Manchester City: Full Report Card for Every Position for August
You can talk about how early it is in the Premier League season all you like. Every team in the league has played three times with 35 more matches apiece remaining. We get it.
So grading Manchester City on the small sample size of three matches might seem hasty. But City are already trailing Chelsea by three points thanks to City's disjointed home loss to a normally punchless Stoke side.
Besides, in these three league matches, City boss Manuel Pellegrini has quickly established a rotation that will probably recur for much of the coming season.
Grades were awarded through the three league matches City played. Friendlies, exhibitions and the like were not considered.
Three matches into the Premier League season, Manchester City already have to wonder whether Hart is capable of handling the No. 1 goalkeeping job this season.
Neither Willy Caballero nor Richard Wright have played in a league match this season, so the grade for both is Incomplete.
The Argentine is working himself back into fitness after his long exertions in the World Cup. He has featured only once for City this season, helping the Sky Blues put the clamps on Liverpool. Zabaleta is City's first choice at right-back until further notice.
Sagna made his City debut against Stoke. He played like someone who, well, had never played for City before. Sagna was not bad against Stoke. But it was clear he was not in rhythm with his new teammates. This grade has "benefit of the doubt" written all over it.
Dedryck Boyata has not played in a league match this season, so his grade is Incomplete.
Pellegrini likes Kolarov because he is an offensive-minded defender who can contribute on free kicks and has a midfielder's mindset. Kolarov might have done better slowing down Mame Diouf on the only goal of the match against Stoke, but you give and you get with an offensive defender.
Clichy showed some versatility of his own against Newcastle, playing on the right side with Zabaleta unavailable and with Pellegrini having lost all faith in Richards. Clichy also featured against Liverpool in a match where City's defense played their best 90-plus minutes of the season to date.
Pellegrini must be terribly relieved to have Kompany back healthy for the start of this season. You will recall that Kompany limped off during City's season opener in 2013-14. City managed only a loss and a draw in the two matches that followed.
Kompany has been terrific thus far this season, as always, though one wonders where he was exactly as Mame Diouf was rampaging 70 meters with the ball in City's loss to Stoke.
It is the same as it ever was for Demichelis. He is good enough to start alongside Kompany and form a steady, dependable centre-back pairing...and yet all anyone can talk about is when Eliaquim Mangala will be ready. Demichelis gets no respect.
Neither Mangala nor Matija Nastasic have played in a league match this season, so the grade for both is Incomplete.
Toure's 2013-14 was so awe-inspiring that some regression was to be expected. Coupled with his petulance about being underappreciated by his club, Toure was almost certainly going to disappoint somewhat as opposed to last season.
It was never supposed to be like this, though.
If not for two splendid long balls that led ultimately to goals (against Newcastle and Liverpool), this grade would be just north of passing. Toure has looked a step or two slow and/or disinterested at times. That is horrible news for City, who will achieve very little if Toure is not fully committed to the cause.
The newest central midfielder started all three matches thus far. Does that mean he is good? It is sort of tough to tell. Fernando is certainly big enough, quite a bit larger than the man whose job he took (Fernandinho). As of this writing, though, it is hard to say what Fernando's elite skill is. That's bad, right?
Is Fernandinho still exhausted or injured from his World Cup participation? Or did he simply lose his job at the end of last season from wearing down and never recapture his form from the early part of the 2013-14 season? Fernandinho was a speedy, crafty holding midfielder whose defensive instincts freed Toure up for many an offensive foray. Now Fernandinho seems restricted to a backup role. What happened?
Neither Frank Lampard nor Bruno Zuculini have played in a league match this season, so the grade for both is Incomplete.
Silva scored City's first goal of the season, ultimately the match-winner against Newcastle. His usual silky touch has been evident through the first three matches of the season, though the beneficiaries of his passes have yet to convert one. Don't worry. They will soon.
The best thing Pellegrini did last season was salvage Nasri from the reject pile where Roberto Mancini had tossed him. Mancini pegged Nasri as a selfish malcontent, but under Pellegrini Nasri is an energetic and gifted force. His give-and-go with Stevan Jovetic for City's second goal against Liverpool (the Montenegrin finishing the play) was inspired.
Navas is the unwitting victim of Pellegrini's beloved two-striker system. When City were compelled to play with a single striker due to injuries last season, Navas came on as the fifth midfielder and punctured the right side of the pitch like a can opener. The pass Navas hit Sergio Aguero with against Liverpool was otherworldly. Unfortunately, those opportunities for Navas promise to be scant.
Pellegrini keeps telling Milner to dress but plays him sparingly. Wait, you have heard this one before, right? Milner will not stay for this sort of use after this season if this continues, and candidly he should leave if this is the best Pellegrini can do by him.
Scott Sinclair has not played in a league match this season, so his grade is Incomplete.
Pellegrini has eased Kun into the new Premier League season, bringing the prolific Argentine on as a substitute in the first two league matches. Naturally, Aguero scored in both of them.
Aguero was as frustrated as the rest of his colleagues against Stoke, but if he only manages two goals for every three matches played, he'll end up with 25 or 26 goals. City would take that right now.
Arguably the biggest bust of last summer's City transfer business, Jovetic had a terrific exhibition cycle for City in July and August and carried that scoring form into the new season with a brace against Liverpool.
With Alvaro Negredo leaving Manchester, Jovetic will need to stay healthy and productive for City to seriously compete in both the Premier League and the Champions League.
Goalless City strikers are hard to come by, but that is Dzeko through three league matches. Ordinarily this would be a setup to knocking Dzeko. Not this time. Dzeko's elegant back heel to David Silva in the season opener at Newcastle was inspired, and Dzeko has been unlucky not to score given the resolve and skill he has played with thus far. The goals will come for Dzeko, hopefully soon.
John Guidetti has not played in a league match this season, so his grade is Incomplete.
Manuel Pellegrini has a very serious problem.
It is not City's loss to Stoke, though that was sub-optimal at best.
It is not Joe Hart's suddenly (but not unprecedented) shaky form in goal, or Sergio Aguero's always vulnerable hamstrings/calves/what have you.
Pellegrini's problem is that Jose Mourinho and Chelsea look like they are going to run away and hide from the rest of the Premier League, and short of beating Chelsea twice in their two meetings there is precious little Pellegrini can do about it. But shipping three points to Stoke at home surely will not help.
He managed City's first two matches well enough, but the loss to Stoke was inexcusable. City were flat, and Pellegrini's injection of offensive life through the introduction of Jesus Navas and Edin Dzeko five minutes after Mame Diouf's goal was at least five minutes too late.
Championship-winning sides draw that match at home. They do not lose it.