Manuel Pellegrini spent much of last season scratching his head. How had Manchester City gone from double winners the previous term to not challenging for any titles?
How had they become inferior – in their April derby at least – to their transitional neighbours Manchester United, a side struggling to honour a glorious past especially since the departure of Alex Ferguson in 2013?
An attack so penetrating in 2013/14 became lacklustre. That’s one of the possible answers, and in new signing Raheem Sterling City’s beleaguered boss might just have revitalised the blue half of Manchester.
“He’s a player we need in our team,” Pellegrini said after City had beaten AS Roma in Melbourne on penalties in their International Champions Cup opener, Sterling scoring just after two minutes into his debut.
“We bought him because he has a big future – he has the speed that we don’t have so we have a different way of playing,” added the Chilean.
“He demonstrates why he’s here, not only as a player but now I think he will improve a lot in the future, playing with Yaya (Toure), (David) Silva and (Sergio) Aguero.”
It’s a frightening prospect. Just ask Roma counterpart Rudi Garcia.
“When you don’t defend well as a team against players with the talent Silva has, you’re in trouble.”
Here’s the equation then: Silva’s finesse + Toure’s presence + Aguero’s killer instinct + Sterling’s speed = a certain Manchester City Premier League title challenge in 2015/16.
After all, recent history suggests City get it right again the season after a title defence stutters. And retaining is a lot harder than winning, or so the saying goes.
Chelsea will take some stopping again but, more immediately, City face a test of their 2015/16 potential: 10-times European champions Real Madrid.
It may not be the free-flowing game we would come to expect of an encounter featuring the likes of Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale against Silva and Aguero, after all City goalkeeper Joe Hart said the MCG surface was a little sticky at times.
Yet there is a motive for both managers here to want to win: don’t read too much into Pellegrini’s post Roma quotes, he will be out for revenge against Real after the Spanish giants sacked him in 2010 following a trophyless season.
“You are not playing to win the game, you are not making the substitutions of players who are playing bad or well, you are trying to give an average amount of minutes to all the players,” he said after Tuesday’s win.
“Overall, I am very happy in the style we played with.”
As for Real, new coach and ex-Liverpool and Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez will want to silence any early doubters about his credentials at the helm of one of football’s most notoriously difficult sides to manage.
The Madrid juggernaut started tamely under Benitez with a loss on penalties to Roma in their ICC opener after a goalless 90 minutes, but surely Ronaldo and co will be itching to bang a few past Hart and second-choice keeper Willy Caballero.
City will then move on to Hanoi to play Vietnam on Monday, taking in Germany to face VfB Stuttgart on Saturday before they turn their attention to August 10’s top flight start away to West Bromwich Albion.
Main image courtesy of Manchester City FC via YouTube, with thanks.