Roberto Mancini believes that with the capture of Robin Van Persie, Manchester United are now favourites to win the Premier League. Is he right?
And so it begins. The mind games have officially started and a ball hasn't even been kicked. Roberto Mancini believes that with the capture of Robin Van Persie, Manchester United are now favourites to win the Premier League. Is he right? With RVP arriving at Old Trafford many have touted United to win back the title this season, yet for me it is City who are the clear favourites to win the title this year.
Let's start with some concerns from last season
We were told that last season was the best season ever in the Premier League. Unfortunately I would have to disagree. Although it was entertaining and action packed with drama both on and off the pitch, the league lacked the true quality which it had in other seasons. In fact it was only Man City who were the genuinely top class side in the league. Therefore their success was surely not a real surprise?
Last season there were many poor players playing very bad football and some poor managers with little tactical acumen. It made many games unbearable to watch or at others times simply embarrassing; the shambolic defending which took place last season was laughable and I am not just talking about teams like Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton.
Games like the 8-2, 6-1 and 5-3 between Arsenal and Chelsea were examples that the standards of the league had dropped. It appeared that except for City, all the other sides were more intent on all out attack than defensive security. The concept of all out attack football is mightily flawed and too many managers seem to be neglecting the importance of being strong defensively. It was not lost on Mancini however and his solid defence was a big reason that City won the league. One would imagine that sides would have learnt from this and sought to improve their defence? Well you’d be wrong
Idealism over pragmatism?
Teams like Liverpool and Spurs are gambling on idealists who will not achieve their owners desire for Champions League football. I expect much drama from these clubs as the pressure will certainly mount on both of the young managers shoulders when they find themselves further away from the lucrative top four.
As for Arsenal, their failure to improve their defence and most notably bring in a world class defensive midfielder will mean another season without a trophy. And although in Cazorla Arsenal have a genuinely class player, I expect Arsenal to miss out on the top four this season.
For me I believe Newcastle have very good chance of achieving that fourth spot. It has been a quiet summer for Newcastle, particularly on the players leaving; there was much talk of players like Ba, Cabaye and Tiote moving on this summer, yet Newcastle have been able to retain these players who did so well last season. Expect Pappis Cisse to be a serious challenger for the golden boot also and with the defensive strength of Coloccini and the impressive Krul in goal, do not be surprised to see Newcastle have another excellent season.
Two tier dominance of English football?
The truth about the English league is that it is just like Spain. Right now the might of Madrid and Barca is replicated by City and United. The gap between United and Arsenal was 19 points last season and although I can see Chelsea finishing 3rd, I see a large gap between the top two and the rest again.
On viewing the sides below the top two, I don't see the quality of players and certainly not the managers capable of taking their sides to the top. In all honesty, it may not even be a two team contest because in my opinion Man City are strong favourites for the title.
Many have said they were surprised when City won the league last season. This is a simply ludicrous suggestion. When Mancini arrived he decided to lay the foundation of the side by mastering and solidifying his defence. The capture of Sergio Aguero meant City were serious title challengers and to be honest title favourites. In Aguero they had acquired one of the worlds best players and had added the final piece to the Abu Dhabi invested jigsaw and their success last year was of no surprise to me.
In all honesty it should really had been much more straightforward than it was for City in the end. They were by far the best side in the league and played the best football too. Yet their mental strength was tested when it came to the crunch and they almost threw it all away. And yet, their neighbours, the ones who so often have been there before and know what it takes to win the title fell apart when it really mattered and gifted City the title.
City are the clear favourites this season because they not only possess the best players; Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero, who are all the best in their positions throughout the league. Yet they have the belief, confidence and experience which they lacked last season. The first title is always the hardest, they have achieved that now and I genuinely believe that they can attain more points than last season and potentially go undefeated.
Are there issues which have been unattended this summer?
However, for United there may be some hope. Personally I have been surprised about City’s lack of transfer activity. They missed out on Hazard and Van Persie yet these areas were not as important to address as the midfield and defence. Personally I don’t believe Jack Rodwell was the answer to improve the team. For me a much better option would be Danielle De Rossi from Roma, a world class player who can play in midfield or defence and who would have been part of the first XI.
A player of this type was necessary for the team and also important for the perception of other sides around them. City should not be seen as resting on their success but seeking to keep improving. This season they will be expected to do more in Europe as well as win the league again and this will require more quality.
Then there is the issue of not losing players like Balotelli, Tevez and Dzeko. It seemed likely one of these would leave, yet perhaps because of wages clubs have not come in for them. It would appear Tevez is now focused and motivated and him and Aguero provide a truly intimidating strike force. Balotelli impressed greatly in the Euro's yet will he be happy with a bit part and has he matured enough to be trusted? As for Dzeko, he is at the bottom of the pile in terms of options and it will be important that Mancini can handle the players who spend more time on the bench than the pitch.
Can Ferguson overcome the noisy neighbours then?
Whereas City have seemed content with their squad, Ferguson has sought to improve his this summer. United could not "delay" City's rise to the top last season and I am sure the whole club is targeted to overcoming their "noisy neighbours" this season.
It is no surprise either; comparing the sides last season would have told you that United did excellently to come so close to their neighbours. For me their side was very average for United’s standards, they had purchased potential over necessary quality and they lost their most important player in Vidic. To have been minutes from the title was an impressive accomplishment.
Yet that goal from Aguero would have left a very bitter taste in the mouth of the players, fans and most importantly Alex Ferguson. To see United’s bitter rivals lift the title must have been a horrible feeling. Although United’s only goal this season is to overcome City, I have my doubts they can do it.
Last year United were second best to City; they were embarrassed by them at home and lost the title in the away game. In both matches City were superior; they played better, were more dominant and showed the gulf between the sides.
So United unquestionably needed to invest and improve their side and the signings of Kagawa and Van Persie can be seen as United finally replacing Ronaldo and Tevez, who both left in 2009. They certainly will improve the attack and will strike fear into many teams in the league. I imagine Ferguson was pained by losing on goal difference and he clearly is seeking to score more goals this season.
Ferguson did seem to believe that in some games, notably the game against 10 man QPR, United were wasteful and not ruthless enough. I am sure that losing the league on goal difference has made him invest in the attack.
However his logic is not wrong yet misguided. The issues for United did not come in attack last season, remember United scored 89 goals.The problem for United came in defence and it is here where he should have invested.
Conceding six goals to City, at home, was nothing short of horrific for United. Added to this conceding three goals to Blackburn and four goals to Everton at home cost them valuable points and affected their goal difference. Many will point the finger at De Gea, and rightly so. He was not ready both mentally or physically for the English game and United suffered because of it. For him it will be interesting to see how much he has improved in both these aspects this season, because United’s desire to win the title will come from the strength of their goalkeeper.
Yet the solidity of their defence as a whole must be a concern. De Gea was not helped by having a different back four in front of him each game. And it showed. United made silly mistakes and clearly lacked communication, organisation and leadership. Thus having Vidic return is essential for United, yet the worry is that these injuries are becoming too frequent for the captain and if United are putting all their hopes on one man, then I worry they will fail again.
United's biggest problem however comes in midfield. Not replacing Fletcher and Hargreaves has been a major reason why United failed so miserably in Europe last year and why they threw away valuable points which could have won them the league. Relying on the return of Scholes to bolster the midfield showed how poor this area of the pitch was for United.
Yet as of yet nothing has been done to rectify it. With talk of Dembele being a target, Ferguson seems to be understanding the problems which affected his team last season. He would be wise not to miss out again, because if they do, United will be trophyless once again.
An entertaining season yet predictable outcome
This season promises to be more entertaining and captivating than last year was. There have been some impressive players arrive to bolster the top sides and they will provide flair, skill and creativity which has been lacking in the league in recent years. Yet I do worry that many sides and managers will neglect the defensive areas in their quest for more goals. For me this a flawed vision which will punish those who attempt it.
Just like Spain, expect to see the same two sides at the top, with several others fighting for the Champions League places below. The gulf between the Manchester clubs and the other "top" sides is larger than the media really portray. A 19 point gap is not easy to hide however and I really cannot see any side challenging City and United.
My prediction will be that City will be crowned champions. City are stronger in all areas than their rivals and although United will do all they can to win the league, I believe City have the edge. While City possess players like Kompany and Yaya Toure, as well as the attacking options of Silva, Tevez and Aguero, it is almost impossible not to see them lifting the title again next May
Importantly City possess a stronger defence than their rivals. If sides like United and Chelsea wish to compete then they will need to buy in genuine world class talent to improve not only their attack yet their defence and midfield.