We are currently four games into the season leading into an internatinal break at which point most managers will be sitting down and taking stock of how the season has run so far.
For Manuel Pellegrini, it is not hard to imgine him leaning back in a comfy chair with his feet up and a celebratory drink in his hand. If any manager had achieved what his side have achieved in the opening four games – they would be like this too!
Having opened their 2015/16 season with what seemed a routine victory over West Bromwich Albion, they then blew aside Chelsea – a team everyone considered to be their closest rivals for the Premier League title – in extraordinary fashion that seemed to highlight City’s improvement as much as it underline the reality that Jose Mourinho’s side are in trouble right now.
Whilst far from finishing the end of last season with a whimper, they did not exactly project the image of a team willing to battle to the bitter end as Chelsea marched in and stole their Premier League crown. The effervescence of a team who snatched the crown on the final day for a second season in three years seemed gone last year, with the capabilities of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure being drawn into the line of critics fire.
The spine of their squad this season – Joe Hart, Kompany, Toure, and Sergio Aguero – seems more stabilised this season. City are yet to concede a goal this season, which seems in part to the rejuvenation of Kompany and Toure. There were times last season when Toure’s pedestrian gamboling around the pitch was cause for frustration amongst fans. So often already this season, he has been the man arriving late on the edge of the box as City’s attacks hit the byeline, and scored aginst West Brom in such a fashion. Furthmore, his gamboling can be excused by having the box to box dasher Fernandinho positioned alongside him in front of Kompany and co.
The big Belgian Kompany also seems to have rediscovered his captain’s mantra again after a somewhat patchy sequence of displays at the turn of the calendar year, resulting in him being dropped briefly. Now after goals aganst Chelsea and West Brom, plus pocketing Diego Costa for a full 90 minutes, he seems to be back to his best, with Eliaquim Mangala steadily finding his feet at the back after a difficult debut year in England.
Yet it has not taken a mammoth investiture into new talent to turn around Blue fortunes. The £49 million investment in Raheem Sterling seems a more prudent investment for the team than those balking at the size of the fee will give City credit for. In just four games, Sterling has allowed David Silva to return to his free role behind Sergio Aguero, where he looks to be at his most comfortable. Silva’s use of space and his ability to pick his passes sideways or forwards seems to allow Sergio Aguero more supply up top. Furthermore, a great more attacks from City are produced from the wings. Sterling has already struck up a rapport with Alexander Kolarov, culminating in the pair combining for Kolarov to net against Everton a fortnight ago. The pair’s speed and strength down the left hand side caused such a problem for even the sturdiest of defences – namely Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill – that the imminent arrival of record signing Kevin de Bruyne to the attack should amount to a great deal of concern for Europe’s defences. It seems now may be the time – seeing as domestic title challenges are secured – that Pellegrini will look to launch his squad in a consistent assault on Europe and £55 million man De Bruyne should bring an alternative to all three of Silva, Sterling and Navas, such is his attacking versatility.
Manuel Pellegrini himself has also been part of this change of City’s. Last season, he was criticised by some when he oversaw a number of problematic defeats and questions being asked about his ability as City’s manager. His failure to possess a plan B and a general consistency amongst some of his players proved costly as they finished trophyless last year. Even with the return to peak performance of players such as Toure, Kolarov, and Kompany, Pellegrini’s purchases have been necessary, juxtaposed with lavish quality. The squad now possesses a greater strength in depth, with Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony among those waiting in the wings on top of new boys Sterling, De Bruyne and ex-Valencia centre back Nicolas Otamendi. The versatility of his attackers indicates a Plan B has been drawn up should City need it, which – at the minute – isn’t necessary.
With the City squad looking a great deal more relaxed, yet still focussed, and their manager at the tail end of a harsh learning curve in English management, it is not beyond the imagination of any that City can, and will, challenge on all fronts and become a serial threat to the European heavyweights they yearn to be a part of.