Thursday, August 14, 2008

EPL Previews: Manchester City

We could spend all day discussing the off-pitch shenanigans of the club from Manchester. No, the other one - the one that 87.4% of the world doesn't hate. The one owned by the dictator, dammit! Yes, we all know about Thaksin and his crazy ways, and about the misadventures of Micah Richards.

On the pitch, however, Manchester City had a semi-respectable season, finishing in 9th place on 55 points, with a record of 15-10-13 and a goal differential of -8 (45 goals for, 53 goals against). They also managed to fire manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, who nonetheless took the team on an Asian tour in May, and hired Mark Hughes. What else has been going on at City of Manchester Stadium, as Citeh look to make a push for continued European competition in the coming season?

The Blues made relatively few changes of note during the summer transfer season. The biggest signing was Mark Hughes' first, when he poached João Alves de Assis Silva (please, call him Jô) from CSKA Moscow for an undisclosed amount. City also picked up little-used Tal Ben Haim from Chelsea. Jihai Sun is off to Sheffield United, Andreas Isaksson to PSV Eindhoven, Geovanni to Hull City (hello, November 16th!), and Georgios Samaras to Celtic, while Paul Dickov and Emile Mpenza were unceremoniously released.

Jô, who scored 44 goals in 77 games for CSKA, immediately becomes the biggest threat up top, running along-side Daniel Sturridge and Felipe Caicdeo (since Darius Vassell and Benjani Mwaruwari are both injured). Ben Haim will look to break into the starting defense next to captain Richard Dunne, the afore-mentioned Micah Richards, and Vedran Corluka. The midfield is fairly straightforward, with Gelson Fernandes, Michael Johnson, Elano Blumer, and Martin Petrov expected to get the majority of the starts. Joe Hart is Hughes' favored goalkeeper, although he will be pushed by the initially-impressive Kasper Schmeichel.

So where do the Blues go from here? Well, they suffered their first-ever European home defeat in today's UEFA Cup match against Danish minnow Midtjylland, losing 1-0 on a goal in the 15th minute. Their preseason matches did not go much better, with ties against Stockport County (2-2) and Celtic (1-1), although they managed to beat an AC Milan side with Gattuso, Zambrotta, Seedorf, and Flamini all in the line-up (1-0 this past Saturday).

Manchester City start out their season with matches @Aston Villa, home against West Ham United, @Sunderland, home against Chelsea, home against Portsmouth, and @Wigan. They could possibly be 3-3 (with losses @Aston Villa, home against Chelsea, and home against Portsmouth), but they are equally likely to be 2-4 (also dropping the home match against West Ham United). Although the back-line of Dunne, Richards, Ben Haim and Corluka looks good on paper, 3/4 of that same defense gave up 53 goals last season, putting them squarely in the middle of the table (Tottenham, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Bolton, Fulham, Reading, Birmingham, and Derby gave up more goals).

If they start 2-4, with 3 home losses and a large number of goals getting past Joe Hart, look for a little panic from Hughes. Missing the firepower of Vassell and Benjani, there will be a lot of pressure on Jô to score goals quickly and often. I don't think it's getting to happen, and getting off to a slow start is destined to sit Manchester City mid-table yet again. Call it 10th place, on 51 points.

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