Pellegrini under pressure to build on last season's success
Manchester City are victims of their own spending.
They were worthy winners last season, but not particularly popular ones.
They proved The Beatles wrong. Money couldn't buy them love.
Beyond the Etihad Stadium, only Manchester United supporters and Evertonians were rooting for them to deny Liverpool the title and even Red Devils fans were caught between a rock and a hard place.
So this is how City's season will almost certainly play out.
If Manuel Pellegrini's men emulate the feats of United and Chelsea and successfully defend their title, melodramatic obituaries lamenting the death of the Premier League will be swiftly penned.
City will be snootily dismissed as a dynasty designed not by a coaching committee overseen by Eric Harrison at Carrington or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, but by faceless Middle Eastern investors.
And that's if they win.
If they lose, they face nothing but failure; unmitigated failure at every turn.
If the title isn't retained, Pellegrini gets the push. If cups prove impossible to come by, the entire club will be castigated.
If the European dream turns premature nightmare once more, scapegoats will be dragged across the back pages and routinely slaughtered.
Pellegrini's position is practically untenable already. He either takes City where no previous manager has taken the club before or he risks the wrath of karma.
With untold riches stretching from the Middle East to Manchester, via feeder clubs in Melbourne and New York throwing up freakish Frank Lampard loan deals, City are on the brink of dominance.
They are one campaign away from taking a stranglehold on the Premier League for the next decade. Their financial grip is sustainable and absolute. City's petrodollars make their owners look like Popeye to Roman Abramovich's Olive Oyl.
And yet, there is an intriguing paradox.
In previous decades, Sir Alex Ferguson's dynasties were usually blessed with only one pretender to the throne at a time.
Newcastle were replaced by Arsenal, who stepped back for Chelsea, who slipped into Man City's shadows.
Now they're all suffering delusions of grandeur. Three of those four clubs are plotting assaults on the Premier League summit (the Magpies aren't of course. They just suffer with delusions of grandeur.)
Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have all strengthened; either desperate to build on a successful campaign or to make amends for a disastrous one. Their pre-season additions mostly outshine those made at City.
At £32 million ($66.6m), Eliaquim Mangala's acquisition was the most expensive - and most essential - taking much of the £49m net spend limitation imposed on the club by Uefa due to their Financial Fair Play irregularities. The French centre back should slot in seamlessly alongside skipper Vincent Kompany - eventually.
By his own admission, the French defender isn't match fit after his World Cup exertions. His obvious replacement is 33-year-old Martin Demichelis whose ageing frame held up until the end of 120 minutes of the World Cup final.
Free transfer Bacary Sagna provides useful cover anywhere along the back four. Willy Caballero does likewise for Joe Hart, but whether he proves useful remains to be seen. Olivier Giroud had no problems beating him from 30 metres in the Community Shield last Sunday.
Fernando's inconsistency resembles the resume of an odd-job man rather than a decisive midfield enforcer and the Brazilian must work to shake off the perception of being a lightweight Fernandinho.
Compared to the glamour names strutting through the doors of Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and the Emirates, City's purchases appear considerably low-key.
But their title defence depends not on new faces putting pen to paper, but on existing personnel finding their fitness.
In pre-season, Stevan Jovetic offered enough gumption to convince Pellegrini that the Montenegrin has the potential to partner Sergio Aguero.
Jovetic started only twice last season. Aguero missed half the campaign. If Pellegrini can keep the two together, he believes he can keep the trophy.
With David Silva committed for the long term and Yaya Toure no longer blubbing over a forgotten birthday cake, City's spine should send shivers through every Premier League dressing room.
But, in the short term at least, the spine is splintered. Aside from Mangala and Demichelis, Kompany, Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, Sagna, Fernandinho, Hart and James Milner are all in doubt for tomorrow's EPL opener against Newcastle United after their World Cup commitments.
To add insult to exhaustion, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea then make up three of City's next four games. There was little sympathy for the Red Devils' tough opening fixtures last season. They'll be even less for City; a club where cups are now considered commonplace.
The Premier League represents not a renaissance, but a routine. Pellegrini's princes are expected to follow United and Chelsea and win a second consecutive title.
Domestic and European success is no longer a pipe dream, but a prerequisite.
Such expectation can be overwhelming. The fear of failure will follow Pellegrini all season long.
Money can't quite buy love for City. And it can't buy patience either.
Who will be the last team standing?
There are five teams fighting for four places this season, but I can see only two of them winning the title.
Every side in contention have 11 men capable of matching the very best in Europe, but Chelsea and Manchester City have the squads to do it week in, week out for nine months.
I think that the leadership and cunning of Jose Mourinho will just put Chelsea ahead of City, a view that was only strengthened by the lack of intensity in City's performance against Arsenal at Wembley last Sunday.
Behind them, Arsenal's stability and steady improvement should grant them third place, but the battle for fourth is so hard to pick.
For now, I would just tip Liverpool to take fourth, but if Manchester United can add two or three quality players between now and the closure of the transfer window, I'll have to revise that view.
And don't completely write off Everton either. They might surprise people.
- Champions: Chelsea
- 2nd: Man City
- 3rd: Arsenal
- 4th: Liverpool/Man Utd
Naturally, this prediction has more ifs, buts and maybes than a stammering teenager on a first date. But if the best 11 of all the contenders are fit and available, Manchester City stand alone. They have the greatest depth and the least weaknesses (if any).
Last season, their biggest issues were centre back and adequate defensive cover. Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna tick both boxes.
Arsenal and Chelsea have both strengthened up front, but City's forward line of Sergio Aguero, Stefan Jovetic, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo might as well don trench coats and trilby hats and go after Al Capone. They are untouchable.
A question mark still hovers over defensive midfield. Fernando must step up to give either Fernandinho or Yaya Toure a deserved break.
Throw in Samir Nasri, James Milner, Jesus Navas, some old bloke called Frank Lampard and the diminutive genius David Silva, City are an enthralling, attacking side.
They already have the best squad. They've just got to take care of those ifs, buts and maybes.
- Champions: Man City
- 2nd: Chelsea
- 3rd: Arsenal
- 4th: Liverpool
It's clear that Manchester City, despite the lack of real big-name arrivals, still possess the best squad in the English Premier League.
But they will have to fend off the challenge of Chelsea, who function better as a unit than any other Premiership side.
The Blues, however, seem to have an edge. In Jose Mourinho, they have a manager who doesn't sit around not winning anything for very long.
The shrewd additions of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas should give them the firepower they sorely missed last season.
Arsenal are the dark horses. Any team with Mesut Oezil, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey have to be fighting for silverware. But the worry is that they do not have a squad deep enough to sustain a simultaneous push for Premiership and Champions League glory.
The battle for fourth place will be between arch-rivals Manchester United and Liverpool. The lack of European football should see the Red Devils pip Liverpool to fourth.
- Champions: Chelsea
- 2nd: Man City
- 3rd: Arsenal
- 4th: Man Utd
Aguero signs new 5-year deal
Champions Manchester City received a boost on the eve of the new Premier League season as Argentina striker Sergio Aguero signed a new five-year contract yesterday.
Aguero is now tied to City until 2019 and his decision to commit his long-term future to the Eastlands club is a major bonus as they prepare to start their defence of the Premier League title at Newcastle tomorrow.
The 26-year-old's goals have played a significant role in City winning the Premier League twice in the last three years, with his most famous strike the stoppage-time effort against QPR that sealed the title on the final day of the 2011-12 season.
Aguero follows in the footsteps of Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany and David Silva in extending his City contract in recent months.
Since his arrival in 2011, Aguero has lifted two league titles, the League Cup and the Community Shield. In that time, he has scored 75 goals from 122 appearances. - AFP.