This is the second of a series of four articles in which I am focusing on this season’s top 4 finishers of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Today, the team put under the microscope will be Manchester City. I will highlight 5 positions the Citizens need to strengthen over the summer to improve the team in order to give a bigger fight for the Premier League crown this time next year and have a chance of progressing past the Round 16 of the Champions League for the first time.
This time last year, Manchester City were on the brink of becoming Premier League champions for the second time in three years and the second time in their history. Led by their new manager Manuel Pellegrini, the hunger to take the title back from their city rivals and their important trio of Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, the Citizens overtook Liverpool in the last three weekends of the campaign to land the title. The Sky Blue’s landed a double with the addition of the League Cup and were undoubtedly the best team in England. However this season, the story has been a bit different.
Although the team has remained more or less the same, the air around them seemed different this season. They no longer looked like champions, their hunger was gone. With one match left to go, the Citizens find themselves 10 points and 21 goals behind where they finished last season.
The summer signings were nothing spectacular as Eliaquim Mangala and Frank Lampard were the two biggest names to find their way into the squad, with the addition of Wilfried Bony in January. Vincent Kompany has had a season to forget, Sergio Aguero suffered an injury over Christmas and then struggled for form and Yaya Toure was only a shadow of the player he was last season, netting only 10 goals and creating just 32 chances complemented by 1 assist, compared to last season when the Ivorian netted 20 goals and created 40 chances adding 9 assists to his impressive tally. The midfielder was perhaps the most important man in that title winning squad, linking attack with defense, balancing the team while contributing on both ends of the pitch. However this year his drop-off has been the one most noted and biggest reasons why Manchester City were not chasing Chelsea to the very last day. Toure has apparently been unhappy at Manchester City ever since last summer when the club seemed to have omitted the player’s birthday, with Toure apparently looking for a way out of the Etihad this summer.
Other players have failed to impress this season, namely Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, Aleksandar Kolarov, Eliaquim Mangala, Dedryck Boyata and Edin Dzeko and Manchester City could be facing a major squad overhaul this summer, which could perhaps include their manager. However should they all leave, the Citizens will need to replace these players with adequate additions to the squad, which might prove a challenge given the Financial Fair Play rules. Another potential problem could be selling the players City currently possess as they are on high wages which only a few teams in Europe could afford to pay unless the players accept a pay cut. Nevertheless, here is a list of 5 key positions Manchester City must strengthen if they want to mount a title challenge next season and finally make a statement in Europe.
Best option: Paul Pogba
Other option(s): Koke, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Marco Verratti
With Yaya Toure seemingly on his way out, Manchester City will need a midfielder who can replace the Ivorian with his physical presence, technical play, ability to pick out a teammate and ability to decide a game. The first name that comes to mind is Paul Pogba. The 22 year-old has drawn comparisons to Zinedine Zidane and already at such a young age appears to be a complete box-to-box midfielder. This of course made him subject to interest from top teams all across Europe which include Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea and Manchester United. Out of those teams, Manchester City are the one who would need Pogba the most, however with a starting price of £60 million, it will be a tough deal to complete, especially if the Citizens want to turn focus to other signings to strengthen their squad.
Other names the Sky Blues could well turn to are Atletico Madrid’s Koke, Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia and PSG’s Marco Verratti. Either of these players would represent a like for like change with Yaya Toure and would considerably lower the average squad age given that most are a full decade younger than the Ivorian.
When comparing individual statistics, we can see why Pogba would be the most appealing and most obvious choice for the ex-champions. The Frenchman netted 8 goals this season as well as completing 2.88 take-ons per game with a 75% success rate. He also puts his physicality to good use winning 1.38 duels per game with a rate of 63.1%. Defensively, Kondogbia comes closest to the Juventus midfielder with a high number of tackles and duels completed at a high success rate. However the Monaco man somewhat lacks offensively. This is the area of Koke who is much more of a creator at Atletico and has the highest number of assists, key passes and chances created. Verratti offers a compromise between the two alternatives with a high contribution both offensively and defensively. The Italian is also lauded for his high work rate on the pitch.
Best option: Raheem Sterling
Jesus Navas has been largely underwhelming at Manchester City despite his pace, he has often been criticised for failing to create enough chances from his lung bursting runs down the right. And so Manchester City are looking at other options. One such option is Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling whose contract saga at Liverpool makes him likely to leave the Reds this summer. One clear advantage of signing Sterling for Manchester City is the fact he is a homegrown English player, something the Sky Blues have a lack of considering departures of Frank Lampard and the most likely departure of James Milner. However given his huge importance to Liverpool, Sterling would not be a cheap player with a starting price probably in the area of £40-50 million. The deal could still go through particularly if James Milner and Edin Dzeko are to head the other way.
Raheem Sterling could be a great asset for the Citizens on the right wing if he can fully discover his huge potential after putting his contract talks to bed and focusing solely on his game. Sterling has scored 7 goals this campaign compared to none scored by Navas. However, the Spaniard just about edges the Englishman as a creator with more assists, chances created and key passes. Sterling on the other hand completes almost 3 take-ons per game with a success rate just under 50% compared to Navas’ 1.06 at 74%.
Central Attacking Midfielder
Best option: Kevin De Bruyne
Other option(s): Jack Wilshere, Felipe Anderson, Marco Reus
Manchester City often lacked a cutting edge this season offensively as David Silva and Sergio Aguero could not always make it happen on their own. This is something the Citizens will need to address this summer and add a playmaker who is equally comfortable to play on the wing and can supply Sergio Aguero or Wilfried Bony up front.
There are a few such players who could become available this summer which fit the bill, most notably Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg, who is rated at over £35 million by the Germans. The former Chelsea player had a formidable season in the Bundesliga having scored 10 and assisted 20 goals, helping Wolfsburg to Champions League football and victory in the German Cup this weekend. Other players who could be of interest to City are Dortmund’s Marco Reus,Lazio’s Felipe Anderson and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
De Bruyne is a clear creator, leading the way in assists, chances created and key passes. The Belgian also boasts a high number of take-ons at 2.91 with a success rate of nearly 58%. Marco Reus has averaged the most goals at 0.4 per game and leads the way with shots (3.25). Andersen is by far the best dribbler with 3.29 successful take-ons at 62.2%. Jack Wilshere has the highest pass completion which is somewhat expected given Arsenal’s style of play, his other quality is again the fact Wilshere is a homegrown English player who would add to the number of English players in the City squad for Premier League and Champions League regulations.
Best option: Ezequiel Garay
Other options(s): Aymeric Laporte, Marquinhos
Last summer Manchester City signed the highly rated Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala from Porto. The Frenchman was expected to slot in alongside captain Vincent Kompany and solve Pellegrini’s issues defensively, however the opposite happened. Mangala has largely been a disappointment with things not going the way the young defender would hope for. It seems as if he had trouble settling in at the Etihad and adapting to the English League. Pellegrini was left having to rely on Demichelis more often than he would have hoped for upon completing Mangala’s transfer last summer. Given Kompany’s loss of form and Mangala’s displays, this is an area the Chilean manager (or whoever will be City’s manager by the end of the summer) has to look into.
Luckily, there are a few interesting solutions available. The first one is Ezequiel Garay from Zenit St. Petersburg. The Argentine defender is the international teammate of City’s Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis and his transfer would make sense in every way for the Citizens. Being an experienced player, Garay would surely welcome the opportunity to make a name for himself by playing at one of Europe’s bigger clubs and test himself in the Premier League. Other options are Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao and Marquinhos from PSG.
Laporte has won the most tackles (1.61) and aerial duels (2.67) with the highest success rate (68%). The Frenchman also managed the most interceptions (3.67) and clearances (4.7) per game and is a great prospect at 20 years old. Garay has committed the least defensive errors and collected the least yellow cards while Marquinhos has just about averaged the most blocks (0.48) and committed the least fouls with 0.44. The 21 year old also grabbed 2 goals this season.
Squad Depth Striker
Best option: Saido Berahino
Other option(s): Charlie Austin, DannyIngs
With both Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko on their way out of the City, the Sky Blues will surely look at adequate replacements behind Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony, especially if Pellegrini remains and choses to play with his preferred style of having 2 strikers up front.
There are many options available, however, the Citizens should be looking at an English player, again to help them with the number of English players in their squad. Saido Berahino has had a breakthrough season this year and has been a subject to interest from many top clubs including Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. Other alternatives are Charlie Austin who will hardly stay at QPR with the season he has had following Rangers’ relegation to the Championship. The same goes for Danny Ings who is of great interest to Liverpool.
All three would represent great alternate solutions for the Citizens should they lose either Aguero or Bony to injury during the season. Austin has bagged the most goals and assists of the three English strikers, however Danny Ings has created the most chances for his teammates as well as giving the most key passes. The Burnley striker also averages the most take-ons with 1.63 per game, however Berahino just about edges him in the success rate with 50.98%. The WBA striker also had better link up play with his teammates and has a pass success rate of 83%. Austin has averaged the most shots with 3.71 per game.
It will most likely be a busy summer at the Etihad this year with many players expected to leave and a few big names hoped to arrive. The Sky Blues will definitely not be satisfied with their form this year and will look to improve in all competitions next season. It is highly unlikely due to the Financial Fair Play regulations (even if they are eased), however should Manchester City manage to sign all 5 of the players suggested, this is how they could line up for next season in their bid to reclaim the title and proceed past the Round 16 of the Champions League.