One word sums up Manchester City’s belief that they can regain the Premier League title: Goals.
Given that Manuel Pellegrini’s men finished last season as the division’s top scorers, while Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Southampton were all able to boast defence records, you would have thought that City’s priority this summer would have been to strengthen a back four that shipped an amazing nine points against the three pushed away clubs alone.
But City have once again decided to leave ‘winning ugly’ to Chelsea.
An initial payment of 44 million pounds has secured Raheem Sterling, while even more sterling will be needed to bring in Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne before the move transfer window closes.
Throw players like that into an explosive mix that already includes Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony and it is clear that Pellegrini hasno plan/purpose of copying Jose Mourinho’s strategy for winning football matches.
Mourinho and Pellegrini: Two very different styles
Even before John Terry got to lift the championship trophy at Stamford Bridge in May, Pellegrini was telling anyone prepared to listen that it was a lack of goals that had cost his team the title.Eighty-three were not enough.
The previous season when City finished top, they agreed 10 more than a Chelsea team that came third. It was the 102 goals City scored – 31 more than the Londoners – that was the key statistic.
In fact, the old saying that having the meanest defence is the extremely important part of all title-winning teams has something of a hollow ring to it in the attack-minded time in history of the Premier League.
Since 1992, no fewer than 15 of the 23 champions have also finished top of the goal charts.
Yet only 10 teams have bragged the best defence and finished first – and five of those clubs were also able to call on the most strong attack that same season.
Mourinho has bucked the trend. Each of the three times he has won the title for Chelsea, they have bragged the best defence. Only once have they scored the most goals – in 2006 when their total of 72 was matched by Manchester United.
Chelsea’s Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (R) gestures during the presentation of the Premier League trophy Winner: Mourinho depends on defence solidity to win his Premier League titles
It illustrates just where the Chelsea manager’s priorities lie that he has supervised and controlled the best (related to actions that protect against attack) record in every single one of his four full seasons in England.
Of course, striking the right balance is extremely important. Liverpool scored 101 goals in 2014 but agreed 50 and finished second.
That’s why City have invested (British pounds)8 million to add the energy and stubbornness of Fabien Delph to a midfield that some rival managers identified as being one-paced when it came to doing the dirty side of the game.
If – and at (British pounds)70 million it is a big if – City can bring back from the dead a move for Juventus’ Paul Pogba, they would be buying a midfielder with the possible ability to secure/make sure of that Toure’s more and more frequent episodes of not doing anything no longer impact on the team.
The Ivory Coast international thinks he will be back to his best after a rare summer off and no African Cup of Nations to take him away in the New Year and, at his peak, there is nobetter midfield controller in the Premier League.
What is clear is that Pellegrini must find a cure for Vincent Kompany’s year-long illness.
Vincent Kompany was depressed after the match and he needs to find his best form back after an enduring season last time around
And he must hope, too, that Eliaquim Mangala’s ridiculous inconsistent first season was nothing more serious than a settling in period.
The fact that Joe Hart picked up his fourth consecutive Golden Gloves award last season suggests he is up there with the best goalkeepers in the division.
But it is by recruiting players with the keys to remove the buses that regularly get parked in front of his team that Pellegrini has shown his hand.
Too much was asked of Silva last season when Toure was missing and Samir Nasri was unable tostep up, so the pace and direct running of Sterling will bring another dimension to City’s attack.
Action Raheem Sterling in action
Raheem Sterling: Will he get the goals that fire City to the title
Aguero showed what he is capable of when he stays fit, and much will depend on how the Argentine responds after a long summer that ended in disappointment at the Copa America.
With Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic gone, Bony will have to prove he was worth the 28 million pounds handed to Swansea last winter by taking up any slack.
Pellegrini goes into the final season of his contract at the Etihad with the long shadow of Pep Guardiola already hanging over him.
The Pep talk will only get louder if City don’t mount a sustained title challenge.