Pitchside

How will Manchester City line up this season?

Pitchside

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Manchester City enter the season as reigning champions but the competition this time around is likely to be fiercer than ever as they fight for the Premier League title once again.

Chelsea look formidable after a fine summer’s work, Arsenal have strengthened well and surely there’s no way Manchester United will be as bad as they were last season.

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City will also be looking to make a proper attempt to win the Champions League, so the onus has very much been on Manuel Pellegrini’s side to improve their squad.

They have done so rather unspectacularly so far, with the only confirmed arrivals being goalkeeper Willy Caballero, right-back Bacary Sagna and midfielder Fernando.

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However, Frank Lampard is also poised to join on a shock short-term loan from sister club New York City and promising centre-back Eliaquim Mangala is widely reported to be on the brink of completing a £32m move from Porto.

We will assume for the purposes of argument that both players will complete their moves to the Etihad Stadium. So, how will City line up this season?

FRANK LAMPARD AND A CONGESTED MIDFIELD

City's bizarre loan capture of Lampard until the end of the season - yet to be officially confirmed by the club - seems entirely superfluous. At 36 years of age, and a fading force, Lampard is unlikely to feature from the start for City and it appears his move is really designed to help him maintain his fitness ahead of the start of the MLS season in March.

Were he to fit into City's starting XI he would have to occupy one of the deeper roles, presumably alongside Fernandinho, whose energetic displays would help cover for Lampard's increasing lack of mobility. That would also mean pushing Yaya Toure further forward after he struck up such a good partnership with the Brazilian and David Silva - who often played off the striker last season - subsequently moving into a wide position, pushing either Jesus Navas or James Milner out of the team.

Lampard does not have the dynamism to play further forward and his trademark late runs into the box became ever less frequent with Chelsea. Here's how City might line up if Lampard was crowbarred into the team that finished last season:

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[ALL TEAM IMAGES CREATED WITH OUR BEST11 TOOL: CREATE YOUR PREDICTED XIS NOW]

However, while Lampard is unlikely to play for City, the midfield will shift subtly thanks to another summer signing: Fernando. Another Brazilian, the man nicknamed The Octopus is a pure holding midfielder in the Claude Makelele mould, who loves breaking up opposition attacks and sticking his boot in.

At times last season - notably in the Champions League against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and against Chelsea in the league - the screening job performed by Toure and Fernandinho was simply inadequate.

Fernando will be used as a genuine holder when Pellegrini deploys a more robust midfield to counter the best teams on the continent. As the player himself has said: "The manager told me direct that he needed a player that was good defensively to improve the team. City have a really good team. They are the champions. But I feel I can bring a better balance, defensively. I get my pleasure from stopping the ball and passing it to allow strikers to score."

This is how City could line up in tough Champions League fixtures and difficult Premier League games:

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In games when City are overwhelming favourites, Toure could push further forward to make it more of a 4-2-3-1 than 4-3-3, or Fernando could be sacrificed altogether, meaning City revert to the system which helped them to the Premier League last season. As seen below, this would see either Silva or another striker join first choice Sergio Aguero in attack.

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Of central importance is getting the best out of Toure, who scored 20 goals in the Premier League last season. If he is shunted up the pitch to make room for Fernando, it could limit the effectiveness of his driving runs from deep which were such a feature of last season. Still, at least he now says he is happy to stay at the club after a summer of turmoil.

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A ROLE FOR JOVETIC?

It is widely assumed that Aguero is City's number one striker - and with good reason - while Edin Dzeko's superb form towards the end of last season means he is highly valued too. However, there could be another option for Pellegrini this season, particularly as Aguero is unlikely to be fit for the start of the season having only just reported back for training after an injury-hit World Cup.

Stevan Jovetic scored just three Premier League goals in 13 appearances last season following a £22m move from Fiorentina as persistent fitness problems saw him drift out of the reckoning. However, in Aguero's absence he has bagged five goals in three games in pre-season - and against teams of the calibre of Liverpool, AC Milan and Olympiacos in the ludicrously-named International Champions Cup in America.

Now, very little can be read into pre-season games, as the tweet below suggests, but there is no doubt Jovetic is looking in form ahead of what traditionally is a more productive second season for young foreign imports.

Pellegrini said last week of the Montenegrin: "I have said before that Stevan is a very important player for us, and he proved again what an asset he can be. He had a number of different injuries last season but now he is fully fit. I'm sure if he continues in this way he will show why he is here. If he's fit all the year, he will be a very important player for us."

If Aguero is unfit to start the season and Jovetic does work his way into the starting XI, here's how City could line up in their opening fixture against Newcastle on August 17.

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Given Jovetic can also perform in a wide role or as the lone striker, it's a fair bet to suggest we will see rather more of him this season. But remember: Alvaro Negredo is also in contention up front, despite rumours linking him away from the club following a quiet second half of last season.

ALL CHANGE AT THE BACK?

Now, so far our predicted Manchester City XIs have assumed a state of stasis in defence, but this may not be the case with City recruiting two classy players and with another on the way. In fact, this could be a season of considerable change in the team's rearguard.

Perhaps the least heralded of City's summer signings has been the capture of goalkeeper Willy Caballero, but it could become the most significant. Joe Hart will surely start the season as No. 1 but his place is under pressure like never before with the arrival of a player who Pellegrini used as his first-choice at Malaga.

The two have shared duties during pre-season and Pellegrini showed last year he is no respector of reputation when it comes to Hart, having dropped England's No. 1 for a period in the first half of last season. Costel Pantilimon replaced him them, and Caballero is a much better player. It is not out of the realms of possibility that Hart will lose his place by the end of the season.

The free transfer signing of Sagna from Arsenal is a cute one and means City now boast two of the most consistent right-backs in the Premier League given Pablo Zabaleta's largely excellent performances. The two will likely rotate - much as Sagna's former Arsenal team-mate Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov do on the left - as both players boast similar skill-sets. This will keep City's options fresh as they challenge on four fronts.

Finally, the imminent arrival of Mangala from Porto solves the Martin Demichelis conundrum. The Argentina international became a punchline last season following some high-profile errors, even if captain Vincent Kompany just as culpable in this regard. With Matija Nastasic's developed stunted by injury, Mangala - who went to the World Cup with France - looks likely to slot into the back four as soon as he has acclimatised to English football.

In the second half of the season, perhaps we will see City lining up more like this:

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OUR CONCLUSION

City have a tough task in holding onto their Premier League crown - especially with Chelsea taking some important steps forward - but signing Mangala could help shore up their defence and Fernando will undoubtedly add steel to midfield. As such, they should be a more commanding team and this will especially benefit them in Europe against teams of the quality of Bayern and Madrid.

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They must be careful that they do not lose the vivacity which saw them surpass the 100-goal mark in the Premier League last season though, as well as ensuring that Toure continues to operate as the most potent midfielder in England and is happy with his role.

If City get their midfield transition right, then they will again be a force to be reckoned with.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport

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