Mangala arrival timely for Man City
It was very inconsiderate of one of my closest friends to refuse even a small screen showing the Community Shield at his wedding on Sunday. I was an usher, while there was an Arsenal fan in the role of best man -- and the pair of us spent much of the post-ceremony, pre-meal moments refreshing Twitter (with little phone signal) to find out details.
Just before kickoff, I told him: "You'll do all right today, I don't fancy that defence."
I didn't realise quite how right I would be.
On Monday, the Sky Blues finally confirmed the signing of Eliaquim Mangala from FC Porto, following the long, drawn-out process since the saga began in January. Whether he'll be thrown into the starting lineup for the season opener against Newcastle on Sunday is one matter, but there are certainly issues to sort out following the defending on show at Wembley.
Ahead of the 3-0 Community Shield defeat, manager Manuel Pellegrini couldn't have done much more in terms of his attack. It was pretty close to being full strength, with maybe one or two changes needing to be made to reach those heights, and it should have been good enough to cause Arsenal some problems.
However, even the most stunning of castles will collapse in on themselves should they have been built on a foundation of sand, and boy does a back four of Gael Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov, Dedryck Boyata and Matija Nastasic need some serious attention from an architect. Individually, they're not bad players -- but they're not a comfortable defensive setup by any stretch of the imagination.
One was out of position, one was an inexperienced youngster and one spent most of last season injured -- all in front of a goalkeeper who's new to the fold, too. It's no wonder the Arsenal front line inflicted Pellegrini's heaviest defeat while with his latest club.
When facing a defender-lite start to his City managerial career, the Chilean went with a tried and trusted solution in Martin Demichelis -- and once he'd settled into the team he did well, despite criticisms from outside the club. However, Pellegrini appears to know the Argentine isn't a long-term solution and has spent the best part of six months looking to build for the future.
At 23 years old and being touted as one of the best young centre-backs in Europe, the Blues have got something of a coup. An expensive coup, but that was always going to be the case when the player was subject to third-party ownership -- something that is banned from the Premier League. It was that which caused the deal to take so long, with Porto receiving 30.5 million euros (24.3 million pounds) for their 56.67 percent share of the Frenchman.
- Brassell: Third-party ownership here to stay
Being a naturally left-footed player will work in his favour, too. Demichelis is a player who always prefers the ball on his right side, which can present some awkwardness at times when being deployed on the left of Vincent Kompany. It was partly the reason the partnership between Kompany and Joleon Lescott worked so well in its heyday, with them both able to play on their natural side.
It does, however, raise questions over the future of Nastasic. Given how inexperienced he is -- at a senior level he's played just 79 competitive matches -- and the talent he displayed in his first year with the Sky Blues, the club would be fools to let him leave on a permanent basis. Having spent much of last season injured, though, the Serbian needs to play if he's to be able to develop. Mangala will surely move ahead of him in the pecking order, so maybe a loan move will be on the cards?
Throughout the whole of the first half of 2013-14, City didn't have a settled defence. This summer, Pellegrini has made moves to ensure that he can have that for his first-ever defence of a Premier League title, adding Bacary Sagna as well as Mangala to the protective options. Should there be injury problems again this time around, his back line should be able to cope (provided there's some semblance of shape, unlike at Wembley at the weekend).
Even if the Community Shield performance wasn't one that would appear to set the season off on the right footing, it does look like the manager has met his objectives for the summer transfer window. All the weak spots from last time out have been given support.
Frankly, I'm sure many fans would prefer for the full-strength defence to be fit for the trip to St James' Park on Sunday, rather than risking anybody who returned late from international duty picking up a knock in the season curtain-raiser because they've missed some of preseason.