Eliaquim Mangala (25 league appearances, 3 Champions League appearances): 5/10
I really hope that at this time next year there will be a 2015/16 player review that praises Eliaquim Mangala for his outstanding second season at the Etihad. However, we are all well aware that no such review can be written about his first season with City.
I was amped when City acquired the FC Porto center back. Way too amped. There was upside—tremendous upside. In fact, there still is. He is just 24 years young, and he has now had a season to become acclimated to life in the Premier League.
The 2014/15 campaign was not the most festive welcome party for the Frenchman to say the very least. Simply put, it was a pretty rough season for him given the lofty expectations he faced. Whenever you are a central defender on one of the best teams in the most competitive league in the world, your every twitch will be scrutinized. And when you err, there will be doubts—and there will be doubters.
Mangala had a strong debut after putting in a 90-minute shift against Chelsea and neutralizing Diego Costa, who could not stop scoring at that time. Pablo Zabaleta was sent off during the second half of that match, but Mangala helped keep the back line afloat as City earned a point against Jose Mourinho's side.
Things proceeded to go south following his impressive debut. The ungodly amount of money City had spent to acquire him began to look like sunk costs.
The physicality of the Premier League is light years from what Mangala saw in Portugal, and his growing pains were apparent. Mangala was supposed to be a low-key beast at the back, but at times he seemed like a liability.
The play that immediately pops into my head is when he was forced to collect a long ball against Swansea (in the 4-2 victory on May 17) with Nathan Dyer in hot pursuit. Mangala puzzlingly took a touch inwards from the sideline towards Joe Hart only to be dispossessed and then turned inside out by Dyer, leaving Hart out to dry (Hart made a fantastic save on the play to deny Dyer).
Is it too harsh to claim that this mental lapse versus Swansea was Mangala's season in a nutshell?
It all seems mental with him, though, meaning there is no apparent lack of talent. Sure, he exhibited a lack of consistency and a noticeable lack of chemistry with Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany, but City's central defense as a whole was underwhelming this season (and it is not like Mangala failed to provide at least some flashes of fundamentally sound defending).
Is it too generous to give Mangala a mulligan for his inaugural season in the Premier League?
I still believe there is immense upside here, and there is still a chance that this signing pans out. I surmise that Mangala's struggles stemmed from what's between his ears. There is no way his confidence could have been all that high this season—he just looked too frenetic back there.
Look, I realize he struggled mightily at times. I know it is frustrating to look at other European clubs that hit the defensive jackpot during the 2014 summer transfer window (oh, say, Bayern Munich with Benatia and Juventus with Evra). Meanwhile, Mangala has been labeled as a complete flop. His play has not backed up the £32m purchase—yet.
I believe in this guy. I really do. I really want to see him excel, prove pretty much everybody wrong and develop into one of the premier central defenders in this league.
But of course, the pressure on the subject of the most expensive transfer in British football history will only intensify in his second season with the club.