Top-four a more realistic target

City's big signing Raheem Sterling giving the Vietnam defence plenty of problems. He scored a brace in their 8-1 friendly win in Hanoi last month.
City's big signing Raheem Sterling giving the Vietnam defence plenty of problems. He scored a brace in their 8-1 friendly win in Hanoi last month.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The Straits Times wraps up its title race preview with Manchester City. One of their biggest issues was the lack of home-grown players. With three young Englishmen arriving, including Raheem Sterling, City also brought down their average age. But as Manuel Pellegrini has yet to sign the 'crack' player he needs, can City regain the title?

The contenders: Manchester City

LONDON • Manchester City are among the big spenders of European football, they have just been released from restrictions on incoming transfers based on Financial Fair Play rules and there are still three weeks of the transfer window to go.

Hence, maybe there is still some Kevin de Bruyne-shaped business to be conducted before Manuel Pellegrini's squad for the 2015-16 season is complete.

And maybe there is not. The season starts tomorrow and City seem fairly happy with who are already at the club. They were champions two seasons ago and runners-up last time out.

They may need a few tweaks to stay competitive but are not in the market for an overhaul, especially with Pellegrini widely believed to be in his last season at the Etihad.


  • 1. A strong start in the absence of key South American players after their Copa exertions. Champions Chelsea, as proven last term, are dangerous when they lead from the front.

  • 2. Addressing the midfield imbalance that cost City dear in big games last season.

  • 3. Finding a central defensive pairing. Eliaquim Mangala, yet to live up to his £32 million price tag, and the  ageing Martin Demichelis arefighting to play alongside skipper Vincent Kompany.


  • 1. How will Manuel Pellegrini respond to working under constant speculation that Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola could replace him at the end of the season?
  • 2. Have City really done enough to solve their problem of an ageing squad?
  • 3. Will Raheem Sterling prove to be one of the buys of the summer or an overpriced flop?

There, perhaps, is the explanation for the apparent stasis. If there is to be a new manager coming along in a year's time, leaving aside the question of whether his name is Pep Guardiola, it would not make sense to let the outgoing manager spend too much money on changing the side in ways that his successor may not approve of.

Yes, City have just raised the transfer record for an English player to £49 million (S$105.8 million) for Raheem Sterling but that could be viewed as a declaration of intent for the future.

He is 20 and could be a prize asset for the next decade or more.

Of more immediate concern to City fans is whether Sterling alone can make a significant difference to the club's chances of finishing ahead of Chelsea.

The only other signings which City made to date are two more English players. Patrick Roberts, an 18-year-old forward from Fulham, is one for the long term.

Fabian Delph, formerly of Aston Villa, has been given assurances he will feature in midfield, despite the fairly hefty claims of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and the rest, although he is injured.

Of those three signings, only Sterling will arouse genuine early-season excitement.

He has done well against City in the past and weakening Liverpool was not an insignificant part of the attraction of the deal.

And he appears to be just the sort of lively forward who can correct the tendency in Pellegrini's players last season to stroke the ball around elegantly without summoning the urgency or penetration to hurt opponents.

Yet, a lack of incision up front was not City's only shortcoming.

There were also problems in central defence, where 34-year-old Martin Demichelis is not getting any younger, Eliaquim Mangala is not developing as quickly as had been anticipated, and Vincent Kompany ended the season with question marks over his decision-making and positioning.

Are they going to buy a central defender before the deadline? Or perhaps another striker as Edin Dzeko has followed Stevan Jovetic out of the club?

Wilfried Bony is still around but, once again, it appears City will need an extraordinary season from Sergio Aguero to challenge for trophies. For a club of their resources, that is a slightly deflating statement to keep making.

If the model is Barcelona, then you do not just keep looking to Lionel Messi for inspiration but you add Luis Suarez and Neymar.

It could be argued Sterling is a step in that direction though, on its own, it might not be enough.

Similarly, while Delph might be a decent acquisition by English standards, he would struggle to make the Barcelona midfield or even Chelsea's or Arsenal's.

City should be good for a top-four place next season. They do not appear to be gearing up for a fully committed title challenge. Maybe the season after, once they break free of planning blight.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2015, with the headline 'TOP-FOUR A MORE REALISTIC TARGET'. Print Edition | Subscribe