Arguably, the club that will look upon their 2016/17 with the most disappointment would be the blue half of Manchester. Even though the perennial riches of Old Trafford were undermined by a sub-par 6th place finish in the table, 3 trophies and direct qualification to the Champions League group stage tempered that somewhat. By contrast, the promise of highly regarded Spanish coach Pep Guardiola in the Etihad dugout didn’t deliver either silverware or a believable title challenge, and only the mixed form of Liverpool and Arsenal seemed to give more credence to the idea that the Citizens had a comfortable finish in 3rd. Guardiola made considerably flexible use of his deep squad, and while his tactical approach tended to produce as much confusion as it admiration, Manchester City certainly could have done with a few less injuries to key players, and a few more consistent performances from their defensive minded
Nonetheless, their spending into 2016/17 was hardly timid, and Guardiola will no doubt be under more pressure to deliver should their next transfer window resemble that of the previous season when large outlays were made for the likes of John Stones, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan.
Areas of Concern
Manchester City’s depth, particularly in attack, reflects a number of key traits of a Guardiola style team. The application of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling reflected the Spaniard’s appreciation for a highly creative and technically gifted frontline, able to dominate possession in the face of most opponents. Goals were largely shared across the team, and the impact of De Bruyne and Aguero in particular was devastating in its efficacy to produce football of unstoppable quality. In short, when Manchester City were good, they were scintillating to watch and incredibly difficult to stop.
But closer examination reveals the potential for some disruptive elements of both form and squad depth, ironically. While Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov can largely claim badges in support of positive campaigns, the rest of the backline either largely disappointed (John Stones, Gael Clichy, Claudio Bravo), showed little value in irregular starts and substitute appearances (Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna), or missed far too much of the season through injury (Vincent Kompany). The backline’s ability to adjust in certain matches to Guardiola’s experiments with backlines of 3 or 4 was put to the sword in critical defeats in the mid-season period away to Liverpool, Everton, Leicester and at home to Chelsea. This reflected in midfield too, where the performances of aging veterans Yaya Toure and Fernandinho had flashes of brilliance but were lacking in consistency. The fine line between age and experience appeared to be a hindrance to the club’s efficacy too; 12 of the 22 players making 10 or more appearances for the season were 30 or more, an issue that the club have already commenced addressing in the new transfer window.
Already the exit doors at the Etihad have been busy showing out various veterans like Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Willy Caballero, Jesus Navas and Bacary Sagna. It’s largely expected that Samir Nasri and Joe Hart will follow having completed their loanspells at Sevilla and Torino respectively. Both appear well out of favour in the broader squad, and appear to have immediately replaced with new signings anyway. The future of Eliaquim Mangala appears more complex to solve; the versatile centre back may yet secure a permanent move to Valencia or Lyon should Guardiola see little use for him.
Talented young forward Kelechi Iheanacho also appears at risk of a move. The Nigerian centre forward appears to be well down the pecking order given recent arrivals as well, and while City may yet regret parting ways with him, it appears Leicester City are the latest club who are intent on securing his signature. His African colleague Wilfried Bony also remains on the fringes of City’s squad, and allegedly has options for a move to China or to France with Lille. The story reads the same for fringe teammates Nolito and Fabian Delph, who reportedly have attracted interest from Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Stoke City respectively to boost their careers.
City moved quickly at the end of the season to seal their first two targets, both of whom allegedly impressed Guardiola in recent matches against his sides. Bernardo Silva was impressive in Monaco’s historic win over City in their Champions League knockout stage tie, while Ederson made a superb showing in Benfica’s stubborn performance against Guardiola’s Bayern a season earlier. Silva will no doubt add a special injection of dribbling class and technical tenacity to a fully stocked frontline, while Ederson’s shot-stopping and confidence should align more congruently to the assertive, ball playing goalkeeper Guardiola typically prefers.
Other options have yet to be fully completed. City have been linked with a number of players, the most notable of which is Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez, but it’s hard to understand the need for him to be added to such a deep set of attacking options (unless one of them is moved on first). Guardiola will likely be more concerned with his defensive options, hence the alleged interest in Dani Alves, while an aged option, may yet be a superlative gambit to play at right back for a season. Another option City may have looked at is Valencia right back Joao Cancelo, who is also coming off a good season with the La Liga side. On the opposite flank, speculation is rife that Monaco left back Benjamin Mendy may have completed the background details to a move to the Etihad. The rumours are oddly sparse in the midfield, despite City’s obvious needs there. The only link that appears to have surfaced is that of young attacking Turkish midfielder Cengiz Under, who was massively influential in the 2nd placed finish of unfancied Basaksehir in the Turkish league.