Manchester City Season Preview, by Daniel Zemach

Daniel Zemach

It’s really easy to talk a big game when it’s December and you still haven’t lost a match. But its July. And none of that matters anymore. Sad but true. And that’s why any sensible City fan is quiet right now. We have a different genetic build, City supporters. Let me explain what I mean.

If you’ve been a supporter for longer than 12 months, you have a little piece of your brain just below your right ear, and a little to the left, that’s screaming right now. It’s on fire. It’s a defense mechanism that protects our fragile emotions, the same emotions that come out every time someone yells ‘Oil Money!’ at you, from the volatility of Manchester City Football Club. Every ‘club defining’ transfer, derby win and trophy raise brings immense joy, but triggers this fire-y piece of the brain that screams ‘this is the last piece of silverware you’ll ever see!’.

This anatomical anomaly is particularly painful today. Exacerbated by the fact that it’s the first day of the season. First pre-season game. Of little import to some, but I get to see City play and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks. From today until June 2019 (hopefully) I get to see the men of Manchester don purple, black, white, yellow, orange, or whatever silly colors our away kits will be, but most importantly sky blue, for the next 10 months. I am excited. Beyond excited. I am writing this because I’m so excited that I had to let y’all know. But last season will be hard to top. 100 points. A domestic double. No silverware for Liverpool (f’em) or United. And that’s why I am in pain. I’m scared as well. Our opponents have improved. Liverpool defensively, Chelsea tactically, United got rid of Rooney, and of course Spurs have done nothing. Meanwhile, it seems as if we have done little to fend off the impending attack to our title hold (#WelcomeRiyad). I hope to explain to you below (and convince myself) why we are in a better position than ever to defend our title, reach for even more this campaign, and silence that bugger in our brain for good. I want to break down each competition for you, what to expect in our trophy cabinet next summer and maybe talk about some other things too.

Beginning with….

International Champions Cup (“ICC”)

Ah, the ICC. A money grab if there ever was one. But it’s the little exposure America gets every year to the glory that is European club football. I managed to avoid the money trap this year, as my City (Charlotte) will host Liverpool (f’em) and Borussia Dortmund this Sunday. World Cup year. Teams I’m not thrilled about. No thanks. I’ll stash the cash and try to go to London and catch a game this year instead.

Games will be played across three continents, with a single table and 3 guaranteed games per team. Most points takes home the cup. Unlike conventional football, here a win in penalties will get you 2 points, versus 3 for a win in regulation or extra time. First two tie breakers are H2H and goal differential.

City have the honors of opening the festivities at Soldier Field in Chicago tonight (Friday, the 20th) against Borussia Dortmund. We don’t know much about how lineups will look, but expect a good number of subs throughout the game. We do know that some noticeable names are missing from the squad that made the trip (KdB, Gabi Jesus, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, etc.). Ultimately, that tempers expectations for the tournament. But it is also a huge benefit to the younger players in the traveling squad. Some names to look out for. There are the obvious ones (Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz) who are trying to get a look into the first team. I hope to see them start all 3 games.

I want to see players like Douglas Luiz get some meaningful minutes this tournament as well. Considering our situation at the holding midfielder position, getting a guy like this some minutes could be useful in determining how pressing the need for a holding midfielder is.

Other from those 3, it will be nice to see Joe Hart back in sky blue for the first time in a while. This is purely sentimental but I think City is trying to do right by Big Joe. A few more names I want to see perform well: on the young side, Tosin Adarabioyo (CB) and Patrick Roberts (RW) and on the senior side Mahrez, Sane and Laporte. With Tosin, it could go a ways towards determining if he can be the replacement as a 4th CB when Kompany decides to hang them up. For Roberts, there could be a monetary impact here, as there was a rumored moved to Leicester for 10m pounds, and a few goals could solidify a transfer. Laporte has had some time to get settled in the squad, so I want to see some good ball movement and solid defense on his end, while Sane has wrongly had the summer to rest and probably has a chip on his shoulder the size of a gold trophy with a little ball on top.

Our other fixtures include Liverpool (f’em) and Bayern, in New Jersey and Miami respectively. No real way of telling who is going to play for any of these teams, so no real point in attempting to predict winners here. But I just want to see some good football from some youngsters.

That takes us through the end of July and into our next competition…

The Community Shield

A single game. A pre-season game? Yes. But a game that yields a domestic trophy nonetheless. City will face Chelsea on August 5th at Wembley. Given the turnover at Chelsea, the stability at City, the early season fixture, I have to give this one to City. It’s not even clear if Chelsea will have a 1st team quality keeper by that date. I think the Chelsea/City battle will be a great one, given the tactical prowess of both managers. However, it may take until next season for that to flesh out. Let’s be real, who is going to create and score when your midfield is Kante, Bakayoko, Jorginho and Ross ‘which way is the pitch’ Barkley. Yes there is Eden Hazard. But he can’t score all the goals. City scored 143 goals across 57 competitive fixtures last season! 143! I’m sorry but a one man scoring force can’t match that.

Trophy Count: 1

(Brief digression from competition overviews)

The Summer Transfer Window

A competition in its own right. One seemingly that City withdrew from in a way. Even with just one major change to the squad, I will express to you why City gets a B+ to date.

Mahrez.jpg

  1. We got our guy. City wanted Mahrez. Pep wanted Mahrez. Mahrez wanted City. Mahrez wanted Pep. 60m pounds got the deal done and that was that. Some say this is wasteful. That City had enough in attack (143 goals!) and we are just adding a bench player. But I disagree. City played 57 fixtures last season. Ideally, we reach the 65 mark this season (not including ICC here). I want two top quality players at every position in order to maximize the output from those 65 games without risking injury through fatigue. We saw an incredible start to last season, and then we saw our boys lose some legs late on. In my opinion, this cost us the Champions League. Adding Mahrez does a few things for us. One, it adds flexibility to Bernardo’s game. He can now drop into midfield and play a ball control role. We saw him do this on the flanks last season, but I think he can be more devastating if he gets to play more centrally. This, by consequence, alleviates pressure from David Silva to be the main offensive threat in the midfield. It also adds depth to a forward group that lacked depth when players went down with injury.
  2. We essentially have two new signings that carry over from last season: Laporte and Mendy. I think its underrated that we went a whole season without a true left back on the roster. Having Mendy back healthy is like a new summer signing. Similar situation with Laporte. Not a lot was asked of him last season at his natural position. This will change this season and I see him becoming a critical part of the squad.
  3. We didn’t make many moves on the perimeter of the squad. I think this was a good thing. Any spending here would have been a waste. We are full of world class players. No need to add some 28 year old premier league traveler for 25m pounds just for transfer’s sake.
  4. One issue I see, as does everyone else, is the holding midfield role. The Jorginho situation is a bit of a mess and has left us in a pickle. I don’t think Fernandinho can carry us through 65 games in this highly intensive role. He’s a great player and can no doubt get the job done, but he needs a deputy. I don’t like the thought of dropping De Bruyne or Gundogan into this role for more than a game here and there. It’s a waste of their energy and offensive fire power. I would love to see us bring in Mateo Kovacic (24) of Real Madrid His energy, distribution ability, creativity and aggressive power would serve our squad well. Not sure that the deal gets done though at the 80m euro price that is being rumored. Another rumor is that City could launch a bid for Miralem Pjanic (28) of Juventus, also at 80m euros, but this is worse in my opinion. Paying big bucks for a player past prime age (27.5 is widely considered the average prime) is not a great way to build a squad. City have generally avoided doing this and have built a young squad that can win for many years.
  5. This brings me to my final point as to why I think this transfer window is successful. City have laid the groundwork to not have to make many transfers going forward. Our squad is young. Its built to win now and going forward. As certain players roll past their prime, it is no doubt they will have to be replaced. I hope these replacements come from the EDS program, but if we have to make a transfer here and there that’s fine too. Not to mention we sent 16 players to the World Cup, which enhances the quality of our players. World Cup experience is critical to the development of world class players. That made this summer all the more successful. Signing a young, star holding midfielder would push this transfer window from a B+ to an A+.
  6. A further note, City have dispensed of some older prospects that may not get a look in to the squad, and brought in a good amount of transfer fees. The net spend with no further signings might end up in the low double digits this year, which is a real departure from what we are used to. I think this is great. This is a sign of transitioning into a top caliber club.

Next up, the big Kahuna…

The Premier League

Folks, I’m shutting off my City instinct and letting my optimism get the best of me. We will defend our title. Now, am I saying 200 points in 2 seasons? No. The competition is stiffer this year. It will detract. Champions League ambitions will take priority this season. There are a culmination of factors that will lead to less points this season, none more so than not having an additional holding midfielder. If we sign one, I may redact my statement and say we get to 95+ territory this season. Otherwise, we might be looking at mid to high 80s. But I think that is enough to get the job done. Let’s take a look at our competition:

Liverpool (f’em) – They have the pieces. They have the manager. They focused in on their weak points well this transfer window. If they win it, you best believe I’ll be crying ‘They bought the league!’ Hypocritical, I know. Priority two for me this Premier League season will be cheering for Liverpool to crash and burn. There are some factors to pay attention to though. With a more ball controlling midfield, will they be as inclined to strike on the counter attack this season? If they alter the tactics, they may not be as effective this season. Balls into wide areas down the field to the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah is what made them good. If they back off that approach, maybe they are looking at worse season. A City man can dream…

Chelsea – This looks like a team in flux. Until the transfer window ends and we see the state of the squad, I don’t know that much can be made of how the season will end for them. Top performers Courtois and Hazard might be on their way out. Willian as well.

Man United – They extended Fellaini. Not much else to say here.

Fellaini.jpg

Tottenham Hotspur – Still waiting for them to take out their wallet. As are all the Spurs fans out there. Their players had a wonderful World Cup in my opinion. However, aside from Eriksen, their midfield is lacking and I expect a perennial top 4 finish and an empty trophy case. In the words of long time Spurs sufferer, and my friend Albert “I want signings”. Well Albert, let me tell you, you might not get them.

Arsenal – Credit to Arsenal, they had a great transfer window. Excellent signings at fair prices and they put pieces in place in the right parts of their squad. Unfortunately it may take some more time to get this squad into shape to make a push into the Top 4 again. Europa League finish for the 3rd year in a row for these guys. Like the look of those strikers though, sheesh.

Team to watch – Wolverhampton Wanderers. Man these guys are going to be fun to watch this year. Can’t wait to see them dismantle teams that underestimate them. The PL highlight reel this year will be spotted orange.

Trophy Count: 2

Carabao Cup (League Cup)

A true City favorite, and I have to admit, we seem to walk into this one time and time again. Not sure if it’s just coincidence or luck, but I think we hit our stride as a team in January and February and this competition falls in that window. Not much to analyze here as we don’t know the fixtures, but only 6 games stand between us and this trophy. Honestly, last year these were not our best games, as we only scored 11 goals in the 6 games in this competition, with 3 coming in the Final against Arsenal.

Trophy Count: 3

FA Cup

Not a City favorite. At all. Would really like to win this one at least one more time this decade, but not sure it’ll happen. Unless I hear Pep say outright that this competition is a priority this season, I don’t think we complete the domestic quad (FA, League Cup, PL, and Community Shield). Expect City to drop out to Wigan once more…

Champions League

Oh man, what a rush it would be to win this one. City are odds on favorites to win the Champions League this year, but to be honest I’m not quite sure why. Personally, my pick would be Juventus, who look primed to win and don’t necessarily have the domestic league pressure that other top teams have. A realistic finish for City would be semi-finals or better this year. As with most cup competitions, it will be very matchup dependent and schedule driven. City got stuck with a horrible stretch near the quarterfinals last year, with tough games against Spurs and United stuck near the Liverpool home and home. The way I see it, everything else in the season is expected of City (winning the PL, at least one domestic cup) but the true delta between expectations and reality would be a Champions League final. It was tough to fully enjoy the PL win last year when it was essentially an inevitability by Christmas. A Champions League win will come with no such preconditions and would be pure joy.

So what will it take for City to actually bring home this title? Unlike the PL, I don’t think it’s as dependent on signing another midfielder. I think we can get the job done with the squad we have. The main driver will be maintain focus for 90 minutes in all knockout games and not letting easy goals through, a City habit. Having a full time LB in Mendy and 4 fully integrated central defenders will be critical to accomplishing this goal.  But it all comes down to focus on matchday…

F it, a man can dream. Trophy Count: 4

Random thing to pay attention to

Moonchester. Legendary mascot. Deserves way more respect.

Moonbeam.jpg

The Squad

So how will City line up this season, when fully healthy? I think we will see a similar 4-3-3 formation to last season with an inverted midfield. One holding midfielder to shield the defense and recover balls quickly, and two midfielders in charge of ball distribution and causing disruption between the lines.

Lineup.JPG

There will be opportunity for a few (3ish) players to get into the reserves as well. One lock is Phil Foden, the Mancunian wunderkind. I would also like to see a striker, maybe Nmecha (if he doesn’t get loaned out) and possibly Philippe Sandler to make the squad. However, there is a lot of flexibility here and it will be determined by further activity in the transfer market. There are rumors as well that Brahim Diaz is looking to break the first team or be sold, so that throws a wrench into a few plans as well. That kid oozes talent though and I think City should do whatever they can to retain him.

As I mentioned earlier, Douglas Luiz is one to watch as well. Would love to see him come into the squad. Not sure if he is ready, as he didn’t get many minutes at Girona last season, but the games this week and next should help clarify his status. Maybe there will be more articles to come…

If that squad above doesn’t instill fear in any opponent’s heart, I don’t know if anything will. I think that alone can convince City fans to put fear aside and embrace the upcoming season with optimism and excitement. If the fear and pain in the brain still exists, just know that the rest of the Cityzens are there at your back, filling the Etihad, defending the title alongside you, and ready to achieve greatness.

Total Trophies: 4/5

If you ever need to tell a Liverpool (f’em) supporter that they are buying the league, you can loop me in by hitting me up on Twitter (@dzemach63). I got your back!

-Daniel Zemach

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Nico

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