. For that matter, they do not even have the problems of Liverpool, historically a powerhouse with a presently teetering foundation.
City's issues are more subtle given their position as defending champions of the Premier League and one of the richest clubs in all of world football. Nonetheless, such issues do exist.
Manchester City's Player of the Year last season is of course presently sidelined with a twisted right knee sustained in the season opener with Southampton at the Etihad.
Recent reports from the Telegraph suggest that the vitally important striker will return either this weekend at the Britannia or for the commencement of City's Champions League campaign at Real Madrid on Wednesday.
It will be a boost to City to see Agüero back, for sure. The concern, though, is whether he will return at full fitness or whether the knee problem will linger throughout the season.
In the short term, the question will be whether Agüero is match-fit and how long it will take him to regain his scoring touch.
If Agüero was City's Player of the Year, Silva was their primary facilitator. The likes of Agüero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko are all wonderful finishers. They often score, though, due to the work Silva has done to supply the ball in an advantageous position.
So far this season, though, Silva's play has been wanting. Suggestions are that he is tired, or perhaps that his ongoing contract issues have been a distraction.
Whatever the reason, City cannot reasonably hope to maintain its place among the best in the world if Silva continues to struggle with creating opportunities for the big guns up front.
The acquisitions of Javi Garcia, Douglas Maicon and Matija Nastasic during the transfer period were intended to buttress the midfield and the defense, which to date this season has been only passable.
While all of these players have been City property for a little while now, given the paperwork needed to finalize their transfers and the just-passed International break, none of them have played for City as of yet.
Unquestionably, these players will need time to acclimate themselves to playing alongside City's stars for a side where there is an expectation of victory every time the team takes the pitch.
Looking only at the table, City is off to a fine start. Only three victories would have been better than the two wins and draw at Liverpool that City have achieved thus far.
But closer looks at the way those games turned out show that so far, City have been far from excellent and often less than good.
City trailed at home to Southampton in the first game of the season. They drew at Liverpool only by virtue of an absolute gift from Martin Skrtel in the 80th minute.
And the 3-1 victory over QPR on the first of the month was closer than the score indicates -- Carlos Tévez tallied in stoppage time at the game's end, and QPR had chances to equalize in the last half-hour of the match.
This is not the form expected of a defending league champion.
City's greatest cause for concern is the brutal slate of fixtures coming.
From September 15-29, City will play five games.
Three are Premier League contests: at Stoke City, home for Arsenal, at Fulham. Recent history against those clubs has been less than encouraging: last season, City drew at the Britannia and at Craven Cottage, and slipped by Arsenal at home.
Real Madrid awaits a visit from the Sky Blues in the Champions League opener for both sides. City's so-so performance (and failure to qualify for the group stage) in last year's CL play makes this fixture enormous.
Though it is easy to look at a home date against Aston Villa in the third round of the Capital One Cup and see a win, the fact is that City will be playing that match only two days after hosting Arsenal. Several of City's top players figure to be unavailable or fit only to substitute for that one.
The depth that City boasts of will be tested in the next two weeks.