It was a statement that, perhaps, said more than Manuel Pellegrini intended.
After Manchester City had defeated Roma in pre-season, the Chilean was asked for a message to the club’s support, with that question itself coming out of so much doubt about the manager’s future.
“The best thing for me to say is don’t change anything,” Pellegrini responded, rather conspicuously. “I think they [the supporters] enjoy the way the team plays so we’ll try to give them as much happiness as we can… trust in the team.”
The last four words, however, have been part of the problem at the Etihad. Pep Guardiola’s potential 2016 arrival may be the big story of City’s summer, but the big question about their season comes elsewhere, and has been bubbling away for almost as long as their interest in the Catalan.
Right through 2014-15, all the talk around the Etihad was that they would seek to freshen the profile of the team. City were determined to bring down the average age of the squad and inject a necessary new energy, to the point the sale of Yaya Toure has long been mooted.
That the Ivorian is still at the club is indicative of the fact that overhaul hasn’t exactly been overarching. Consider this: when Pellegrini’s side open their campaign at West Brom on Monday, they are likely to start eight players who won Roberto Mancini’s first title in 2011-12.
That is a concern given how stale that core has looked. Since that 2012 league win, it has often been as if City could only reclaim that required competitive anger in specific circumstances. They have wildly oscillated between bad drops in performance and then spells of fantastic football - as if to remind everyone of what they should be - rather than offering the consistency of champions. That’s not to say they haven’t gone some way to solving their issues.
For all the noise and controversy about Raheem Sterling’s transfer, it would be difficult to deny the transfer makes complete sense from City’s perspective. The likelihood is he will be a fine buy. Aside from the necessary logistics like bringing the age down and filling the English quota, there is the more relevant issue that he is an exceptional young talent worth long-term investment. At the very least, he will greatly liven up their attack.
It could even be said Sterling is the perfect Guardiola attacker, given how he can suddenly break from possession with burning pace or skill. Much of this will also apply to Kevin De Bruyne, who is expected to arrive from Wolfsburg.
That will transform the attack, but the worry is how untouched much of the rest of the team is. Pellegrini still needs a good young defensive midfielder to take command and Fabian Delph is not that, even if he is still an astute replacement for James Milner.
Then there’s the entire defence. The much-mocked Eliaquim Mangala may yet markedly improve after a full year in England, but even that would not be enough for an area of the team that needs much more. There are no suggestions Vincent Kompany has arrested his recent decline — especially without the right defensive midfielder in front of him — and both of the right-backs are over 30. The latter issue is especially important because Pellegrini’s football is so dependent on the angles created by overlaps, and Pablo Zabaleta is also beginning to look a bit more vulnerable to speed at the other end.
It keeps coming back to the same issue: they still need more talent in their early 20s ready to immediately step in. It’s crucial to the long term. In the short term, it is possible this may just keep the recent pattern going a little longer. Signings like Sterling may well temporarily reenergise the old core, and may be enough to enjoy one more boom in City’s ongoing boom-bust cycle.
That has happened before, and there is also the possibility that the core players will be angered into action by the meek way they surrendered their title. We could yet see one last stand.
The plan to alter the profile of the squad is far from complete, but it remains to be seen whether it will prevent them completing a third title win in five years. Pellegrini has asked for trust. He’s got to deliver his side, even if it is for the last time.
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