Manchester City's Most Crucial Players for the 2014-15 Season
Manchester City's roster composition proves true the tenet that the best teams are strong through the middle.
Baseball teams rarely succeed without great pitching, strong infield defense at shortstop and second base and a center fielder capable of running down anything hit in his general direction.
American football teams generally go nowhere fast without very good-to-great quarterback play and control of the line of scrimmage in the center of the field on both sides of the ball.
So it goes with football in the Premier League. Certainly it is nice to have speed on the edges and players who can whip precise corner kicks and crosses into the box—but without great players in the middle to convert them, it all goes for nothing.
Here, then, are Manchester City's five most crucial players for this season. Their positions will come as no surprise to you after reading this introduction.
All of City manager Manuel Pellegrini's elaborate plans and aggressive offensive play will go to seed if City cannot keep the ball out of their own goal. That starts with No. 1 (for now) goalkeeper Joe Hart.
It is a rare thing to win a league title and then immediately go into the transfer market to secure a goalkeeper to challenge for the starting job, but that is precisely what City did this summer.
Where Costel Pantilimon was given the job last fall because Hart lost it spectacularly, new signing Willy Caballero is capable of wresting the job from Hart on the slightest dip in form from the incumbent.
What Pellegrini would dearly love, of course, is to see Hart play his very best football right from the start and negate any question of whether Caballero deserves a chance.
Any early wobble by Hart, though, will likely throw City into another goalkeeper controversy, which no manager really wants or needs.
Kompany is City's captain and their undisputed best defender. When Kompany is fit and in form, City's defense is formidable and the outside defenders (notably Aleksandar Kolarov) are free to make overlapping runs forward knowing that if the ball is lost Kompany will clean up behind them.
Kompany has played 54 of a possible 76 Premier League matches in the past two seasons. If that total reflected a concerted effort of his managers (Roberto Mancini in 2012-13, Pellegrini is 2013-14) to get Kompany adequate rest it would be laudable. But it doesn't.
Those 22 matches were missed because Kompany has struggled in recent seasons to stay healthy. In fact, the 54 starts Kompany did make included numerous matches where he probably was not nearly fit.
An early injury to Kompany last season caused Pellegrini to have to rely on Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia at centre-back, with predictable results. City need Kompany to play at full strength as often as possible.
Simply put, David Silva does things with the ball at his feet that no one else on City's roster can do.
Silva is not a prolific scorer like Sergio Aguero or Edin Dzeko, but neither of those dangerous strikers would be quite as venomous without Silva filleting opposing defenses with the perfectly weighted diagonal through balls only Silva can invent.
Silva is an American football quarterback and a basketball point guard rolled into one. Silva takes the ball where he needs it to go and then he delivers it to the teammate in the best position to score.
City are a joy to watch when Silva is healthy and productive. When he is not, City still usually dominate possession but lack that "last pass" Silva so often conjures up.
City and Yaya Toure appear to have kissed and made up after a summer of tension that left both parties looking a bit fragile and a bit silly.
Any spurned suitor can tell you how easy it is to say that he does not miss a woman he loved after she is gone. Saying that is easy; the empty feeling of going home alone is not.
Had Toure forced his way out of the Etihad this summer, City would have soldiered on and almost certainly had a successful season without him. But they would not have been able to replace Toure, and his absence would have been acutely felt at various points in the season.
Without Toure, City would still be a very good Premier League club. With him, they have won an FA Cup and two Premier League titles in four seasons. Players of Toure's size, speed and strength are not readily available, and City are fortunate to have mended this fence.
Aguero scored 17 goals in 23 Premier League appearances (20 starts) for City last season. When Aguero is healthy, he is nearly unstoppable.
Unfortunately, Aguero is not usually the healthiest player on the City roster. Per Rob Dawson of the Manchester Evening News, Aguero's fitness is such a priority to City that they are willing to bring Aguero along slowly if that is what it takes.
"Pellegrini insists the 26-year-old won’t be pressed into action straight away," wrote Dawson, who then quoted Pellegrini as saying that "it is very important to work two or three weeks intensely and then start playing. We hope this year he will not have injuries."
All of Pellegrini's plans for a repeat Premier League title and a deeper run into the Champions League tournament hinge at least in part on a healthy Aguero drawing double-teams and scoring goals.
And any doubts as to Aguero's value to City (or as to that of Kompany or Silva) were answered with City's checkbook last week.