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Manchester City aiming for Champions League improvement

Manuel Pellegrini brought calm, as well as the Premier League title, back to the Etihad Stadium last season, but competing the Champions League still remains a major hurdle.

Manchester City is attempting to make a greater impact in the Champions League while retaining the Premier League crown. Goal has a look at how Manuel Pellegrini's men are shaping up ahead of the new campaign.
 
INS

Manuel Pellegrini has expanded his options in defense and midfield ahead of the new season with Bacary Sagna providing direct competition for Pablo Zabaleta at right back, while Eliaquim Mangala is set to become Vincent Kompany’s regular partner in central defense, with Martin Demichelis, who turns 34 in December, providing a sturdy back-up option.

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Behind the back four another interesting battle is lined up with Willy Caballero, who is reunited with Pellegrini from their time together at Malaga, competing alongside Joe Hart.

Hart’s form dipped during last season and while the England international was able to recover, Caballero has the ability to apply serious pressure on his new teammate if another slip occurs.

In midfield, City has been lacking bite since the departure of Nigel de Jong in 2012 but the arrival of Fernando, nicknamed 'The Octopus' for his tackling prowess, should provide the security Pellegrini needed at times last term, particularly in Europe.

Frank Lampard has joined on loan until January but is unlikely to be handed a regular role. A more interesting option, judging by his performances during City’s preseason tour of the United States, is Bruno Zuculini.

The 21-year-old, who has arrived from Racing Club, has shown an excellent range of passing, the energy to operate as a box-to-box midfielder and the ability to time his runs in the opposing third. A loan move has been touted but the Argentine has shown the initial capabilities of being a useful squad player.

OUTS

Jack Rodwell has joined Sunderland after making just 16 Premier League appearances in two injury-hit seasons for City, while Costel Pantilimon also moved to Gus Poyet’s side on a free transfer.

Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry both saw their contracts expire this summer and the 31-year-old defender has moved to West Brom, while Barry has made the switch to Everton permanent after spending last season on loan at Goodison Park.

Marcos Lopez, City’s 18-year-old attacking midfielder, has joined Lille on a season-long loan and the Ligue 1 club’s coach Rene Girard has compared the player to Colombia’s James Rodriguez.
 
SQUAD ASSESSMENT

Pellegrini has addressed last season’s weaknesses with his summer acquisitions and City looks in good shape to defend the Premier League title.

One area which could concern Pellegrini in the early stages of the season is in attack following the injury to Alvaro Negredo, who is set to be sidelined until the end of September, at the earliest.

Sergio Aguero missed a large part of preseason due to Argentina reaching the final of the World Cup and Pellegrini has warned that the 26-year-old will be eased into the new campaign in an effort to minimize his risk of injury.

Aguero started just 20 times in the Premier League last season, while a thigh muscle disrupted the striker’s World Cup involvement after the group stages this summer.

The onus, therefore, will be on Stevan Jovetic, who also has injuries to blame for his restricted appearances in a City shirt following his arrival from Fiorentina last summer.

The Montenegro international featured just 11 times in the Premier League last term but his preseason displays have been been one of the biggest positives for City this summer, and he now has the chance to strike up an early partnership with Edin Dzeko. 

STAND-OUT STAR

Yaya Toure bulldozed his way through defenses last season and his 20 goals played a significant part in City’s Premier League title victory.

For the third year in a row, Toure’s agent Dmitri Seluk claimed the Ivorian is unhappy. This summer, Seluk accused City of disrespecting the player over an apparent lack of acknowledgement on his birthday.

Toure insists he will remain with City "for as long as possible" following a summer of uncertainty.

With the exception of two-month spell last season where he scored just once between the start of October and the end of November, Toure remained consistent in front of goal and Pellegrini will be looking for much of the same this term.


                                                                                                              *2013-14 Premier League stats
 
MANAGER

The arrival of Pellegrini last summer brought a tranquility to City which was lacking during Roberto Mancini’s reign.

The Italian had numerous bust-ups with Mario Balotelli, while his public criticism of Samir Nasri failed to lift the Frenchman’s displays.

Even David Silva admitted Pellegrini’s arrival has had a positive impact on the City players.

"He's made it a happy place,” the Spaniard said in May. “He's brought a joy and happiness around the place.”

Calm is still the mood for City and Pellegrini. The 60-year-old refused to be drawn into any mind games last season and there’s been little to suggest that the club’s approach to defending the Premier League title will be any different.

A GOOD 2014-15 WOULD BE...

Fending off advances from Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United to retain the Premier League crown will be the main aim but significant strides in Europe continue to elude City.

Pellegrini’s men were humbled at home by Bayern Munich in the group stages last season, and while they coasted through to the knockout phase with little fuss, they lost both home and away legs to Barcelona in the last 16.

Last season’s 3-2 win over Bayern at the Allianz Arena looks even more remarkable given the absence of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero but with his key players available, Pellegrini will be hoping his side can finally match Europe’s elite.

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