Ranking and Grading Manchester City's Summer Signings Halfway Through Season
Manchester City’s summer outlay was significant. It was an attempt by club chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, and sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, at righting some of the wrongs that undid Manuel Pellegrini’s side last season.
The squad desperately needed pace, and the average age needed reducing. City had looked stale and insipid too often in 2014/15 as Chelsea swept to the title almost unchallenged.
In came Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph, Nicolas Otamendi and Patrick Roberts.
So how have they fared? City have been far from perfect this season, but they remain in the hunt for four trophies and have played with more vigour than they did at any stage last season.
Here’s each new signing, ranked and graded, in terms of the quality of their performances so far this season.
5. Patrick Roberts
It’s difficult to grade Patrick Roberts given the paucity of his opportunities in a blue shirt. He's made just three substitute appearances, with only one coming in the Premier League.
He was signed from Fulham in the summer—part of the club’s strategy of buying the country’s best young talent. He cost an initial £5 million, a fee that could rise to £11 million depending on a series of add ons.
Perhaps a loan is needed. According to Simon Jones writing in the Mail, there were rumours of interest from Bournemouth, but given their significant outlay this January, the majority of which was spent on attacking players, it’s no longer the enticing prospect it would otherwise have been.
There's still high hopes for him, but, ideally, he'd have liked swifter progress.
4. Fabian Delph
There will be plenty of people regretting their ham-fisted, knee-jerk reaction to Fabian Delph’s move from Aston Villa to City.
At best, he was labelled stupid for even thinking he could play regularly in a team as strong as City’s. At worst, he was a mercenary in search of money who had cruelly turned his back on the team who had made him.
The reality has been spectacularly different. He’s a brilliant professional who moved to improve his game and test himself at a higher level. Despite suffering two hamstring setbacks early in the season, he’s a regular in the side and performing superbly.
He was man of the match in City’s last game and has become firm favourite with the fans. His hard work and stamina is clear, but his technique is underrated, particularly his ability to run with the ball and beat players.
He brings added dynamism to City’s midfield—something they missed at times last season.
3. Nicolas Otamendi
It’s not been easy for Nicolas Otamendi this season. He’s had three different centre-back partners while having to adjust to a new league and new team.
He’s a defender who has a reckless streak, and there have been plenty of times that has landed him in bother, but there have also been matches where he’s shown real quality, defined by his bravery and reading of the game.
As he settles, he’ll get better. He needs a stable partner—not just a regular one, but one who is performing well.
Given the backdrop to his season he’s performed well, and his last two games have been arguably his best.
2. Raheem Sterling
Given the way the transfer market is progressing, with English players costing a significant premium due to the new £5.1 billion television deal set to kick in this summer, the £49 million City paid Liverpool for Raheem Sterling is beginning to look like a bargain.
This, after all, is the most promising young English player around. Like most his age—and it’s easy to forget he’s just turned 21—Sterling’s form is yet to stabilise. There are good days and bad days; some where his pace and precociousness make him almost unplayable and others where he looks unable to influence the game. It’s perfectly normal.
What isn’t normal is his ability. This is a rare talent, one capable of reaching the very top of the game. Pace, directness, skill and an ability to create, he’s got plenty in his armour already.
And his attitude is superb. Watch any interview he’s given for CityTV, or read the quotes from interviews with national newspapers, and a theme emerges.
This is a focused young man who knows exactly what he needs to do to reach the top of the game. The fact he has left Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool already in his short career, moves designed to help him develop, says everything about his ambition and determination.
His reputation was tarnished after his move in the summer thanks to a coordinated attack from ex-Liverpool players in the media. That, it seems, has transmitted to the stands.
Sterling has been booed at pretty much every away ground he’s visited so far this season in what has become a weird campaign against a young man looking to improve his career prospects and bank balance, just like the rest of us do in our day-to-day lives.
It seems it’s also spread to match officials. Sterling cannot get a decision. The recent game with Everton, where he was denied a clear penalty in the final seconds when John Stones cleared him out inside the area, was the clearest example, but there have been many more.
It’s been a mixed season. He’s faced criticism at times, but when one takes a step back and considers his age, new surroundings and the adversity he’s faced, he’s been superb.
1. Kevin De Bruyne
There can be little doubt about who deserves to top this list. Kevin De Bruyne, signed for £54 million from Wolfsburg, has made a sensational start to life at City.
Discarded by Chelsea and sold for £18 million just over 18 months ago, the Belgian could have been forgiven for being damaged by the ordeal. He was criticised by Jose Mourinho and sent to a side of lesser standing than the one he had tried to make his name at. It was widely seen as a demotion.
A year-and-a-half later and he became the most expensive signing in English football. He has 11 goals in just 28 matches. It’s been a seamless, breathless transition, and City are the major beneficiaries.
His away form isn’t yet at the standard of his home form, and he’ll be desperate to start contributing more readily on the road, but his ability to produce moments of match-winning brilliance is clear.
He’s a special talent—perhaps a world-class one. Mourinho is rightly seen as one of the game’s greatest ever managers. However, his judgement where De Bruyne was concerned was way, way off.
City have bagged themselves one of the most talented young players in European football. At 24, his best years are ahead of him, and it’s likely to be City who enjoy them.