Manchester City: What Must Sky Blues Do to Take Back Premier League Next Year?
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Manchester City's side is not broken and thus does not need to be fixed.
In the Premier League, anyway, far more has gone right for Roberto Mancini's team this season than has gone wrong.
We should probably leave Mancini's God-awful Champions League record for another day. Please, let's.
Still, staring at a 15-point deficit behind Manchester United leading into the weekend's derby at Old Trafford is nowhere City fans thought this club would be when the title defense began last August.
Though it makes little sense, City fans would probably be happier trailing Chelsea or even Tottenham Hotspur by 15 points for the league lead. Being so far behind hated United is tarnishing the gleam from the trophy City lifted at United's expense last year.
No use looking back any more, though. United is not going to regress far enough to let City back into the race. So Mancini and the Etihad brain trust (and financiers) must look ahead.
Before we address the areas City might look to improve, it makes sense to confirm the strengths of the side that need no help at all.
Joe Hart is still an elite keeper and figures to be one for a long time.
Between the mostly steady play of Hart and the continuing excellence of back-liners Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Matija Nastasic and (when healthy) Vincent Kompany, City has conceded fewer than a goal per game. That is best in the Premiership.
The defense is fine.
City's first order of business should be to convince Yaya Toure to stay.
With Yaya this season, City's midfield has been just above average. His remarkable two-way play allows David Silva to slip forward and wreak offensive havoc, and Yaya still finds big goals when his team needs him.
When Yaya has not played, City's midfield has been decidedly below par. Javi Garcia has been a great disappointment, and James Milner and Gareth Barry are only solid Citizens who bring little dynamic value.
The primary reason to retain Yaya is how difficult he would be to replace. Players with his size, pace and control just are not readily available in the transfer market regardless of the price you would pay.
As for the front line, City must decide what to do with Edin Dzeko.
Dzeko wants to start, but when he starts he is pretty ordinary. When Dzeko comes on toward the end of games, he is often unstoppable.
Reportedly, Dzeko is ready to leave. For the right price, City should let him go and provide car fare and a one-way ticket to the airport.
Doing that, though, would leave City a striker short. Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero are big-name strikers, but Tevez has as many Premier League tallies as Adam Le Fondre and Aguero is tied with The Artist Formerly Known as Steven Gerrard.
If the summer transfer window taught Manchester City anything, it showed that spreading wealth among three or four role players is a waste of resources when stars are there to be had.
Robin van Persie's scoring pace has slacked off, sure, but he scored so many goals for United in the first two-thirds of the campaign that he basically played United into its unassailable lead.
He could sit out the remainder of United's matches and still be United's most valuable player at its trophy ceremony.
Which brings us to the biggest thing City can do to pull the Premier League title back from United.
Get some help from the rest of the league.
Obviously, there is nothing City can do to slow United down beyond the two derbies the teams play every season.
But City could have done with a bit of help from the rest of the league this season. United has won a smashing 83% of its matches this year. Only one of them came against City.
When a team wins 25 out of 30 matches, it says two things: that team is really good, and the teams it plays are offering little to no resistance.
This is why Roberto Mancini does not need to go, no matter how fervently City faithful want Jose Mourinho or some other managerial luminary to step in at the Etihad.
Firing a manager who won a title last season and is in solid position to hold second place behind a juggernaut United side would be like blaming the weatherman for the strength of a storm.
It really might be as simple as bringing everyone back next season, including the manager, and adding one transcendent striker.
Financial Fair Play concerns aside, a signing like Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao could be the difference between this season's runner-up finish and next season's return to the top of the podium.
But even if City stays largely static in the offseason, the squad it has is deep, talented and relatively young.
City's fortunes could turn next season based only on a few better bounces here and there and another year's experience for its top players.
Now is no time to panic or overreact at the Etihad.
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