It has been a great start to the campaign for Manuel Pellegrini’s men with the Belgian and Fernandinho shining brightest, but the Argentina star has struggled with injuries
By Sam Lee
You couldn’t really ask for much more from Manchester City at this point in the season. They have responded to last season’s “disappointing” campaign, as club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak put it, by surging to the top of the Premier League, reaching the League Cup quarter-finals and making strides in the Champions League.
There have been a wealth of reasons to be positive and very few sour notes, meaning City fans can be very pleased with the season so far.
KEY PLAYER SO FAR
Coping without Sergio Aguero and David Silva would have been unthinkable in recent years, but Kevin De Bruyne’s form since signing from Wolfsburg has propelled City to the top of the league despite missing two of their most important players.
In his first six starts he racked up four goals and five assists and his play in a variety of attacking positions has been breathtaking at times. His eye for a killer pass is as keen as his eye for goal and, a slight dip in recent form notwithstanding, he has been City’s most important player this season.
Fernandinho has also been exceptional, but De Bruyne’s attacking exploits have covered for the absence of two hugely important players.
THE PLAYER WHO HAS SURPRISED US ALL
Fernando endured a less-than-inspiring first campaign in English football last time out and on his return to the line-up this season he was part of the team which capitulated at Tottenham.
But since then he has been almost flawless, sitting in front of the defence, winning tackles and headers and allowing the centre-backs to stay in position. Fernando’s best game of the season was probably in the goalless draw at Old Trafford, where Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi shone as a partnership for the first time.
Kompany’s return was credited as a calming influence, and while that is true, Fernando should be recognised for his role in settling the defensive block. These performances looked a long way off at times last season.
There was understandably much concern when Aguero was stretchered off while playing for Argentina at the start of October. He had, after all, eviscerated Newcastle United just five days previously, putting five goals past the hapless Magpies in a brilliant display of centre-forward play.
In truth, though, that was the first time he had really played well since he dismantled Chelsea back in August. He had looked a little out of sorts against Everton, but given his performance against Jose Mourinho’s side there weren’t too many alarm bells. When his finishing touch also eluded him in games against Watford, West Ham and Tottenham, however, it became more of a concern.
He was on target from the spot against Borussia Monchengladbach but City’s fine start to the season was largely thanks to contributions from elsewhere.
This is not to say that Aguero has been a crushing disappointment, but the combination of several below-par performances, combined with a six-week injury straight after finding his shooting boots again, mean it has been a frustrating, stop-start season for Aguero.
The comprehensive victory at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan could prove to be a seminal moment for the club. Finally, this was a consumate, intelligent European performance, with everybody playing their part.
Sevilla had not lost in 10 European matches on their own turf, and had already beaten Barcelona in the league there this season.
City, though, played it perfectly. They flew out of the traps and stunned their hosts with incisive counter-attacking play.
Manuel Pellegrini is often accused of being tactically inflexible but here he used a three-man midfield, with Fernando sitting deep and Fernandinho and Yaya Toure pressing the hosts’ defence.
City ceded possession of the ball and looked entirely comfortable. If they can play like this in the biggest away games – and possibly even huge home games – they really could go for this season.
ONE TO WATCH
City fans are desperate to see more of Kelechi Iheanacho. The Nigerian youngster has been wowing supporters in friendlies and youth matches in the last couple of seasons, and made his mark immediately after coming off the bench at Crystal Palace in September, scoring the winner on his Premier League debut.
He had been given a couple of subsititute appearances since, before being handed his first start against Palace in the League Cup. He shone once again, racking up a goal and two assists, and was duly named in the starting line-up against Norwich City. He struggled to make an impact, however, and was taken off nine minutes into the second half. Not registered for the Champions League squad, he was back in England when City beat Sevilla and back on the bench at Aston Villa a few days later.
Wilfried Bony, who has done about as well as can be expected of a back-up striker in Aguero’s absence, went off early at Villa Park but Iheanacho was forced to watch on from the bench until the final exchanges.
Many City fans wanted to see the 19-year-old a lot sooner, but they may have to be a little more patient as Manuel Pellegrini looks to protect this precocious talent.