Johnny On The Spot - August Preview
Let's get ready to rumble, Planet Blue! The transatlantic brand-brandishing tours are over and Pep Guardiola's re-energised and swish-swoosh-kitted Manchester City squad are tearing it up at the Etihad Campus in readiness for the imminent start of a new Premier League season. The mood swirling around town is one of renewed optimism. Cards on the table, that is rightly so.
City's pre-season has undeniably gone very well. The Blues finished runners up to Barcelona in the American version of this summer's International Champions Cup whilst the club have operated robustly and decisively in an exploding transfer market. A brief windswept visit to Iceland and a smooth sidestep of West Ham's parked bus ensured that the progress made in the drubbings of Real Madrid and Tottenham in the USA was enhanced. Much of City's football, energised by the addition of jet-heeled wing-full backs has been utterly sublime. Off the field, the self sustaining City Football Group continues to expand and goes from strength to strength, especially Stateside where Patrick Vieira's NYCFC are on course to make the play offs for a second consecutive season.
Apart from by now customary media bias against all things City, the only disappointing blip we can honestly point to during the close-season was the defeat in Houston to the Stretford Galacticos which sparked street parties from the Home Counties to Timbuktu. It is a pity that game constituted City's first outing since May and came a few days too early. Of note, the aforementioned celebrations across 'the 700 million' were not dissimilar to those that greeted the final whistle at the Etihad at the end of a 0-0 thrashing last April and the 1-0 thumping of City's second string in the League Cup last October. These increasing shows of desperate relief and excitement from the rags are borne out of numerous facts, one being that United have only beaten liddle ciddy in the Premier League on three occasions in the past seven seasons. I digress, but this should serve as a firm reminder of how far we have come.
Back to the future. City's Director of Football Txiki Begiristain, supported by CEO Ferran Soriano have undoubtedly made good on Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak's promise that Guardiola will be backed to the hilt in the mercato. A glance at the Ashton New Road revolving doors underlines how that assurance has developed into an unprecedented squad overhaul with three weeks of further business still remaining. Without a doubt, there will at least certainly be more departures.
Benjamin Mendy - Monaco, £49.2m, Danilo - Real Madrid, £26.9m, Bernardo Silva - Monaco, £43m, Ederson - Benfica, £34.7, Kyle Walker - Tottenham, £50m, Douglas Luiz - Vasco da Gama, undisclosed.
Fernando Reges - Galatasaray, £5.2m, Kelechi Iheanacho - Leicester, £25m, Pablo Zabaleta - West Ham, free, Enes Unal - Villarreal, £12m, Gael Clichy - Istanbul Basaksehir - released, Jesus Navas, Sevilla - released, Willy Cabellero - Chelsea -released, Bacary Sagna - released, Billy O'Brien - released, Bruno Zuculini - Hellas Verona, undisclosed, Ellis Plummer - released, Angus Gunn - Norwich, loan, Aaron Mooy - Huddersfield, £8m, Joe Coveney - Nottingham Forest, free, Nolito - Sevilla, £8m, Callum Bullock - released, Ashley Smith-Brown - Hearts, loan, Angelino - NAC Breda, loan, Bersant Celina - Ipswich, loan, Ruben Sobrino - Alaves, undisclosed, Olivier Ntcham - Celtic, undisclosed, Joe Hart - West Ham, loan, Aleks Kolarov, Roma, £4.5m, Douglas Luiz, Aleix Garcia, Marlos Moreno, Pablo Maffeo - Girona FC, loans.
There is a real energy about Pep's new signings and it is no surprise that their collective input to date has generated such a buzz. The age factor is key. Following a substantial offload of 30 something senior players, the speedy Kyle Walker at 27 is the oldest newcomer meaning the average age of the Blues squad has been slashed. The pick of the bunch so far for me has been the goalkeeper Ederson. This lad has the look of 'do or die' about him and I would also suggest his phenomenal kicking could yet prove to be a secret weapon. A word also for Ben Mendy who has yet to show for us. There's a cult figure in the making where he is concerned. Overall, I think City have done some great business to date, particularly with incoming fees and wage savings. Pep has gone on record as saying we still need something more. I am not quite sure what that is, because as things stand I strongly rate the new look City squad as title front runners even before a ball is kicked. More of this as we take a look at what the first month of the season holds in store...
Brighton & Hove Albion, The Amex Stadium, Saturday 12th August 17h30 BST, PL
And so it begins. A mid August weekender on the English riviera for the discerning Blue/CityZen incorporating a thoroughly professional away win in resplendent evening sunshine? This has to be the script and I cannot begin to countenance anything else such is the myriad of attacking options now at Pep Guardiola's disposal, the nucleus of his side brimming with Premier League savvy. Admittedly, nobody likes to face a newly promoted side early in the season, lest we forget our humbling at Cardiff three years ago, but I just can't see past Chris Hughton's men getting turned over swiftly such is the apparent hunger about City right now. Brighton 0 City 4
Girona, Estadi Montilivi, Tuesday 15th August 19h00 CET, Friendly
And why not? Whereas previously I would have railed against our squad jetting off for a training & bonding session inbetween the season's opening fixtures, such are the ultimate comforts and travelling facilities now at City's disposal, I say give it a go. Girona, new beneficiaries of the CFG are already gearing up for their La Liga campaign with a raft of City loanees on board. It won't do any harm to cement relations that bit further with an early season visit from the entire MCFC effective. And the weather will be lovely.
Girona 0 City 3
Everton, The Etihad, Monday 21st August 20h00 BST, PL
Ever since City signed all round good egg Joleon Lescott back in 2009 and the venomous foaming that ensued from Goodison Park, not least from The Moyesiah himself, I have developed an increasing dislike of The Toffees...And so it also came to pass. Having seen legions of hypocrites from the swamp decide a few years back that spending lorry loads of cash on signing and paying footballers is not such a bad thing to do after all, now we see City's most ferocious Merseyside based critics adopt exactly the same stance. This glaring fact aside, Ronald Koeman is no mug and this fixture provides us with our sternest test of the month. The uncompromising Dutchman has spent heavily, but also operated shrewdly. He has overseen a sizeable makeover in squad composition whilst at the same time trousered plenty of loot in the process. Providing we can get off to a flyer at Brighton, I am banking on City's plethora of wide men scattering Everton's new boys before Koeman can settle them in, but I think they will push us close, not least because they now have a fine goalkeeper.
City 2 Everton 1
UEFA Champions League Group Stage Draw, Thursday, 24th August 8, 2017 - Start Time TBC
The season's biggest quest and joint priority with the Premier League starts here. We are more than overdue a kind opening draw but let's assume that UEFA have still got it in for us, especially if The Blues land another big name signing before the alleged 'hot balls' are distributed! ...Dates for your diary...
12-13/09/17: Group stage, matchday one
26-27/09/17: Group stage, matchday two
17-18/10/17: Group stage, matchday three
31/10/17-01/11/17: Group stage, matchday four
21-22/11/17: Group stage, matchday five
05-06/12/17: Group stage, matchday six
Bournemouth, Dean Court, Saturday 26th August 12h30 BST, PL
With due deference to my opening prediction... A late August weekender on the English riviera for the discerning Blue/CityZen incorporating a thoroughly professional away win in resplendent lunchtime sunshine? Much as City have tuned Bournemouth 4 times since we rediscovered each other two season's ago, Eddie Howe has done a remarkable job with The Cherries and there is a justifiably buoyant mood about Dean Court following last season's admirable 9th placed finish and the cunning acquisition of Messrs Begovic, Defoe and Aké. Howe's squad now possesses a backbone capable of securing another top half of the table finish. The ludicrous timing of the television kick off for this game considering the locations of the two clubs is again disgraceful for travelling supporters but I fully expect City to reward our Blue army with a third consecutive victory before Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool come to town early next month.
Bournemouth 1 City 3
Don't Miss JB's August Review and September Preview on VMC later this month!
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