Well, here we are then. It doesn’t feel like two minutes since the 2014/15 season drew to a close, yet the new Premier League season begins today. Manchester City get their campaign underway on Monday night at West Bromwich Albion.
To whet your appetite, our writers Rob Toole, Dan Burke, David Mooney, Rob Pollard, Ciaran Murray, Richard Burns and Alex Timperley have put together their preview of the upcoming campaign. And to prove that Typical City is representative of the City fanbase, there’s a good mix of blind optimism and considered anxiety.
After last season’s disappointing title defence, City will be aiming to bring the Premier League trophy back to Manchester. Where do you think City will finish in the league?
TOOLE: It’s rather difficult to predict exactly where City will finish, especially with the transfer window still open and, presumably, many deals yet to be done. Nevertheless, I’d expect them to be much more of a threat to the title this time around. Chelsea haven’t done much business, so far, but I’d expect them to be the favourites. United have continued to add to their team so maybe they will be better this year and Arsenal could also be a threat if they decide to play for a full season, for once. On our day, I reckon City are the best team in the league so I could see us winning it but I never expect us to. If we get one or two more big names in to revitalise the squad we could have a great season. In answer to your question: second.
BURKE: I’m gonna have to hedge my bets and say anywhere between 1st and 5th. It’s been a few years since I’ve been this pessimistic about our title chances and I really hate to say it but I think we’re in for another frustrating season. I might have changed my mind by the time the transfer window closes but right now I’d bite your hand off for a top four spot and any of the trophies we can win.
MOONEY: I’m really worried about this coming season. I think City have strengthened significantly in the attack and addressed the lack of pace on the break that was part of the problems last year, but the Stuttgart friendly highlighted just how much the defence is in need of inspiration. Whether that comes in the shape of a youngster in Jason Denayer, I’m not quite sure – I just know that the partnership of Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala just doesn’t fill me with confidence. Unless the Blues can sort out their defensive issues, I can’t see them taking the title back. At this moment in time, I’d predict another second-placed finish.
POLLARD: It’s so difficult to say when the window is still open for almost a month and deals that could change everything can still be done.
If City can get a couple more through the door – and I think a defender should be on the shopping list – then we can win the title.
MURRAY: These days City mount a realistic charge for the title every second season so going by recent trends, it could be our year again! However, I’m not sure how prepared we are for this season, other teams in and around the top four have really strengthened and it’s going to be really hard to dislodge Mourinho’s Chelsea from that top spot. City seem to be better when they’re chasing the league title instead of defending it so I hope they’ve got the fire in their bellies again. Defence is a worry at the moment and I think Chelsea are streets ahead in that regard. Because of this, and because my predictions are mercifully always wrong, I’ll say City second with Chelsea defending their title.
BURNS: I fully expect City to be closer to the title in terms of points this season, but predicting a finishing position is incredibly difficult. Chelsea will inevitably be strong again and, to me, have to be favourites to retain the title. On the face of it, they’ve done the least business in the summer but they didn’t need to add much. United will be better again and I think pose a real threat for the first time in three seasons. Even Arsenal are a relatively unknown quantity. Cech is exactly what they needed – if they add a quality striker they will be closer than they’ve been in a decade to winning the league.
City have a lot of quality to fend off – I expect another top two finish but I’m not quite confident enough to say we’ll win the league, so I have to say second.
TIMPERLEY: I think City will win the league. This isn’t based on anything like a complex analysis of all the contenders, it’s just a gut feeling mixed in with blind optimism. City have the players, they just all need to have a good season. It will be very close but if the defence sorts itself out I think that come May we will all be very happy.
For some reason a lot of pundits and ‘experts’ have decided to write City off for no apparent reason. That’s fine by me. Over the last few years City have been a far better team after they have been written off. Lets hope that continues to hold true.
What do you make of the transfer business so far?
TOOLE: Good. Sterling is obviously a great signing, despite what you may have read. At just 20 he could be one of the very best in a few years. With the likes of Silva and Agüero playing alongside him he is bound to flourish. His signing reminds me a bit of when Chelsea bought Hazard and United got Rooney: they were shelling out a lot for potential but, deep down, everyone knew they were the real deal.
I haven’t seen Fabian Delph play an awful lot so I am yet to be convinced. That said, he is definitely better than Fernando so that is progress, I guess. As for the other youngsters we’ve signed it is hard to get too excited by them as they’re unlikely to feature in the first team any time soon but it is encouraging to see the club looking to the future given the age of a lot of our current first team.
BURKE: I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s feeling somewhat underwhelmed by our summer activity at the time of writing. Sterling’s pace and directness is exactly what our attack’s been crying out for and I think he’ll prove to be an excellent signing but I don’t really see Delph improving us all that much. Acquiring top quality players can’t be easy but we were told to expect big things this summer and it hasn’t really happened yet. There’s still plenty of time left to bring in the sort of players the team needs, of course, but if we’re still in the same position come the 1st of September I think City’s Director of Football is going to have some difficult questions to answer.
MOONEY: I like the signing of Raheem Sterling and think he’ll add some much needed pace and creativity to the side that finished last year. Aside from that, I think it’s been solid if not spectacular – Fabian Delph is a player that’s not really a gamble: He adds homegrown numbers to the ranks for a relatively low fee and he’s a player that could help ease the pressure on Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. Yet if he doesn’t work out, then it’s not really been an expensive experiment.
A couple of youngsters for the future round up the business and, I must say, I don’t think that’s enough to suggest the team will be turned around from the problems they had in the second half of 2014/15 to do much damage. Maybe I’m looking negatively at it still, but I think more needs to be done before the window closes – especially to the back four.
POLLARD: Delph was an absolute snip at £8 million – a no-brainer. His dribbling is underrated; he can drive teams forward and has unbelievable stamina and energy. He’s not a world-beater, but he’s a very good home-grown player on an upward trajectory. A good start is vital, though. It’s one thing impressing at a midtable side; it’s another securing a regular place in a side fighting for four trophies. He’ll need people on side straight away.
Sterling is a great move. Which other 20-year-old has shown as much promise as he has? The Liverpool fans’ attempts at casting him as some sort of myth after lauding him for two years was hilarious, though.
MURRAY: I think it’s been a frustrating summer, to be honest. Remember all that stuff last year about transfer targets being identified in October? The past two summers, whilst signings may not have worked out in the long term, were more organised and at least most signings were embedded in after a good pre-season. I’m delighted by Sterling’s signature and he seems to have settled in straight away. What a buy he’s going to be. I think Delph could surprise a few as well. I just cannot believe we seem to have walked away from Paul Pogba. He would have been a signing of earth-shattering proportions. We’ve got gaping holes in midfield, he’d be a natural successor to Yaya Toure, we were competing with some of the biggest clubs in Europe for his signature so it would have made a real statement, and it would have stuck two fingers up to United. It sounds like De Bruyne may be the last piece of business and, whilst he’s undoubtedly an incredible talent, I think other areas need addressing. Outgoings have probably all made sense in a lot of ways. Didn’t expect to be as sad about Džeko going as I am. Could regret losing that big, target man style striker.
BURNS: I’m absolutely delighted with the signing of Raheem Sterling. I said in the season review of the last campaign that he was my ideal summer signing, I think he will give City a lot of what we missed last season.
We’ve made some good sales as well. Jovetic had to go and Džeko is off. That’ll be a shame because he’s given City a lot in his time here and been crucial in the two league wins but he was dreadful last year so maybe a parting of the ways was the best thing.
Keeping Yaya Toure when everybody just assumed he was off was great news. I think we’ll see another big signing come in yet, probably De Bruyne.
TIMPERLEY: Not a full 10/10 but decent enough. Like every year I’m just bored of it now.
As we all know City’s big priority this summer has been reducing the average age of the squad to futureproof the club somewhat and injecting a bit of pace, adding a bit of verve to a creaking team. This has been done fairly well and I am happy.
Sterling is obviously going to be brilliant and I’m ecstatic that he has joined City. He’s the real deal and anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot and/or a Liverpool fan. He will get better and better surrounded by players of the quality City have and I have a feeling that in a few seasons time the £44m price tag will start to look like a real bargain. Remember when Agüero joined for £38m? That looks like daylight robbery now. Sterling will become just as influential at City.
Fabian Delph is a smart acquisition who will take over from Fernandinho or Fernando over the coming years. A few years off his peak but already fought his way into the England team. He’s better than people think and will surprise a few.
The outgoings have all been fine as well. Whilst I would have liked to have kept Milner and Džeko it seems like the right time for them to leave.
This will be City’s fifth successive year competing in the Champions League and, as ever, progress on the previous season will be expected. How do you think City will get on in Europe this term?
TOOLE: I think we’ll get out of the groups but after that I am not too sure. We have to make the quarters at least, surely? There can be no more excuses with four seasons in the competition in our bag. We have to up our game in Europe and really make our mark. It’s all good and well beating Bayern Munich in a dead rubber, as we have done a few times before, but I would love to see us do that when it actually matters. Maybe this is the year.
BURKE: I’m hoping the new seeding rules will present us with a more winnable group, we’ll get an easier tie in the last 16 and improve on the last four seasons by getting to at least the quarter final but who knows? I’ve been expecting everything to fall into place for us in the Champions League since the first season we were in it and it’s been nothing but frustrating. I’ll be keeping my expectations low and hoping for a surprise this time around.
MOONEY: Forgive me for being Mr. Negative, but unless the draw is kinder to City then I can’t see much progress this season either. The defensive problems the Blues have had and I’ve previously highlighted are even more pronounced on the continent than domestically. The club only just got out of the groups last season – and that was more by luck than judgement – so if they can do that again this year, then I guess they’d have done okay. Performances need to improve greatly, though.
POLLARD: Pre-season appears to suggest Pellegrini is looking to introduce new formations, and if that happens, we’ll have a better chance. It’s become a tired argument but there’s no doubt he’s been a bit inflexible in Europe since he arrived and it’s cost us. We finished last season with 4-2-3-1 and won six straight games, and he’s experimented with 4-3-3 in Australia, which is a very exciting development. As we know, he loves 4-4-2, given he’s played it pretty much everywhere he’s been, so there’s three options which make second-guessing us much more difficult for opposition managers.
MURRAY: It depends on the draw, like it has done every season we’ve qualified. The year we had the easiest group was the year that we qualified for the group stages with the least fuss. We struggle against top tier European opposition and we struggle against second tier European opposition. Pellegrini seemed to learn a thing or two about himself at the tail end of last season and seemed to set his team up a little more pragmatically. There are whispers of a change in formation this season so that could help City progress in the Champions League. Discipline costs us on these big nights so cooler heads may be required if we are serious about this competition.
BURNS: You never know what the draw is going to throw up so it can be hard to predict. Last season City were slated for their performances against Barcelona (including by me), but Barca then went on to completely annihilate Bayern Munich and win the whole tournament, so in retrospect our defeat wasn’t so bad. I would be very disappointed to see us fall before the quarter-finals again though; an appearance in the last eight would be real progress and I think we will get there this time.
TIMPERLEY: Impossible to say. Better, hopefully, but until we know the groups you can’t really predict it. Likewise, City could get 18 points in the group stages but then if we run into Barcelona again then all bets are off.
Not a terribly helpful answer I know but there it is.
Compiled by Richard Burns