In his bullish post-season address to the fans, Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak promised big changes at the Etihad Stadium. It’s fair to say he has emphatically delivered on his promise.
After a limp title defence that saw City’s form collapse spectacularly after the turn of the year, Mubarak knew he had to bankroll some changes. City’s squad had become somewhat stale. It needed bolstering with youth and pace
Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are the biggest names to arrive, with Sterling costing an initial £44 million, according to James Robson at the Manchester Evening News, and the 24-year-old Belgium international costing £55 million, according to BBC Sport.
Add to that Nicolas Otamendi and Fabian Delph, as well as youngsters Enes Unal and Patrick Roberts, and it’s been a fruitful window for the Blues, who have raced out of the blocks and lead the Premier League as a result of their 100 per cent start to the new season.
Delph is certainly an intriguing signing, with his transfer from Aston Villa for £8 million dividing opinion. There were those who, rather predictably, said the move would damage his career, with Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell cited as example of other English players who failed to impress at City and were ultimately discarded.
Then there were those who felt it was a shrewd acquisition, feeling less than £10 million for a home-grown player on an upward trajectory, one who has improved year on year and is now an England regular, was sensible. His chances of playing were not as slim as the doubters were suggesting, given Fernando had struggled for much of the last campaign yet racked up 33 appearances in all competitions.
It’s a deal City would have been mad not to complete.
They lacked energy in midfield last season, and Delph is one of the league’s most energetic players. His stamina and running power is remarkable, with his ability to carry the ball the most underrated aspect of his game.
He consistently improved at Villa. Having arrived in the Midlands from Leeds United in 2009, he initially struggled to live up to the excitement that had followed his move. But over the last two years, he’s made huge improvements to his game, and last season, he was by far Villa’s best player, having been named their Player of the Year in 2013/14. He deserved a move to a big club competing for silverware.
He has six England caps and has been named in their latest squad for their Euro 2016 qualifiers with San Marino and Switzerland.
"I'm really happy—this is a huge opportunity to come here and play alongside some of the best players in the world," he said when arriving at City. "Every time I've played against City I've been chasing shadows, so it's going to be fantastic to have players such as David Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero on my side now."
The problem he has, like any player at City, is maintaining the quality needed to become a regular in the side. His injury in pre-season was a blow, but so far, with City winning and playing immaculate football, the Yaya Toure-Fernandinho midfield axis has been left intact by Manuel Pellegrini for the opening four matches.
Toure is one of the great midfielders in world football, and Fernandinho, who is undergoing something of a renaissance this season, is a class act. Fighting his way past either of those two won’t be easy for Delph.
But with City looking so sharp, it’s likely they’ll play plenty of games this season. Mubarak said in his post-season address that City want to compete aggressively in four competitions. It looks like City now have a squad to do just that.
Delph will get games, and he possesses more quality than Sinclair and is less troubled by injuries than Rodwell, proved by his 81 league appearances for Villa over the past three seasons. He has everything he needs to contribute significantly to City’s assault on the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup.
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 are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter: @RobPollard.