[dropcap]G[/dropcap]iven the vast expenditure on the current Manchester City squad, second best is not an option for the nouveau-riche English champions.
Despite recording their second domestic league title in three years last season, things have not quite gone to plan for Manuel Pellegrini’s side of late.
Defeat at Liverpool on Sunday leaves City five points adrift of a rampant Chelsea having played a game more, but being beaten by the Reds is a continuation of questionable recent form rather than a solitary setback.
Given the nature of the Anfield club’s resurgence a defeat on Merseyside could well be condoned by the club’s powerbrokers; recent home draws against Hull and Burnley, defeat at the Etihad Stadium to Arsenal and elimination from the FA Cup by second-tier Middlesbrough are another story.
In Europe City have seemingly taken a step sideways also, with Barcelona’s dominance in a 2-1 victory in England symbolic of the Manchester club’s stagnation.
Given that Pellegrini’s men were eliminated at the same stage of the Champions League by the same opposition last season, progression or a closer contest would have been expected this time round.
If anything, the disparity between the teams was more apparent in the most recent meeting, with Pellegrini and the City side failing to learn their lessons from last season’s exit.
Pressure is building on the side’s Chilean manager, with rumblings in the press that the club are considering his future amid a lack of progress this season.
Despite the number of players that have been signed since Sheikh Mansour took over and the sheer amount of money forked out, the truth is that City are over-reliant on three main players.
Yaya Touré’s absence at the African Cup of Nations highlighted the Ivorian’s overarching leadership and control over the City cruise liner, with the team entering choppy waters without the midfielder’s guiding hand from the centre of the park.
It is only natural that any team would miss a player of the African’s calibre and stature, but removing someone like Nemanja Matić from the Chelsea team would not have as devastating an effect as City suffered earlier this year.
Further forward, diminutive attackers Sergio Agüero and David Silva continue to carry the creative burden for the champions, with the team lacking a suitable plan B if one or both is unavailable or not at their best.
The Argentine has proven his lethal touch time and again, coming to City’s rescue on countless occasions and leading the division’s scoring charts this term.
Silva’s movement off the ball and delightful craft on it remain a pleasure to the football purist, but others around him must be questioned.
The likes of Samir Nasri, Jesús Navas, Stevan Jovetić and Edin Džeko have failed to convince that they are capable of consistently inspiring the team to victory if the afore-mentioned key trio are not there to bail the side out.
At the back, the usually assured Vincent Kompany has looked like a fragment of his former self in recent weeks, with the giant Belgian’s confidence taking a knock and City’s rearguard not as water-tight as a result.
Without a convincing central defensive partner to pick up the slack, City are no longer looking like the unstoppable juggernaut of previous campaigns.
Like Roberto Mancini before him, Pellegrini has delivered a league title to the club – but doing it once is not good enough for this side.
With lifting the Champions League crown and creating a footballing dynasty the eventual end game, the long-term plan for City seems to have stalled this season.
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