5 Storylines That Will Decide the Success of Manchester City's 2013
Roberto Mancini and his merry band of Premier League title winners have quickly realised the journey to the summit of English football is longer and more arduous than they might have first assumed.
The incredible culmination to the 2012 season is now old news, and the memory of Sergio Aguero’s last minute winner has been replaced by tales of Joe Hart publicly slamming his manager’s tactical choices, peculiar summer signings, and more and more Mario madness. Gloriously badly organised Mario.
But despite all of this, City are still right in the hunt for their second Premier League title in as many seasons, and they could be lifting the trophy again at the Etihad on the last day of the season when they face Norwich.
However, the Citizens still need to sort out a few issues to show Sir Alex Ferguson just how noisy they can be.
Here are five storylines that need to have happy endings for City to have a successful 2013.
Mancini Needs to Work out His Favorite Attacking Duo
Manchester City’s strikers have failed to truly set the Premier League alight so far this season.
Edin Dzeko is their leading goal scorer, with 10 efforts in the domestic campaign, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez trail with 8 and 7 strikes, respectively, whilst a certain mohawked Italian is way behind with a solitary effort it doesn’t look like he’ll add to.
It now seems like Mancini doesn’t know which two, from his quartet of attackers, are his favored pair.
Because of their endeavours at the end of last season, Tevez and Aguero were City’s first-choice pairing for the opening game at home to Southampton. But then an injury to Aguero, which kept him out until the end of September, forced Roberto to change his plans.
After the first dozen or so encounters of the season, it was Dzeko who had proved his true worth to the team, but only in the form of a super sub, as he came off the bench to secure victories over Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham.
However, since City's 1-0 defeat to Sunderland on Boxing Day, Dzeko has started every encounter alongside either Aguero or Tevez, and despite having won six games in a row in this time, it’s clear they aren’t producing the fluid style of play the Argentinian pair have achieved in the past.
Surely City’s best plan is to start with Aguero and Tevez, and then delegate Dzeko to the role of an influential bench warmer. To sell it to the Bosnian, though, you might need to come up with a better title.
City Need a Plan B
Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Stoke on Saturday only came courtesy of a late strike from ever-reliable right back Pablo Zabaleta. Without his effort, it seemed like City were once again going to come away from an away encounter where they’d had prolonged spells of pressure...without a win.
David Silva was able to hit the post with a spectacular effort, whilst Carlos Tevez drew a smart save from Thomas Sorenson, but teams have now figured out how to defend against Mancini’s City and they’re in dire need of a plan B.
Of course, Dzeko used to provide this relief for his manager, but his recent spell in the starting 11 means he now can't come off the bench and take advantage of tired defenders with his strength and calmness in front of goal.
In contrast, Tevez and Aguero take time to warm into matches from the bench and fail to offer anything different, as they're small players who like the ball at their feet, whereas Dzeko often profits from the more direct approach taken by teams desperate for victory.
And when you compare City’s bench to Manchester United’s, it’s clear they don’t possess their rivals' depth; as injuries and tiredness creep in, this could have a huge effect on the title race.
With Balotelli on the way out, Scott Sinclair proving to be a disappointment and a number of youth team players finding themselves thrust into contention too, Mancini desperately needs to add more creative attacking flair to his squad that can challenge his starting 11 for places.
Mancini Needs to Settle on a Defensive Formation
At the start of this season, it looked as though Mancini was going to persist with a new and more continental style of defensive play that focused around the deployment of three defenders rather than the four he used last season.
However, after the likes of Micah Richards and Joe Hart publicly voiced their concerns over this new formation, it became apparent that not everyone in the Manchester City camp was happy with Mancini’s deviation.
In recent weeks, though, Mancini has returned to the 4-4-2 formation of 12 months ago, but Vincent Kompany’s injury, acquired against Stoke, now leaves City with only one recognised central defender: Joleon Lescott.
When the Belgian left the field Saturday, Mancini brought on Gael Clichy and decided to play just three at the back again. City have the Premier League's best defensive record, built on his return to last season’s style, but how long will it last without their captain in the starting 11, and if Mancini decides to again adopt just a trio of defenders?
David Silva and Yaya Toure Need to Rekindle Their Form
There are signs that David Silva, City’s mercurial playmaking magician, is already producing the kind of sparkling play that not only beguiled and delighted the Etihad faithful at the start of last season, but also enchanted any true fan of football.
Two goals against Fulham and a captivating performance against Stoke, where he was at the heart of everything productive City put together in the final third, have the club’s contingent licking their lips in anticipation of his return to form.
It’s true that after Christmas last season, the Spaniard’s form nosedived, but his match-winning presence was soon replaced by that of Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez. Toure’s two goals away at Newcastle, and Tevez’s virtuoso display away at Norwich, were enough to place City in the driving seat for the campaign's last game, in which they just about defeated QPR to claim their first title.
Each of these players has yet to play as well so far in 2012/13, but they have shown signs in recent games that they are on the precipice of doing so again.
And with the likes of Javi Garcia having silently adjusted to the team’s playing stance, City’s key players might be about to spark into life at exactly the right time.
City Need to Beat Manchester United at Old Trafford
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? All Mancini’s brood need to do is turn up at Old Trafford and defeat their illustrious neighbours.
I mean, they did do it quite emphatically last season—by six goals to one, if you’ve forgotten—so what’s stopping them from doing it again?
You might not be able to detect the flippancy in my tone, but if City are able to beat United in their own backyard April 6, then they will have only one more encounter, away at Tottenham Hotspur, that you could deem as tricky, whilst United will still have to visit Stoke and Arsenal, plus do battle with Chelsea.
Of course, there will be many twists and turns as we head toward the last day, but if City could beat United, it would heap pressure onto Ferguson’s men for the second year in a row, and we all remember how they reacted to it 12 months ago, don’t we?