Monday, December 29, 2014

Man City Report - January 2015 Transfer Window Advice for Manuel Pellegrini

Following our last check-in, Man City played four EPL matches from mid to late December and found out their opponent for the knock-out stage of the Champions League.  Unfortunately Man City drew Barcelona in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the second year in a row.  You know that you support a club that is (almost) out of problems when the biggest complaint you have is about facing another world super power in the most prestigious club tournament in the world.  This kind of challenge for Man City, if they somehow best Barcelona in their home-and-home fixtures, is exactly what Man City needs to jump from an impressive domestic club (won two the last three EPL titles) to a a true world super power.

Man City continued their winning streak since my last recap in the first of those four EPL matches with a gritty 1-0 road victory over Leicester City. Apparently winning begets winnings because Man City followed that up with a 3-0 victory at home over Crystal Palace and a 3-1 victory on the road over West Brom.  Just two days later Man City hosted Burnley armed with the knowledge that if they won, they would join Chelsea at the top of the table since Chelsea tied Southampton 1-1 earlier in the day.  Man City went up 2-0 just over a third a way through the match but somehow conceded two goals to tie Burnley 2-2 at home to close out 2014 two points behind EPL leaders Chelsea.  10 out of a possible 12 points seems great but given the competition and the fact that Man City was up two goals on Burnley at home, they really should have taken a maximum of 12 points from those four fixtures.

Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini did a ton of business in the summer transfer window to help the club balance their books to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules, which left Man City with only three and a half strikers with EPL experience.  I say three and half because youngster José Ángel Pozo played decent up top in his first team appearances but does not look like a threat to actually score in the EPL yet so I only count him as half a striker at this point.  Injuries to strikers Sergio Aguero and Edin Džeko forced Pellegrini to start midfielder James Milner as a "striker" since Stevan Jovetić was only available as a substitute since he is (again) rehabbing an injury.  That means Man City will need some help at striker till Aguero and Džeko return.

In Pellegrini's summer business he loaned out striker Alvaro Negrado to Valencia, which was the move that I was most skeptical about.  I know Negrado had a broken foot at the time but Negredo made 11 appearances for Valencia from late October to late December: five starts and six appearances as a substitute.  Sure Negrado only has one goal for Valencia so far this season but last season he had an amazing ability to find the back of the net as both a starter and a substitute for Man City.  Since Negredo is no longeran option, let's look a Man City's other striker options to acquire in the transfer window.

The most common striker targets linked with Man City are Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Mario Mandzukic (Atletico Madrid), and Paul-Georges Ntep (Rennes).  The price tag on Ntep is reportedly $10 million while Benteke, Bony or Mandzukic would most likely be three or four times that amount.  If money were no object, Man City would have just kept Negrado and possibly still even signed Bony but money is an object because of UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules.  The other drawback to Bony is that he will be at the African Cup of Nations, which is a bi-annual tournament between the best African countries, from mid-January to possibly as late as mid-February if Ivory Coast makes it to the final.  That is exactly when Man City would need Bony's services given the injury issues for Aguero and Dzeko.  Plus, once Aguero and Dzeko return from injury it could create a locker room issue to have Benteke, Bony, or Mandzukic as the 3rd or 4th striker option depending on how management feels about Jovetić.  As a result, I would add Ntep in the hopes of buying low on a long-term prospect that can be loaned out next season to a Championship side.  My guess is that Man City ultimately adds Bony and I have no doubt that he will perform well for Man City in the long-term, I just think that is not the most fiscally responsible move.

No matter what happens at striker, Man City definitely need to extend midfielder Frank Lampard's loan from their MLS "sister" club New York City FC because Lampard has been an absolute revelation for Man City.  When New York City FC loaned Lampard to Man City it looked like it was simply a way to keep Lampard in shape before he joined New York City FC for their inaugural season in the MLS.  Instead, Lampard went on to score an number of important EPL goals for Man City including the equalizer against his former employer Chelsea to give Man City a 1-1 tie at home and the only goal against Leicester City to give Man City a 1-0 victory.

Lampard's form is something that Liverpool should keep in mind as they are trying to decide whether the extend midfielder Steven Gerrard's contract, which is due to expire at the end of the season.  Sure some teams would rather move on a year too early than a year too late but not when you are talking about a club icon that icon goes on to thrive in the same league against you the following season.  Besides Lampard's impressive form, don't forget that Yaya Toure will be away from the club for almost a month at the start of 2015 for the aforementioned African Cup of Nations.  That leaves Man City with Fernandinho and Fernando as their only other true central midfielders.  Sure the likes of Milner and David Silva could fill-in but Lampard is the perfect offensive compliment to Fernandinho or Fernando.

The last couple years Man City has been reserved in the January transfer window but they've also been relatively healthy during the previous January transfer windows too.  Whatever young play-maker is doing well is always linked to Man City because of their deep pockets but again UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules make it too risky to try to add a winger like Ross Barkley from Everton given that his price tag would be in the $60 to $70 million range.  The price always seems to go up whenever Man City is involved because of their deep pockets.  Sure Barkley would be nice to have given that he is a better winger than James Milner, Jesus Navas or even Samir Nasri but I am actually not sure Barkley is an upgrade over David Silva so sometimes the deals you don't make turn out to be the best ones.  Given the winger depth that Man City currently possess, I hope that Man City does not make any other expensive, borderline irrational move for a guy like Barkley or even Bony for that matter despite Man City's need for a healthy striker.

No matter what Man City actually does in the January transfer window, make sure to check back for full coverage in this space.  If Man City doesn't do any business, which would be shocking to me given their lack of depth at striker and the need to extend Lampard's loan stay, make sure to check back in the space for my thoughts at the close of the January transfer window.

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