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Can Roberto Mancini keep sizeable squad happy?

Manchester City's summer signings

By Marc Vesty

In the midst of a quiet transfer window, Manchester City have been breaking the mould, taking their spending past the £120m mark with the capture of midfielder James Milner.

City boss Roberto Mancini insists Milner will be his last signing in this transfer window following the acquisitions of Mario Balotelli, Jerome Boateng, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Aleksandr Kolarov.

But will Milner be the final piece in the jigsaw at Eastlands as Mancini attempts to turn City into genuine title challengers? Will the England international even be a regular in the starting line-up?

Since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought City in September 2008, City have spent more than £300m on a host of new players.

The intake started with the eye-catching capture of Robinho from Real Madrid for a British record £32.5m and has included the likes of Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Adam Johnson and Patrick Vieira.

With all of that expensively assembled talent at his disposal, Mancini could field two starting XIs that could challenge for honours. But how will the Italian fit the pieces together?

Manchester City's teams
Manchester City could field two strong starting XIs

Deciding where Milner slots into the team perhaps typifies the challenges facing Mancini, who has a wealth of talent at his diposal.

Milner played 36 games for Aston Villa last season, scoring seven goals, but former Villa midfielder Ian Taylor believes the former Leeds and Newcastle man will have to accept he will not get as much time on the pitch in a City shirt.

"Players expect to be in the team week in, week out if they are playing well but I can't see that Milner will play every week," said Taylor, who played more than 250 games for Villa.

"I don't think James Milner will have a regular spot at all, I don't think anybody will. Mancini is going to rotate the squad and he will end up with a lot of unhappy players."

Aleksandar Kolarov (£16m - Lazio)
Jerome Boateng (£10m - Hamburg)
David Silva (£24m - Valencia)
Yaya Toure (£24m - Barcelona)
Mario Balotelli (£24m - Inter Milan)
James Milner (£26m - Aston Villa)

One thing in Milner's favour is his versatility. He can play anywhere across midfield and possibly wide up front and at right-back.

But his favoured position is central midfield, an area where City also have Yaya Toure, Barry, De Jong, Vieira and academy product Michael Johnson vying for a start.

If Milner were to operate on the flanks, he would be battling with the likes of Spain's World Cup winner Silva, Brazil's Robinho and fellow England internationals Adam Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips.

In their opening game of the Premier League season last weekend - a goalless draw with Tottenham - City started with three defensive midfielders in Yaya Toure, Barry and De Jong.

It was a disjointed performance from the entire City team but Mark Lawrenson expects Mancini to stick with those three players in a 4-3-3 formation.

"Does that mean he plays Milner through the middle or out wide - left or right?" asked Match of the Day pundit, who believes Mancini must work fast to settle on his best team.

"I think Mancini bought all these players hoping they all fit in and then with injuries and suspensions it would work itself out," added the former Liverpool defender. "But with multi-millionaire owners you are under pressure to work it out very quickly."


Ian Cheeseman reports and commentates on City for BBC Radio Manchester and has followed the club for 40 years. He believes Milner will be predominantly used in a wide position.

"Mancini has said he will play Milner in the centre of midfield but I can't help thinking he will end up playing wide more often," said Cheeseman.

"He's got Adam Johnson to play on the left and he has been a revelation for City. I would imagine it will be between Milner and Wright-Phillips on the right, but I get the impression Wright-Phillips is not a long-term Mancini man.

"Ironically, if Milner is going to play central, I think it could be Barry, his old Villa team-mate, who could be in danger."

According to Cheeseman, Mancini likes his players to be able to play a wide range of roles, allowing him to change formation and playing style at a moment's notice.

"Mancini has got great flexibility with Jerome Boeteng, who can play anywhere across the back, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure, who can play at centre-back or defensive midfield, and Gareth Barry, who is able to play in midfield or left-back," said Cheeseman.

"Mancini likes players to be flexible and I expect City will move players around not just week by week but also during a game."

That is an idea supported by former Villa man Taylor.

"It looks like Mancini has bought Milner for the same reasons he bought Silva, who is very similar to Milner but left sided. They can play in the front three or in the midfield three."

Before the start of the 2009/10 season, former City boss Mark Hughes spent about £116m on six players but was still sacked just a few months later with his side sixth in the Premier League.

City eventually finished fifth - edged out of the much-desired fourth Champions League spot by Tottenham. Their answer to that setback? To spend big again.

However, building a squad is not as simple as it once was.

Carlos Tevez (25.5m - unattached)
Emmanuel Adebayor (£25m - Arsenal)
Kolo Toure (£14m - Arsenal)
Roque Santa Cruz (£18m - Blackburn)
Gareth Barry (£12m - Aston Villa)
Joelon Lescott (£22m - Everton)

Under new Premier League rules, Mancini must submit a 25-man squad on 1 September that contains eight 'home-grown' players - players who have spent at least 36 months with a club associated with the English or Welsh FA before the end of the season during which they turn 21.

City will have no problem fulfilling that requirement, while the new rule also states clubs can have an unlimited amount of under-21 players, of which City have six out of their current squad, which is almost at the 40-man mark.

But to ensure they comply with the new regulations, City will have to leave out some high-profile players.

Craig Bellamy has already joined Cardiff on a season-long loan while Robinho, Felipe Caicedo, Jo and Roque Santa Cruz have been linked with moves away from Eastlands.

Mancini believes he can gel a side capable of winning the Premier League this season but not everyone is convinced.

"It might take a couple of seasons before things settle down at Man City," said Taylor. "You can't throw a load of players together and expect them to hit it off straight away. It's going to take time."

Unfortunately for Mancini, time might be the one commodity he is not afforded at Eastlands.

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see also
FC Timisoara 0-1 Man City
19 Aug 10 |  Europe
In pics: Ian Cheeseman in Romania
18 Aug 10 |  TV and Radio
Milner completes move to Man City
18 Aug 10 |  Man City
Man City complete Balotelli deal
13 Aug 10 |  Man City
Manchester City sign Yaya Toure
02 Jul 10 |  Man City
Man City complete 24m Silva deal
14 Jul 10 |  Man City
Man City secure Boateng signing
05 Jun 10 |  Man City
Man City complete Kolarov signing
24 Jul 10 |  Man City
Man City ditch Hughes for Mancini
19 Dec 09 |  Man City

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