x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pellegrini signals a new Spanish resolution at Manchester City

With signing of new coach and winger Jesus Navas, things are taking a different shape for English Premier League club, writes Richard Jolly.

Jesus Navas scored Spain’s winning penalty in the shoot-out with Italy in the Confederations Cup semi-final on Friday.
Jesus Navas scored Spain’s winning penalty in the shoot-out with Italy in the Confederations Cup semi-final on Friday.

The start of July marks the halfway point. It separates one season from the next. The time to look back ends, the time to look forward begins. "Next season" becomes "this season".

At Manchester City, the divide is particularly significant. "Last season" was about Roberto Mancini. This one is about Manuel Pellegrini.

The former Malaga manager is part way through a rebuilding job. City are making a shift from an Italian influence to a more Spanish-style. They are being transformed from Mancini's men to Pellegrini's people.

In a stark contrast with last season, when their transfer business was conducted at the end of the window, they have already secured two major recruits, in the Sevilla winger Jesus Navas and the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fernandinho. They also have missed out on two more, in the Napoli striker Edinson Cavani, even if the expensive Uruguayan was a player Mancini had identified; and the Malaga playmaker Isco, for whom the siren call of Real Madrid proved too strong for the young Spaniard to resist.

But both new purchases have helped facilitate the change from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 that has been proposed by Txiki Begiristain, City's sporting director. Fernandinho adds the quality required in midfield, Navas the fondness for the flanks of a specialist winger, whereas Mancini's team tended to converge in the centre of the pitch.

As City prepare to travel to South Africa, where Pellegrini's first game in charge will come against Supersport United on July 14, it is with a new-look team taking shape but the task of reshaping the squad only partially completed. With midfielders aplenty, they do not need to recruit another, despite Isco's decision to move to Madrid instead of Manchester.

Yet with Carlos Tevez leaving, bringing his eventful four-year spell in Manchester to an end by joining Juventus, with Cavani not arriving and with Mario Balotelli having left in January, City are down to two senior strikers, in Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko. The Argentine has signed a new deal whereas the Bosnian, tiring of his role as the designated super-sub had started to eye pastures new by last season's end.

But Pellegrini has placated Dzeko and decided he has a future at Etihad Stadium. Nevertheless, while only one out-and-out forward will be required in his 4-3-3 formation, a third is needed in the squad. The pre-season tour could be used to evaluate the credentials of John Guidetti, the young Sweden international, though it is likelier City will look to sign.

Elsewhere in the squad, there are decisions to be made. Aleksandar Kolarov, like his friend Dzeko, grew frustrated at his lack of starts. He could join Tevez at Juventus.

If so, the decision to be made is whether the teenage Dutchman Karim Rekik is ready to understudy Gael Clichy. One of Mancini's failings was a reluctance to promote young players produced by the City academy and Pellegrini will be expected to take a more organic approach.

He also inherits his predecessor's players at pivotal points in their City careers. Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry were bought in by Mark Hughes in 2009 on five-year contracts.

Now, both Englishmen have 12 months remaining on their deals. For Pellegrini, the question is whether to cash in on them now, make them part of his long-term plans (and Lescott, who lost his place last season, is eager to play enough to feature in England's World Cup squad) or to run down their deals and let them leave for free next summer. A favourite of Mancini's, Barry was a regular last season. Had Isco joined, it would have been easy to envisage the Spaniard, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure comprising the midfield trio.

Now, there may be a vacancy there. Who fills it is a decision for Pellegrini to ponder before the campaign begins in earnest in August and this season becomes his season.


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