It’s nearly time. The 2013/2014 season is upon us and brings with it fresh hopes and ambitions. The desire to reclaim the Premier League is the priority but making a positive impression in the Champions League isn’t far behind. After the protracted sense of gloom that accompanied last season, a break was much-needed but with a new manager, new signings that have created excitement in abundance and a new, invigorating challenge, it promises to be a year to embrace.
The contrast to the beginning of the previous campaign couldn’t be more marked. Then, the fans – and I’m sure the players, too, despite what they say in public – were hungover from the title victory, glowing in the thrill and elation of the quite extraordinary Sergio Aguero-inspired triumph. The hunger and focus had seemingly gone from the squad. They had achieved Premier League success and, perhaps understandably, lacked the mentality needed to push on. Throw in a bunch of underwhelming signings, a disgruntled manager and regular reports of unrest and it was evident, in hindsight at least, that everything wasn’t running smoothly.
A disappointing season followed. That can be deemed churlish bearing in mind City finished second and reached the FA Cup final, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Blues’ supporter who enjoyed the campaign. There was a negative air that enveloped the club, the football played was often predictable and frustrating, our efforts in the Champions League were embarrassing, the surrender of the title was pathetic, the club had moved backwards and it was no surprise when Roberto Mancini was sacked.
And that brings us onto this season. Manuel Pellegrini is in charge and while is it clearly too early to offer any informed thoughts about his playing style, he has a vibe of calm authority about him. He works in a far less provocative manner than his predecessor, seems a shrewd operator who has the respect of those around him and comes across as dignified, relaxed yet determined in interviews. Aided by the arrival of four exciting signings who all offer something different to what we already had, and there is an indubitable sense that City fans are itching for the campaign to start.
Moving quickly in the transfer market and somewhat under the radar while the soporific sagas of Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez grab headlines, City have added genuine quality. Fernandinho was the first to join and he has all the attributes to be a successful addition. Technically excellent, he’s also a dynamic presence, a willing runner and someone who should provide the energy in midfield to turn defence into attack quickly. He’ll bring vibrancy to what was, at times last season, a painfully lethargic unit and his darts forward could be an aspect to watch out for. Whether his likely partnership with Yaya Touré offers enough defensive protection against the better teams remains to be seen (a gut feeling is that we’ll see a third, more defensive-minded midfielder in the side for such matches), but we’ll control the midfield in the majority of Premier League games this campaign and Fernandinho’s mobility and purpose in possession should enhance the squad.
Moving out wide, we find Jesus Navas and his frightening pace. It’s not a new observation to suggest he’s rather fleet of foot but it’s the eye-catching element to his game. For a side who notably lacked pace, width and variety last season, Navas’s arrival is the one for fans to savour. If we can isolate him against the fullback and give him space to run into and deliver, it may well be a fruitful season for our strikers. He may take a little time to settle and he may even be a touch frustrating as all wingers who try to take their man on invariably are, but he’ll offer something completely different. Moreover, not only will his threat from the wing be a valuable outlet, but it will also force defenders across to mark him or provide cover and that will free up more space in the middle for the creativity of David Silva, Samir Nasri and others to shine.
Far too much of our attacking burden was placed on Silva last season, as we looked to his ingenuity and guile to break sides down. With Samir Nasri a total passenger and Yaya Touré half-hearted at best, it meant that if the Spaniard had an off-day, so did the team. The arrival of Stevan Jovetic should ease that reliance. Whilst he may not be a prolific goalscorer, the Montenegrin possesses that spark around the box, the ability to play that defence-splitting pass or conjure up a piece of magic. He’ll likely start from the left and drift centrally, and once he’s adapted to the pace of the league, his quality in attacking areas should be a joy to watch.
The final addition – although, at the time of writing, the arrival of a central defender doesn’t seem too far away – is Alvaro Negredo and from what we’ve seen in pre-season, he could be a terrific, understated signing. Physical and aggressive, he’ll also intelligent with it, his movement in the final third noticeably sharp. His touch is excellent, his awareness first class and he’s someone I’m really looking forward to seeing in partnership with Sergio Aguero. There are those who believe Negredo and Edin Dzeko are a touch similar, their styles perhaps not lending themselves to working together, but while it has to be said the Bosnian looks better in pre-season that he has done in his erstwhile City career, Negredo is incontestably a class above.
Crucially, we now have not just a first team that oozes class, but genuine quality in depth. Over the course of four competitions across a season, it will be the strength of the squad, of coping with injuries and suspensions, that proves telling and whereas last year we suffered when a couple of key players were out, there will be a series of very good footballers who Pellegrini will be able to call upon from the bench.
As we head into the new season, the sense of renewed focus from all parts of the club is inescapable. The players are ready to atone for the disappointment of last year, the new signings have boosted the squad and the fans are refreshed and raring to go. It promises to be an enthralling campaign and hopefully one filled with success.