Manuel Pellegrini will be under intense scrutiny from the outset of the new Premier League campaign.
Following the messy (and presumably costly) divorce with Roberto Mancini, it’s actually been pretty quiet on the City front since. Well, as quiet as it can be when spending not far short of £100 million on four players—at the time of writing.
The difference is that, even with the big price tags on Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic, there’s not been as much publicity around these signings as those in previous years. That’s partly due to the players’ low profiles, and partly because for us media types, once Mancini went, the really sexy stories—Fergie, David Moyes, Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez—were all elsewhere.
The City hierarchy will be happy with that, as it allows their new man to focus on picking the right XI for his first serious match; forget the preseason matches, this is it.
My prediction for City v Newcastle is: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Milner; Navas, Dzeko, Jovetic, in a 4-3-3 formation.
Joe Hart in “nets” (as we used to say at school) is the surest of sure things, so on to the back four. Pablo Zabaleta was outstanding last season and probably would have kept Micah Richards out of the side even if the Englishman had returned to fitness sooner than he did. There’ll be more of a battle on his hands now with Richards fit and available, and we don’t know whether Pellegrini has started with a clean slate for everyone, but the affable Argentine will start in pole position at right-back.
On the other defensive flank, Aleksandar Kolarov has featured in preseason and the Serb would help with Pellegrini’s attacking intentions. But the questions over Kolarov’s main duties at left-back remain, in my opinion, and Gael Clichy’s all-round game makes him first choice.
Vincent Kompany is a shoo-in, and alongside him Joleon Lescott will stake his claim for a regular place in the absence of the injured Matija Nastasic. I’ve been a fan of the England international for a long time, plus he gives good interviews—and he’ll be first choice unless City spend big on a defender between the time of writing and kick off.
Fernandinho will be the holding midfielder, but he will be more a ball-player than, say, Nigel de Jong in the past. The Dutchman liked to knock it sideways, but think back to how David Pizarro sprayed passes around from deep when City dragged it back at home to Sunderland two seasons ago. The Brazilian summer signing will allow Yaya Toure some licence to attack.
James Milner’s inclusion would allow some flexibility for City to play 4-4-2 if he was to go out onto the wing. Either way, he will lend some solidity to midfield and will undoubtedly work his socks off.
City have looked a touch narrow at times, but the inclusion of Jesus Navas should solve that problem. His brief will be to provide a regular service for his forwards.
I think that Edin Dzeko will start in pole position for the main striker role. Seemingly one of those most disaffected with Mancini, the Bosnian has had a good preseason and, having been publicly praised by Pellegrini, he seems to have responded well to the Chilean’s touted man-management skills.
David Silva would be a contender for the remaining place, but I think Stevan Jovetic will get the nod to play more on the right but also to drift in behind Dzeko.
Sergio Aguero may recover from his knee injury in time to be picked, but with all the other attacking options, why risk him this early?
Or if it’s to be 4-4-2, maybe Silva starts ahead of Milner. Let me know what you think.