As the strains of Auld Lang Syne fade you won’t find Manuel Pellegrini endorsing any New Year sentiments of ‘out with the old and in with the new’ as his Manchester City team venture into South Wales.
It’s a case of as you were and more of the same for the City boss looking to continue a Premier League run with 22 points from 24, where City have won 10 of their last 11 matches in all competitions.
City want to start 2014 in the same fashion as they left 2013, breaking goal scoring records and winning a plethora of matches in both league and cup, home and away.
Swansea offers a stern task, given that City’s last three sorties into the Principality have produced just one point. The men from Manchester have failed to register any goals in two visits to the Liberty Stadium, going down to a 1-0 defeat in their Premier League winning campaign in 2011/12, before grinding out a 0-0 stalemate last season.
Pellegrini has yet to play the Swans in their natural habitat. He’ll be hoping for better than when his side succumbed to the Welsh outfit’s hated rivals, the Bluebirds of Cardiff, when the feathers famously flew as his title favourites lost out 3-2 back in August.
The match represents the first of 19 reverse fixtures this season. City won 3-0 a month to the day in Manchester, as Negredo and a brace from Nasri secured the win. City were deserving winners but, in a season where the Sky Blues have swept all before them at Fortress Etihad, the margin of victory was perhaps slightly flattering.
Michael Laudrup’s side play a nice brand of passing football and, even when missing key players including Michu, Nathan Dyer and Michel Vorm, the Swans should not be underestimated.
City’s injury list includes top scorer Sergio Aguero, Martin Demichelis, Micah Richards and seemingly the jinxed Stevan Jovetic, although there are rumours the man from Montenegro could yet make the bench.
A fully-fit and firing Jovetic would certainly help mitigate the prolonged absence of 19-goal Aguero, who is likely to be out of action in January and the early part of February.
Pellegrini took a calculated risk against a doggedly determined Crystal Palace, resting a number of key players as the fixtures come in thick and fast. The narrow 1- 0 win was achieved, but at a cost.
David ‘Merlin’ Silva was on the receiving end of a Five Card Trick in a shade of yellow, which means he disappeared out of Pellegrini’s selection options as he serves a one-match ban.
It’s bizarre that one of the world’s most technically gifted and supremely talented players should somehow amass five bookings. Silva is normally sinned against as opposed to being a sinner, but he’s a feisty little fellow and City will miss his guile and creativity.
That said, Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta – two of City’s most influential characters – should return, alongside Negredo and Nasri who were summoned off the bench to ensure it was 10/10 home wins on Saturday.
Much has been made of City’s form away from the Etihad. Adjectives abound among the media who can’t wait to exaggerate any flaw in Pellegrini’s team. ‘Erratic’ ‘Poor’ ‘Terrible’ are all in common currency when describing three wins, two draws and four PL defeats on the road.
Those are the stats, but what the pundits and journo’s conveniently omit is that City have won all three Champion’s League and two Capital One Cup encounters away from home.
The hope is that the collective shortcomings and individual errors that contrived to see City cough up 12 points in four games have been eradicated.
19 games in, and Pellegrini has absorbed lessons learned in his ongoing PL odyssey. He appears to be approaching the luxury of being able to select a settled back four, commanded by the incomparable Vincent Kompany.
Yes, he will still utilise his squad and give non-regulars a chance to shine in ‘lesser’ games such as Blackburn in the FA Cup, and maybe even the two-legged League Cup semi-final against West Ham, because the PL and Champions League remain his priorities.
The turn of the year also means the opening of the transfer window and a chance to further strengthen what is widely regarded as the strongest squad in the PL.
Key defensive positions at centre back and left back would benefit from new talent, but not at the cost of selling clubs seeking to extort silly money.
FC Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala is a prime example, with the speedy, talented 22-year old French centre back available at a reputed £33m. He’s an outstanding player, but is he really worth three times the money City paid for Matija Nastasic?
Lest we forget, next summer City will have a returning Karim Rekik available after a season, gaining invaluable experience and exposure with PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie.
City fans can, and must, have faith, in Pellegrini and Txiki Begiristain, City’s Director of Football, to make the right judgement calls at the appropriate times.
The ‘Project’ being underwritten by City’s generous owner and benefactor, Sheikh Mansour, is not one based on short-termism.
Equally, the assembled brains of business acumen and football expertise, won’t want to let a season that holds so much promise unravel for the sake of a key signing or two.
Yes, there’s talk of an incredible quadruple but, without being defeatist, that might be all it amounts to. Games such as Swansea away have proved troublesome in the past.
If City can eradicate the quirk in their DNA that allows for unforeseen failings against supposedly ‘smaller’ teams, then a second PL crown in three years is well within their grasp.
Success in the Capital One Cup-cum-League Cup is 270 minutes, away barring any pesky extra time or penalty shoot-outs. The FA Cup is anybody’s guess, and of course the ‘dream’ CL tie against Barcelona beams bright on the horizon.
Back-to-back away wins in the PL for the first time in almost a year would be but one step in the right direction.
2014 has the potential to be the finest year in City’s illustrious – and let’s be fair, at times, less than illustrious – history.
For decades upon decades being ‘a blue’ wasn’t about trophies and glory. It was about survival, scrapping for recognition and laughing in the face of adversity, the only alternative being crying at City’s unerring knack of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Well no more. City stand on the cusp of actually having the best team in the land and all the world, led by a manager destined for his best days in the sun of European football.
By David Walker
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