By Chris Harris
Brace yourselves for another slew of sensationalist Manchester City headlines this summer. The richest club in the land were linked with pretty much a player a day during the January transfer window - including a supposed £100million move for Kaka. We can expect more of the same when this season is put to bed.
In reality, City will probably not throw silly money in the silly season. Mark Hughes could make a marquee signing but he is well aware of the young talent bubbling under at Eastlands. City won the Youth Cup last season and have reached the Semi-Finals this season. Their manager will make room for the cream of the club's young crop.
Two home-grown talents, Stephen Ireland and Daniel Sturridge, were on target when City beat Arsenal 3-0 at Eastlands back in November - the last time Arsène Wenger's side suffered defeat in the Premier League. So-called lesser lights like Ireland will be every bit as important as City's big-money signings when they look to complete the 'double' at Emirates Stadium.
We asked Chris Bailey of the Manchester Evening News for a City perspective ahead of Saturday's game. Read on for his take on the takeover, the contribution of Robinho, the transfer policy this summer and City's tactical approach this weekend.
THE STORY SO FAR
"City are still in a state of transition, I would say. They are at the beginning of the journey rather than the end. They have pulled away from the platform if you like but they are nowhere near their destination. The transformation of the side started with the arrival of Robinho last summer and that continued in January with the arrival of Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy and Shay Given. The squad is taking shape but I think it will take another couple of transfer windows before it's probably finalised."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Robinho's form has been in and out. It's well documented that his form has been much better at home than away. He has ground to a halt scoring-wise, he hasn't scored in this calendar year. Frankly, the fans are a little divided on him at the moment because if you're not getting the goals and the brilliance, you don't always get the work rate to go with it. He does split opinion down the middle but there's no doubt he's a supremely talented footballer and when he's on song he can win any game against any defence. It's been a mixed first year for him but he's had to get used to new training methods, he's probably had to train harder than he's ever had to before under Mark Hughes. There have been a lot of Uefa Cup games so maybe he will be better in his second season."
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
"Probably Stephen Ireland. He missed the last game and is a slight doubt for Saturday but he is the one who has improved the most. He went away last summer and took a look at himself and decided that if he wanted to be a top-line Premier League player he would need to do something about it. He got himself a personal trainer, an Army trainer, and he spent last summer pounding up and down hills in Glossop which is just outside Manchester. He really got himself super-fit, cleared his mind and he came back a different player. He's almost lived up to the tag of 'Superman' which he gave himself last year when he scored a goal and revealed his pants! But he's been outstanding.
"You look at Mark Hughes' side and Vincent Kompany has had an excellent first season in English football, and Pablo Zabaleta the Argentinian also has had a good season. There are plenty of candidates and you'd have to put Robinho in there too, but Ireland is the stand-out performer."
"I don't think silly money will be spent and Mark Hughes may have to raise some money as well. The Abu Dhabi Group are running the club as a business and they will give him a sizeable pot I'm sure because their ambition is the same as his - they want to get into the top four and win things. To do that they will have to strengthen so I can see quite a lot of people going and quite a lot of people coming in the summer. I expect them to be the major players in the world market in the summer but as for £100 million for player? I don't think that will happen. They are much more sensible that perhaps they have been portrayed.
"Squad-wise probably all areas need strengthening but the main area to look at will be the strikers. They definitely need a target man - Adebayor's not available is he?! It's that kind of big striker, like Roque Santa Cruz, Kenwyne Jones, Peter Crouch, people know who they are in the Premier League and they will be looking for one of those. Santa Cruz is the obvious one because they tried so hard to get him before and failed. He might be the one they go for in all seriousness. They have a lot of strikers but they are much of a muchness. I think only Craig Bellamy and Valeri Bojinov, who's an unknown quantity, are two they would like to keep. The same goes for Daniel Sturridge but he's out of contract. They will probably bring in two or three strikers, depending on who goes.
"They need cover on the left side too. Robinho has not had a natural replacement with Martin Petrov injured all season, so he's not been able to have a rest. There's no one else really with a left foot, except for Sturridge, and he's been injured too."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
"Would too many signings crowd out the youth players coming through? No, because I think there is a deliberate policy to make sure that some of the older pros who don't have a future and could just be hanging around the bench and the squad picking up decent money, I think they will be shipped out or encouraged to move on. I spoke to Mark Hughes on Wednesday and he emphasised that point. He's very keen to make sure there is a space for the young players to grow into and he will continue to blood them as and when they come through. This season Shaleum Logan has played, Kelvin Etuhu has around the bench, Vladimir Weiss has been on the bench a couple of times, so there are still kids on the fringes. Obviously the bar has been raised for them and it's like this at any of the top clubs - it's hard to break in so they've got to be super-dedicated and have a great ability."
"I don't think they'll be gung-ho because that would be committing football suicide. I think City got Arsenal at a good time back in November when things weren't going very well at the Emirates, but perhaps they are getting them at a bad time because Arsenal seem to be back in form. City play very much in the Arsenal mould, they like to move the ball quickly and rotate the forwards so if Robinho plays - and he's not certain too, he's not back from Brazil until late on Friday - he will look to interchange with Ireland, Wright-Phillips and Bellamy and move the ball at great speed. There may be more of a defensive cover this time, I wouldn't be surprised if Mark Hughes played Zabaleta, Kompany and De Jong if they are all fit - and that's a big if - as a three-man screen. Ahead of that there will be plenty of attacking talent; City certainly won't come and 'park the bus'."