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Iain Macintosh
Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

Sports

EPL: Citizens deserve credit

The New Paper | Iain Macintosh | Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

On Merseyside, they will be talking about the reasons for Liverpool's title collapse for years to come.

There is no need. For all the heartbreak of Steven Gerrard's slip, for the absence of Jordan Henderson to suspension, to the simple loss of composure at Selhurst Park, there is one very simple reason why Liverpool finished second last season: Manchester City were a better side.

Because of the manner in which Liverpool fought for the title, because of the romantic appeal of Brendan Rodgers and his cavalier youngsters, City have never received the credit they deserved for their victory.

After the February wobble that brought defeat to Chelsea and a frustrating draw with Norwich, City won nine of their last 12 games, including five straight victories at the end of the campaign.

They may have started poorly, they might have lost four of their first 11 games, but when they hit their groove, they were unstoppable.

No other team has such a rich seam of resources at their disposal. Few other teams could so comfortably switch shape during a game, either to win it or to end it.

Yes, City have built this strength on new money, piles and piles of new money. But that doesn't negate their qualities. They are a very powerful football team.

Now Manuel Pellegrini's side must do what only Manchester United and Chelsea have ever done and retain the Premier League title.

A solid performance against Newcastle, always a difficult place to go, was a sign of early promise.

A victory over Liverpool, the unlikely challengers who took them all the way to the final day, will be a clearer indication of their level.

The watchword at City this season has been "consolidation". Signings have been restricted by both Uefa's FFP punishments and an intention to solidify the existing structure.

Willy Caballero has arrived to provide considerably more competition to Joe Hart than Costel Pantilimon ever did.

The former Malaga man would be a good No. 1 for most clubs.

Bacary Sagna's influence on the right of Arsenal's defence has been missed in North London because it now lurks in the shadows of City's squad.

Frank Lampard brings experience, Fernando brings versatility, Bruno Zuculini brings promise.

Of all of City's signings, only Eliaquim Mangala is from the expensive end of the transfer market.

While Liverpool scramble to replace a legend and retool a squad for a fight on two fronts, City seek only to retain what they have and strengthen themselves against the possibility of injuries.

Moves have been made too to lock down existing first-team players to new extended contracts.

Contented citizens

Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Eden Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov have all agreed to new deals, furthering the impression that this is, after the tension and ill feeling of the last days of Roberto Mancini, now a happy ship.

City's defence has been the only concern this season, most notably when Dedryck Boyata and Matija Nastasic looked so stretched against Arsenal in the Community Shield.

Fortunately for City fans, that back pairing should look a little more familiar against Liverpool, as Kompany and Martin Demichelis are expected to play together again, having kept a clean sheet at St James Park.

The Argentine centre back endured a rough start to his life in England, repeatedly pilloried for his lack of pace.

He has had the last laugh now. For both club and country, he has proved that his intelligence and decision making are more than adequate compensation for his slow speed.

City are well set for this season. The question is whether or not they have the hunger to, as Gerrard once put it, go again.

In the Etihad Stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time), we'll see a sign of how much they want it.

Liverpool should be careful.

npsports@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 25 in The New Paper.

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