Who Should Be Manchester City's Highest Transfer Priority This Summer?
Manchester City's 2-1 win over rivals Manchester United Monday night might have served as nothing more than a morale boost. Mathematically they're still in with a shout, but at 12 points behind with just seven Premier League games to play, that title is all but gone.
Beyond the FA Cup campaign, which plays out its semifinal stage this weekend, it's almost time to look forward to next season. As such, the team's current roster must be evaluated to see what must be added.
If this team is to reclaim the Premier League title, as well as make a better run in the Champions League than it has in its two previous tries, reinforcements must be brought in. Ahead is a list, in order of importance to what the team needs, of who should be brought to Eastlands.
This article will assume that Roberto Mancini stays on as manager, and as such, the general tactics of the side will not change. It also takes into account that players must also leave the club. Let's have a look at that first.
Selling to Buy
In order to finance a big summer move, players must be sold to balance the books. This is especially true with the Financial Fair Play rules looming over the shoulders of clubs like City and Chelsea.
Controversial striker Mario Balotelli was sold at the end of January to AC Milan to start this process. The sale reportedly brought in £19 million, a decent sum for a player who had notched just one Premier League goal this season.
Balotelli's former strike partner Edin Dzeko could find his way out the door as well. The Bosnian has enjoyed an up-and-down season, with a series of phenomenal substitute showings marred by some indifferent starts.
With Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez in tow, plus ambitions for strikers on the market, Dzeko could find himself the odd man out. He's been a solid if somewhat underwhelming player in the City blue and could bring in a large sum from a team looking for a top striker.
Samir Nasri could be next in line at the Eastlands shop window. His strong showing against Newcastle a couple of matches ago prompted Mancini to say he would like to give the Frenchman "a punch" for being so inconsistent.
Nasri was decent against United on Monday, but his apparent fear of being hit by Robin van Persie's free kicks cost City a draw in the first match. At his best, he's a great creative outlet in the midfield. But his attitude and inconsistency could see him shipped off after two seasons.
City have a couple of players who've been frozen out on loan: Wayne Bridge at Brighton and Roque Santa Cruz at Malaga. The latter has been a key cog in the Andalusian side's positive season and could look to make a permanent move. Bridge should also, finally, be sold.
Now onto who could be brought in…
5. Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona)
The 4-2-3-1 formation Mancini uses frequently puts a lot of emphasis on the play of the three behind the striker. For City, they typically have David Silva lining up wide left and either a striker or Yaya Toure next to him. The right wing spot can be up for grabs at times.
Monday's match saw James Milner there, and the English veteran had a good game. Samir Nasri has lined up at this position at times, but this article puts him out of the picture. With Scott Sinclair frozen out, who could fill the void if Milner is not the best option? Enter Alexis Sanchez.
The Chilean winger has had a rough go of things at Barcelona since his move from Udinese in 2011. His brace and two assists Saturday evening against Mallorca was among his best performances representing the Catalan giants, and with Barcelona and Brazilian dynamo Neymar eyeing each other, Sanchez could be ousted to fund the move.
Still just 24, Sanchez has tons of great assets that could make him a good signing for any team. He has pace for days, a good eye for goal and solid distribution skills. His problem at Barcelona has likely been a lack of confidence due to his poor form with his current club.
City would certainly be a club who could have a look at the Chilean. The pace down the right would be a great alternative over Milner, who is more of an industrious presence down that flank. If the Englishman is moved inside next to Yaya Toure in front of the defense, Sanchez has his spot to his own.
Plus, Sanchez could rest easier defensively knowing he has one of the Premier League's best right-backs behind him in Pablo Zabaleta. While the Argentine does get forward frequently, he still gets back time and time again to do his main job.
Whether City would be willing to stump up the £25 million reported in the article linked above for Sanchez is interesting to see. Considering Sanchez's form before the Mallorca match, perhaps they could talk Sandro Rosell into lowering the asking price and take a flier on this player.
4. Leighton Baines (Everton)
Pablo Zabaleta has a stranglehold on the right-back spot, and deservedly so. But the play on the other side of the pitch has not been quite so consistent.
Gael Clichy has gotten most of the time there, and he has been solid if unspectacular. Prone to the odd mistake, one B/R writer had harsh words for the Frenchman during the match against Aston Villa last month after one such incident.
City could always use more influence down the flank. Aleksandar Kolarov is a more attacking option, but he is suspect defensively and has featured only sparingly of late. But English football already possesses one of the top attacking left-backs: Leighton Baines.
The Everton stopper has become a hot commodity on the red side of Manchester in the last year or so. United have continually been linked to the 28-year-old, including during the last winter window. So why not pip your biggest rivals to a top signing? They did it to you last summer.
Baines has grown in prominence in recent months, with his attacking exploits certainly noteworthy. He's notched five goals in the Premiership this season and has created the most goalscoring opportunities, 97 in 31 games, in all of European football.
The £15 million price United reportedly sought in the article mentioned above is a decent baseline from which to work. Perhaps it will go up at the end of the season to around £20 million. That's about what City got from the Balotelli sale and is fairly reasonable.
City won't do this move just to beat United to the punch unless they're that irked about the whole van Persie deal. But this would be a solid move if the men in charge at Eastlands decide to make a change from Gael Clichy.
3. Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
Edinson Cavani would be the epitome of a luxury buy at this point. The Financial Fair Play rules would seem to discourage this transaction from happening. But there's no denying that he could very well be worth the cost. What exactly is that cost?
How does £55 million sound? To compare, Cristiano Ronaldo garnered £80 million in his switch from United to Real Madrid. Chelsea spent £50 million on Fernando Torres two years ago. Milan raked in just over £50 million in selling Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Cavani has been rumored with an exit from Naples for a while due to his momentous goalscoring exploits and likely massive increase in wage demands. Ezequiel Lavezzi left the club last summer, and Cavani could be next to go.
The Uruguayan hitman has torn apart Serie A at an astounding rate and has Napoli on the cusp of returning to the Champions League. With 22 goals this season, he is beginning to run away with the race for Italian football's top scorer title.
Cavani's qualities are obvious when watching him play. He can strike from anywhere and is capable of scoring with either foot as well as being solid in the air. He is also an extremely hard worker, always fighting to win the ball and make space for himself.
Qualities like these would be fantastic leading the line for City. With a tricky, quicker player like Tevez or Aguero behind him, he could attack defenses and create gaps for his mates to work with. He'd provide a good target for Silva and company on the wings.
With City's goalscoring rate well down from the ruthlessness they showed last year, they need someone who can turn that around. And Cavani is just the guy to do it. His price tag is the only thing holding this sale back.
T-1. Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina)
Should Edinson Cavani's price be too much of a detriment to City officials, they could stay in Italy to find a striking option. Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetic is a more than capable option to bolster the City attack this summer.
Where Cavani is an out-and-out center forward, Jovetic can operate as the man up top or just behind such a player, with a good ability to drift out wide. Put him behind a striker and let him and Silva run around creating havoc across the field? Sounds like a great plan.
B/R's Sam Tighe put out a detailed review of Jovetic's style of play a couple weeks ago, encompassing what has just been discussed. He's just size away from being the total package that teams would look for in a striker.
But City could very well face some stiff competition in chasing the Montenegro international's signature. Premier League rivals Arsenal are certainly a team looking for a top striker, considering they just sold one last summer. And they agree with the sentiment that Jovetic is a top option.
The £25-30 million price tag figures being passed around might rule Arsenal out in most camps, given their unwillingness to go overboard with transfer fees. A lack of Champions League qualification could very well be the nail in the coffin in their fight for this highly touted player.
But that amount is around half of what Cavani's release clause is. This makes him a much more suitable target in that respect for City. A Goal.com report states that the club's chase of Jovetic could be further aided by a right of first refusal City seem to have for Jovetic.
The deal that saw Matija Nastasic join City last summer put the reigning champions at the front of the queue for the Montenegrin. So City have a need. They have a player in their sights perfectly suited to fill the need, reasonably affordable, with a right of first refusal.
Pull the trigger.
T-1. Isco (Malaga)
The creative wonders of Francisco Roman Alarcon cannot be ignored here. 20-year-old Isco has almost single-handedly (or rather, single-footedly) inspired Malaga's inspirational run in the Champions League in the absence of Santi Cazorla.
The Valencia youth product stormed into international attention by bagging a pair of goals against Zenit in Malaga's Champions League group stage debut, and he hasn't yet escaped the spotlight. Indeed, he earned his first senior cap with Spain just two months ago.
Malaga's financial situation has gone from great to not-so-great in a short time span. It's gone from their spending spree that saw them jump up the table last season to the plight that forced the sale of Cazorla and, more recently, Nacho Monreal. Isco may well be next.
The youngster recently penned a new deal with the Andalusian side, upping his release clause to a Jovetic-esque £30 million. For a such a relatively raw product, this might be a risky proposition. But in this case, this is a gamble well worth taking.
David Silva's role as the main playmaker is one that comes with a lot of problems. Since he's the focal point, defenses can easily key on him, and if they quiet him sufficiently, City's attack could be stifled. So he needs a partner to help out in these responsibilities.
Samir Nasri is supposed to have this job, but as was detailed in the earlier slides, he's played his way out of contention here. Isco is the ideal type of player to replace the former Marseille man, with composure and awareness on the ball going along with strong footwork, passing and a good eye for goal.
Pairing him up with Silva would be a huge blessing for such a young, dynamic talent. He can learn endlessly from a guy who's won a World Cup and two Euros, not to mention a Premier League title. With some help from his compatriot, Isco could quickly become a hero at Eastlands.