Manchester City are widely considered to have the best squad in the Premier League, yet their season has been defined by inconsistency.
They haven’t managed back-to-back wins since October and find themselves three points adrift of leaders Leicester City. Only the unpredictability of the league, which is now far less rigid than ever before, has seen them remain in the title race.
Their tally of 44 points from 23 matches is the lowest they’ve managed in the last five seasons. Clearly, with the squad of players at Manuel Pellegrini’s disposal, his side are underperforming and in danger of finishing the season empty-handed.
For some, that’s enough to warrant a January spending splurge, but Pellegrini, displaying his usual defiance, has strongly suggested he won’t bring in any players during the current window.
"Really I think this squad is complete," Pellegrini told reporters ahead of City's trip to Watford earlier this month.
"As always, I said that we are not going to close the window but we are not really thinking of any special players to bring in.”
The suggestion is he feels comfortable with the depth and quality of his squad, and only an unmissable opportunity unexpectedly presenting itself would see him tempted to add a new face.
It’s probably the right decision. January is a notoriously difficult time to find the right player. City have made just four midseason signings since the 2008/09 campaign when four big-name arrivals boosted their squad.
Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong, Shay Given and Craig Bellamy were all brought in at this stage in 2009 under Mark Hughes’ watch with mixed success.
Patrick Vieira, Adam Johnson, Edin Dzeko and Wilfried Bony have subsequently joined in the winter window, and, again, it’s a patchy record.
City prefer to do their business in the summer, where proper planning comes to fruition.
January is a month that very often favours the selling club. Prices get driven up because clubs don’t want to lose their players without enough time to properly identify a replacement.
There are very few examples of players moving during this window and proving an unqualified, value-for-money success.
If City were to do a deal, it would surely be a centre-back who would top their list of priorities. Eliaquim Mangala has struggled throughout his 18 months at the club and looks increasingly like a lost cause whenever he plays. His game is beset by nervousness and an inability to read the game. City look vulnerable whenever he plays, and unless there’s a huge improvement between now and May, a summer move looks likely.
Vincent Kompany is injured and will remain out for around a month, with Pellegrini confirming after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with West Ham United that his recovery from the calf injury he suffered against Sunderland on Boxing Day is nowhere near complete.
"Vincent has at least two or three weeks more so he's not able to work with the squad," the City boss told Sky Sports. "When he starts working with the whole squad then he needs at least one week more to return."
It leaves Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis as City’s current pairing. The former veers from displaying bravery and excellence to kamikaze defending that puts his side under unnecessary pressure, while the latter—still a superb reader of the game—is 35, and his legs are creaking badly.
It undermines everything they do. At times, they are most exciting attacking unit in the league. They break at speed and show inventiveness in possession. They have an appetite for hitting the net, and with Sergio Aguero returning to his best, they have huge goalscoring potential.
But with such uncertainty at the back, they can’t win the league. No side has ever won England’s biggest prize defending in the way City are currently. The need to get Kompany back fit cannot be underestimated.
Their top target is likely to be Everton’s John Stones, but the Merseysiders, who fended off Chelsea’s approach in the summer, won’t—under any circumstance—allow him to leave in the middle of the season.
With clubs now imbued by added financial security thanks to the new Premier League television deal, no longer do the less illustrious sides have to accept big-money bids from the elite. A club like Everton would only sell a player of Stones’ calibre in the summer when a replacement can be properly targeted and secured.
Pellegrini needs to find a solution from within his current group of players. The two-man midfield he is persevering with works when the division’s lesser sides visit the Etihad Stadium, but it causes problems when they travel.
Three of Fabian Delph, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Fernando has to be the way they line up in away matches. Pellegrini may feel this robs his side of some of their creativity, but the way West Ham cut through them on Saturday—not for the first time this season—must surely be making him consider a more cautious approach.
The club must surely be regretting the way they have managed their defensive recruitment in recent seasons. They’ve signed a centre-back in each of the last four summers, yet they appear no closer to solving their defensive problems.
This summer, surely, they will target another. But January simply isn’t the time to find one, certainly not a long-term option possessing the quality they require.
Pellegrini is unlikely to do any deals this month and, despite City's issues, it’s probably the most sensible option. They need to improve, though, because right now their season is in danger of faltering badly.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.
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