Manchester City have bolted out of the blocks this Premier League season. In former Manchester United defender Paul Parker’s latest exclusive column, he gives FourFourTwo his thoughts on whether City can stay on top of the pile in 2015-16…
Manchester City have made an excellent start to the new season. They’re not just winning games, they’re winning them quite comprehensively. We used to see that all the time with Arsenal. The season starts and the weather’s nice and bright and teams start off playing some nice football. City look the best team in the Premier League by far right now.
But as we all know, it’s a 38-game season and you can’t produce those kinds of performances week in, week out. People change physically and mentally. The weather changes and players react differently. The old ‘winter woollies’ come out and all of a sudden you’ve got Champions League football. Throw in some League Cup games and suddenly you might find yourself with some disgruntled players.
When things are going well at City, but some players aren’t involved, the egos start coming out and players feel like they should be part of it too. Yes they’re on big money, but they want people to talk about them playing their part in it and for people to recognise them.
That’s what happened under former City manager Roberto Mancini. There were some issues there. People don’t like being second fiddle and if you get too many big names in one little pot, it has caused City problems before. And it might just happen again.
It seems they are about to sign Kevin De Bruyne and already I find myself asking the question – how are they going to fit him in? The only place you can see where they might be able to fit him in is taking out Jesus Navas. To me right now Navas is the weakling, the easy option to take off.
What they’ve done in the Champions League to this point has been nothing short of disgraceful.
Look at the rest of that team. You can’t leave Yaya Toure out or he’ll spit his dummy. You can never leave David Silva out because he and Sergio Aguero are maybe the most integral players on the team.
Raheem Sterling is playing very well and their pacy style of play suits him. So who else do you take out? The only one left is Navas, although the issue then is De Bruyne doesn’t play wide. He’s not going to give you natural width. You’ve also got ‘Mr Cry Baby’ Samir Nasri sitting there. If he goes two or three games without starting, he’ll be throwing the toys out of the cot too.
But there’s nothing better than going into your next game on the back of a win and on the back of a good performance and City are doing that. Manuel Pellegrini likes winning the Premier League in style, whereas he believes Chelsea don’t win it in style – and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Chelsea believe just winning it is enough, but if you look at other teams that have won the Premier League over the years they’ve generally done it in a style that people remember. Chelsea’s style only really lasts for a short time. You have to find players that can play that rigid, soul-destroying, brain-numbingly negative style. It works for a while, but I think you might be seeing it coming to an end right now.
But I digress. This season City have been very flamboyant. Their front six have got energy about them. They’ve got imagination and creativity and they’re making it very, very difficult for teams, as we saw with Everton last weekend.
When you’re playing against City, you need to ask them some questions early on. You need to score first. At the moment they’re keeping the ball well and you can see they’re enjoying their football and they’re playing at a high tempo. But I still believe if you get to the back four, you can cause them problems.
Really the key to it all is Aguero. We’ve seen over the years that he is so important. If they don’t have him, they simply struggle to score goals. We’ll have to wait and see what happens on that one.
Hopefully he can stay fit, although last season he was injured for a while and still managed to score 26 goals in the league alone. But undoubtedly Pellegrini will be sweating on his fitness all season long.
Plenty of people were surprised when Pellegrini was given a two-year contract extension that runs through to 2017. Surviving a season at City with no silverware, as occurred in 2014-15, is some feat in itself.
But contracts obviously aren’t the same these days. When you sign a contract now there are no guarantees. So long as you’re winning games, no manager is going to find himself under any pressure. It’s really as simple as that.
That’s what the players at City have to do for him. Last season you saw them lose games at home they weren’t expected to lose. This year he basically has to be invincible at home. At the moment he is under pressure and he knows he’s under pressure. That’s just the nature of football these days.
It’s the same in the Championship. Every time managers look behind them, there are vultures standing there waiting to pick your bones and take your job. You have ex-managers turning up and sitting in the director’s box, smiling, joking, having a cup of tea with the chairman and CEOs, while the manager is down on the pitch trying to get a win.
You can guarantee there is always someone looking to take your job. Clubs give you an office and a desk, but not too many drawers, because you might be looking to throw your stuff back in a box in a few weeks’ time.
Managers never get comfortable anymore. Around 99 per cent of managers in the Premier League these days are paranoid. They’d never own up to it, but they are because they know whatever they’re doing, someone is always in their boss’s ear.
One of the real keys for Pellegrini this season as far as I’m concerned is the Champions League. He has to have a clear run at that this year. First and foremost he simply has to get through the group stages.
That has to be a priority. But I believe they have to go further than that. What they’ve done in the Champions League to this point has been nothing short of disgraceful considering the outlay. They have to do something in Europe and I think Pellegrini knows that.
Europe is that important now to Manchester City that they might win the league, but that won’t matter as much to the Sheikh and his friends back in Abu Dhabi. What he wants to say is ‘look at what my club has done’. That’s what it’s all about. If the club isn’t doing well in Europe, they lose face over that. There might be an acceptable situation where they lose to a Real Madrid or Barcelona or Bayern Munich in a semi-final or a final, but anything other than that and they’ll look at it as a failure.
The changing Citizens
It’s pretty amazing to see where Manchester City are right now. To be honest in my time at Manchester United, City were never seen as a threat. Our biggest games were against Leeds and Liverpool. They were the huge games that had the passion because there was genuine hatred between the teams.
Yes there was hate with City, but they were never a threat to us winning league titles, so United fans looked at them in a different way. It was probably the same way Liverpool fans looked at Everton in the 80s. Things would get feisty in matches between the clubs twice a year and you might throw in the odd Cup game, but other than that you wouldn’t really view them as a threat.
Around 99 per cent of managers in the Premier League these days are paranoid.
Initially I found Anfield quite a nice place to go. The fans were always happy because we’d leave having had our backsides smacked. I’d be sitting on the bus on the way to the ground and it wasn’t until I saw the looks on the people’s faces that I realised how big those games were.
When I was at Fulham or QPR, you’d run out onto the pitch and you might get a little clap or people wouldn’t notice you at all while they had their Bovril and their pies. When you’d go to Anfield, everyone would spit and throw things at you. It was pure hate. Serious, serious hate.
It was the same with Leeds. Hostile is an understatement. It was seriously eerie sometimes and it would be the same now if they drew each other in a Cup game.
What’s happened with City in recent years has certainly added some more spice to the rivalry with United. And I’m sure there are many City fans out there that can’t believe what the club are doing. To be competing at the level they now are, it’s probably something they never thought they’d see during their time on this earth.
Paul Parker is Technical Director for JSSL Arsenal, Singapore’s No.1 Youth Soccer Club – www.jssl-singapore.com