Solid start for City but defensive frailties remain
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta, centre, celebrates scoring against Queens Park Rangers with teammates Gareth Barry, right, and Sergio Aguero. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
What do you buy a football club that already has it all? More players, if you are Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour, who splashed the cash on transfer deadline day.
In came former Benfica midfielder Javi Garcia, ex-Inter veteran Maicon, teenage Serbian talent Matija Nastasic and well-travelled Englishman Scott Sinclair.
None were required in City’s routine 3-1 win over Queens Park Rangers over the weekend, where the old guard – in as much as players who’ve been at City for longer than 12 months can be described as an old guard – did all the damage.
Yaya Toure on the half-volley, Edin Dzeko with a header and Carlos Tevez with a ricochet all scored against a QPR side which seemed to run out of steam in the second half.
Perhaps it’s a quick glance towards the bench which deflates visiting teams on their trips to Eastlands because despite drawing level through a Bobby Zamora goal, QPR never really looked like claiming a point.
And now that City have added some defensive solidity to their stocks – Maicon and Nastasic are both defenders and Garcia a defensive midfielder – they could be even harder to stop in their quest to defend the Premier League title won so spectacularly last season.
They started out well enough, beating promoted Southampton 3-2 on the opening day of the season.
But the fact the Saints led 2-1 with just over 20 minutes remaining suggests defence could still be City’s Achilles’ heel, and they’ve already conceded five goals in their opening three league games of the season.
They’ve sold midfield hard man Nigel de Jong to AC Milan and whether Garcia can step up as a like-for-like replacement could say much about whether City have the defensive wherewithal to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal for the title.
And while there’s no shortage of firepower – a rejuvenated Carlos Tevez has already scored three league goals in three games – coach Roberto Mancini will hope the talismanic Sergio Aguero returns from a knee injury sustained on the opening day sooner rather than later.
City will also have to deal with the UEFA Champions League’s so-called ‘Group of Death’ after drawing German champions Borussia Dortmund, Dutch champions Ajax and the all-conquering Real Madrid in a brutal group which hasn’t done Mancini any favours.
He’ll be under pressure to steer his side into the knock-out phase and with such a tough group to have to contend with, City will be eager to pick up as many easy points as possible over the early stages of their league campaign.
Which probably explains why Mansour didn’t hesitate to open his chequebook and bring in high-quality reinforcements once again.
If European football has taught us anything over the past few years it’s that the biggest and richest clubs stockpile talent with the Champions League in mind.
And after failing to get out of their group last season, City will no doubt prioritise progression this time around – even if they’ve been handed the toughest possible draw.
That makes getting off to a solid league start imperative, and while City have largely done that courtesy of seven points from three games played, they’ll need to tighten up in defence if they are to win the title again.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman