Last Season: 10th.
Say hello to your new teammates: This will take a while. Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry, Stuart Taylor.
Close the door on your way out: Elano, Ched Evans, Daniel Sturridge, Valeri Bojinov, Joe Hart, Jo, Felipe Caicedo (the last four are loans out)
Predicted star: Robinho. He scored 14 in his debut season despite many a tiff with Hughes as well consistently anonymous performances away from home. With the added steel purchased in defence and midfield as well the additional talent up front, he should be pushing around 20 this time round. Alternatively, what’s the betting they still struggle to succeed and Shay Given is relied upon to stop things getting embarrassing?
Needs a big year: Mark Hughes himself has no excuses now – this is his team playing out his ideas. On the pitch, Adebayor will want to show he’s worth a second double your wages deal in two years. He’ll quickly frustrate if he plays anything like last season where the only effort he put in was to stray offside. Roque Santa Cruz will look to score more than five league goals for only the second time in his ten year European career.
One to watch: All these stars are being signed but youth product Nedum Onouha could prove to be a rock alongside Toure if they fail to get in another centre back. He’s surely ahead of the fast regressing Richard Dunne in the pecking order now.
What they want to happen: Champions League qualification, no more no less.
Nightmare scenario: The team fails to gel and another season of inconsistency sees no higher than 7th.
Plan A: Looking at the players available you can expect Barry and De Jong/Kompany in the middle of the pitch with Ireland down the right flank and Robinho down the left. Tevez should partner Adebayor up front. Expect a fluent direct style which will utilise the skills of Ireland and Robinho who will be playing quite narrow. Wright-Phillips and Petrov are options if they want a system with traditional wingers.
Plan B, just in case: Play four up front, goodness knows they have the attacking players for it.
Predicted finish: 5th.
Why? A £100 million shopping spree is all very well but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Last season City finished in 10th place some 22 points behind 4th place Arsenal. You can’t make that kind of deficit up just like that. The signings made are on the whole good and solve a lot of the problems from last season but we mustn’t forget that it’s people like Barry and Tevez coming in not Kaka and Ribery.
Toure will improve the defence but I can assure you he isn’t the player he once was. He has a rather large behind these days and has certainly lost a yard of pace since getting malaria at the last African Nations Cup. The need still exists for a Lescott or an Upson alongside him. Barry is an excellent signing and perhaps the best value of everyone they brought in. He will provide the much needed solidity away from Eastlands and should form quite the midfield partnership with Kompany.
I’m willing to back Ferguson on the issue of Tevez. He had two years to look at him and obviously decided that he wasn’t worth keeping. Tevez is a hard worker and very skilful but he doesn’t score enough for a £25million striker. Adebayor on the other hand does, but I wonder if he will have lost his attitude problem and his offside problem to return to the striker of two seasons ago. He will still score plenty even if he hasn’t and I already foresee a badge kissing incident after he inevitably gets a goal against his old team in the fourth game if the season.
So overall I reckon the players bought are good enough to leapfrog five teams and become the best of the rest. They aren’t yet good enough to become the best of the best however and I wonder if they ever will be with Mark Hughes in charge. Big players and egos are needed to reach the elite and whilst he has them, I don’t think handling them sits especially comfortably with him.
He needs to 4th place to manage City in 2010/11 but I don’t think he’ll get it. This leads to somewhat a vicious circle. You can throw lots of money at second choice players to try and get you into the Champions League but fail because they’re second choice options, but the players who you really want will never join because you’re not in the Champions League.