Projecting Manuel Pellegrini's Best Manchester City Lineup as EPL Season Opens

Phil KeidelContributor IIAugust 12, 2014

City finally got their Man(gala). Sorry.
City finally got their Man(gala). Sorry.Paulo Duarte/Associated Press

In the last match Manchester City played that mattered, here was the City XI: Joe Hart; Aleksandar Kolarov, Martin Demichelis, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta; Samir Nasri, Javi Garcia, Yaya Toure, David Silva; Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko.

That XI beat West Ham United 2-0 to secure City's second Premier League title in three seasons. No sense in fixing what isn't broken. Thanks for reading!

Except football is never that simple.

Determining City's optimal lineup is no easy task given the absurd depth and breadth of talent on the roster. Perhaps the best way to do it is in the manner of Michelangelo, i.e., remove every player from that XI above that does not belong and replace him with the player that does.

It only took some of the spring and most of the summer, but City finally landed Eliaquim Mangala from Porto, according to Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail.

"City's pursuit of Mangala has been the most protracted transfer of the summer and they are believed to have paid £32 million to land their man, who has penned a five-year contract," Gaughan reported.

That takes Demichelis right out of the XI. City did not spend £32 million on Mangala to have him sit while they try to squeeze one more productive season out of the 33-year-old Demichelis. The Argentine defender has great value as an insurance policy now, but he will not be a starter at City for much longer, if at all.

City also acquired goalkeeper Willy Caballero over the summer, but Hart is the presumptive starter and will only lose the job if he goes completely off the boil (again).

Centre-backs Kompany and Mangala are sure to be joined by Zabaleta at right-back. Were it left to me, Kolarov would start at left-back but Gael Clichy had a fine summer and if Clichy got the nod over Kolarov, it would be neither a problem nor a surprise.

City supporters may not have Garcia to kick around much longer.
City supporters may not have Garcia to kick around much longer.Ed Rieker/Associated Press

Looking at the midfield, no one City acquired this summer could ever take the place of Toure or Silva. Fernandinho, who came on for Dzeko in the 69th minute of the final match last season, was only out of the XI due to injury.

If Fernandinho is well, he is a starter—his defensive acuity lets Toure cheat forward and create mismatches. Garcia looks to be leaving anyway, per Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail.

Choosing between Nasri and Jesus Navas as the fourth midfielder is the sort of dilemma 17 or 18 other Premier League managers would barter their firstborn to have. Both Nasri and Navas had solid summers and both players have flourished under Pellegrini.

It says Nasri here, but admittedly that is a personal bias. Nasri's ceiling is higher but Navas may actually be a better fit for what Pellegrini wants to accomplish.

Aguero and Dzeko should remain the preferred tandem at striker. It is tempting to replay the highlights of Stevan Jovetic scoring for fun in the Guinness International Champions Cup and project him into the XI thereby, but come on.

On his best day, Jovetic is not Aguero and he probably isn't Dzeko, either. Given Aguero's injury history—the striker is no lock to be ready for the season to begin—Jovetic will likely have handfuls of opportunities to shine in 2014-15.

But if City manage once again to take the pitch with the Premier League title (dare we say Champions League silver) in the balance, the XI Pellegrini is most apt to select is: Hart; Kolarov, Mangala, Kompany, Zabaleta; Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva; Aguero, Dzeko.

If those 11 players can stay healthy for a reasonable amount of time, City's prospects for the coming season will approach the limitless.