Manchester City 2015/16 Season Preview
Manuel Pellegrini enters the last season of his three-year contract as Manchester City boss. The Chilean will need a good season to convince the club’s hierarchy that he deserves an extension.
The Citizens will hope to wrestle the Premier League title back from Chelsea while also progressing beyond the round of 16 in the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
City revamped their strike force with Sergio Aguero as the lone survivor from 2014. Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic have left the club while Raheem Sterling followed Wilfried Bony in joining the ranks at the Etihad Stadium.
Bony is yet to make an impact after his move from Swansea in January and Sterling adds a new dimension to the club’s attacking options with his pace, dribbling ability and low centre of gravity.
The other English recruits, Fabian Delph and Patrick Roberts, will probably bolster the squad rather than command regular places in the starting XI. That means City’s hopes of a better season rest upon the revival of the stars that disappointed last season. Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri, Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas were all below their standards in 2014/15.
Pellegrini can also tap into the club’s highly-rated academy, where they have prodigies like Portuguese teenager Rony Lopes, who impressed on loan at Lille last season.
Toure and Silva have the ability to win midfield battles against any team in the world when they are in the mood but City’s hopes ultimately rest on Aguero. The Argentine scored seven goals in seven for Argentina plus 32 goals in 40 games for the Citizens last season. He won the Golden Boot with 26 league goals despite missing almost a quarter of the season through injury.
The challenge for Pellegrini is to keep him fit. Aguero has gone the extra mile in attempts to improve his fitness, including making dietary changes to reduce the risk of picking up muscle injuries. If he stays fit then City will have a great chance to at least compete both domestically and in Europe.
Young player to watch
Sterling will no doubt grab most of the attention but Eliaquim Mangala’s success could be more pivotal for the Citizens. Manchester City have always scored more goals than any Premier League side since Pellegrini arrived at the club but that was not enough last season mainly because of a porous defence.
The French defender turned 24 earlier this year and now needs to come of age. He has everything in his favour to become the best defender in the game. He is quick, very powerful and good in the air as well. His awareness and positioning frequently let him down last season.
Pellegrini’s ultra-offensive tactics also left City’s central defenders with very little protection at the back. Sam Allardyce famously targeted the Mangala with his game-plan last season as West Ham defeated Manchester City 2-1 at Upton Park.
That means while Mangala needs to work on his weaknesses, City as a unit have to provide more protection to central defenders with midfielders like Toure and Silva also showing more interest in tracking back.
Pellegrini is naturally inclined to adopt an attacking 4-4-2 formation. That helped the Citizens score more than 150 goals two seasons ago, en route to claiming both the Premier League and League Cup.
But the same approach backfired last season because only Aguero looked sharp enough in front of goal while the other strikers, like Dzeko and Jovetic, failed miserably.
The Chilean boss may be compelled to turn to a more cautious approach with only Aguero as the main striker this season. A system like 4-2-3-1 formation would allow Sterling to feature as an inverted left attacking midfielder, similar to Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard.
It would also free David Silva from the defensive duties of tracking back with full-backs as he would be operating in his natural position as a central attacking midfielder.
Expect to see Pellegrini’s general philosophy of keeping play in the opponent’s half continue with both full-backs overlapping down the flanks.
While it is fair to expect some of the key players who struggled last season to regain their form, winning the league may just be a step too far for the Citizens. They should still remain in the top three.
Their Champions League misfortunes of drawing Barcelona each time they get to the knockout stages will hopefully be a thing of the past. Since Pellegrini is unlikely to repeat the mistake of facing top sides like the Catalan giants with a 4-4-2 formation, this should be their best campaign in the Champions League yet.