Newcastle United open their season Monday against Manchester City away, making this the fourth straight year that their opener comes against a team that qualified for European competition the year before. City are certain candidates for the title in what appears to be the most wide-open race for the top spot in some time. I sat down with sonics097, staff writer for SBN's Manchester City blog Bitter & Blue, to preview this match, and I asked him questions that the CHN community submitted earlier this week.
CHN: Do you expect Manuel Pellegrini to bring something new tactically, or is his main draw the people management side of the job?
B&B: I think the main draw is the personnel management. As much as most City fans had a strong attachment to Mancini, it was undeniable that his approach to player management was harsh. On the contrary, Pellegrini is known for the bonds he forms with his players, and motivation could be key for a squad with names that City has. Tactically, I don't expect any drastic changes, save for a greater emphasis on wing play, which can give City another dimension to unlock opposition defenses.
CHN: Do you miss the days of Shaun Goater and Uwe Rosler over Fernandinho and Aguero?
B&B: Since I am younger I never got to see Rosler play except on old game films, but Goater was, and definitely will always be, a City legend. His two goals in the final derby ever at Maine Road still live on vividly in memory. Obviously since guys like Fernandinho and Aguero have been at the club for a very short time they haven't had the chance to forge a legacy that could come close to a guy like Goater's, but Aguero has at least got a big moment to include in his City resume.
CHN: If Manchester United offered you Wayne Rooney, how would you react?
B&B: I would definitely reject that offer. There isn't a player I despise more than Rooney. Part of that comes from him being at United, and part of it just comes from the person who he is. City have done well over the past couple years to offload the players who created bad headlines off the pitch, adding Rooney would be a nightmare in that regard.
CHN: Which is more important: A) Buying as many world class talents as possible or B) Managerial stability?
B&B: Managerial stability. Definitely. I am happy that we haven't gone the Chelsea route over these past 4+ seasons and gone through so many managers. Mancini was given his chance and put together the squad he wanted, and Pellegrini is being given the same opportunity. At the beginning of this project under Mark Hughes, the idea was definitely to just buy as many world class talents as possible, because it was necessary to give the club a higher profile, attract more players, and get to the Champions League as fast possible. Now though, stability and a 'holistic' approach (as has been thrown around so much), is the key.
CHN: One of the biggest strengths in the Manchester City squad is its depth. In your estimation, which player(s) who had small roles last year will make a big impact this year?
B&B: I'd say Dzeko, Rodwell, and maybe Garcia will have a bigger impact this season. Garcia never really got going last season and he has played both CB and CDM in the preseason, so he is yet to truly settle down with a tactical role. If he can get going though, it'll be almost like a new signing. Rodwell was fantastic whenever healthy last season (his game against Chelsea at home was one of the best individual performances of the season). If he can stay off the injury table, he can offer so much to the team. Dzeko's struggle for playing time with Mancini has been well documented, and he looks primed for more time under Pellegrini. A run of games + confidence could really kick him into great goal-scoring form. Having Navas around will help with that, too.
CHN: What would have to happen for you to consider this season a success?
B&B: Regaining the Premier League title, and a good run in Europe have to be the targets this season. The summer has gone well and there can be no excuses about not having enough European experience this time around. We've got the players and the coach to have more success in the Champions League. Domestically, we can't finish in second again. We have to build on last season, and we've made the changes we need to get first place.
CHN: Where will Manchester City finish in the table this season?
B&B: I'm going to say first place, but I'm ever the optimist. I don't see City finishing outside of the top two, anyways. But, I do think this season will give us a 3-team race for the title, as opposed to seeing two teams break away from the pack as recent seasons have shown.
CHN: What matchup are you most looking forward to on Monday?
B&B: I'm most interested in seeing the battle in the middle of the park. I think Cabaye has been one of the most underrated CM's in the league the past two years and Tiote is a good, aggressive player as well. So I'm interested in seeing how our new central midfield pairing will perform against them. I'd except us to have the majority of the possession, being at home, but I'm most interested in seeing how Toure and Fernandinho will be chemistry-wise, against good opposition.
CHN: What lineup do you expect Pellegrini to roll with? What XI would you choose?
B&B: I think Pellegrini will go with: Hart; Clichy, Lescott, Kompany, Zabaleta; Garcia, Toure, Fernandinho; Navas, Silva, Dzeko. Personally, I'd go with with the same defense, but I'd have Milner in for Garcia (and thus playing a bit further up the pitch) and Negredo in for Dzeko.
CHN: Give us a prediction for the match.
B&B: 3-1. I expect City to dominate most of the match but the defense will probably leak a goal at some point.
Thanks to sonics097 for answering these questions. Check out Bitter & Blue for all things Manchester City.