Robin Sainty: There is a positive feel about City after big issues are resolved
PUBLISHED: 09:57 03 August 2018
It doesn’t seem five minutes since I was walking away, embarrassed, from Hillsborough, but after one of the best World Cups that I can remember, the Championship season is already upon us.
I think that most City fans have been impressed by Stuart Webber’s work over the summer. The sales of Josh Murphy and James Maddison for large fees have effectively filled the black hole left in the club’s finances after parachute payments ended, but the quality of players brought in with the limited transfer kitty that remained has surprised many people.
To me, this season’s squad looks deeper and more balanced, at least on paper, and, more importantly, seems to have addressed the two biggest concerns for many fans.
City found goals hard to come by last season, a situation that had to be rectified, and with two of their top scorers sold and Nelson Oliveira persona non grata, I think that we were all worried, but the new strike force of Jordan Rhodes and Teemu Pukki has looked promising in pre-season.
Both have scored consistently at a high level in the past, with Pukki regularly involved in European competition with Brondby, but he will need to prove that he has learnt from his poor season at Celtic four years ago, while Rhodes has found goals harder to come by in the last couple of seasons.
There are, of course, two ways of looking at this, dependent upon how much is in your glass. The positive view would be that they have succeeded before and now have points to prove, while the opposite perspective is that having experienced failure in the past they are forever tainted.
At the other end of the pitch the excellence of Angus Gunn was always going to be hard to replace and with neither Michael McGovern nor Remi Matthews grabbing their chance in pre-season Webber and Daniel Farke have taken decisive action in respect of such a key position by securing the highly-experienced Tim Krul, another player with a point to prove, in this case after a serious injury.
Elsewhere, what I have seen of the warm-up games suggests that Onel Hernandez will be a big player for City this season and could be the key to getting the best out of Rhodes. Hernandez showed only flashes in his few appearances last season but looks to have bulked up without losing pace, and his desire to constantly get at his full-back is a marked contrast to Murphy’s frequent reticence. He could be a handful.
I also think that Kenny McLean could prove to be a revelation, both in terms of his ability to play as a box-to-box midfielder, but also because he is a genuine goal threat both from set-pieces and in open play, while Emiliano Buendia will inject some South American flair and the return of Louis Thompson will add power and drive to City’s engine room.
Of course, it remains to be seen how the squad will gel now that the serious stuff is starting, but whereas last year City were something of a one-trick pony, enabling opponents who were able to keep Maddison quiet to take control of games, there is a diversity about this group that is very promising.
I wouldn’t like to predict how that will translate into the helter skelter of the Championship at this stage, and much will depend upon whether Farke can make the 4-1-4-1 system he favoured at Dortmund and used extensively in pre-season work against sides flooding midfield.
That formation has seen City moving the ball quicker and looking more threatening as a result over the last month, but if he has to revert to three at the back with two holding midfielders it would mean having to reduce his attacking options in return for greater defensive solidity and could be seen as a backward step.