Manchester City Season Preview: Will Guardiola conquer England in 2017/18?
There was plenty of schadenfreude floating around when Arsenal knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup semi-final last season, to confirm that Pep Guardiola would endure his first ever trophyless season as a manager. The Spaniard even admitted that Barcelona and Bayern Munich would have sacked him if he'd brought similar results.
The glee with which English pundits noted that Pep couldn't hack it in the Premier League was barely disguised, but they may find their comeuppance this year.
City have backed their manager in the transfer market, to give him the team that can carry out his ideas. Underestimate this footballing genius at your own peril, because the 2017/18 season could result in the emergence of Guardiola's City as a true footballing power.
Transfers so far
In: Benjamin Mendy (€57.5m), Kyle Walker (€51m), Bernardo Silva (€50m), Ederson Moraes (€40m), Danilo (€30m), Douglas Luiz (€12m) [Total: €240.5m]
Pep Guardiola's love affair with full-backs continued as the Spaniard brought in 3 of them, breaking world record fees along the way. Kyle Walker for €51m seems rather overpriced, but then again Tottenham Hotspur took full advantage of the English premium, and City were scrambling after losing out on Dani Alves anyway. However, he does remain a player with Premier League experience and could be pivotal to Guardiola's style of play.
Benjamin Mendy and Danilo are truly modern fullbacks - who place the emphasis on attack first. The former AS Monaco player looked one of the best in the world in his position last season, and Premier League defences will fear the sight of him bombing down the left wing. Danilo seems to have been brought in for his versatility, equally adept at playing in midfield as he is in both fullback positions.
Claudio Bravo's miserable adaptation to the Premier League has had Guardiola break another world record fee to bring in Ederson. The former Benfica goalkeeper had a bit of a nightmarish start in pre-season against Manchester United, but recovered with stellar performances against Real Madrid and Tottenham. Perhaps the jewel of Guardiola's signings this summer, Bernardo Silva has only featured for a few minutes against West Ham, but if his performances with AS Monaco last season are anything to go by, we have a special player on our hands.
Out: Kelechi Iheanacho (€27.7m), Enes Unal (€14m), Aaron Mooy (€9.1m), Nolito (€9m), Fernando (€5.25m), Aleksandar Kolarov (€5m), Joe Hart (€2.3m Loan), Ruben Sobrino (€2m), Pablo Zabaleta (Free), Bacary Sagna (Free), Willy Caballero (Free), Jesus Navas (Free), Gael Clichy (Free) [Total: €74.35m]
There's deadwood and then there's City's six-feet-under-a-grave-of-reinforced-concrete-wood. Unlike some of his peers, the Spaniard has been ruthless in culling his squad - out went all his incumbent fullbacks, while Nolito, Fernando, Jesus Navas and poor old Joe Hart were deemed not up to the mark.
Kelechi Iheanacho may be the only transfer that may sting, considering he's looked impressive whenever called upon in the Premier League and that Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus aren't exactly known for their ability to withstand a gruelling Premier League season. However, 27.7 million for a 20-year-old is still a decent fee to recoup.
Net Spend: €166.15m
Despite their fellow Arabs from Paris stealing their thunder, City have grabbed eyeballs with their spending - the pressure is on for them to deliver.
Probable Starting XI:
"I think Manchester City are the team to beat. I looked at them towards the end of last season and the forward players they've got is scary, with Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling."
Those aren't the words of a Citizen - that's Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs, and however painful it must have been to admit it for him, the Welshman tipped City for the title. The players he mentioned above are fantastic individuals themselves, but what's been clear this pre-season is that Guardiola already has them functioning as a unit.
The fluidity and speed with which City burst forward is beautiful, often ending in a flurry of one-touch passes around the box that has left top defences like Real Madrid and Tottenham licking their wounds in pre-season. Kevin de Bruyne is all set to have a massive season, but the manner in which Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus have improved in the off-season ought to send alarm bells ringing across opposition defences.
Pep Guardiola's star as a manager may have dimmed after a trophyless season, but the Spaniard is sticking to his guns. Inverted fullbacks may make a return, along with a high-press that could easily make City the most entertaining team to watch this year, if not the most successful.
A familiar weakness remains, despite all of City's lavish spending. Defence.
City conceded more than Chelsea, Spurs and Man United last season, and Guardiola has not touched the centre of his defence an iota. Vincent Kompany is back, and if he remains fit for a majority of the season, much of City's weakness will be negated - the Belgian can shepherd an improving John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi alongside him, even (god-forbid) Elaquim Mangala if push comes to shove.
The centre of midfield only has Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and the injury-prone Gundogan and Fabian Delph - surely not enough when the cold winters of the Premier League come around in December. Danilo could provide another option, but there is room for another signing in the heart of midfield.
Pre-season hasn't helped the idea that City are vulnerable to the counter attack, something Manchester United took advantage of in their 2-0 win. Ederson will have to be more Neuer than Bravo, and while early indications seem promising, the true test will arrive on August 12.
Blue Moon may be ringing out to the sound of ecstasy when May comes around next year. The onus is on Manchester City to reclaim the Premier League title after a disappointing season, especially now that Pep Guardiola has the team he wants.
Chelsea have been weakened up top, Manchester United have a long way to go upwards after finishing 6th last season, Liverpool and Arsenal could mount a title challenge, but we know how those end and Tottenham Hotspur haven't signed anyone who could improve their first team.
The Premier League is up for grabs and it would be fair to say that Manchester City should be overwhelming favourites, and nothing less than finishing 1st would be acceptable.
Over in Europe, City's proclivity for the attacking arts could come back to haunt them yet again - Guardiola may reach a semi-final, but it's hard to see this side surviving an onslaught of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Paris St-Germain.
Domestic trophies will be in City's grasp this season, the only question is how many?