How can Manchester City strengthen their title-winning side?
Manchester City have been surprisingly quiet in this summer's transfer window. Alex Keble, editor of TheChalkboard.org.uk, ponders what improvements the Premier League champions can make...
With more possession, more passes completed, fewer shots conceded, and more shots per game than any other team in the Premier League, you may think Manchester City don't need to change a thing as they look to defend their Premier League crown.
But City will want to improve on last season's disastrous Champions League campaign, as well as firmly cement themselves as the best team in England.
Despite City's triumphs in the Premier League last season, Mancini has already stated his frustration at their lack of transfer activity this summer. As City will be aware, the absence of new signings is a problem of their own making. After their take-over in 2008, City unnecessarily paid over inflated prices for players, and with the UEFA financial fair play laws set to come into action, City are forced to employ a sell-to-buy strategy. The problem is, they can't find any buyers.
Roque Santa Cruz, for example, was signed to a contract with a ludicrous salary on the back of an excellent campaign for Blackburn. Three years later, out of practice, a lot older, and with wages nobody can match, City simply cannot offload him. Any player leaving must be prepared to take an enormous wage cut and, considering these players knew from the beginning they had sacrificed playing time for higher wages, most of them are unwilling to take the cut.
Until players such as Santa Cruz, Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, and possibly Adam Johnson, leave the club, we can expect no new signings. But despite the lack of concrete interest in any of these players, Mancini still has his sights on a couple of players.
Most of the players on the list above are strikers, and so it is with good reason that Mancini wants a new star man upfront. Some (Tevez and Adebayor) are unhappy, and some (Dzeko and Santa Cruz) simply haven't been good enough.
Mancini plays a centre forward alongside a secondary striker in a deeper role (invariably Aguero). It is this higher position that he needs to improve.
Mancini plays a slow-tempo passing game, relying on possession retention and overall dominance; 57.7% possession and 85.9% pass completion over the course of the season reflects this style. It is for this reason that the Italian exclusively plays confident passers, with the vast majority of his team hitting 85%+ pass completion in each and every game.
Balotelli (77.5%) and Dzeko (68.8%) do not hit these targets. No City striker really fits into the correct mould of a Mancini player, a fact further exemplified by the lack of goalscoring threat they pose. Dzeko's 14 goals is the highest for any of their main strikers.
Clearly, Mancini needs a goalscoring forward with the experience and composure to play Italian-style short passing football.
Who will they sign?
Robin Van Persie has more to his game than any of the current City forwards, offering his influence to multiple phases of play (something the fluidity of Mancini's system requires). RVP made eight assists last season, and averaged 2.4 key passes per game Ã¢ÂÂ higher than any of his team-mates, including Mikel Arteta.
The screen grabs below, taken from games in which Van Persie scored a hat-trick, show that his role is far more influential than simply putting the ball in the net. Note the frequency of passes in and around the box. StatsZone suggests he created five clear cut scoring opportunities over the two matches.
Man City like to attack quite centrally, often using inverted wingers that are given the freedom to drift in-field - most notably in the case of David Silva and Samir Nasri. They rarely venture to the byline, and like to create chances through the middle of the pitch. Note how crosses from wide positions are infrequent, despite the high number of chances (and goals) that they made.
Van Persie is used to this at Arsenal, who also like to play the ball through the centre. Alex Song playing a straight through ball over the defence for RVP to finish was something we saw frequently last season.
On a similar note, Van Persie is adept at playing on the shoulder of the last defender, latching onto through balls and running in on goal. This is something that is perhaps lacking at City, not least due to the patient tempo of their playing style. None of Man City's current main strikers have this ability to quite the same extent as the Dutchman. The following screen grabs show how often Van Persie latched onto long balls through the middle.
Neither Stefan Savic nor Kolo Toure looked quite good enough for City last season, leaving Lescott and Kompany as the only reliable centre-backs at the club. A long-term injury to one or other could be disastrous for Mancini, which might help explain the mounting speculation regarding Liverpool's defensive pair.
Joleon Lescott is received well at the Etihad stadium, but his statistics don't read as well as the immaculate Vincent Kompany; perhaps Mancini believes he can do better than the former Everton man. Over the season, Lescott made 1.4 tackles per match (Komapny made 2.1), 1.7 interceptions per match (Kompany made 2.4), and made 5.1 clearances per match (Kompany made 6.2).
The following screen grabs indicate this point precisely. Although Lescott contributed well defensively, he was quite clearly trumped by Kompany's performance. It's a little bit unfair to have isolated this match as a comparison, but it seems strangely appropriate that Kompany was the City goalscorer, whilst Lescott put the ball in his own net for Liverpool's equaliser.
Who will they sign?
Daniel Agger's and Martin Skrtel's partnership for Liverpool was arguably the best pairing in the Premier League last season; only the Manchester clubs conceded fewer goals than the Liverpudlians. It is of little surprise to learn that Mancini is interested in both of these players.
As previously mentioned, Mancini's system requires that all players are technically proficient. Due to the patience of Man City's build-up play, defenders have many touches on the ball, and are expected to use possession wisely and confidently. Kompany's 53.1 passes per game was the fourth highest of any centre-back, whilst Lescott's 45.8 was also impressive. Lescott completed 87.5% of his passes; Kompany 86.6%.
Liverpool's centre-backs are renowned for their ball control, and both players are likely to excel under Brendan Rodgers as the new boss looks to instil a ruthless tiki-taka passing style at Anfield. Mancini has also recognised the usefulness of their passing. Agger complete 84.4% of his passes (with 69% of them forward!) and Skrtel hit an 83.3% ratio.
They would suit Man City just as well as they'll suit Liverpool's new manager.
All transfer rumours seem to suggest Mancini is prioritising a forward and a centre back. After such a magnificent season in 2011/12, their first eleven only requires minor tweaking.
Van Persie looks increasingly unlikely, which would be a huge blow, whilst signing Agger or Skrtel would also represent a monumental task. There aren't many players in the world, however, that would not jump at the chance to play for the new Premier League champions.
Whatever the outcome in these sagas, Mancini knows he has to offload the deadwood before he can bring anyone in. And this may be the hardest part of all...