x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Manchester City's new boys jump in at the deep end

Roberto Mancini has been forced to deploy his summer signings in the past week, making their bows against Stoke City and Real Madrid, Richard Jolly looks at how they fared.

Maicon has started ahead of Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta for Manchester City in recent matches. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Maicon has started ahead of Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta for Manchester City in recent matches. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

Just as the teamsheets were submitted, so good-luck cards may have been delivered to the Manchester City dressing room. Sometimes players are eased into action with their new clubs, given time to adjust and acclimatise to new surroundings and different colleagues. That has not been Roberto Mancini's way in the past eight days, however.

Maicon, Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair were thrust in at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium last Saturday, officially the Premier League's loudest ground, against a club with an idiosyncratic, abrasive style of play.

Matija Nastasic's bow came three days later in still more intimidating circumstances, the teenager parachuted in to face Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. It amounted to a test: sink or swim?

The young Serb could be faulted for Karim Benzema's equaliser in City's 3-2 defeat but still emerged with his head above the metaphorical water. A composed figure in an overworked defence, he acquitted himself commendably.

It puts him in contention for a second start today when City's five transfer deadline-day signings are unlikely to find any respite.

Just as the pace of the Premier League can be unrelenting, the fixture list has been unforgiving of late. After the physical force of Stoke and the menacing class of Real, the unbeaten, impressing Arsenal visit the Etihad Stadium.

An examination of the champions' mettle puts new arrivals under particular scrutiny. What Mancini's selections illustrate is the amount of faith he has placed in recent recruits: while one interpretation is that they were the second-choice signings after men such as Robin van Persie, Daniele de Rossi and Javi Martinez eluded him, his selections have told another tale.

Four have featured in pressurised situations; only Richard Wright, the third-choice goalkeeper, has been unused, and is likely to have a watching brief for much of the season. Each of the remaining quartet has a part to play.

Nastasic's appearance in Madrid, like the choice of Kolo Toure for the Community Shield, was another hint that Mancini is not completely convinced about Joleon Lescott's merits. Nevertheless, it was a vote of confidence in the elegant Serb. "Nastasic will be one of the top defenders for a long time," Mancini has argued.

Maicon's best days may be behind him - and certainly that is one explanation for his exit from Inter Milan - but Mancini retains belief in the Brazilian.

"He is a top player," the manager said. But in one respect, his arrival made the least sense: City already have two of the division's best half-dozen right-backs in the injured Micah Richards and the underrated Pablo Zabaleta, but they seem to have been displaced by the 31 year old.

But both are versatile and Maicon's attacking instincts allow him to play as a wing-back in a 3-4-1-2 formation.

The questions are more defensive; he struggled against Cristiano Ronaldo and he encounters another in-form winger today in the quick, direct, goalscorer Lukas Podolski.

Sinclair's situation is different. As the direct replacement for the underused Adam Johnson, he may become a fringe figure, left on the bench or summoned for the most winnable home games. Convincing his manager that he has the defensive discipline the sold Johnson lacked would help his cause. In the short term, the hamstring injury Samir Nasri has sustained could be a boost.

But the likeliest to become a fixture in the City side is Garcia. His goal scoring bow against Stoke was an auspicious beginning, but the Spaniard's style of play is more significant. He is an amalgam of Gareth Barry and the sold Nigel de Jong, with the Englishman's distribution and the Dutchman's ability to form a powerful shield in front of the back four.

Together with Yaya Toure, Garcia could form the most fearsome central-midfield partnership in the Premier League. First, however, he is tasked with subduing perhaps the outstanding individual of the season so far, his fellow Spaniard Santi Cazorla. The daunting start to life at City continues.

 

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