In defence, we have probably seen the biggest success for Manchester City this season. 31 goals conceded in 34 league games – a record only bettered by Chelsea (28), tells its own story, though many will probably claim it’s only due to Mancini’s boring brand of football. That stat alone suggests that this is one area of the pitch City will not be making wholesale changes to over the summer. But inevitably there will be comings and goings over the summer, as City look to strengthen further with the hope of Champions League football next season. But first, let’s look at who is already here.
Joe Hart – closing in on the all-time clean sheet record for a single season for a City keeper. England’s Number 1, and you’d expect him to be between the sticks for City (and England) for many years to come. Hardly the finished product yet, a cynic could pick a few holes with his distribution and occasional decision-making (like all keepers really!), but he is mature beyond his years, professional, well-spoken, and the future is whatever he wants to make of it. City’s best bargain buy in decades (well under a million pounds).
Shay Given – out for months with a shoulder injury, he is close to full fitness again, but was always going to be Number 2 to Joe Hart, and a summer departure seems inevitable, which you would not begrudge – a keeper of his standard should not be 2nd choice anywhere. I feel sympathy for Shay – he came in to win trophies, to compete at the highest level, and did nothing wrong, starting, if memory serves me right, with a stunning home debut against Middlesbrough. But Joe Hart was on loan at Birmingham, and City had to make a choice – ideally they would have stuck with Given for an extra season (my unfounded theory), but Joe Hart was fed up of being loaned out, and City had to make him City Number 1 or risk losing him for good. Bad luck Shay.
He has moaned little though, and done his job well in the short time he had the chance to. I hope he goes on to win a lot of trophies (just not at City’s expense), but time is running out for him.
Stuart Taylor – 3rd choice, will no doubt stay and remain 3rd choice, and that’s all I’ve got (and even less on Gunnar Nielsen!).
Vincent Kompany – one of the players of the season, and was tempted to say most improved, but he was hardly bad beforehand. This season he has come of age, showing his best form since his bargain £6m move from Hamburg. A consummate professional, and a great ambassador for the team on and off the pitch, he has shaken off some previous niggling injuries to become one of the first names on the team sheet. Only this week expressed his desire to stay at the club for life – future captain (hopefully).
Aleksander Kolarov – a huge disappointment so far. Injured 30 minutes into his debut, he didn’t return for months. But since then, he has flattered to deceive. It has often been commented that Mancini’s ideal system is to have two overlapping full backs bombing forward, which makes the signing even more baffling, as one thing we can be sure of is that Kolarov does not possess a great deal of pace. However, fans moan about pace too much – it is not essential, but Kolarov’s distribution and his decision-making has been pretty poor so far. He has delivered 131 crosses this season without an assist. Got a foot like a traction engine, but is rarely seen.
Won’t be going anywhere, so next season will be crucial for him – all players need time to settle and adjust to new countries and new leagues – but will he be 1st choice left-back next season?
More to the point, will Manchester City ever have a left-back that the fans are happy with?!
Micah Richards – a huge improvement from the player for much of this season, until injury put paid to any further involvement. Once the academy’s great big hope (once Shaun Wright Phillips had left), with a rumoured £25m move to Manchester United, who went backwards for a year or two, he is once more beginning to show the ability that every City fan knows he has. If he concentrates on football and not bulking up, I would expect him to be first choice right-back next season, but rumours have surfaced of him leaving in summer and agent offering him to Spurs. Rumours of course should be ignored.
Dedryck Boyata – 20 year old Belgian and academy product who has flirted with the first team, with mixed results – being sent off against Arsenal this season after only 5 minutes has not helped his cause. Hard to know what the future holds. Seems competent player when I have seen him, but not sure he will make top grade. Has time on his side, but the next two years will be crucial, to state the obvious.
Pablo Zabaletta – Let’s get straight to the point. A LEGEND. The type of player that every fan loves. Never whinges, committed, hard-working, passionate and has put in some great performances this season. Never going to be the world’s greatest right-back, but is consistent, and a brilliant player to have in a squad. Hopefully rumours of a summer move to Spain are utter hogwash (as they usually are).
Joleon Lescott. Another masterstroke by Mark Hughes. Ignore the fee – he has done quite well this season. Since Kolo Toure lost his battle of the bulge, Lescott has stepped in and done fine. But you just can’t ignore that fee. Vastly overpriced, and I always feel a mistake is round the corner (see how he handled the ball before West Ham scored at the weekend). Not sure of his future, but his wages, like others, will probably see him staying at City for the foreseeable future. Whether he remains a regular first-teamer is more doubtful.
Jerome Boateng – another disappointing foreign import for this season, and another one beset by injury problems. Getting injured as only a Manchester City player could (by a food trolley on a plane), him not gaining fitness until the season was months old has appeared to stunt his progress. Signed for £10m from Hamburg, he seemed a classy player playing out of position at left-back as Germany stormed to the latter-stages of the World Cup finals. However, that form has not been transferred to City, with just 16 underwhelming league appearances this season. Out again with a knee injury for the season, the hope is he can start next season fresh and raring to go. Many City fans are not sure what his best/preferred position is – he could play right-back, but has probably been bought as a centre-half. Rumours of a move to Bayern Munich have been quashed by Mancini, who says he is part of his long-term plans. Let’s hope for a better 2nd season.
Kolo Toure – the invisible man. Many weeks after the news emerged that Kolo’s Slim-Fast diet had gone horribly wrong, and not a peep has been heard from anyone about a possible drugs ban. The City hierarchy will probably know already how long he will probably be out, and whether they will need to invest in a replacement. As he is probably already serving his ban as we speak, then he should be back for next season – and that is good news as he was beginning to regain some of the form that he showed at Arsenal, pre-malaria. Most probable partner for Vincent Kompany once more next season.
Nedum Onuoha – currently on loan at Sunderland, I could cut and paste the Boyata description (except the being Belgian bit) and then fast forward a couple of years. Sometimes I think he’ll make it, sometimes I don’t. Was an athlete as a youngster who almost didn’t take up football, and is a very level-headed, educated and well-spoken young man. Now seems likely he will stay at Sunderland, and be a first-teamer there, which is probably about right.
Wayne Bridge – another forgotten man at Manchester City. Such a disappointing time at City, a player I was overjoyed to see join, convinced that he was the missing link. Lime most left-backs before him though, he has flattered to deceive, with many an underwhelming performance. On loan at West Ham, where he has settled down after a disastrous debut, but unlikely he will remain there past the summer if they go down or not, as his wages mean selling him yet again becomes a problem, as with a number of other players. Therefore his future is uncertain, but I imagine City will sell him if they can.
As for the academy products, the likes of Shaleum Logan, Scott Kay, Greg Cunningham, Ryan McGivern and Reece Wabara are unlikely to be prominent in first teams next season, except perhaps in the Cup and sometimes filling up the odd bench spot, with loan moves aplenty the more common path. Three other youngsters are on loan at the moment – it’s too early to say if any will break through to the first team, and watching the odd reserve game has not answered many questions in that respect.
So what will City do in the summer with the defence? As I said at the beginning, probably very little. Settled in the keeper position and right-back and in one of the central defence berths, the only major purchase may be if Mancini decides to partner Kompany with someone new, or if he gives up on Kolarov already. Other than that, they may continue purchasing youngsters to develop for the future, and a back-up keeper should Given leave. The signings that Mancini has made have almost always been young, and he will hope past signings will develop further rather than making wholesale changes. The real summer action should come further up the pitch.