Taking Manchester City as Champions this year 5

Jose Mourinho’s power is enormous.  Last season, his arrival alone convinced many that Chelsea would return to the top of the Premier League, and within days of his unveiling the club had become Champions-elect in the eyes of many journalists and most odds-setters.

It turned out to be a reductive analysis and, despite putting themselves in a position to challenge with results in marquee games, Chelsea and Mourinho developed a habit of tripping over themselves in the more mundane fixtures.  Increasingly, Mourinho has become the manager who succeeds spectacularly in isolated moments but who ultimately fails within the wider context.

Manuel Pellegrini is Mourinho’s counter-point.  The Chilean says nothing, antagonises nobody and shows little interest in courting the affections of the media.  Does that make him boring?  No, it makes him smart.  In this age of managerial ‘personalities’ and laboured soundbytes, he’s a force for tremendous good.  There was no Mourinho-style bluster and there was no Brendan Rodgers-esque hyperbole;  Pellegrini arrived, said nothing, and walked away with the title at the first time of asking.

The irony, of course, is that while Mourinho is assumed to give his side a big advantage, it’s actually Pellegrini who does.  Clubs like Manchester City rise and fall on the strength of their transfer-policy, of course, but they’re also heavily reliant on being led by the right personality.  In Pellegrini they have that and the Chilean seems to have garnished his side with a genuine enthusiasm for the game and allowed them to play with an adventure that they never really did under Roberto Mancini.

A year on, nobody seems to be any the wiser.  Pellegrini is still being underestimated and Manchester City are still over-priced for the title.

There has been a lot of transfer activity at the top of the league, and Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have all made significant improvements in important areas.  But then so have City; Fernando arrived at the beginning of the Summer from Porto, Wily Caballero was added to provide competition to Joe Hart, and Bacary Sagna has created some admirable depth at full-back and emergency cover at centre-half.  On top of which, Eliaquim Mangala’s protracted move should be completed before the season starts.

So what does that all add up to?  The retention of the best attacking unit in the country, the bolstering of a deep-midfield unit which is superior to anything else in the Premier League, and the potential creation of a centre-back pairing that could be the envy of the division.

Successful teams are based around strong partnerships, and that’s really City’s most pronounced asset.  The combination work between Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, the cohesion between Pablo Zabaleta and whoever plays ahead of him, the Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri axis at the top of the formation - there are understandings throughout the team and there’s a trust between this set of players that can’t be replicated purely by spending heavily on individual talent.  Pellegrini’s system may only be a year old at The Etihad, but the majority of his players have not only been together for a long time now but most of them are already two-time Premier League champions.  Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero: much as used to be the case with 1990’s Manchester United, there’s a winning spine right the way through this side that gives them an obvious competitive advantage.

Why were that United team traditionally so strong in the second half of the season?  Because they’d been through the process before and they knew what was required of them.  Similarly, who were the players who helped guide City through those tricky away games at the end of 2013/14?  Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, and Edin Dzeko.  Familiar names who had been there before and were able to stand up to the pressure of the run-in.

Compare City’s response to being one-nil down at Everton to Liverpool’s reaction to Demba Ba’s goal at Anfield.  Dismiss that as an flimsy intangible if you like, but time and again ‘winning experience’ has been proven relevant in the Premier League era.

Remember what you learned in 2013/14 and apply it to the new season: Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool will make the most noise and inspire all the columns, but Manchester City are still the yardstick.

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