Ranking Manchester City's Top 5 Pre-Season Performers
Manchester City's first competitive match of 2014-15 lies right around the corner as they contest the FA Community Shield against Arsenal on Sunday. The Premier League champions take on the FA Cup holders, hoping to win the traditional English curtain-raiser for the second time in three seasons.
City have spent their pre-season between Scotland and the United States, playing six matches in the process.
In Scotland, the Blues suffered a 2-0 loss to Dundee before picking up a 2-1 win over Hearts. Stateside, they toppled reigning MLS champions Sporting Kansas City, 4-1, and thrashed AC Milan, 5-1, before losing penalty shootouts to Liverpool and Olympiacos after 2-2 draws in both matches.
These matches have been a good opportunity for some fringe players and youth products to get some solid playing time while the team's stars rested after the World Cup. A number of these players stood out as they looked to cement a place in the team or showcase their potential.
Read on to see, based on what we've seen from them in pre-season, City's five best players of the last month.
With the departure of Costel Pantilimon to Sunderland and given Joe Hart's stumbles last season, it was important for Manuel Pellegrini to bring in a solid secondary option at goalkeeper. By looking to his former club, Malaga, he found just the man he was seeking in Willy Caballero.
The experienced Argentine stopper has put in a number of strong showings, allowing just a single goal against both Sporting KC and AC Milan. He couldn't be faulted for either, with C.J. Sapong pulling off a great finish and Sulley Muntari being gifted a goal-line tap-in by poor set piece marking.
As City get set to face four competitions this season, having a deputy keeper of Caballero's quality will be an invaluable resource.
As City continue to line up a move for Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala, the center of City's defence has come under a lot of observation. With Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis unavailable, Dedryck Boyata has stepped up to the plate.
The Belgium international started all four of City's matches in the USA, playing the full 90 minutes each time. He's looked solid against some strong talents like Dom Dwyer, Stephan El Shaarawy and Daniel Sturridge, and he got a goal of his own against Sporting.
While the addition of Mangala would push him down to no better than fourth choice—depending on whether Matija Nastasic stays—Boyata's performances here should earn him a spot in the rotation.
Another of the summer signings makes this list as Brazilian midfielder Fernando has shown his new fan base what he is capable of. The central destroyer looks like a solid pickup for Pellegrini as a viable partner or replacement for Yaya Toure and/or Fernandinho.
Given how overused Toure can be—and his overall importance to the team—it's crucial to have a guy who can give the Ivorian a breather yet retain a high level of play. Javi Garcia put in a few decent shifts late last season, but Fernando seems to be a step above the Spaniard.
The €15 million fee City forked over to Porto for the player looks to be a pretty nice bargain.
5. Bruno Zuculini
The signing of Bruno Zuculini sort of flew under the radar when compared to the likes of Caballero and Fernando. After all, this is a 21-year-old player who had spent his career hidden away at Racing Club in Argentina.
Pellegrini tapped into his resources in South America to unearth this gem, and so the youngster has proven so far.
Zuculini introduced himself to City fans in Kansas City, striking a wonderful half-volleyed goal barely two minutes into the game. He would be replaced by Emyr Huws on 75 minutes, but not before putting in a wonderful shift in midfield alongside Fernando.
Sitting in the middle of the park, he did a nice job breaking up opposition play and distributing passes around for his team-mates. As Fernando is more inclined to sit back and play a destroyer role, Zuculini had more license to roam forward to aid in the attack.
He would be duly rewarded with starts against Milan and Liverpool, going the full 90 minutes in the latter match.
Whether he is loaned out, sees time with the Elite Development Squad or manages to crack the first team is yet to be seen, but Zuculini showed some immense potential this pre-season.
4. Scott Sinclair
When Roberto Mancini nabbed Scott Sinclair from Swansea City in 2012, the winger was coming off a spectacular season for the then-Premier League new boys. However, he barely featured in the Italian's plans and spent last year on loan at West Brom doing very little.
As such, the 25-year-old has been linked with an exit from City quite frequently since the loan ended. However, the former Chelsea man has thrown his own hat in the ring with some quite stellar showings, perhaps to let City brass know what they'd be missing.
His blistering pace down the left wing has been a consistent threat to opposing defences, allowing him to get into good positions to supply his team-mates with scoring chances.
Sinclair also showed willingness to cut inside and got himself a goal against Milan in doing so. A nifty spinning strike in the 14th minute doubled City's lead over the Italian giants as they romped to a rather simple victory in Pittsburgh.
It could be that Sinclair is just dressing himself up in the shop window for a chance to get regular first-team play. Whether he stays or goes, Sinclair has left a good impression on the fans in pre-season play.
3. Kelechi Iheanacho
Easily the biggest revelation of the International Champions Cup, 17-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho has gone from unknown quantity to hot prospect in almost no time at all. The young Nigerian featured in three of City's four American showcases, bagging a pair of goals in the process.
Were it not for a number of players being unavailable, it's likely Iheanacho might not have been seen at all. But right from the get-go in Kansas City, he showed what he is capable of with some wondrous performances.
He put that first match to bed with a superb powerful strike from the top of the box, capping a showing in which he tirelessly outclassed his opposition.
Against Milan, he again scored his side's fourth goal, toe-poking home from 18 yards. Yet again, he put in a dynamic shift in the center of City's attack, proving a real live wire difficult for even a Milan side laced with talent to control.
He is used to scoring, having scored six goals—including the second in the final—in the Under-17 World Cup last year. And if he is to stay at City long-term, that will surely be the first of many trophies he will win.
2. Jesus Navas
The World Cup may have robbed City of David Silva for most of this tour, but Vicente del Bosque gave fans the gift of Jesus Navas by leaving him off the squad. While Spain crashed out of their group in third place, Navas has been in nothing short of imperious form.
City fans certainly know what the former Sevilla winger can contribute down the right wing, but injury cost him the latter part of the season and probably his ticket to Brazil. His pace and crossing ability are nearly unrivaled by anyone at his position, and it's shown with great frequency.
He provided assists in both the Sporting and Milan matches before putting his own name on the score sheet in the latter with a deflected acrobatic scissor kick. It wasn't quite as pretty as his goal against Tottenham in October when he bagged a brace, but it was some nice skill nonetheless.
Time and again, Navas showcased his silky touch, insane pace and eye for a pass to the amazement of fans. A number of the chances he created didn't pan out into goals, but it wasn't for the want of trying.
Needless to say, City fans should be expecting plenty more of the same from their No. 15 this season.
1. Stevan Jovetic
When a player scores five goals in three games, it's hard for fans not to take notice. Enter Stevan Jovetic.
The Montenegrin's first season at Eastlands was riddled with injury and inconsistency, seeing his playing time diminish as Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and fellow newcomer Alvaro Negredo grabbed plaudits. Indeed, the exit door might've been a possibility for Jovetic.
But with Negredo sidelined for a good while with a broken foot and the other two strikers getting their deserved rest, the 24-year-old was set to shoulder the load in pre-season. Jovetic has handled that pressure supremely well already.
In Kansas City, he looked like the player City thought they were getting when they signed him from Fiorentina, yet he failed to score. But he bagged a brace in the romp over Milan and repeated the feat as his side's only scorer against Liverpool.
His sweet finish against Olympiacos was the pick of the lot before his superb through ball led to David Silva drawing a penalty. He also provided the assist for Navas' goal against Milan with a better-than-perfect cross-field ball.
All in all, Jovetic has shown City fans everything he's capable of and then some this pre-season. As long as he stays healthy, he ought to play a pivotal role in helping his side defend the Premier League title and continue their quest for European domination.
Agree or disagree with the list? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.