Manchester City’s growing confidence following a perfect start to the season — not to mention a highly successful transfer window — means they are serious contenders to win not just the Premier League but every trophy available to them, according to striker Sergio Aguero.
City have never been the kind of side to crow about their success; perhaps all those years spent in the shadow of neighbours United has made them reticent to do so. But so strong are the positive vibes both on and off the pitch at the Etihad right now that a little self-promotion seems justified.
A few weeks into the season and Manuel Pellegrini’s side are top of the table with an unblemished record of four wins in four games heading into a tough fixture against Crystal Palace — who sit second in the Premier League following a flying start of their own — this afternoon.
It means that although United against Liverpool is likely to capture most media attention this weekend, the real battle for titles and not just local pride is taking place at Selhurst Park rather than Old Trafford.
United are already five points adrift of their neighbours, as are Liverpool, but if you compare the performance levels of those two teams with that of the current leaders, then it would be easy to argue the gap in quality is far wider.
“This City side is able to win all the trophies in England this season. I really believe this,” said Aguero in a rare moment of public bullishness. “I see this as a team with mental strength and great ambition.
“We had an excellent pre-season and we have opened the Premier League with great momentum too. I think you will see a very good season for Manchester City.”
The key to their start lies not only on the pitch with a team that has hit top gear quickly, but also in the measured and clinical way in which they carried out their transfer business, identifying key targets such as Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, and Nicolas Otamendi, and making absolutely sure they were brought on board — no matter the cost.
Compare that to United’s scattergun and panic-stricken approach which saw them overpaying for Anthony Martial on transfer deadline day, losing Barcelona’s Pedro to Chelsea, and wasting energy on chasing players such as Thomas Muller and Sergio Ramos who were never going to sign, and it’s easy to see why the pendulum has swung City’s way.
“We are very happy with our new players at City but I don’t worry about other teams,” insisted Aguero. “New signings don’t guarantee success. It’s not always the clubs that have paid more money for players that are champions. The key is the way the new players adapt to the style of English football and personal challenges of living in a new country.
“At City we are doing well. We know the way we want to play and the new players know it too.”
In days gone by, United could say the same; almost the whole world knew the ‘United way of playing’ — exciting football, flying wingers, last-minute goals. But under David Moyes and now Louis van Gaal they have lost their way. Who could possibly say now what United’s style of play is? You wonder if even the manager knows — especially when you read allegations this week of growing frustration in the United squad over the Dutchman’s strict training regime.
City, by contrast, have put style of play deep in their mission statement, not just for Pellegrini’s team but for all their youth sides — and even for their satellite clubs in Australia, the US and Japan. Every one of their players across the world knows what the ‘City way’ is.
Commercial director Omar Berrada said in a recent interview in British business magazine Marketing Week: “As an organisation, one of our key objectives is to win — and to win not just at Manchester City but at all of our clubs. The other aspect is how you win. We want to play a very specific type of football — a classy, beautiful style of football that we believe resonates with football fans around the world.”
Such clarity is what has kept City on track despite a disappointing campaign last year; and the fruits are already obvious following impressive early-season results that include a key home victory over champions Chelsea. “To beat Chelsea 3-0 was a really big blow to strike,” said Aguero. “You only get three points for these matches but for morale they are worth six.
“Now we are already ahead of Chelsea and that’s very important because I consider them our biggest rivals for the title. I respect all the other rivals but Chelsea, as champions, are the favourites. To beat them so early meant a lot. It gave us extra confidence.”
Aguero, too, has started well and has promised that City fans will see an even stronger player this season than in 2014-15. That’s a frightening prospect when you consider he finished top scorer in the Premier League with 26 goals last season despite missing a chunk of the campaign through injury.
He said: “I missed games last season and it’s not easy when you are injured — so all I ask for this time is an injury-free season and then you will see the real Aguero.
“People talk about me being top scorer in the Premier League again, and that would be nice, but what really matters is success as a team, not individually. We have made a good start and we want to continue. We want to win those trophies.”
Winning all of them is perhaps fanciful — the Champions League has proved something of a jinxed competition for City who have gone out twice in the last 16 and twice in the group stages — in the last four years.
As usual they face a tough group, beginning with a home fixture against Italian giants Juventus on Tuesday.
And there’s something about Pellegrini’s side this year that suggests times are changing. “We are making progress all the time,” said Aguero. “We expect a very good season.”
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