This season, probably the biggest boost to the Premier League in relation to attracting the best talent isn’t the arrival of a player, but Manchester City’s procurement of already legendary coach Pep Guardiola. Alongside Arsenal, they are the only team to have finished in the top four in every season this decade and while their team may be aging in parts, it is still extremely talented. What Guardiola brings in the case of method may take time to bed in, but while players as talented as Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero or David Silva are spearheading his attack, there is every chance that they will steamroller teams through sheer talent alone.
Ilkay Gundogan and John Stones are the major outlay new players with a view to fitting in problem positions for the squad. Centre back has been a tricky position for players to thrive in under Manuel Pellegrini, as Nicolas Otamendi found to his cost during 2015-16 and Stones offers as yet unrealised potential and passing ability for his new team. Gundogan looks a long term replacement for now 33 year old Yaya Toure, though it should be remembered how well Guardiola managed the minutes, injury permitting, of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Xabi Alonso across recent seasons. Indeed, aspects of City’s recruitment seem to mimic those seen at Bayern with an extremely talented young core being purchased for the future, to maybe fit around the more senior incumbents.
City clearly underperformed against their underlying shooting and expected goal numbers last year and therefore can be considered to still project as one of the top two or three clubs in the land. Their general trajectory though has been decline. From the attacking prowess of 2013-14 that propelled themselves to the title, both subsequent seasons have been noticeably less successful, for all that investment hasn’t stalled. Txiki Begiristain continues to oversee transfers and with his old accomplice now installed as manager, it would be a huge surprise if Guardiola couldn’t harness that talent and supply a title challenge.
Some questions will present themselves with plenty of choice in the ranks. Is Nolito considered a rotational player or a starter? Coming off an impressive season with Celta Vigo, where he enjoyed being a focal point of their attack, he created significantly more than Raheem Sterling managed as a junior man in City’s side:
Will Guardiola persist with four aging full backs? This problem looked one to solve last year, yet persists with no remedy sought yet.
Will Kelechi Iheanacho step forward and take the role as second striker behind Aguero? He showed huge promise from limited minutes and although substitute appearances bounced up his rates, he was possibly the most exciting young player in the league to offer the promise to fully break out in 2016-17.
All these questions and more are discussed in the accompanying podcast where City fan, Barcelona resident and thus long time Guardiola watcher Benjamin Pugsley and I examine the potential for Manchester City’s season.