Manchester City will try to push on for the title with a lack of strikers. Not a historical comment made during their December 2014 run when James Milner was deployed up front, but one that surfaced recently after Sergio Aguero limped off with a hamstring injury while playing for Argentina. Last season the Citizens had been hit with three first team strikers going down with injury. Two of them, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic, are no longer at the club. Is the current situation more bad luck or just poor planning?
It always seemed a risk when City allowed the aforementioned pair to leave without bringing in at least one replacement. Yes, they had to show belief in Wilfried Bony, a £28m striker, but he hasn’t set the Etihad alight yet. By placing their eggs in just the baskets of two senior strikers and a promoted EDS player, Kelechi Iheanacho, it was an accident waiting to happen.
Manuel Pellegrini must have envisioned every worse case scenario. Aguero has a history of missing games, so the Chilean must have known – been able to guarantee – that for a substantial uninterrupted period, Wilfred Bony would lead the line with only Kelechi as cover.
This would have been fine had Bony looked half the player he thought he’s signed. Hoping he could find his feet before the inevitable Aguero lay-off was more than just a gamble – it could turn out to be stupid. Presumably the men behind the scenes made a model of acceptable risk and concluded it would be unlikely both senior men would have an extended overlap of injuries, so it was plausible to not sign another player.
By deciding this, Pellegrini has limited options. FFP may have been a consideration, but no City fan would trade Kevin De Bruyne for a striker and Raheem Sterling is home grown with a promising future. Some eyes will fall on Nicolas Otamendi, but defence has been a suspect area for the entirety of Pellegrini’s time at the Etihad, so he would have felt it was a must to increase his cover there.
Managers live and die by their choices and it seems Pellegrini’s season could hinge on the adaptability of Iheanacho, if he’s given more game time, and the ability of Bony to find his self-belief.
If the back-up pair do falter, Pellegrini does have one not-so-secret weapon left in his arsenal: Kevin De Bruyne. With David Silva’s injury he already has extra work to do filling in for the Spanish wizard, but if the manager packs his midfield with Fernandinho and Fernando, pushes Yaya Toure forward, and rotates Nasri, Navas and Sterling, De Bruyne can press on defensive lines as effectively as any striker.
It’s an option, and one Pellegrini may be forced to use.