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WhoScored: Zabaleta-Sterling a key battle

Tactics And Analysis 2 hours ago
Read
Jun 13, 2014

Sagna and Zabaleta will fight for place

Manchester City have completed the signing of Bacary Sagna on a three-year contract.

Following City's expressed desire some time ago to have two top-class performers in each position, the arrival of Bacary Sagna -- while perhaps looking odd on the surface -- gives the club two excellent options down the right side of the field. Ostensibly, Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta will find themselves vying for playing time; both have the distinction of being absolute fliers when it comes to advancing to give width and support to swift counterattacks. City's flying attacks up both flanks will suit the hard-running Sagna down to the ground.

From reasonably humble beginnings in Mark Hughes' City side, Zabaleta has turned himself -- through sheer effort and a singular will to succeed -- into one of the Premier League's finest right-sided defensive specimens while cementing a place in Argentina's national team. He's improved every season he has played at City, reaching the point of automatic selection and becoming a darling of the Etihad faithful. Add to this an impeccable injury record for a defender whose trademark is to finish a game with one body part or another bent out of shape or bleeding profusely, and you might be tempted to ask yourself just what the Frenchman has gotten himself in to.

The answer is simple: an adventure.

The defence is the only part of the City side, which captured their second Premier League title in three seasons, that is in obvious need of bolstering. Zabaleta and captain Vincent Kompany are the bulwarks of a back four that often looked unnecessarily exposed last season, and if City are to embark on another full-blooded assault on the game's trophies next season, a squad that has sufficient depth and breadth will be necessary. With the transfer of Porto's long-legged defensive midfielder Fernando nearly complete, City are busy stocking up in the departments that most need their attention.

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If the more elaborate of the summer's transfer rumours prove to be unfounded, the club will start next season with both Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure on board. It will indeed then be all about shoring up the defence for a campaign that will see the club defending both the Premier League title and the Capital One Cup, while attempting to break through into the flower-bedecked hinterlands of the latter stages of the Champions League.

With this -- and the complicated financial fair play punishment handed out to the club -- in mind, Sagna will come in more than handy. As a player whose long years of service in England allow him to be assimilated as homegrown, his addition makes sense in a number of directions.

City's hunger for success in the Champions League is of particular relevance in this case. Two league titles in such a short space of time after a gargantuan 44-year wait means, inevitably, that focus will begin to shift from the bread and butter to the more exotic. European success has escaped City comfortably since the Cup Winners' Cup -- a trophy long since retired -- was secured in a rainstorm in Vienna's Prater Stadium in 1970. That is a long time to wait for any meaningful progress on the Continent, and it is a well-aired wish of the club's owners to show more prominently in Europe's premier club competition.

Perhaps the only person the move does not make immediate sense to is the player himself. Sagna leaves behind a well-worn furrow down Arsenal's right side, where he has been an excellent and consistent performer. He is removing himself from the Emirates at a time when Arsenal's star is in gentle ascendancy after their FA Cup triumph. He's left that for a very tasty competition with Zabaleta for City's starting right-back place.

Sagna will follow a path that's become well-worn in recent years from north London to the blue half of Manchester -- a route that has proved lucrative in both personal financial terms and on a professional front. Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy will not have regretted their moves from red and white to sky blue for one minute, and Bacary Sagna will hope to feel exactly the same about his geographical preferences.