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Aug 13, 2014

Five Questions: Manchester City

Manchester City will attempt to do what only Manchester United and Chelsea have achieved: retain the championship in the Premier League era.

And in the blink of an eye, the football season is back with us. It hardly seems like two minutes ago that Vincent Kompany was lifting the Premier League trophy or that England were letting us down at a major international tournament -- and, in just a few day's time, the Premier League will be kicking off and Manchester City will be heading north for a pretty tough opening fixture.

Ahead of the season, though, there are five questions that are facing the Blues. They'll either be answered in the coming few days or over the start of the season; either way, they'll need to be addressed at some point.

Have lessons been learnt from the last time the club defended the Premier League title?

Certainly, part of this question has already been answered positively. In 2012-13, when the Blues were last defending champions, they went about their recruitment drive very badly. That Jack Rodwell was the first signing of the summer was a mark of how Roberto Mancini had failed to get his prime targets. But that he joined on the morning of the Community Shield spoke volumes too -- preseason was virtually over and it left no time for him to bed in. The remaining signings came pretty much on deadline day and it was more disruptive than helpful.

David Silva, left, was a key player in the Blues' 2013-14 title run. He's just signed a new five-year contract to stay at the Etihad.

Off the pitch, the Blues have done well this summer. Only the saga of Eliaquim Mangala dragged on -- largely down to the issue of third party ownership -- and even then you get the impression the club knew it was coming, given he'd filmed his introductory video over a week before the deal was announced.

All that remains is for the performances to match up. Throughout 2012-13 they were fairly poor for a side that wanted to retain a title. 2014-15 must be better, given how the club's rivals have strengthened.

Beyond the first choice players, does the defence have adequate strength?

Alarm bells will have been ringing following the defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield, however fans will (quite rightly) point to missing personnel in the back-line as the reason why the Gunners' attack had a field day. However, that weakened back four could be called upon at different times during the season should there be injuries and suspensions -- fans only need to think back to August 2013, when Manuel Pellegrini was playing Javi Garcia out of position because he had no other options.

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It's unlikely Gael Clichy will need to play at right back, while Dedryck Boyata won't be involved too frequently this coming season. However, fans will be hoping to see more of Matija Nastasic, following injury troubles, and Aleksandar Kolarov has worked himself into being the first choice left-back.

The back up defence may each be comfortable when surrounded by first choice players. However, in the event of injuries and suspensions to a couple of key defenders, are the players the Blues have in reserve going to cut the mustard if they have to play together?

Has preseason been beneficial to the players?

There are two types of football fans: those who think preseason results matter and those who don't. I quite clearly fall into the latter camp -- given that the Blues team that has been drawing games and then losing on penalties in the U.S. is much changed from the one that will start against Newcastle on Sunday.

However, the very fact that the likes of Scott Sinclair and Boyata have been involved throughout the warm-ups on a regular basis raises quite an important issue. Have the first team players who WILL be in the team at the weekend had enough preparation time or are they not ready for the rigours of the season?

PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS

As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?

Those who played in the World Cup were the last to link up with Pellegrini. They may have done plenty of fitness work, but that's not an adequate substitute for actually playing in matches. While preseason results are meaningless, the games are not and fans could be concerned Sunday is coming slightly too soon for a few important names.

Who is going to miss out on European football?

Following the financial fair play ruling, the Blues were hit with a reduced Champions League squad for the coming season. Instead of the usual 25-man squad for the tournament, they've been restricted to 21 (of which five must be home grown). This presents a problem as, even if Garcia's proposed move to Zenit St Petersburg goes ahead, there is one too many foreigners at the club for them all to be available.

There are 17 players with the Blues that will be fighting for 16 spots in the European squad -- assuming all five homegrown spots are filled. Pellegrini will have to make a decision on who doesn't get a slot when the registration window comes along. It'll be an easier decision should Alvaro Negredo still be injured, but should he have a quicker-than-expected recovery, there'll be someone who's disappointed.

Is there anywhere that the remaining 20 million pound transfer budget needs to be spent?

This is a slightly difficult question to pose, given the number of undisclosed transfers that have happened -- however, if reported figures are to be believed, the Blues' net spend for this summer is somewhere in the region of 29  million pounds. That leaves a budget of 20 million from the UEFA cap that was imposed from the financial fair play punishment that Pellegrini could dip into should there be any late emergencies in the transfer window.

Last year, there was the central defensive problem and should something similar happen again in 2014-15, the manager should have some spare funds to dabble with. The only problem he may face on that front is the restriction of 17 foreigners and eight homegrown players in the allowed 25-man squad for the Premier League.

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