Manchester City spent again this summer with a spring in their step following the arrival of new manager Manuel Pellegrini.
However, after four games played, the Citizens have won two, drawn one and lost one in what is shaping up to be an inconsistent start to life in England for the Chilean coach.
Why are Manchester City stalling? Firstly, it’s early days and plenty of time and games left to get their form going. Secondly, they are missing some key players – captain Vincent Kompany, and new signing Martin Demichelis – but with the £100 million worth of signings they made this summer, one would have hoped for a better start.
They couldn’t have asked for a better start, actually – a 4-0 comprehensive victory over Newcastle in the first weekend of the campaign had me wondering whether any of the other title contenders even had a chance this term. They were organized, focused and some of the creative play was breath taking as a spectacle.
However, they followed that display with a shocking 3-2 defeat at Cardiff, then picked themselves up for a solid 2-0 win over Hull and then were again found wanting at the Britannia last weekend in their goalless draw with Stoke.
New signings Alvaro Negredo has opened his account in the Premier League but so far Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas, and Fernandinho have looked a little shy and off-beat – they clearly need time to settle in and that’s understandable, it’s a new country and a new league for all of them.
However, I think the key to City’s stalling start so far is that their important players have not stepped up to the plate so far – Kompany is injured which has a big impact and Joe Hart has been on top form, but where have Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, James Milner, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero been?
They’ve been playing – well, for the most part – but those players are all match winners in their own right on any given day and I haven’t seen them put themselves into their performances enough so far. At least, not consistently enough to win games and titles.
I think letting Gareth Barry go was another big factor – I’m not the first and I won’t be the last person to point to his performance for Everton against Chelsea on Saturday and conclude that City are missing one of the best midfielders in the country.
Equally, without placing too much praise on Barry, what he brought to City was protection, assurance and authority in the middle of the park, which allowed the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva to operate higher up the field and get involved in an attacking capacity.
I said much the same when City let Nigel de Jong go last summer – City lost the title and I’m sure there’ll be many who disagree but I think that was a big part of it and a part that was, for the most part, overlooked.
Players like Barry and De Jong have mental qualities that make them crucial to their teams – they are warriors who lead by example and the types of players you want on the pitch on a rainy day in Cardiff or Stoke when the going gets tough.
Fernandinho is a quality box-to-box midfielder but I can’t see him taking a game by the scruff of the neck and getting his hands dirty when it counts – I might be wrong, it’s early days, but I think Manchester City’s influx of talented individuals has pushed out a key to success which is the team’s determination and attitude which is often inspired by just one or two players, certainly those players that make up the spine of the starting XI week in week out.
Gareth Barry was the epitome of that team that won the title – Hart, Kompany, Zabaleta, Aguero, Silva and Toure too but I think Pellegrini should have fought to keep one of City’s best players – he’s not a ‘wow’ player, his game is understated, subtle and I think Pellegrini has missed the point on that one and, crucially, I believe it will cost him some points this season.
Instead Barry effective won Everton three points on Saturday with his prowess in defence and midfield and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Toffees enjoy similar successes against a number of the top teams this term.
image: © geetarchurchy