MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13: The Manchester City players celebrate with the trophy following the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium on May 13, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Manchester City won the league last year. They will also win the league this year.
Sergio Aguero's last-gasp goal against Queens Park Rangers will probably go down as the defining moment in Manchester City history. There's a pretty good chance that it'll go down as the defining moment in Premier League history, come to that. City, following untold millions spent in player transfers and wages, have finally overcome their cross-town rivals to take the title in the best possible way: at the expense of a hilarious collapse by Manchester United.
But it shouldn't have. City possess (by far) the strongest squad in the league. On paper, they blow United away. In practice, they sometimes do as well -- that 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford will be long remembered in both camps -- but they completely failed to make the most of that advantage and essentially let the league slip away. That Sir Alex Ferguson and company then had a stretch that they may never live down is neither here nor there; the fact remains that champions or no, Roberto Mancini's side underperformed last season.
The fact that he possesses such a good team makes Mancini's calls for reinforcement seem rather bizarre. City have landed Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell this summer but otherwise have spent most of it dropping castoffs on everyone they can think of. Gone are Owen Hargreaves, Wayne Bridge and Vladimir Weiss (i.e. nobody of any particular note). It's difficult to see how the squad could be much improved, at any rate. Kidnap Luka Modric? Buy Thiago Silva? We're getting into the silly at this point. City are very, very good.
Do they have a weakness? Not really. They're excellent down the wings (perhaps the left side could be a touch more defensively sturdy?), superb through the middle, have a good goalkeeper and a deadly strike force. Edin Dzeko is their fourth choice centre forward. Edin Dzeko scored 66 goals in 111 Bundesliga games. Ahead of him are Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero. Money can buy you some very shiny things.
So, what's left for City? A strong run in the Champions League should be the minimum expectation for this season. Last year they were dumped out by Napoli in the group stages despite being quite clearly the better side, and for all of their quality they're far from experienced at the top level of European football. In domestic play, things should be pretty easy. They've gotten over that initial hump of winning the whole thing, and now they should be able to consolidate their status as English football's premier team.
The only way it goes wrong is if there's an internal implosion -- one would suspect that either Tevez or Balotelli would be involved. But with another year of managing these egos under his belt, Mancini should be able to handle whatever his notoriously volatile squad throw his way. Aiding him in attenuating any flare-ups is captain and centre back Vincent Kompany, whose calm and affable presence makes you think, temporarily, that footballers as whole are good and worthwhile people. They'll be fine.
In other words, with apologies to the former 'big four', it's time to welcome our new sky blue overlords.
Last Year: 1st,
This Year: 1st. As long as nothing catastrophically silly happens (would you rule it out with Balotelli around?), they're easily the best team in England. Despite the addition of Robin van Persie, Manchester United shouldn't come particularly close.
Key player(s): Yaya Toure, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Micah Richards and Joe Hart are all pretty amazing. Of those, the former trio are probably the most important. The drive Yaya Toure can provide from midfield, combined with his vision to break up opposition attacks and then catch the defence out of position, is absolutely essential to the way City play. David Silva provides most of the silk, coming in from the wing to create for the rest of the forwards. And Kompany's the only defender who can rival Thiago Silva for the title of top centre back in world football. Not a bad squad.
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