Manchester City-West Brom Preview
While the one-year contract extension may have bought time for manager Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City are expecting the £49 million it took to pry Raheem Sterling from Liverpool to be a definitive investment in bringing a title back to the blue side of town.
Sterling is expected to make his highly anticipated debut Monday when City begin their bid for a third Premier League crown in five seasons at The Hawthorns versus West Bromwich Albion.
Despite a title in his first season in 2013-14 and a runner-up finish last campaign, City's failure to make an impact in the Champions League has led to nearly non-stop whisper campaigns regarding Pellegrini's job security. This summer was no different as Pep Guardiola's name has been bandied about since the Spaniard has yet to sign an extension with Bayern Munich, and Jurgen Klopp is a man without a club as the German has taken a sabbatical following his departure from Dortmund.
City may have at least put a temporary halt to the rumour mill Friday by giving the Chilean and his staff a one-year extension through 2017, saying the "agreement allows Manuel to focus on the challenge of guiding a team capable of both fighting for domestic titles and competing for European honours."
With UEFA ending the club's restrictions on transfer spending and Champions League roster sizes earlier this summer, City resumed their splashy spending ways. The biggest purchase came with the protracted transfer saga of Sterling, who was hellbent to play in Europe's top competition while Liverpool was equally determined to get the maximum payout for the talented but still unproven 20-year-old starlet.
City's money won out in the end, and now it's on Sterling - who had seven goals and seven assists in 35 league matches for the Reds in 2014-15 - to quickly mesh with last season's top scorer in the Premier League, Sergio Aguero, as well as Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri and fellow newcomer Fabian Delph in what could be a devastating midfield attack.
"With the world-class players we have here, we are capable of winning things year in and year out," the England international told City's official website. "The more quality players that are around you, the more quality it brings out in you so I can't wait to get started because it can only improve my game as well."
Though the midfield oozes quality, depth at forward behind Aguero may be a concern since both Stevan Jovetic (Inter Milan), Alvaro Negredo (Valencia) have already departed, and Edin Dzeko has passed his medical to join AS Roma. City have been linked to Wolfsburg's Kevin de Bruyne - the 2014-15 Bundesliga player of the year - but the 24-year-old reportedly has a price tag similar to Sterling and has yet to give his club a transfer request.
Aguero, Silva and Nasri missed practise time mid-week due to a virus, but the trio is expected to play. Delph, who tweaked his hamstring in City's loss to Real Madrid in Melbourne during the ICC, is being held out of the opener along with Gael Clichy (ankle).
West Brom finished 13th in the table on 44 points last season, and manager Tony Pulis is counting on the duo of Saido Berahino and new acquisition but veteran striker Rickie Lambert to breathe life into an offence that totaled 38 goals in 2014-15 - better than only four squads in the top flight.
"Rickie's played at lower level and each time he's stepped up he's done well," Pulis told the team's official website about England international Lambert. "He's a great lad and in Saido we have a wonderful talent, along with other youngsters we have."
Berahino had a team-leading 20 goals across all competitions, including 14 in league play. Despite a paucity of crosses - the Baggies averaged a league-low 12.8 - they still recorded a Premier League-best 16 goals on headers.
Man City eased to a double over West Brom last season, sweeping the two matches by a 6-1 aggregate to extend their series winning streak in league play to seven. The Baggies are 0-1-10 versus City since a 2-1 win in December 2008, getting outscored 28-7 in that span.