Saturday, July 28, 2007

Premiership Preview--15. Manchester City

15. Despite finishing in 14th place last season, Manchester City was tied for the fewest goals scored in the Premiership with 29. They set a Premiership record for fewest goals scored at home with 10, and even with a new, wealthy owner (Thaksin Shinawatra) and a high-profile manager (Sven-Goran Eriksson), Manchester City has done very little to address their goalscoring needs or to improve the club. With that being said, it's still only July, and the transfer window is open through August so the possibility of acquiring new players is still there, but at this point Manchester City seemed destined for another disappointing season.

When a team is arguably making more news for the players that are leaving then the players they're bringing in, that's not a good sign. Already this summer stalwart defender Sylvain Distin departed for Portsmouth after being a fixture in the center of defense for City since 2002-2003 (when he was voted their Player of the Year), Hatem Trabelsi, a Tunisian defender/midfielder who made 20 league appearances for City, most of them on the right side, was released, and most notably, Joey Barton left for Newcastle. Barton came up through the youth ranks at Manchester City and earned more and more playing team as he got older. He was the team's best midfielder and most talented player, but numerous off-field and on-field controversies led him and the club to move on. Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov has been brought in from Atletico Madrid after scoring just 3 goals in 45 league games for them, but the key signing was striker Rolando Bianchi from Reggina. Bianchi will have to prove that he can score goals in the Premiership after having an impressive season in Serie A, but as Andriy Shevchenko showed last year, coming over from Italy doesn't necessarily equate to great results in England. Bianchi will now have to adjust to the much faster pace of the game and deal with teams who have much better defenders than teams in the Serie A.

The schedule doesn't look to be too difficult for Manchester City. They've got only one real long, tough stretch of games, but unfortunately it comes towards the end of the season when it could be make-or-break time for the Blues. February 2-April 8 brings 9 league games, including trips to Manchester United, Bolton, Reading, and Birmingham (who by that time may be desperate) and home games against Arsenal, Everton, Wigan, Tottenham, and Chelsea. Manchester City shouldn't be anywhere near the relegation zone, but they don't want to leave anything to chance. That run of games will be very difficult, particularly for a team that doesn't score many goals and will probably give up their fair share of goals this season with a young defense. City is away to Liverpool and Middlesbrough to finish the year, but I expect they'll be in decent shape by then.

Bottom Line-Manchester City won't be relegated unless disaster strikes during the beginning-middle of the season when they're playing games they should take points from. As I said before, the defense is extraordinarily young with the departures of Stephen Jordan, Hatem Trabelsi, and Sylvain Distin. Micah Richards and Nedum Onouha (both possible starters; Richards is for certain) are 19 and 20 years of age respectively. If Bianchi can score 12-15 league goals, that would be a huge boost for a club that probably will struggle to score again this season. Look for Manchester City to make some noise in the 2008-2009 season and beyond, but they're too young to challenge for any European spot this year.

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