After year of disappointment, Manchester City gear up for fascinating summer upheaval

Manchester City have expectations as high as any club in the world these days, and they weren't met in 2014/15 – leading into a summer many expect will involve a whirl of change.

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini observes his side during their Premier League win over Aston Villa on Saturday. Paul Ellis / AFP / April 25, 2015
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Proof of the struggles at Manchester City this season arrived when the Premier League's team of the year was announced on Sunday.

Chelsea had six players included. Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur all had representatives.

City? Not one player.

Before the end of this season, the manager is under severe pressure and speculation is mounting that the best player could leave. Even the atmosphere inside the stadium is flat.

Just what has gone wrong at the soon-to-be-usurped English champions?

For the first time in five years, City are heading into May without any silverware to play for in the final month of the season. While Chelsea are preparing to hoist the Premier League trophy and Arsenal have an FA Cup final looming, all City have ahead is a summer of major rebuilding work.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini finished last season by being thrown up in the air by his jubilant players after winning the Premier League title. Twelve months later and Pellegrini could be thrown out the door at Etihad Stadium.

Second – at best – in the league and the last 16 of the Champions League sounds like a pretty good season to City fans of a certain vintage, who recall the club’s slide to the third division in the mid-1990s. Not, though, to those well-adjusted to the club’s heightened expectations.

“It is impossible for any club to progress always,” Pellegrini said after a last-gasp 3-2 win over relegation-threatened Aston Villa on Saturday. “We cannot win trophies every year.”

These comments are unlikely to go down with the Abu Dhabi United Group, with whom Pellegrini faces a post-season debrief when his future will be decided.

Sustaining success in England’s top division has proved beyond every manager except Alex Ferguson, who retired in 2013 after winning 13 Premier League titles at Manchester United.

In 2012/13, City endured a slump in the season after winning the league title and it cost then-manager Roberto Mancini his job. The same has happened under Pellegrini.

City’s signings last year were strategic, intending to bolster areas of the squad that appeared light – like at goalkeeper, right back, centre half and defensive midfield. As Chelsea were signing Diego Costa, Arsenal were bringing in Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United were spending massive sums, Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando and an aging Frank Lampard were arriving at City. Hardly names to set the pulse racing.

In fairness to City, the club were restricted to a net spend of £49 million (Dh277.1m) after breaking financial fair play rules, but it didn’t stop them from splashing out a reported £42mi on Mangala, the France centre back who has failed to impress since joining from FC Porto.

Pellegrini said in a recent interview that his team needs a “crack” player that “gives you a kind of ascendancy, status”. Whether he’ll be around to see this happen is another question.

Some of City’s key players – like Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure – haven’t reached the level of last season in this post-World Cup campaign. The future of the 31-year-old Toure, who has been at the heart of City’s growth as a domestic force since 2010, is under particular scrutiny amid reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan.

The average age of City’s squad is nearly 29, which reportedly is the highest in the Premier League and one of the highest in Europe. There is a general feeling it could do with an injection of youth.

“Now it seems like because we have not won something, it’s a disaster and we have to change seven or eight players, the manager,” Zabaleta said in quotes carried Tuesday in the British media. “That’s what people say.”

City have been linked with Belgium winger Kevin De Bruyne and Paul Pogba – the in-demand France midfielder who could be a like-for-like replacement for Toure – while Aleksandar Kolarov, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko are among the players expected to leave. Lampard is moving to Major League Soccer and the contract of versatile midfielder James Milner expires this season.

The biggest call City needs to make, though, is on Pellegrini, the Chilean who has brought serenity to the Etihad Stadium since replacing Mancini and has a playing philosophy that fits the holistic approach favored by City’s Spanish executives, CEO Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain.

But is Pellegrini’s laid-back style leaving players in the comfort zone? Is he tactically astute enough to go head-to-head with Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal next season?

Jurgen Klopp will be available once he leaves Borussia Dortmund and has already been linked with City. Pep Guardiola appears City’s dream manager but has pledged his immediate future to Bayern Munich. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti and Napoli coach Rafa Benitez have also been mentioned, while Patrick Vieira – City’s head of youth development – is also a possible option.

It’s set to be a busy, intriguing summer at City.

*Associated Press

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