Winners and Losers from Manchester City's International Champions Cup Campaign
Manchester City's participation in the Guinness International Champions Cup can only be considered a success.
Yes, City squandered two second-half leads to Liverpool and thereby ceded a spot in the Cup final to the Reds. But City did not really need to win this minor prize with four more legitimate trophies in their sights in the 2014-15 season.
So much went right for City that the winners necessarily outnumber the losers. That's exceptionally bad news for the losers who failed to be lifted by City's surging tide in the United States.
Here, then, is a look at the risers and stumblers from City's Guinness International Champions Cup performances.
WINNER: Stevan Jovetic
Stevan Jovetic entered this summer as a significant question mark for Manchester City following an injury-plagued 2013-14 season.
Jovetic answered many of the questions surrounding him with his sterling play in the Guinness International Champions Cup.
Jovetic had a brace against AC Milan in the tournament opener and followed it up with another (City's only two goals) against Liverpool at Yankee Stadium. He then provided City's opening marker in their must-win match against Olympiacos.
With Alvaro Negredo out until October, City will be looking for goals from Jovetic along with the ones they expect to get from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero. Jovetic's form could hardly be better as the new season approaches.
WINNER: Kelechi Iheanacho
Few Manchester City fans knew too much about Kelechi Iheanacho before the Sky Blues came to the United States. Those fans are no longer in the dark about the prodigy.
Iheanacho scored against AC Milan in City's only Guinness International Champions Cup victory. The young Nigerian also converted a penalty against Liverpool—the only City man to do so.
"The Nigerian forward has caught the eye throughout the Blues' preseason tour of the United States, which he kicked off by scoring in a friendly win over Sporting Kansas City," wrote David Lynch for the Manchester Evening News.
Lynch is right on with that evaluation, because every time Iheanacho has the ball it looks like something special is going to happen.
WINNER: Vincent Kompany
"Wait," you're saying, "Vincent Kompany did not even play any of these Guinness International Champions Cup matches!"
Kompany is City's captain and bedrock central defender. He is the man the team leans heavily on when the defense must hold to protect a result. And City missed him desperately in this tournament.
City blew two second-half leads against Liverpool and another against Olympiacos. That would be unimaginable with Kompany on the pitch.
Kompany's value, indisputable to begin with, was burnished by his absence and the mediocre play of those who replaced him in the Guinness International Champions Cup.
LOSER: Manchester City's Brand
In the category of "lies, deplorable lies and statistics," the attendance for Manchester City's three Guinness International Champions Cup matches can be spun however you like.
Alex Nieves of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the 34,347 who attended City's match with AC Milan at Heinz Field was "the highest number of spectators to watch a soccer match in Pittsburgh's history." If you click on the game story, though, you'll see a lot of empty yellow seats.
City's match with Liverpool at Yankee Stadium was exceptionally well-attended—by Liverpool supporters. As Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News put it, "the game ended in a Liverpool win after penalty kicks in front of a predominantly pro-Liverpool crowd of 49,653, a sea of red filling most of the seats."
As for City's Olympiacos match, look at the picture accompanying this slide. It was far from a full house in Minnesota.
WINNER: Manuel Pellegrini
Two shootout losses and a missed opportunity to advance to the Guinness International Champions Cup final do not at first glance appear to make a winner of Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini.
But City open the Premier League season in less than two weeks and still have the Community Shield to play. Had City won their group, they would have played in the Cup final in Miami on Aug. 4, which would have been their fourth tournament match in nine days.
City were not beaten in regulation and led for the majority of all three matches in group play. Stevan Jovetic emerged as another scoring threat, and none of City's players sustained a notable injury.
All told, Pellegrini should be fairly pleased with how City's participation in this tournament played out.
WINNER: Joe Hart
Manchester City's acquisition of Willy Caballero was a warning shot to Joe Hart. Nobody considered Costel Pantilimon a serious threat to Hart's job stability, but Caballero might yet be.
Hart did not play against AC Milan, but that may have had as much to do with the four-goal lead the Sky Blues had within the first half hour as it did with anything else.
Caballero started against Liverpool and played well. Hart made his tournament debut against Liverpool and was spectacular against the Reds.
Hart then played the entire Olympiacos match. While he was at fault for Olympiacos' second equalizer—leaving his line too late—he also saved two penalties in the shootout including one that would have won the match for Olympiacos.
More importantly for Hart, the pattern of the selections suggests Hart is the incumbent starter and that again it is Hart's job to lose. How he responds will go a long way toward determining whether City win any silver this season.
WINNER: Edin Dzeko
Edin Dzeko did not feature against AC Milan. He played against both Liverpool and Olympiacos and did not score a goal in either match.
Watching the matches, though, it was apparent how valuable Dzeko was to City despite being held scoreless. Liverpool very obviously targeted Dzeko with their defense, repeatedly knocking the big Bosnian over. Dzeko had at least a few credible foul cries disregarded against the Reds.
Against Olympiacos, Dzeko first had one run to goal and then an assist to Samir Nasri flagged down for offside. The pass to Nasri was spectacular and especially so for a striker.
City rewarded Dzeko for his fine play last season with a new contract. If that does not make Dzeko a winner this week, little could.
LOSER: Micah Richards
Micah Richards is an easy player to root for. He has a good rapport with the media and with Manchester City's supporters. He is homegrown at City, which is another reason City's fans want to see him succeed.
More and more, though, it seems like Richards' success, if it ever comes, will come away from Manchester City.
Fox Sports analyst Warren Barton said as much during the Liverpool/Manchester City match at Yankee Stadium. Barton noted with a resigned tone that Richards needs a change of scenery.
Barton is probably right. Richards' nominal position at City is right-back. With Pablo Zabaleta unavailable for the Guinness Cup of Champions, Richards had a chance to make meaningful plays and catch Manuel Pellegrini's eye.
Instead, from Richards' perspective this tournament was most notable for Gael Clichy spending time playing out of position at right-back and for Richards smoking City's last penalty try against Olympiacos well over the bar.
LOSER: Jack Rodwell
Jack Rodwell is another player whose Guinness International Champions Cup experience was completely forgettable.
Rodwell played less than 15 minutes in City's first match against AC Milan. He did not appear again.
It is little surprise to see Rodwell playing behind teammates Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and even Javi Garcia. But to see Rodwell languish behind Bruno Zuculini and Fernando in this tournament, well, it felt like an ending of sorts.
Whatever City can negotiate for a transfer fee for Rodwell they probably ought to take, because it is pretty apparent Manuel Pellegrini has little use for him.
WINNER: Manchester City Haters Who Follow the Premier League
Manchester City supporters take a lot of heat from the supporters of the Premier League's traditional powers.
While in New York to cover the Liverpool/Manchester City match at Yankee Stadium, I had one man in a Liverpool shirt tell me City "have only had fans for like four years."
United supporters are just as bad, except they are the more successful crosstown rival which makes them even more insufferable than Liverpool Nation.
Well, all of those folks who support Liverpool and Manchester United are surely in their glory seeing City become the lone Premier League representative in the Guinness International Champions Cup not to qualify for the final.
To which the natural rejoinder is that this is probably the only silver Liverpool or United are likely to contend for in 2014-15.