As of this writing, Manchester City appears set to add James Milner and Mario Balotelli, bringing their number of significant summer signings to six. Jerome Boateng was the first, the 21-year-old from Hamburg. Aleksandar Kolarov will play the opposite fullback position. And the league's two most significant summer signings, David Silva and Yaya Touré, will bolster the midfield.
Unfortunately for City, only one of those players provides a significant improvement. Kolarov is a major upgrade on Wayne Bridge, but while Boateng is a far better long-term option than Pablo Zabaleta, Zabaleta performed fine last year. Touré is added to an already deep defensive midfield, Milner's value is as much his versatility as his absolute performance, and Silva may reaplce Craig Bellamy, one of the best left-sided players in the league last season. Balotelli is tantalizingly dangerous, but City have Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tévez. While City is undeniably better and deeper, there where no major steps forward.
Given where City finished last season, they don't need major steps to make Champions League. A healthier season from Joleon Lescott could do it. Improved performance from Kolo Touré, a full season of quality on the right side of midfield, less dependence on Gareth Barry, no African Cup of Nations for Emmanuel Adebayor - all of these changes could see City get over-the-hump. If they don't, a full season of Roberto Mancini in place of Mark Hughes could have City in the top four before the need to repeat last year's, end-of-season showdown for the final Champions League spot.
It's only a matter of time for City. In a Premier League where Manchester United and Chelsea have shown both success can be bought in various ways, the Citizens are destined to join the league's elites. The only question that remains is whether they join this season.
Major Comings: See above.
Significant Goings: Arguably (and beguilingly), nobody. Stephen Ireland seems destined for Villa as a make-weight. Javier Garrido and Martin Petrov are gone, but none of these players were going to define City's season.
Still There: Shay Given or Joe Hart in goal. The backline is likely Kolarov, Lescott, older Touré and Boateng. The midfield will be made-up of younger Touré, Nigel de Jong, Barry and Patrick Vieira in the middle, Adam Johnson, Milner, Bellamy, Silva in the wide positions. Not all at once, mind you. Money can't buy more positions.
Up-top there's Tévez and Adebayor along with Balotelli, Roque Santa Cruz, and I suppose Robinho's name should be in here somewhere. Oh, and Vincent Kompany in defense and midfield. Then there's Zabaleta, Micah Richards, Bridge, Vladimir Weiss. So City's got a few options.
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Why: The third of the group that's fighting for fourth, Manchester City is ranked sixth by the simulation. Their results, however, are a near-statistical tie with Liverpool and Tottenham. Just as the Liverpool prediction may not be picking-up on the switch from Benítez to Hodgson, this prediction might not be see an improvement from Hughes to Mancini. Who knows? Maybe there isn't one.
Best Case Scenario: While the players aren't huge improvements, they're the players the coach wants, and he's able to use them accordingly. City not only breaks top four but competes within the top three, and while they come up short, they gain title race experience that will make them one of the favorites headed into 2011-12.
Nightmare: Mancini, like his players, isn't a big improvement on what he's replacing. Liverpool and Everton rebound, Aston Villa doesn't drop-off, and with Tévez unable to replicate 2009-10, Manchester City is out of Europe.
Most Likely: City competes for Champions League, with something outside the scope of this simulation defining who gets fourth place.