EPL 2016-17: Will Nolito have the required impact at City?
Five years ago, 1st of July, 2011, he moved to Benfica from Barcelona in pursuit of regular playing time. Two years later, on the same day, he returned to the La Liga joining Celta Vigo, to work with his former Barcelona B coach Luis Enrique. Now in 2016, yet again on 1st of July, he becomes a Manchester City player under his former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, signing a 4-year contract.
From a Barcelona outcast to a player being desperately sought after by both the La Liga Champions and Manchester City, Nolito, has come a long way. Ultimately Pep pipped his former team to lure the winger to Manchester. Guardiola handed him his debut for the Catalans in the 2010-11 season, and even though that didn’t turn out too well, the new City boss obviously rates Nolito for a reason. The way he has resurrected his career over the last five years has been enough to convince Pep for a reunion.
Ever since Manchester City announced Pep Guardiola as their new manager, it has been widely speculated that there will be a major revamp in their current squad. More so, when one considers how they underachieved last season under Manuel Pellegrini, after spending a considerable amount of money to bolster their squad.
There is absolutely no doubt that Nolito is a bargain at £13.8 million and he will mix it up in City’s attack next season, as they look for more silverware. But it remains to be seen how big an impact he will have at the blue half of Manchester, considering there will be huge expectations on each and every new signing.
Let’s have a look how he will fit into Pep’s structure.
Nolito is a quality left winger, who has a more than decent goal scoring record. Last season, among the 12 league goals, he scored 8 and assisted 3 playing as a left forward, compared to 3 goals and 3 assists playing as left midfielder. On the other hand, Manchester City did struggle at that position last season, as Pellegrini tinkered with Sterling and Silva in wide positions for certain matches, and both failed to perform proficiently.
With just 2 goals from Silva and 6 from Sterling in the Premier League last season, Pep will certainly be happy to deploy Nolito in the left to support Aguero for more goals. The right footed left winger is dangerous as he can turn inside and look to shoot, and his inside runs into the box poses serious challenge to the defenders who are always hesitant to foul in the box. The presence of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva along with new signing Ikkay Gundogan, will allow him to play more freely along the left flank.
His comfort in possession is another winning factor for Pep. He is accomplished enough to Pep’s tactically flexible approach and capable of playing a high intensity passing game which usually becomes the norm during a Guardiola reign. However, his willingness to try out something different is effectual in reshaping a stale period of possession to a clear-cut chance should be the real difference maker.
City lost points at crucial junctures last season owing to injury to their main striker, Sergio Aguero. Nolito, based on initial reports, will be handed over the number 9 shirt, which was last worn by Alvaro Negredo. With City involving in so many competitions and so many matches to be played, this might well suggest that Pep sees him as a handy back up or supporting striker to Aguero in certain situations.
He may not be a direct forward but he has an eye for goal and shoots whenever possible from close range. Roaming around the striking zone just behind the main striker, he is equally dangerous when it comes to picking out a pass. With City looking to offload Wilfried Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho still developing, this possibility looks increasingly prominent.
His physical presence in the upper-third of the pitch will be handy keeping in mind the physicality of the English game. The hugely demanding nature of Premier League, where injuries are bound to happen, and the astounding number of matches clubs have to play these days, makes Nolito a great addition for City. City’s need for the Champions League along with other domestic trophies calls for a strong squad running throughout the campaign.
His contribution in Spain’s EURO 2016 campaign was consequential in the first two matches, but not so convincing thereafter. City fans would expect to see more of Nolito’s first two matches’ heroics.
It remains to be seen how he lives up to these expectations. But it is expected that barring an unforseen dip in form, his dynamic on-field activity and energy will have a significant impact on City’ results this season.