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Manchester City to sign Brazilian midfielder – in a statment of intent

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph Manchester City could be on the verge of completing their year-long pursuit of Shakhtar Donetsk central midfielder Fernandinho quickly after sealing the signing of Jesus Navas. If the deal goes through, it will be a critical statement of intent and ambition from Manchester City in a transfer window in which they are in danger of being marginalised by the likes of Monaco, Real Madrid and Chelsea in the spending stakes.

If they get him, coupled with Navas, it will give their attacking play a fresh new impetus and off the field will show that they still have the ambition and wherewithal to compete for the biggest names. There are serious questions to be asked about the fees they’d have laid out to get them, but on the field they would be upgrades.

Fernandinho is a central midfielder by preference, although he can, if needed, play deeper in a 4-2-3-1 as the playmaker in the Schweinsteiger/Xavi role. What Fernandinho has that none of the other City midfielders have is a full passing range and an ability to set a quick tempo in the passing game, roving around the pitch looking for the ball and looking to set attacks in motion.

Fernandinho

James Milner, Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia all offer hard work and endeavour but precious little quality. Yaya Toure and Jack Rodwell are box-to-box players capable of getting the odd goal and making tackles but don’t have the variety of passing available to them that Fernandinho has. He would bring something genuinely different to a City midfield that looked one paced last season and overly reliant on the attackers producing a moment of magic. Fernandinho even has a highlight reel of long-range goals. So there is no question he would be a good signing football wise, and the same can be said of Jesus Navas. But with City, there are always issues with finance.

UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules come in to force this summer which means that clubs have to be careful what they spend, and should be tougher when negotiating to buy players. Of course, if you are buying from a club that doesn’t need to sell or are bidding against other big teams, the price will go up. The likes of Edinson Cavani and Gareth Bale are examples of this. The price can go sky high because the selling clubs are either relatively wealthy or have many clubs bidding. But, this isn’t the case with Fernandinho or Navas. Sevilla have said that City were the only club bidding on Jesus Navas, and they were surprised at how much they got for him; £22m in the end. Not only that, but Sevilla have financial troubles so surely could be been brought down a bit. In the case of Fernandinho, Shakhtar are a wealthy club but have been open that they would let Fernandinho go this summer. The Brazilian has a £42.5m release clause. The Telegraph believe a compromise fee has been reached but if this turns out to be anything over £20m it is far too much. As with Navas, they are the only bidders and Fernandinho has said he wants to play for them.

The final puzzle about these moves, is the age of the players. Navas is 27, Fernandinho is 28. City are spending what is expected to be around £45m on these two players but may only get four or five years service from them. This will be the most they ever cost, and they will depreciate very quickly. City already have a lot of expensively bought players who have lost their value, which looks horrible on their Fair Play balance sheet. These moves make football sense, but no financial sense.

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Manchester City to add Spanish wingers after Pellegrini’s arrival?

Last season one of the recurring weaknesses of Manchester City’s attack was the lack of width, pace and variety. This was compounded by some errant finishing but often the out of form strikers would have little opportunity to get a few shots on goal. This was because their attacking patterns were too one-dimensional. If they couldn’t rapidly pass their way through the middle of the opposition they were left without a Plan B. Although full backs Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy provided some attacking width they don’t possess the kind of guile or creativity they needed out wide.

Roberto Mancini’s first choice team often featured David Silva and Samir Nasri as the supposed width but they were usually given license to meander infield. Both of them have the natural compulsion to play in behind a striker and occasionally drift wide, rather than being out wide all of the time. With them drifting in, Carlos Tevez drifting back from his forward spot and with Yaya Toure getting forward from midfield, the sight of four or five City players within the width of the penalty box, but just outside, was not uncommon.

With this in mind, they are being strongly linked to Spanish winger Jesus Navas and versatile attacking midfielder Isco, believed to be main targets for expected new manager Manuel Pellegrini. They are logical connections to make, with Isco having emerged as such a desirable prospect under Pellegrini at Malaga and ,Navas a consistent menace for Sevilla who have run in to financial difficulties and may be willing to sell their prised local boy.

Isco

Isco is very much reminiscent of Santi Cazorla of Arsenal, his ex-teammate. Indeed, when Cazorla left last summer, Isco assumed his vacated central position and took on the mantle of the main playmaker for the Malaga side, which despite financial troubles reached the Champions League quarter finals and the top six of La Liga. Isco is two footed, has excellent vision, glides around the field and this season has increased his goal tally to nine, which is pretty similar to Cazorla, and more than possible new team mate David Silva. His main asset, as you would expect from a young Spaniard, is exemplary technique and football intelligence. Like Juan Mata, he has an impish creativity but also has a bustling and direct style, which makes him a dangerous runner with the ball. The question really, is fitting him in at City.

Isco certainly has different tools to what City currently have. His powerful dribbling and improving goal getting give him an edge over Nasri and Silva. He is capable of making things happen without the need of a team-mate’s help; at times City play as if everything needs to click in to gear with everyone for it to work. He wouldn’t offer width, but he would bring much needed directness, inventiveness and pace in possession. Plus, he is on record with his admiration for the Premier League and has worked with the new probable new City boss, so persuading him should be easy enough.

Jesus Navas

Jesus Navas on the other hand, would offer width. He is a bit of an anachronism in Spain because he is more like an old-fashioned winger. He is very fast with the ball at his feet and a very skilful dribbler. He is a creator of chaos and a creator of goals. He won’t score many, none in the league this season, but he will create them. If anything, the English game should suit him more than the Spanish game. The English propensity for wide-open, fast-paced football with big spaces to roam around in should be an ideal environment for him. He is a pure right winger who would stay out wide and provide not only creativity but a constant out ball, an outlet to switch the play to.

The big questions with Navas have never been on the pitch though, it is with the homesickness that has blighted him. The joke in Spain is that he gets homesick in games outside Seville, so how is he going to cope in England? He doesn’t speak the language, and unless he brings his entire family over his adjustment to life in Manchester will be difficult. It might be reason enough for him to turn down such a move, preferring to stay in Spain.

Isco and Jesus Navas would combine to offer Pellegrini the width, pace and variety that they lacked last year. They would bring with them Plans B and C for City and surely supply enough chances for Aguero to find his shooting boots again. City can afford them both, even if the deal gets up towards £50m, but they need to invest time and effort in settling them in, particularly with Navas. If they do, it could be the jolt they need to compete for the league again next year.

Liverpool sign Toure from Manchester City – a step forward or back for the Reds?

Liverpool’s transfer market success rate has been more bad than good for a couple of years, and so fans of the Reds will be wondering if Kolo Toure is going to be more Philippe Coutinho or Stewart Downing. On the surface, it looks like the latter but before writing it off completely, it is best to try to understand the logic behind the move. Reports abound that Martin Skrtel could be joining Rafa Benitez at Napoli, so is Toure an upgrade on him?

Toure is 32 years old now and the raw physical ability that he relied upon to compensate for weaker positional play and a proneness to horrible errors is naturally fading. The first thing you think when you see this signing is that he has obviously being brought in to replace Jamie Carragher, to add experience to the Liverpool defence. That could be true, but if it is, it’s a big mistake.

Kolo Toure

The reason Carragher was able to operate to a high standard at 35 is that his game was never reliant on physical gifts. He has always been a master of positioning and organisation, which gives him the capability to be in the right place at the right time. He didn’t get in to footraces because he was already in the right place. Therefore, the natural drop off in what pace he had didn’t unduly affect him.

For Toure, a player lacking such positional awareness and consistency, this is a real concern. He played his best football alongside Sol Campbell at Arsenal and Vincent Kompany at Manchester City. Both of these men played as the leader of the defence, they were the one shouting out the orders and keeping Toure in position. The Ivorian could easily out sprint both of them, which gave him the advantage against the quick players, but he needed their guiding hand.

Jamie Carragher

At Liverpool he is likely to be partnered with Daniel Agger, a player who has too many similar weaknesses to make an ideal combination. Agger’s play has regressed over the last few years after a series of injuries and it is notable that his best form last season came when Carragher usurped Martin Skrtel in the first team. Agger isn’t vocal and is a bit of chance taker. Sometimes this results in wonderful interceptions but it does lead to avoidable goals. The same can be said of Toure. Agger is not quick. At his best he relied more on cerebral capability but he seems to have lost that edge.

The question is, who is going to lead the Liverpool defence? Toure and Agger are both good defenders but their weaknesses are too similar. They are good in a battle or in a chess match but in an open game, which Brendan Rodgers’ tactics will often result in, they are vulnerable. There are going to be positional issues when things get stretched or hectic.

Skrtel was really poor last season and was not much better the year before. The irony here is that the reason he struggled alongside Agger is that his positional play isn’t great and he needs someone to keep him in position. He likes a war but not a battle of wits. This is exactly how you could describe Toure. If Skrtel does go, Toure is just a like for like. It doesn’t fix the problem, it just changes who the problem is.

Manchester United without Sir Alex or Wayne Rooney, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho – next season is set to be a cracker

As the 2012/13 Premier League season lurches towards its underwhelming end, the realisation for many a fan is that it left us with precious little memories, compared to other seasons – notably the most sensational ending in the competition’s 21-year history last term.

As Sergio Aguero slammed home the winner that gave Manchester City the Premier League over fierce local rivals Manchester United with the last kick of the game against Queen Park Rangers last season, Martin Tyler screamed: “I swear you will never see anything like this again.”

Tyler’s now iconic sound bite may have had some truth to it, certainly this season at least, he was right.

Sergio Aguero

As the season sleepwalks into its final day, there is only the tedious race for fourth place that is still to play for amongst London trio Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The champions United won the division as far back at April 22. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side took advantage of a lacklustre competition and they marched to their 13th Premier League title in an efficient, if unspectacular, manner.

Two of the three relegated teams’ fate were sealed a week later when Queens Park Rangers played out a dour 0-0 with Reading before Wigan Athletic joined them on Tuesday following a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Indeed the most exciting events to happen in the league this season were announcements and decisions that will not come into focus until next season.

Happily next season is already shaping up to be mouth-watering, with a whole of changes sweeping throughout the league, giving it a fresh feel for the summer of 2013.

To begin with, four of the top six teams this season will be starting the 2013/14 campaign with new managers at the helm.

Manchester United will be without Alex Ferguson for the first time in 26 years, with his replacement David Moyes leaving Everton, where he served for over a decade himself.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson’s absence from English football is a concept millions of fans around the country have never known and Moyes’ adaptation to the country’s biggest club will be the most fascinating plot next season.

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright admitted that he will not be hasty in appointing Moyes’ successor, with the most reliable reports linking the Blues with Wigan’s Roberto Martinez, Porto coach Vitor Pereira and Swansea City boss Michael Laudrup.

Rafael Benitez will depart Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho seemingly set for a second stint at Stamford Bridge. The return of the ‘Special One’ is enough to excite every Chelsea fan and most neutrals. Love him or loathe him, Mourinho is pure box office and his return to England is sure to stir up feuds, drama and entertainment.

Man City are looking for a new manager with Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini touted as the favourite to take over from the axed Roberto Mancini. Incidentally, the Italian was given his P45 just 366 days after he ended his side’s 44-year wait for a league title in the top division.

Pellegrini’s presence in English football would provide another interesting sub-plot to next season’s 38 act drama. The Chilean has won widespread plaudits for his work with the Andalusians this season, after guiding them to a Champions League quarter-final in their first season in the competition, despite working against a backdrop of financial meltdown at the club.

Away from the dug-out, the division will be without two players who will have played 1456 top-flight games between them by Sunday evening. Jamie Carragher will retire from Liverpool after 16 years of sterling service for the Reds, while Paul Scholes looks set to make the last of 718 appearances for United when they play West Bromwich Albion.

Between them they have won five FA Cups, three Champions Leagues, five League Cups, a UEFA Cup, a Super Cup and two World Club Championships. Scholes leaves United with 11 Premier Leagues and both players say goodbye to the game as archetypal one-club legends for their respective teams.

Wayne Rooney’s future is also subject to speculation with Ferguson admitting that the England international had asked for a transfer request a few weeks back. Rooney has been linked with moves abroad to Paris Saint-Germain amongst others, but there have also been reports suggesting that the former Everton forward could move to Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney

A move to Stamford Bridge would be another incredible development in United’s recent evolution, and perhaps it may seem incomprehensible that Rooney could turn out for the Blues next season. However, stranger things have happened in football, and Man Utd’s decision-makers have never been shy of selling a star player when they think his talent may be on the wane.

Next season will also have the fixture that pits Cardiff City against Swansea City, a game which will only add more spice to a division that already boasts the Merseyside, Manchester, north London and Tyne-Wear derbies.

Equate in all this with the fact that the transfer window is not yet even open and you get the feeling that next season could be one of the most intriguing all of time.

Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool – look to the Eredivisie for transfer targets this summer

The Premier League big boys will already have one eye on the impending reopening of the transfer market, with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool looking to strengthen their squads.

A continued source of young talent is Holland’s Eredivisie, which has produced and nurtured such talents as Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez. Here are five exciting talents from the Dutch top flight that would make an impact in England.

Wilfried Bony

The Eredivisie’s top goalscorer this season with an unprecedented 30 goals in 27 games, Bony has been the catalyst for Vitesse Arnhem’s unexpected title challenge. The Ivory Coast international is the latest strong and quick forward from his nation, and looks sure to move to a bigger club this summer.

Wilfried Bony

Newcastle have been linked the African hitman, but the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham should both be monitoring Bony too.

Stefan De Vrij

Feyenoord’s captain and the leader of a home-grown revival in Rotterdam under Ronald Koeman. The assertive centre-half is one of the brightest defensive prospects in European football, and has made inroads into the Netherlands international set-up. At 21-years-old, De Vrij looks set to be a top performer and would suit the physical style of English football.

Stefan De Vrij

Arsenal, Liverpool and even Manchester United should be keeping tabs on De Vrij, who looks destined for greatness.

Alfred Finnbogason

The Iceland international has started to show up in scouting reports around Europe in the last 12 months due to his eye for goal and confidence on the ball. A loan spell with Helsingborg and 12 goals in 17 games earned him a move to Heerenveen in the off-season, and the Scandinavian has proved a bargain purchase. 24 Eredivisie goals in 28 outings is an excellent return for the 24-year-old.

Alfred Finnbogason

Heerenveen are very much a selling club and as such Finnbogason should be available at a bargain price. Liverpool and Tottenham could bolster their attacking options here, while a number of mid-range Premier League sides would have a prodigious talent on their hands.

Christian Eriksen

Arguably the best player in Dutch football at the moment, Eriksen has been repeatedly linked with a move away from Ajax, with England, Italy or Spain the destination. The Denmark international has played a significant role in the Amsterdam club’s title defence, and was influential in their recent 3-2 away win over PSV.

Christian Eriksen

Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have been linked with Eriksen in the past, however the Dane has the ability to play at any of the big clubs.

Kevin Strootman

PSV’s central midfield of veteran Mark van Bommel and Strootman is much admired in Holland, and the 23-year-old continues to grow in stature. Now a firm fixture in the Netherlands international squad with 18 caps, the box-to-box midfielder has outgrown the Eredivisie and would be a fantastic purchase for a number of English clubs.

Kevin Strootman

Manchester United have not had a dominant central midfielder enforcer since Roy Keane – Strootman could be the man to fill the void. Arsenal would also seem like a match given that Arsene Wenger has failed to replace Alex Song.

Tottenham must break Manchester City hoodoo if they are to challenge for top four

Tottenham take on Manchester City this Sunday knowing that they need to pick up three points to get their challenge for a top four finish in the Premier League back on track. The north London side have suffered against City of late, with no wins in the last five meetings between the sides, but Andre Villas-Boas’ men will need to end this three-year hoodoo to salvage their campaign.

Tottenham’s last victory over Manchester City came back in May 2010, with a Peter Crouch goal securing victory, and fourth place in the league, at Eastlands. Since then it has been one draw and four defeats for the White Hart Lane club, and Spurs fans may well be thinking that a bit of revenge is on the cards.

Sergio Aguero and Gareth Bale

The defeats of late include a 5-1 drubbing on the first day of last season at White Hart Lane, but a game that sticks more in the memory is the 3-2 loss at the Etihad Stadium in the reverse fixture. Spurs had put their terrible start to the campaign behind them and were all guns blazing towards a place in the Champions League – some were even touting Harry Redknapp’s men as an outside contender for the title. However, an end-to-end game proved heartbreak for the travelling support, as Jermain Defoe came within inches of winning the game in the dying moments, before City went up the other end and Mario Balotelli scored a penalty. Tottenham’s characteristic second half of the season demise started there.

The predictable demise has started to take effect again this term with unnecessary defeats in the league to Liverpool and Fulham, and elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Basel. The slip up means that Villas-Boas’ men have dropped from third to fifth place, two points behind Arsenal (with a game in hand) and three adrift of Chelsea.

All is not yet lost, but this weekend could be a real factor in who ends up in the Champions League next term and who is awarded the runners-up prize of the Europa League. With Chelsea travelling to Liverpool on Sunday and having cup success in the back of their mind, there is every chance that Spurs can claw back some, if not all, of the deficit that separates the clubs. Arsenal should win at Fulham, but ex-Spurs boss Martin Jol will want a reaction from his side after their midweek home defeat to Chelsea.

Spurs have Gareth Bale back in contention for the clash with City, which is a real boost for the hosts. However Spurs should not solely rely on their Welsh wizard to individually win them the game – a team effort and belief in the camp is needed to pick up three points. If they don’t, wins for Chelsea and Arsenal could mean that the gap is too great for Spurs to come back from with only five games remaining.

Premier League preview: A big weekend for Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool

This weekend features three massive games in the race for the Champions League places as the season enters its final few weeks.

Fulham v Arsenal

Arsenal’s late season charge to make the top four takes them to Craven Cottage. After a midweek draw against Everton, the Gunners will feel they need three points from this away trip before Manchester United come to the Emirates next weekend.

Santi Cazorla

After their surprise away win at Spurs a few weeks ago guaranteed their Premiership status for another season, Fulham’s season is drifting towards its conclusion with no win in their last three games, which included a crushing home defeat to local rivals Chelsea in midweek. Arsenal’s greater desire and need to win should be enough to see them to a comfortable three points at the Cottage.

Tottenham v Manchester City

A huge game at White Hart Lane as Spurs host the current champions. Spurs have been feeling the pressure once again late in the season with their last two home games ending in defeat to Fulham and a draw with Everton, whilst also crashing out of the Europa League to Basel. This is a big opportunity for them to get themselves back in a prime position for the top four against a Manchester City side who looked jaded in their 1-0 home win over Wigan in midweek.

Gareth Bale

The crowd will certainly be up for this game as well and with the likely return of Gareth Bale, Spurs will fancy their chances of getting a positive result out of this game. City know that they are not going to catch Manchester United and that they have second place pretty much sown up. For them all the focus is now on the FA Cup final and they may make a few changes after playing three games in a week. Spurs know a win is vital as they still have tough away games to come against Chelsea and two teams who are battling for survival in Stoke and Wigan.

Liverpool v Chelsea

Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield for the first time as an opposing manager with his Chelsea side. The Spaniard is sure to get a terrific reception from the home supporters and it will be interesting to see how it affects the Chelsea team. When Gerard Houllier returned with his Aston Villa team a couple of years ago and got an amazing reception Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 victory. This Chelsea team though are a lot more experienced than that Villa side and you would expect them to be able to cope with what is sure to be a passionate atmosphere.

Rafa Benitez

On the pitch Liverpool have won four of their last five meetings in the league against Chelsea and they drew the other. Liverpool have once again saved most of their best performances for games against the bigger clubs this season, even though this may not be borne out by results. Benitez continues to rotate his squad well to cope with their demanding fixture list and their 3-0 away win at Fulham in midweek was certainly impressive, whilst they were unfortunate not to take Manchester City to extra time in last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool’s recent record against the Blues may well swing this game in their favour and Daniel Sturridge may well be out to prove a point against the club who he feels never gave him a proper chance to make his mark in his time there.

By Chris Newman

Crucial games for Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton this weekend

Premier League Preview: Di Canio ready to prove a point, Last chance for QPR and a Manchester derby.

As the Premiership comes into its last two months every fixture has significance at both the top and bottom of the table. Here is a look at the key fixtures this weekend.

Chelsea v Sunderland

After a week of talking about his political beliefs, Paolo Di Canio finally gets a chance to focus on what he wants as he makes his managerial debut in the Premiership. He certainly couldn’t have asked for a much harder task as he takes his Sunderland side to Stamford Bridge. There is no doubt Di Canio will have his side well organised defensively, as he left a Swindon side with the best defensive record in the country.

Paolo Di Canio

He is also well known for watching hours of video of the opposition looking at collective and individual strengths and weaknesses. The only problem may well be working out what team Chelsea will play, as it is their fourth game in just over a week. With the incentive of impressing their new manager and Chelsea’s possible weariness it would not be a surprise to see Sunderland take a point here.

QPR v Wigan

This is surely the last chance for Harry Redknapp’s side to make up ground on the teams above them. They are currently seven points behind a Wigan side, who are in 17th. A defeat would leave them ten points behind with just six games left and surely facing an impossible task.

Roberto Martínez

This Wigan side are starting to hit form at just the right time with back-to-back home wins over Newcastle and Norwich. Home advantage may just sway this in QPR’s favour and the first goal will be vital. If Wigan get it then the home fans will be on their teams back but if Rangers can get it the fans may well inspire them to a vital home win.

Tottenham v Everton

The race for the European places enters another crucial weekend and there is no game bigger than at White Hart Lane. Everton travel to a Spurs side that may have Manchester City in their sights if results go their way this weekend. Before Thursday night Spurs were full of confidence and a home win was extremely likely, but after a poor defensive showing against Basel and injuries to key men Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, this fixture is looking a lot more troublesome.

Andre Villas-Boas

Everton have responded well to their FA Cup humiliation against Wigan with back-to-back home wins against Manchester City and Stoke. Everton know a win here would leave them just three points behind Spurs with a game in hand and right in the thick of the race for the Champions League places. This will be a hard fought game but with Tottenham having played on Thursday and the injuries to key men Everton may well pick up an away win here.

Manchester United v Manchester City

While the title may well be pretty much won by the Old Trafford side, this game is still important for a number of reasons. Manchester United will see this as a chance for revenge for last season’s 6-1 defeat to their nearest rivals and an opportunity to do the double following their 3-2 win at the Etihad earlier this season.

Roberto Mancini

For City it is about laying down a marker for next season and proving that they can still match United. This game is also vital for the blue half of Manchester to keep the teams behind them out of reach. If results don’t go the right way for City before they play, then Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal may well be within a few points of them and City will find themselves in a fight for an automatic Champions League place.

By Chris Newman

Manchester City starting to regret selling Mario Balotelli?

Mario Balotelli has been in scintillating form since swapping Manchester City for AC Milan; the temperamental forward has netted seven times in six games for the Rossoneri to date. Balotelli continued his hot streak of form with a wonder strike for Italy against Brazil.

Given the form Balotelli has shown of late and City’s supposed search for a new striker in the summer, Roberto Mancini may well be regretting parting company with his troubled, but talented attacker.

Manchester City need fresh faces but bad decisions in the past make them difficult to get

First things first, Manchester City are not in crisis. There are 18 other Premier League clubs who would love to be in City’s position. For a club that is putting up their first title defence in 45 years to be in second place and in an FA Cup semi-final is very good going. The problem is, expectations of the club have risen exponentially with their status as the most cash rich club in England. Good early season form led us to believe that they would be able to strongly compete with Manchester United in the title battle. However, after a limp Champions League showing their league form has suffered. So, why is that, and how do they move on from here?

City have lost the exuberant sparkle that saw them score 93 goals last season including six at Old Trafford and five at White Hart Lane. They have been grinding out results, but without the extra oomph that they had last year they haven’t been able to keep pace with United. The main reason for this is the lack of flair in the team and the absence of form of the flair that they do possess.

Samir Nasri

David Silva, their impish creator in chief, has been playing football solidly for six years and it is starting to show. He still looks elegant and stylish but he is missing the sharpness and zing of last season. It has bubbled up at times; it’s just the consistency that is lacking. Sergio Aguero hasn’t looked fully fit since his opening day injury. Maybe he was rushed back, maybe he is just a bit hesitant but like Silva he has lost his X-factor. He has looked amazing at times but again, the lack of consistency is frustrating. He is the complete package as a forward, the best in the league in full flight, but this season he hasn’t reached those levels enough. Similarly Carlos Tevez has flickered and started the season in superb form, but hasn’t brought it to every game. Samir Nasri has looked disinterested; perhaps as Roberto Mancini himself alluded to, he has taken his foot off the pedal after wining the league last year. This foursome helped City to play free-flowing attacking stuff last year but for various reasons they haven’t clicked this year.

The issue with this is that beyond the famous four the creative cupboard is bare. Mancini doesn’t have another option to bring on, so when he substitutes one of them the team’s flair quotient drops every time. James Milner, Edin Dzeko and Gareth Barry are good workers but don’t unlock defences. City were beaten to the punch in the summer on Eden Hazard and Robin van Persie, both of whom would have offered Mancini extra creativity and goal threat. They also would have brought hunger and desire to win their first Premier League title. Mancini was openly critical of the club’s transfer activity, and rightly so.

He was delivered Jack Rodwell, an injury prone grinding midfielder, Javi Garcia, another grinding midfielder and the much-maligned Scott Sinclair, a pure winger that doesn’t fit City’s system. Mancini had already shown he didn’t use wingers, which is why they sold Adam Johnson. So they sign an inferior version? They already had Yaya Toure, Milner and Barry and at that point Nigel de Jong, as worker midfielders. So they two inferior versions? You see the issue?

Jack Rodwell

The lack of clarity and apparent lack of planning was a surprise considering City seemed to have shed themselves of the money-wasting tag with the buys of Aguero, Silva and Yaya, who formed the core of the championship side. But they’ve had these issues before. The likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz were bought for huge sums then sold at a steep loss to get them out of the building. Joleon Lescott, Milner and Dzeko have been good players for the club but cost just under £90m combined. That £90m would have got them Hazard, van Persie and Thiago Silva.

City can afford to spend that kind of money and it not to come off. Or at least, they could before they got big. They had to pay a premium to get players to come to them in their rush to the top. Now that they are, they have to deal with the impending Financial Fair Play regulations to compete in their new Holy Grail, the Champions League. The bad deals of the past hang around like a bad smell. They show up not just as huge losses but in huge contracts and leave a stain on their FFP sheet.

What this means is that the club has a small squad of very highly paid players. For a lot of this season they’ve had young players that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the first team filling up the bench. Having to dump the signings they wasted so much money on means they haven’t built any squad depth. They are perpetually chasing their tails, replacing what they sell rather than adding to the squad.

This summer is an important one for Manchester City. They’ve got an immensely talented team, and a manager who has shown he can win consistently, but they need to find a way to get him more depth and more attacking flair if they are to get back to winning the league. The problem is, they have hamstrung themselves with some poor decision making and prioritising in their rush to the top. If they re-find their transfer coherence, and there is no reason that they shouldn’t considering they built a league winner on the market, then they have got the financial resource to get back to winning the league.

You can read more by Max at the thefootballspace.com

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