Man City still the team to beat
ARSENAL v MAN CITY
(Tonight, 10pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)
For a club with chaos imbedded in its DNA, this has been a strangely sedate summer for Manchester City.
But then, much has changed in the blue half of the city since the epochal takeover of 2008.
For one thing, City are currently champions for the second time in the Premier League era.
For another, they are Champions League regulars, preparing for their fourth successive campaign.
But their season begins today with a scuffle for a rather more low-key trophy - the Community Shield.
Nothing will be settled today in terms of major honours.
We have seen countless times that this curtain-raiser can be a false barometer for the coming season.
But, with their strength in depth, the Citizens are still the team to beat.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini would love to extend this feeling of calm for at least another week with a win over Arsenal.
And then the real battle will commence.
It could have been all so different.
Even as City celebrated their title win last season, Uefa was preparing to pounce.
The club's breach of Uefa's financial fair play (FFP) regulations brought them a £49 million ($103m) fine, along with transfer and wage restrictions.
But the club kept their cool, insisting that the measures had no effect on their plans whatsoever.
When a protest by the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro) saw a U-turn on Uefa's insistence that City name eight homegrown players in a Champions League squad of 21, the only ramification that could seriously hurt the club was gone.
Duly, they spent a modest amount of money on Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero, Porto midfielder Fernando and Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna.
The squad are settled, but reinforced. City's plans are altered, but not ruined. So much for the strength of FFP.
City are in remarkably good shape. Though they won the league by only two points in May, it's worth remembering the uncertain start they made as Pellegrini settled into his role.
Four defeats in their first 11 games left them trailing. Only one more defeat would follow all season.
There will be no need to settle in this year.
With Caballero providing far better cover to Joe Hart than the unconvincing Costel Pantilimon, there are no concerns between the posts.
Sagna is a very capable deputy to Pablo Zabaleta, who is likely to be rested for the opening fixtures after his exertions in Brazil.
Fernando is the kind of midfielder whom every manager would want in their squad.
Dynamic, hardworking and comfortable in all areas, he'll be excellent support for Yaya Toure, now apparently placated after his summer tantrums, and Fernandinho, who will want to forget the World Cup as swiftly as possible.
Pellegrini's side are immune to all but the most catastrophic of injury problems.
Their most surprising signing, former Chelsea mainstay Frank Lampard, is unlikely to play a part today, but his experience and knowhow are likely to prove crucial, even in a dressing room full of winners.
The only issue, such as it is, is the front-line, where Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero's enduring injury problems are a concern.
But even then, there is Edin Dzeko and the lesser spotted Stevan Jovetic.
And then there's Pellegrini himself, who has a successful first season under his belt and has won his first title in European football in doing so.
The Chilean manager, with one notable exception in Europe, conducted himself with astonishing grace and composure last term.
He refused to bite when his rivals attempted to lure him into a war of words, never lost his cool with the journalists who poked and probed, looking for weaknesses.
He is experienced, he is in control and his position is safe.
City are strong, arguably as strong as anyone except Chelsea.
Even though they will be without eight regulars, the Citizens will look to open the campaign on the front foot, starting with a win over Arsenal today.
If they get that, and get it with a degree of comfort, it will send a shudder of trepidation through the Premier League.
They have the money, they have the players, they have the manager.
Can anyone stop them?
BY THE NUMBERS
Manchester City and Chelsea's substitutes made the biggest impact in the last EPL season, scoring or providing the assists for 16 goals - joint-highest in the league.
'We're stronger than last season'
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has declared his happiness with the club's summer transfer dealings - and confidence that they have all been above board.
Over the past week, the spotlight has been on City's recruitment of Frank Lampard and Bacary Sagna, following comments made about both signings from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Former Chelsea midfielder Lampard has arrived at the Etihad Stadium on loan until January from New York City FC - Manchester City's American sister outfit, whom the 36-year-old England international signed for earlier this summer.
The Premier League champions were hit with sanctions by Uefa in May for breaching financial fair play rules and, when asked about the Lampard deal, Wenger said: "Is it a way to get around the fair play? I don't know."
The Frenchman has also suggested that fullback Sagna's move to City, after seeing out his Arsenal contract, was "agreed long ago".
But, asked on Friday if he was happy that everything as far as the Lampard and Sagna deals were concerned had been done correctly, Pellegrini - whose side face Arsenal in the Community Shield at Wembley tonight - said: "I think so."
The Chilean added that he was "surprised" by Wenger's comments, and said: "I think, as managers, we have enough problems with our own teams to be talking about other teams.
"The only thing I can say is that we have important restrictions about the amount of money we can spend, and Frank Lampard was a free player - we didn't spend any money in bringing him from New York City to Manchester City."
Pellegrini is baffled by any negative reaction there has been to Lampard's move, including from Chelsea fans who might be upset to see him at a Premier League rival after 13 years at Stamford Bridge.
"I don't understand the reaction of Chelsea fans who say he is a traitor," Pellegrini said.
"The problem was not that Frank Lampard did not want to sign another contract with Chelsea - Chelsea didn't want him any more.
"He is a competitive player, he will be important for our team and we didn't spend any money on him, so the rules of financial fair play don't have any relation with Lampard."
Neither Lampard nor Sagna will be part of the squad for tonight's game - among eight City players set to miss out.
That also includes Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Fernandinho and skipper Vincent Kompany, all of whom - like Sagna - were involved in the knockout rounds of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Alvaro Negredo is recovering from a foot injury.
But there could be debuts for two other new City signings - goalkeeper Willy Caballero and midfielder Fernando.
And on the quartet of fresh faces at the club, Pellegrini said: "I'm very happy because I think we have important restrictions from Uefa, but I think we have a stronger team than last year.
"The four players who have arrived will be very important for us."
City are also expected to wrap up a deal for Porto's France defender Eliaquim Mangala, but Pellegrini was giving little away on that on Friday.
"I always say the same answer - when things are finished, we can talk about that," he said. "For the moment, Mangala is not our player." - PA Sport.
"I'm very happy because I think we have important restrictions from Uefa, but I think we have a stronger team than last year."
- Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini
Hart in for a hard time
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has warned Joe Hart that he has no room for error if he wants to remain the team's first-choice goalkeeper.
Hart suffered a dip in form last season which saw him replaced for a month by Costel Pantilimon before the England international re-established himself as Pellegrini's regular No. 1.
City allowed Pantilimon to join Sunderland on a free transfer in June when his contract expired.
Pellegrini replaced him in the City squad with Argentine Willy Caballero, whom he signed from former club Malaga during the close season.
The Chilean indicated that Caballero, 32, will be better placed to challenge Hart for a starting spot in the coming campaign.
"I will make the decision who will start against Arsenal, not only the goalkeeper, the whole team," said Pellegrini.
"Top teams need two players for each position because we have to play so many games during the year." - AFP.