English Premiership

Senior Citizens must shine for deposed champions

2015-08-04 13:37
Vincent Kompany (Supplied)

Manchester - Manchester City has gambled on Raheem Sterling being the key signing that manager Manuel Pellegrini needs to lift his team back to the top of English soccer.

But it likely won't be the fortunes of the 20-year-old England winger that will determine whether City wins the Premier League title for the third time in five years.

Pellegrini needs big seasons from his three most important senior players if the third and, as it stands, final year of his tenure at Etihad Stadium is to end in his second English championship after winning in 2014.

Since 2010, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero have been the spine of a City team that has catapulted from drifting underachiever to formidable heavyweight, in England if not yet in Europe. But question marks hang over all three going into the new season.

Can Kompany regain the form that made him one of the world's top rated defenders two years ago?

Last season, the Belgian's performances were substandard - his positional play was poor, he dived into tackles, he was injured and, eventually, he couldn't get in the team despite being captain.

Is Toure up for the fight, and another tough year in what is widely seen as the most grueling division in European soccer?

The powerful central midfielder is the most destructive force in England at his peak but his motivation levels were questioned last season amid speculation about him leaving. He will be 33 by the time the season finishes.

And can Aguero stay fit and shoulder the burden of being City's chief striker in what is set to be a 4-5-1 formation, different to Pellegrini's traditional 4-4-2? The Argentina international was the league's top scorer last season with 26 goals, but has regular spells out injured that often prove damaging for his club.

With the players at Pellegrini's disposal, it will be a major surprise if City loses its now-accustomed spot in the top four. City has finished first or second for the last four years and, in Spain playmaker David Silva, has another of the most admired players in the English game.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says Arsenal should challenge his team for its championship this season. But it's most likely City that Mourinho fears most, even if Pellegrini's team put up an abject title defense last campaign that was over by early spring.

As well as Sterling, City has signed central midfielder Fabian Delph from Aston Villa as a replacement for the departed James Milner, whose absence deprives Pellegrini of his most versatile and hard-working squad member.

City's transfer business likely won't end there, with Pellegrini sure to sign another forward as Stevan Jovetic has joined Inter Milan on loan and Edin Dzeko reportedly is on his way to Roma.

The season is beginning with rumors already having returned of Bayern Munich's Pep Guardiola being lined up as Pellegrini's successor next summer. The Chilean incumbent knows his time could soon be up, hardly a strong platform on which to work.

But regaining the league trophy would make him arguably the most successful manager City has ever had.

Could that make the Abu Dhabi-based hierarchy think twice about letting him go?

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