Friday, August 12, 2011

Football from Across the Ocean Part One: The 2011-2012 Manchester City Preview

I've just returned from a family wedding in Ireland where I had the opportunity to discuss football with one of my cousins. After an initial conversation about Ireland's chances to qualify for both Euro 2012 and the World Cup, the topic turned to the English Premier League. My cousin mentioned that he knew I supported a team but couldn't remember which one. Chelsea? Aresenal? No, I informed him that I supported Manchester City.

His head dropped and it was clear that my response disappointed him.

"City? Oh come on, not City!"

It turns out that he is a fan of Manchester United. He tried to convince me to switch my allegiances but I informed him that I could not do so for a few reasons, the biggest being that I was a Mets fan. I hate the Yankees and since United are basically the Yankees of the Premier League I would be a total fraud if I chose them.

Instead, I chose City.

I started to follow the Premier League 5 years ago and between the amount of Irish players they had at the time (that number is now zero), and the fact that they were clearly the Mets of Manchester, City was a perfect fit. Last season, I flirted with the exciting play of Gareth Bale and Tottenham (the best individual half season I've seen from a player since I started following the Premier League) but towards the end of the season I realized that I had to make a decision, so I bought a City jersey and decided they were my team.

As we sit here on the eve of the 2011-2012 campaign, there are a lot of positives for City which I think can translate to a title push this season.

1)City finished last year very strong after having a mediocre first half of the season that looked like it would be another battle for fourth place. However, by the end of the season, they had won the FA Cup (including beating United in the semis) and come in third ahead of Arsenal in the League, although they technically tied for second and got third on goal differential.

2)I think David Silva and Yaya Toure will both make a step up after solid first seasons in England. Silva is proving himself to me a deft play maker and Toure has shown a scoring touch, especially in the big moment as his proved in both the FA Cup Semi-Finals and Finals.

3)The Carlos Tevez transfer creates a little uncertainty up front (with the unproven Edin Dzeko and the unstable Mario Balotelli) but I think it has a chance to stabilize during the season. Dzeko has shown promise in the preseason but still has a lot to prove in England (just two goals in the 15 games he played after transferring to City in January.) Balotelli is just a total disaster. He seems to have a lot of raw skill but he is also a headcase who has stated the desire to leave Manchester because there aren't enough good restaurants (huh?) Right now the team would definitely be better with Carlos Tevez, but you have to assume he'll be moved somewhere by the end of the August transfer window. If Tevez does leaves and Balotelli self destructs (both highly probable) Sergio Aguero is an interesting replacement, coming over from La Liga after a 20 goal season with Atletico Madrid. I think that by the end of the season (if not sooner) Dzeko and Aguero will be the men up front for City and can be productive.

4)The defense is strong. It was one of City's strengths last year and more times that not, a one goal lead was enough to win the game. I expect Vincent Kompany to have another great year and Lescott and Richards to be stable forces on the line.

5)Samir Nasri. As I write this, there are rumors that City are close to locking him up on transfer. We'll see how this plays out, but his addition would obviously push City that much closer to the top of the table.

So what's going to happen this season? It should be interesting strictly based on the volatility of Balotelli but the hopes of a title and Champions League football should make it one that's fun to watch. Don't get me wrong, blowing the 2 goal lead to United in the Charity Shield hurt, but I don't think it's the psychological knock out blow that many claimed it was. I don't know if they'll reach the title this season, but I also don't think it's totally out of the question. I think they'll flirt with the top but end up with a solid second place campaign.

Next week, a preview of the rest of the Premiership.

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