By Jonathan Birchall
PELLEGRINI ON THE DEFENSIVE IN QUIET JANUARY SALES
For once this season, Manchester City are set to err on the side of caution.
With 10 more goals than anyone else in the Premier League (and 22 more than their neighbours, the champions) this term, City have shown absolutely no mercy in going on the offensive. However, with the January transfer window nearing, the noises coming out of the club are largely of consolidation and a possible tweak here or there, rather than an all-out attack.
For City's sporting director Txiki Begiristain, the plan was always to get the club's transfer business done early ahead of Manuel Pellegrini's arrival in Manchester. The summer splurge of around £100 million (€120m) that brought Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Martin Demichelis to the club was designed to see City last the pace until purchasing again next summer.
On the whole, it has worked. City are a point off the top and are the bookies' favourites to take the title off Manchester United come May. However, Vincent Kompany's continued injury problems, coupled with Demichelis' inconsistent form, has left City vulnerable at the back and a three-man shortlist has been drawn up to strengthen Pellegrini's options in defence.
Porto pair Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi have both been watched extensively by City's scouting team but the Premier League side, keen to keep costs down, have had indications that both players would cost far beyond what City hope to pay.
As such, City are set to go head-to-head with Chelsea in the race to sign 19-year-old Saint-Etienne sensation Kurt Zouma, who is valued at around £10m (€12m).
Zouma, who is currently banned until February after breaking Sochaux midfielder Thomas Guerbert’s leg in November, has been watched closely by City’s chief scout Gary Worthington and is seen as a cheaper alternative to the Porto centre-back duo.
Pellegrini has spoken to Begiristain about the youngster and feels he could integrate him into first-team action quickly, despite his age, and is keen to sign a player who is able to play in the Champions League as City enter the knockout stages for the first time.
Zouma has been earmarked as a potential future captain of his national team by France boss Didier Deschamps, and City have been made aware of Chelsea's interest in the defender. Both clubs are preparing formal bids for the youngster, with Monaco also said to be monitoring his progress.
MATIC MOVE COULD SPELL THE END FOR GARCIA
While City have made strenghtening their defence a priority ahead of the January window, Goal can reveal that the club have also been tracking Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic in recent weeks, with scout Rob Newman having repeatedly watched the Serb.
The 25-year-old, who left Chelsea as part of David Luiz's move to Stamford Bridge in 2011, has been heavily linked with a return to Stamford Bridge in January, and City officials have been made aware of the west Londoners' firm interest in the midfielder.
Chelsea star Ramires, who himself played for Benfica, has backed the Serbia international to be a success at Stamford Bridge should he return to the capital.
“If it depends on me, then I would sign Matic on January 1. I’m convinced with him in the team, he would help us our obtain our objectives,” the Brazilian told Portuguese newspaper O Jogo on Boxing Day.
However, City, who have a good relationship with Benfica after signing Javi Garcia from them in August 2012, feel that the Spanish midfielder could be used as bait in any potential move for Matic. The Portuguese club would prefer a straight cash deal, however.
Garcia hasn't started a Premier League fixture since City's 1-0 defeat to Sunderland in early November, when he was substituted at half-time, and City's scouting team feel Matic would be a more dynamic presence in midfield if a deal can be done.
EASTLANDS EXPANSION SHOWS CITY SPREADING THEIR WINGS
City may be waiting until next summer before making major changes to the squad, but away from the pitch the club's rapid expansion is proving more agressive than ever before, with the stadium, training facilities and link with NYC FC all set for major changes over the next 12 months.
Building work on the Etihad Stadium will begin soon after the final ball of the season is kicked in May, with the South Stand expansion the first order of business ahead of the ground's increase in capacity to 61,000. As many as 4,500 fans have already committed themselves by paying a £100 (€120) deposit for new season tickets.
An announcement will also be made over the next couple of months with regards to what will be built on the once-controversial Bradford Colliery site that sits adjacent to the stadium, with plans for a leisure and tourism destination of 'national significance' having been put forward by Manchester City Council. The plot, which was the intended site for the proposed 'Supercasino' in 2007, is said to be interesting a number of global powerhouses in the leisure and technology industries.
Arguably most significant for City, however, is this summer's opening of the Etihad Campus - the club's new state-of-the-art training and academy facility.
The club are leaving Carrington at the end of the season and will move to the campus, which is being touted as one of the leading club facilities in world sport. The 6,000 trees that will surround the plot have started to be moved and planted in the area after having been grown in a secret location in nearby south Cheshire. The club's Platt Lane complex at Fallowfield, where City's academy sides play, will continue to be used by the club.
Meanwhile, just under 3,500 miles away, plans for New York City FC, 80 per cent of which is owned by City, are accelerating.
The MLS side, who are also part-owned by the New York Yankees, are set to begin playing in the 2015 season and head coach Jason Kreis is set to spend a year in Manchester to become indoctrinated in the 'City way' at the Etihad Campus.
The club are also waiting on the swearing in of new New York mayor Bill de Blasio next month before plans for a new stadium, almost certainly set to be based in Queens, can be fully planned and given the go-ahead.
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