Flashes of brilliance from Alexis Sanchez that bamboozled Manchester City’s makeshift back four served to compound an uncomfortable afternoon for the Premier League champions’ supporters at Wembley Sunday.
Sanchez, one of a host of Arsenal players to shine in their 3-0 Community Shield triumph, was the Gunners’ showpiece summer signing from Barcelona on the back of an eye-catching FIFA World Cup for Chile.
Other Premier League heavyweights have also been burning up the cheque book and grabbing headlines simultaneously.
Ander Herrera adds much needed colour to an anaemic Manchester United midfield, even though boss Louis van Gaal, armed with a 3-5-2 formation, looks set to be their most significant acquisition of all.
Amid these varying levels of evolution and revolution among their fellow heavyweights, it is tempting to suggest City have stood still.
There was a similar feeling when the Blues defended their previous title in such shoddy fashion two seasons ago. Sunday’s insipid showing, recalling the more listless displays during Roberto Mancini’s troubled final campaign in charge, was unfortunately timed.
Monday’s end to the Eliaquim Mangala transfer saga confirmed the majority of City’s FFP-restricted summer outlay. Securing one of Europe’s top-rated defensive talents to form a potentially formidable alliance with Vincent Kompany is not to be sniffed at—even if concluding a deal that has rumbled on for seven months, per The Manchester Evening News, feels more a cause for relief than celebration.
Beyond Mangala, none of City’s other signings seem likely to be nailed-on, regular starters. Bacary Sagna will give Pablo Zabaleta respite from his lung-bursting heroics at right-back while Willy Caballero and Fernando should pressure Joe Hart and Fernandinho without dislodging them altogether.
Squad players were also the order of the day in 2012-13. But, thankfully for City fans, other parallels are much harder to spot.
Javi Garcia, Matija Nastasic, Scott Sinclair, Richard Wright and Maicon arrived in an unseemly deadline-day splurge after major targets Robin van Persie and Eden Hazard plumped for United and Chelsea respectively, per The Daily Telegraph.
This time around, prolonged faffing over Mangala aside, City’s targets have been identified and secured with a minimum of fuss. These might not be marquee signings, but they are certainly not panic buys.
At the start of this month, presumably swamped by unhelpful Mangala paperwork, chief executive Ferran Soriano told The Daily Mail:
We don’t plan season by season, we plan in cycles. We knew one year ago the positions we wanted to reinforce in the team and we did it.
We have a new right-back, a new holding midfielder and we will have a new central defender and that’s it. We don’t need to sign new players for the sake of it.
We need to sign the players that the team needs because the team has a balance. To win you need to keep the balance. Our squad is very strong and it’s the second year they play coached by Manuel Pellegrini so they’ll do much better.
In spite of the queasiness such business-speak can provoke, Soriano’s talk of “cycles” is reassuring, as his endorsement of Pellegrini’s coaching credentials.
Throughout his career, Pellegrini has built a reputation for getting the very best from the players at his disposal.
Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko, Aleksandar Kolarov and Yaya Toure enjoying their finest seasons in Sky Blue last term add weight to that argument, but it is tempting to suggest he has only scratched the surface with a richly gifted group.
In reality, City were only consistently in top gear from November to February before holding their nerve in last season’s run-in.
Early teething problems surrounding Pellegrini’s methods will not be repeated and a late-winter slump can be guarded against. The vibrancy of a scratch City team’s close-season attacking play pre-Arsenal was certainly very encouraging.
Mangala’s arrival and Martin Demichelis’ rapid transformation during the title run-in suggest Nastasic and Dedryck Boyata’s uneasy Community Shield union at centre-back should be the defensive low point of City’s campaign.
Nevertheless, selling a 21-year-old as gifted as Nastasic—as The M.E.N. suggest—would be horribly misguided.
Fernando and Frank Lampard provide much-needed depth in central-midfield. If City fans have fears for the forthcoming nine months, the prospect of Demichelis starting as a midfield anchor against Chelsea need not be one of them.
A more legitimate concern is preparation time enjoyed by the club’s World Cup stars. Allowing the likes of Kompany and Sergio Aguero—who can hopefully put injury-plagued recent campaigns behind them—a lengthy break to recharge the batteries ahead of a long and taxing season is a sensible move on Pellegrini’s part.
He could have done without fixtures against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in the first five outings. Equally, if the Chilean’s measured approach secures a handsome return from the first month-and-a-half, City will have a superb platform.
This calm and calculated stance is reflected by transfer dealings at the Etihad Stadum this close season. A swoop for any of the so-called “galacticos” on the market would have flown uncomfortably in the face of City’s wrap on the knuckles from UEFA.
Additionally, Pellegrini’s attacking reserves are considerable. Silva and Nasri’s cute scheming, Jesus Navas’ electric pace and James Milner’s criminally under-rated versatility means he is well covered in terms of midfield creativity. Up-front, Aguero, Dzeko, Stefan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo will arguably outstrip any quartet in the league when the latter recovers from a broken foot.
Attaching a trophy signing to this part of the squad would smack of the gluttony and player stock-piling City and other new-moneyed teams are often accused of. Their policy this summer demonstrates a club growing into their owners’ sizeable ambitions that they can be a comfortable, assured and established member of Europe’s elite.