Premier League Preview: Man City
Lessons from last season
There is little doubt that when Manuel Pellegrini gazes over last season's early results he will see something that sticks out like a sore thumb: three away defeats that were utterly avoidable and very nearly cost the club the title.
That those reverses occurred at Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Sunderland makes it even worse.
City must start quickly out of the blocks for confidence-building form and the chance to sit top of the table early on. Let everyone else try to play catch-up for once instead of shoveling the pressure on to yourself. Nerves affect us all in different ways but there can be little doubt that points in the bag are the best way of putting pressure on the others.
Predicted starting lineup
If City can reproduce the form of last winter when goals were being fired in as if they were going out of fashion, all will be well in Manchester.
Squad-wise, most of City's bolstering has been to provide quality support players to positions already occupied by international stars. Hence not all of the new faces -- the likes of Fernando, Willy Caballero and Eliaquim Mangala -- will appear immediately.
Elsewhere, the expansion of the south stand is new, as City's bold project to make the Etihad an even larger fortress inches forward thanks to the sterling efforts of a crane the height of a large office block.
Fans are also likely to see some interesting early colour kit coordination, as the side wearing sky blue (or dark blue change kit or purple third kit) attempts to find an outfit out of that little lot that doesn't clash with Burnley, Aston Villa or West Ham in their variations of claret and blue.
PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS
As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?
City are reigning league champions. This suggests there are plenty of strengths for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool to concentrate on. Anyone who managed to catch City for just a short while last season will have seen a team displaying vast quantities of cohesion, verve, togetherness and will to win.
Coming to the Etihad to play Pellegrini's Manchester City is suddenly a pretty nerve-racking prospect. As we used to say about our dear red cousins across the city boundary, he who finishes ahead of City these days has a fine chance of finishing top of the pile.
Add to these admirable athletic qualities a strength of will and a togetherness that those eager to attach a mercenary tag to City's players have not yet fully acknowledged, and you have a pretty formidable setup for the others to match.
Last season's obvious weakness was the inability to concentrate fully during some poor early performances.
City's brittleness in central defence has been addressed with the drawn-out transfer of the muscular Frenchman Mangala but the prolonged nature of the transfer means he has not been afforded a full preseason playing time alongside Vincent Kompany. This means communication and a partnership may take time to materialise and will inevitably come with the odd mistake along the way.
With neither Matija Nastasic, Dedryck Boyata nor Micah Richards looking capable of partnering the captain efficiently, it's down to Mangala to hit the ground running.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
I wrote on these very pages a year ago that City had inherited a manager of just the right character to drive the club forward again after the perilous hiatus of Roberto Mancini's messy last season in charge.
It took many people a little while to warm to the taciturn Chilean but City's quiet revolution under the dignified individual, who would come to be called "This Charming Man," was nothing short of immaculate by the season's end.
Pellegrini has long been seen as one of the game's thinkers; a clever, tactical manager with much to offer the game at the highest level.
In Manchester City and the men in charge of steering the club, Pellegrini may just have found the ideal outlet for his quietly competent talents.
City fans do not need a dancing, prancing quote machine and are more than happy to have their unfashionable Chilean in charge. Pellegrini's haul of two trophies in one season -- his first in English football -- means he can do little wrong at this stage, as he builds towards the distinct possibility of soon becoming the most decorated manager in Manchester City's long and varied history.
As with any top club, City's first XI is riven with key players. Take out Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero or David Silva and you are looking at a totally different prospect. The spine of this side is strong, has been together for some time and can be fully trusted in the most testing of environments against the very best the Premier League can throw at them.
However, the key player may yet be unknown to City fans. It could well be whoever ends up filling one of two spots in the team not currently set in stone -- the centre-back partner for Kompany and the support striker to Aguero.
At present, Mangala may be the man at the back and Stevan Jovetic could finally have his moment in the sun. He endured a miserable debut season last time out but has impressed during preseason and deserves his chance.
Predicted finish: Second
If it were not for a definite leaning towards further Champions League progress, I would say first. Taking the club's probable hunger for more continental action in March and April, runners-up seems a good bet.