Manchester City beat arch-rivals Manchester United in a race to the 4th place thus ensuring a spot in the qualifiers of the Champions League. The Etihad outfit also won the League Cup defeating Jurgen Klopp managed Liverpool. Manuel Pellegrini managed City also made it to the Semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history narrowly missing out on a spot in the finals after a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid. In a nut-shell a season which any team, especially one in the frenetically competitive English Premier League, would be pretty pleased with. But one look inside the Etihad and the answer would shock many. The swathes of empty seats around as Pellegrini delivered his farewell speech not only put the club to shame but in a way depicted the frustration and the insanely high level the fans had come to expect in such a short time. The fans were restless. They wanted more. They wanted Pep Guardiola.
Pep took over from the Chilean this summer and the Methodist that he is, came well prepared but encouraged his players to show their potential before making any decision regarding their future. A couple of days to the start of the season and we are clearer on where the club stands. John Stones became the 8th signing of the summer after the additions of Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Aaron Mooy, Gabriel Jesus, Marlos Moreno, Zinchenko and Leroy Sane.
Ilkay Gundogan – Borussia Dortmund, £21m
Nolito, Celta Vigo, £13.8m
Oleksandr Zinchenko – FK Ufa, undisclosed
Aaron Mooy – Melbourne City, free
Leroy Sane, Schalke, £37m
Gabriel Jesus – Palmeiras, £27m
Marlos Moreno – Atletico Nacional, £4.75m
John Stones – Everton, £47.5m
Seko Fofana – Udinese, £3.8m
Florian Lejeune – Eibar, £1.2m
Martin Demichelis – Espanyol, free
Richard Wright – retired
Jack Byrne – Blackburn, loan
Luke Brattan – Melbourne City, loan
Anthony Caceres – Melbourne City, loan
Aaron Mooy – Huddersfield, loan
Marlos Moreno – Deportivo, loan
Manchester City have strengthened all over the pitch and while the suggested defensive overhaul was missing, City moved to wrap up the deal for John Stones earlier in the week. Gundogan was one of Pep’s prime target and despite the long-term injury to the player, he was eventually signed. Aaron Mooy was brought from City’s sister club in Melbourne and loaned to Huddersfield immediately. He is unlikely to play a role in the first team in the foreseeable future. Spanish forward Nolito was signed swiftly after Spain were knocked out of the Euros. Leroy Sane and John Stones were snapped up for large amounts of cash and are likely to feature majorly throughout the season. Gabriel Jesus is representing his country at the Olympics and will return to Brazil till the completion of their league in December. Marlos Moreno has been loaned out to Deportivo la Coruna to further his footballing development and it is likely Zinchenko will follow suit. As natural with the influx of such a high number of players, some heads are going to roll and expectedly Nasri, Mangal and Bony are all in line to exit if and when a suitable offer comes in.
FORMATION AND TACTICS
It will be anybody’s guess as to the formation Pep is going to employ in a particular match. He has shifted between various unorthodox tactics since his days at Bayern and by the looks of it, the tweaking and tinkering is going to carry on at City also. The reason for the signing of a single centre-back has been mainly his propensity to transform midfielders into centre-backs. He admitted his fondness for this alteration and has specifically pin-pointed Fernandinho and Fernando for this job. With question marks over the fitness of Kompany and Otamendi not fully convincing till now, he has used Fernando and Kolarov in pre-season at the heart of defence. While the ploy against Arsenal failed, we have got an indication as to the style we can expect. Tosin Adarabiyoyo has also impressed and seems to have gone ahead of Denayer in the pecking order.
Clichy and Sagna will be first choice full backs for most of the season and in Pep’s most orthodox days Kompany and Stones are likely to try and build a solid foundation in central defence for the team to launch their attacks. As we have seen in the pre-season, Pep Guardiola urged his full-backs to come inside the field and station themselves in the central positions. He looks to achieve two purposes with this particular tactic. With his fondness for possession and control of the ball, the number of players in midfield helps him achieve just that and he also advises his defenders to pass the ball directly to the wing players with the full-back player discounted from the scheme of things. It facilitates quicker counters and puts opposition fullbacks under immediate pressure. He will look to employ Joe Hart as an auxiliary back and encourage him to take part in the build-up play along with his centre-backs.
Gundogan is expected to be the heartbeat of the team and Pep will have special plans for the player. With the robust nature of Fernandinho, Fernando and Delph to fall back upon, the German midfielder can dictate the tempo of the game and have an important role in retaining possession. As with the signs in pre-season Yaya is expected to see his minutes considerably curtailed. Attacking players like De Bruyne, Silva, Sane, Sterling and Nolito will most likely interchange their positions while Navas might have a tough time getting a game and will be under pressure to perform in the limited number of opportunities he gets. Aguero and Iheanacho will be the two recognised strikers with Wilfried Bony expected to depart.
Manchester City fans will not be blamed for expecting the League title this season and anything less than a semi-final spot in the Champions League will be branded a failure. The pressure is immense and time is at a premium. It would be unfair on the new manager to immediately deliver all those. He has inherited a squad unlike ever before. With the average age nearer to 28, he has had to tweak his player selections to fit the high-intensity and high-pressing tactics he demands. The players have to be given time to adjust and a season is a minimum he should be getting to completely transform the ethos of this club and its players but with the talent at his disposal, a Top 2 finish is something reasonable City fans will be nodding their heads to.
With a familiar foe across the city at the Old Trafford, people expect the derby to be the best in years. It has all the ingredients to surpass all elements of drama and footballing finesse and it is a match the whole world will tune in to watch. Let the season begin!