Manchester City: Excellence Is Now The Minimum Standard

May 30, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Manchester City midfielder David Silva before the start of New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo soccer game at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Manchester City midfielder David Silva before the start of New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo soccer game at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

Manchester City are currently the class of the Premier League with four games in the books. The Blues have netted 10 goals in league play and have conceded none. With former Wolfsburg standout Kevin De Bruyne officially joining City this morning and Nicolas Otamendi expect to have his work visa issues cleared up by the end of the break, Manuel Pellegrini’s will be even stronger when the international break ends.

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While all of that is well and good, the Blues will need to find a way to reproduce this intensity over the course of a long season, a very long season if you accept Pellegrini’s claim that City will be competitive in all competitions this year.

Immediately after City players return from international play, the Blues take on a very dangerous Crystal Palace team. Laugh all you want at the notion of a team like Palace being referred to as dangerous, but the Eagles sit in second place right now and their last match saw them beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

There’s also the minor matter of Champions League group stage play beginning just three days after the clash with Palace. The opponent for their first game in group stage play? None other than Juventus, the defending Serie A champions for the fourth straight year and the European runner-up last year to Barcelona.

A key component of City’s revitalization project has been the much-derided Eliaquim Mangala forming a brilliant partnership with Vincent Kompany at the central defender spot. Mangala’s improved play has even led some people to claim the signing of Otamendi was unneeded, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Otamendi continues the pipeline of Argentine players to the Etihad and it’s never a bad idea to create a pipeline to one of the world’s greatest footballing countries. Either way, the addition of Otamendi can only been seen as an improvement for City at this time. He’s far too skilled to be seen as unneeded and he won’t be viewed as such when City need an injection of life into an exhausted defense.

Otamendi, whether he starts or comes off the bench, improves the overall depth of the squad to what you would expect from a European contender. This is something City appear to have prioritized in the off-season. Injuries took their toll on the Blues last year, especially when talisman Sergio Aguero went down with an injury.

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The Blues struggled to find quality replacements when players went down or showed poor form and that was even more pronounced in European play. Now City will enjoy guys like Fabian Delph, Sami Nasri, Fernando, Martin Demichelis, Jesus Navas, Bacary Sagna, Wilfried Bony and Gael Clichy coming off the bench. In other words, quality following quality.

The fact that a large number of players will have to look over their shoulder at any time could prove to be a huge factor in City keeping their momentum going. Iron sharpens iron and City have the thoroughbreds to train the ponies. Raheem Sterling might struggle with his finishing touch right now, but it’s only a matter of time before some of Aguero’s world class finishing skills rub off on him. It’s only a matter of time before De Bruyne improves upon his facilitation through the tutelage of David Silva.

The players will be expected to push each other as much as they push for playing time. One of the oft-forgotten dangers of entering into European elite is an overcrowded bench with too much quality. Benches that loaded are often preceded by large amounts of spending in the transfer market.

For many owners, large spending must produce large victories and the managers know they’re expected to win immediately. The pressure to change things up when they’re not working intensifies and players often feel the brunt of the impact (see: Stevan Jovetic). It’s easy for supporters to get caught up in sentiment, but managers can’t afford to play those types of games when their jobs are on the line.

Nasri is fine coming off the bench right now, but will that change if De Bruyne steps in and delivers on his potential right away? The type of money spent on Sterling and De Bruyne suggest the bench is the last place City want to see them, but wins must comes from losses. De Bruyne’s former manager at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, raised a fantastic point when prodded over the notion that he let the Belgian standout go too early.

For Mourinho it was fairly simple, De Bruyne or Andre Schurrle playing meant that Eden Hazard would not be playing right now. Considering the high praise Hazard received for his tremendous play last year, it’s hard to make a compelling case for starting either De Bruyne or Schurrle over Hazard. This very concept is going to apply in spades at City.

Every match De Bruyne and Sterling start is a match where Nasri and Navas must come off the bench or watch the game from the stands. These types of players are usually fine coming off the bench during the early portions of the season because they still hold the belief that the manager is undecided on who to start.

As the season drags on and hope begins to die, it becomes the onus of the club to ensure camaraderie and cohesion. It will be up to team veterans and Pellegrini to sell the idea that there are minutes to be had for everyone over the course of all competitions. This squad have the potential to do something amazing and the lasting legacy of achieving those goals is greater than any reward these starters-turned-role-players could have imagined.

The only way to achieve those rewards is to maintain a singular and clear focus on doing what is best for the team. Players will dip in form, injuries will take place, and the next man up must be ready to step in and fill those boots. When Navas failed to produce in the first half against Watford, Pellegrini wasted no time sending in Nasri to kickstart the offense.

The result was two goals inside ten minutes. If City players were under the impression that Pellegrini would be patient before replacing them, Nasri coming on at halftime in a game against Watford ought to crush that idea like a grape. If you can get yanked in a game against Watford, you can find the bench before a game against Juventus.

City will win this year because they must. Failure to do so will result in a loss of jobs. It’s academic at this point. City Financial Group have invested far too much money in this offseason for anyone to feel like their job is safe — well, with the exception of Aguero.

There will be lows and highs this season, but City have the depth and quality to overcome if they can work as a unit and help each other develop. It’s win or be replaced and City will need to find a way to create inner-momentum after each and every break.

If anyone can’t keep that momentum going, they might as well turn to the guy behind him on the depth chart and let him know that he’ll need to be ready to play.

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