Lee Dixon: City will not win the League as long as Tevez remains their only blue-chip player

The Weekend Dossier
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Logic suggests to me that Manchester City, backed by all the resources of their Middle East owners, will win the Premier League title at some point in the not too distant future.

That kind of funding allows you to buy some really top-drawer players – and can certainly turn heads, Wayne Rooney's included in this past extraordinary week. But looking through the current City team, individual by individual, right now I'd have to conclude they're not a Premier League-winning team this season.

The start of the season has actually not been great as far as the football has been concerned. Yes, they beat Chelsea, but they didn't play brilliantly, Chelsea were poor. On the other hand, City did win the points, which is what matters. But season-on-season they've got exactly the same number of points now after eight games, 17, that they had at the start of last season after eight games.

And broadly speaking, the range of opponents they've faced has been similar. This season they've taken 17 points having played Spurs, Liverpool, Sunderland, Blackburn, Wigan, Chelsea, Newcastle and Blackpool. Last season it was 17 points from Blackburn, Wolves, Portsmouth, Arsenal, Manchester United, West Ham, Villa and Wigan.

That's not to say City can't win the title this season or won't win it because of course it's possible, and the owners have deep enough pockets that if they want to spend again in January, they can. But after eight games, I can't say they look like a title-winning team because it's just far too early to tell.

This weekend's home match with Arsenal is another big challenge, and chance to see how City are really developing by testing themselves against one of the best footballing sides in Europe. If they're still within a couple of points of the top after 28 games rather than just eight, then maybe it will be their year, but they're not the finished article yet. And Carlos Tevez aside, I'd argue that City haven't yet signed a truly blue chip player.

They have also relied on Tevez for the majority of their goals, which must be a concern; he's scored seven of their 12 goals in the Premier League this season, and 12 isn't that great a tally in the first place. Chelsea and Arsenal have both scored twice as many home goals as City's seven, while City's five away goals has been equalled or bettered by seven other teams.

I do think City are different from a season ago in a few important ways. Their own expectations are higher, which breeds expectation within the fans, and also confidence. When you're perceived as serious contenders to sign a player of Rooney's calibre – even if the deal didn't happen – you know you're operating at a new level. And that also rubs off on opponents, who must now start games against City with a mentality that they're up against a challenge. They're not only facing a group of talented players but a team with a growing belief in their own ability to challenge the Premier League's best.

City have also strengthened the squad since this time last year – with Milner, Silva, Yaya Touré and others – and that by definition makes them stronger, basically having two good players for every position. The players who were already there are also now starting to gel and settle.

Any neutral observer looking in from the outside would have to conclude that City are stronger and therefore better than a year ago, and that they won't fall away after a good start, as they did last year, eventually finishing fifth. As a cynical City fan, you do wonder though whether they will lose ground to some extent. That's why this weekend is such an interesting test of how they're developing; will we see new City, confident and assured, tight in midfield and breaking down the wings, inspired by Tevez? Or the old City who would so regularly lose at home to Arsenal – nine times in the 13 seasons they've played each other at City in the Premier League era?

As I explain in my match predictions, I think Arsenal could shade the game, perhaps 2-1, and I think the genius of Cesc Fabregas could be instrumental in making the difference. As for whether Arsenal can win the title, I still see some of the old traits of them not being good enough without the ball. Their flair and ability when in possession suggests they'll do well in a lot of games, but I'm not convinced defensively, especially as long as Thomas Vermaelen is out.

Five Asides

1. When transfers were discussed in service station car parks...

The only fall-out I had with a manager was minor, with George Graham, before I signed at Arsenal. It was 1988 and my Stoke manager, Mick Mills, drove me to Watford services to meet George, to discuss a proposed move. I sat in George's Jag as he offered me £500 a week – the same Stoke were offering. I was shocked. "I can't move to London on £500 a week," I said. He ended the talks. We went back to Stoke, the deal apparently off. I asked to go and see George again, and he increased his offer slightly. I sold my house in Stoke for £35,000 and paid £170,000 for my new one in Hertfordshire. My dad had to help with the mortgage to start with!

2. Hansen loved the dancing

I wrote last week about my wife Yolande's contemporary dance group and their show, Americana, which went off smoothly, with Alan Hansen and Ian Wright among the guests. I've read recently about another football figure, England physio Gary Lewin, visiting the Royal Ballet, to research how dance and pilates can improve core strength. Dance is where it's at these days.

3. All hail Bale

Spurs were naive in Italy, going 4-0 down to Inter, but Gareth Bale was extraordinary. I spoke to Les Ferdinand, who's now a Tottenham coach, and he couldn't find enough superlatives to express the potential.

4. Hopeful for Hodgson

I hope Roy Hodgson can turn things around. But if they continue a winless run much longer, it could get difficult.

5. Pull your finger out Fifa

Goal-line technology is a no-brainer. Get on with it.

Lee Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Tottenham Hotspur vs Everton

Dixon's verdict: Spurs won't thank the television schedulers for this early kick-off coming off that energy-sapping loss against Inter. Everton will be buoyant from the win over Liverpool and should take a point.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Scoring draw.

Birmingham City vs Blackpool

Dixon's verdict: Blackpool have enjoyed their best form on the road but I think they will struggle to get anything here. Birmingham lost to Everton last time out at St Andrew's and will seek to make amends.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win.

Chelsea vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: The return of Didier Drogba will be welcome to a Chelsea side still without Frank Lampard but they looked good enough in Moscow this week to have too much for a visiting Wolves outfit today.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Chelsea win.

Sunderland vs Aston Villa

Dixon's verdict: Villa have not lost at Sunderland for eight years but the Mackems have impressed at home, taking points from Man United, Man City and Arsenal this season. I think Steve Bruce's side will take the points.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win.

West Bromwich Albion vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: Much has been made of the impact of Peter Odemwingie on the Baggies' form but they did well enough without him at United last week and can overcome a Fulham side who haven't won away in 14 months.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win.

Wigan Athletic vs Bolton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: Both these sides have improved of late, Wigan losing just one in eight and Bolton riding high in the top half. I can see both sides taking a share of the spoils at the DW this afternoon.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Draw.

West Ham United vs Bolton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: There have been continuing rumours of discord behind the scenes at Newcastle this week and I think Avram Grant's side, with one loss in their last five matches, can keep their recent form going with a victory.

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.30pm)

Prediction: Home win.

Stoke City vs Manchester United

Dixon's verdict: Wayne Rooney may have decided to stay at Old Trafford, but there is no way the saga will not impact upon the United team in some way tomorrow. However, I think Sir Alex will still get them in line enough to take the points.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Away win.

Liverpool vs Blackburn Rovers

Dixon's verdict: One league win all season and no wins in seven do not make for happy reading for the Reds' new owners. Blackburn have taken a point at Anfield three times in the last decade and could repeat the trick.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Draw.

Manchester City vs Arsenal

Dixon's verdict: City may have won the last three visits of Arsenal but, despite their second position, have not been overly impressive on the pitch and I fancy Arsène Wenger's side to pull off a win tomorrow.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm

Prediction: Arsenal to win 2-1.