Our regular feature picks out a club’s best XI from the Premier League era - this time, it’s Manchester City
Goalkeeper - Joe Hart
Let’s get this out of the way early doors: the exercise of picking City’s best team of the Premier League era is pretty similar to what Roberto Mancini does every Friday at the moment. Which is to say that prior to the arrival of the Abu Dhabi United Group, there wasn’t much to rave about.
But that aside, Hart has seen off some decent competition here - Shay Given and David James both plied their trade for City, although most would agree that their stints at the club did not correspond with their best form. For an exhibition of why Hart has already topped their performances, a highlights reel of Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund should be all you need.
Defender - Pablo Zabaleta
Signed a month before Manchester City were bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group, Zabaleta has been along for the ride at City for longer than most of his teammates on this list, yet he has as much class as many of them as well. Having pushed Micah Richards into central defence for much of the past four years, the Argentine has gone past 100 caps for the club and has held onto his position despite the deluge of arrivals.
His commitment to the club - which was illustrated when he snapped up a new contract a year ago - and his no-frills attitude have led Zabaleta to become something of a cult hero at the Etihad in recent times.
Defender - Vincent Kompany
There have been many signings with higher profiles, and better skills, over the last four years at City, but the quality which Kompany has brought is arguably more important. In a team full of superstars that’s been drawn to the Etihad by big money and potential success, Kompany’s calmness has been a crucial ingredient.
Which is not to say that he isn’t a top-class defender, because there’s no doubt that the Belgian has provided the most steadying influence of all the defenders to arrive since he signed for £6 million ahead of the 2008-09 season. A new six-year contract this summer - the longest of its kind in City’s history - was confirmation of his value to the club.
Defender - Micah Richards
Wins the central defence berth alongside Kompany, yet we’re still waiting to see Richards’ full potential play out over an extended period. There was a time when he was the brightest prospect at City, having come through their youth academy, but Richards has struggled with injury over the past two years and been crowded out by expensive signings.
That said Richards is still only 24, has loads of talent and belief, and still makes this list ahead of the more experienced Kolo Toure and the likes of Joleon Lescott. If he gets his head focused and sorts out his injury niggles, a big future awaits.
Defender - Gael Clichy
Not a great deal of competition for left back really - Clichy has been pretty decent since his arrival from Arsenal just over a year ago, which is enough to see him beat off the likes of Wayne Bridge, Nedum Onuoha and Michael Ball. Not to mention Ben Thatcher. in fact, Aleksandar Kolarov is the only real challenger, but his attacking style has effectively turned him into something approaching a supersub.
All of which is not to take too much away from Clichy, who has the sort of stature typical of the world’s best left backs, and is excellent whether going forward or back.
Midfielder - Nigel de Jong
A slightly controversial pick, but this is about picking the players who have achieved great peaks with the club, and De Jong had a knack for producing outstanding performances in the biggest games of the season - his dominant showing in a 2-1 win over Chelsea in 2009 remains one of the finest by a City player since they returned to the top flight. Gareth Barry may be reliable and consistent, but he’s never touched those heights.
The Dutchman moved on in the summer, having struggled to gain a regular place in the City side during their title-winning campaign in 2011-12, but he had played his part in City’s evolution from mid-table nobodies to noisy neighbours to Premier League champions.
Midfielder - Yaya Touré
Used as a defensive midfielder during his time at Barcelona, Toure has grown into one of the most dynamic midfielders in world football during his time at City. As a result the likes of Samir Nasri and James Milner have had to settle for bench roles as Toure has become one of the first names on Roberto Mancini’s team sheet.
Having claimed a Premier League title and an FA Cup during his time in Manchester, a second Champions League crown (to add to the one he won with Barcelona) must surely be a priority at the age of 29.
Midfielder - David Silva
The architect of City’s 2011-12 Premier League win, Silva has been a delight to watch since he arrived at the club in 2010 - no matter who you support. The Spaniard has a left foot that oozes class, and that is worth the entry fee to most Premier League games alone.
Silva’s 15 assists put him on top of the pile during the 2011-12 season, and earned him numerous man of the match awards as City went on to win the Premier League. Already a winner of two European championships and a World Cup yet still only 26, it’s slightly frightening to wonder just how good he could become if he continues to improve going forward.
Midfielder - Georgi Kinkladze
Perhaps Kinkladze wasn’t what City needed when he arrived for the 1995-96 season, which would see the club relegated from the Premier League - a classy dribbler prone to mazy runs and daring solo efforts is a luxury that not many can afford when they’re at the wrong end of the table. Yet the other side of the coin is that in a season full of low points, the Georgian provided the highlights to keep fans entertained - none better than in the 2-1 win over Southampton, when he beat five defenders before chipping the keeper.
One wonders how Kinkladze might have fared in happier times for City - how would he fit into the current side? Unlike many of today’s players, he would certainly have his feet firmly on the ground. Despite being blessed with outrageous skills, there was no sense of entitlement and he stayed on at City until they fell into the Second Division.
Striker - Carlos Tevez
If anyone has encapsulated Manchester City’s rise from the down-and-out brothers of the city to the high achievers, it’s Carlos Tevez. Although United fans will point out that it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision not to retain the forward, Tevez’s ‘Look at me now, Fergie’ t-shirt as City celebrated their Premier League triumph said it all.
Sure, he’s had his hissy fits and threatened to leave, but when he’s been on the pitch he’s been the most consistently prolific striker that City have had in the Premier League era, and played a major part in building the club up to champion status.
Striker - Sergio Agüero
It took just one Premier League game for Agüero to confirm that his class could be translated into English football. For some insular British columnists it was that game against Swansea which announced the Argentine as a superstar but of course Agüero had been scoring for fun in La Liga long before that.
There’s no doubt that he scored the most important goal of the 2011-12 season - not only did it clinch the title, but had City missed out on the trophy then one wonders whether the club would ever have recovered from the mental scarring. Instead Agüero’s strike will live long in the memory - of City Fans, United fans, and even the neutral.
Bench: Shay Given, Kolo Touré, Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Mario Balotelli