And so the Manchester City rebuild begins. Of course, not too much of an overhaul is needed, given that City were once again English football’s top scorers in 2019/20.
However, their defensive shortcomings and rashness, particularly in big games, are there for all to see, and their constant status amongst the bookmakers of being favourites for every competition they are involved in is beginning to wear a little thin. Some changes at the back are obviously needed, but how will that impact the rest of the team in 2020/21? And will we see more youth players start to filter through the ranks?
Manchester City Predicted Lineup for 2020/21 season
The centre back conundrum
This is the most obvious issue for Manchester City. Signing Nathan Ake seems like a smart move, but the sudden decision of promising youngster Eric Garcia to move on has thrown all plans out of the window. Now Stones and Otamendi, who had both previously looked fairly certain to leave, may stay, or one of them at least.
Of course, there is still also the possibility that Garcia won’t be sold despite his wishes, meaning that out of the three centre backs with uncertain futures, as many as two of them could stay put. Laporte is still undoubtedly the main man, but who will partner him? Will Pep favour Ake, resulting in a pairing consisting of left-footed centre backs? Would such a move compliment or disrupt Manchester City’s complex system? Only time will tell.
The signing of Ake may not have ramifications just for the centre back setup, but for the fullbacks as well. If the aforementioned possibility of two left-footed centre backs is not a route that Guardiola wants to take, then it could open the door for Ake to play at left-back, an option that has already had some speculation.
This could have a knock-on effect for the other fullbacks, i.e. will Benjamin Mendy reclaim his place in the side? Does Zinchenko have a future at the club? That’s before even considering the fact that City have been playing Cancelo as an auxiliary left-back in place of both of them in recent weeks. Does that mean Cancelo moves back to his natural right-back position? What will that mean for Kyle Walker, the only mainstay at full back? It is likely that Ake will be used in his usual central role, but even if this is the case, the continuing fullback dilemma, particularly at left-back, still throws up more questions than answers.
Midfield: much of the same
In midfield, very little needs to change, given City’s continuing strength in that area. The jury still seems to be out on Rodri and Gundogan, but both of them certainly have their own purposes in this squad, and hopefully, Rodri will gradually develop into the Fernandinho replacement that City so desperately need.
With David Silva gone, we will see more of Phil Foden from now on, but he can of course play on the wing, likewise Bernardo Silva. With three orthodox wingers already in Sterling, Mahrez and new boy Ferran Torres, it is likely that Foden and Bernardo will feature primarily in midfield, but their flexibility to also play on the wing will continue to help City greatly when it comes to rotating their more fixed midfield players.
One more year of Aguero?
The question on everybody’s mind: do City sign an Aguero replacement this summer? This question is intensified by the fact that Aguero has only one more year at the club and that fellow striker Gabriel Jesus is developing an increasing reputation of being wasteful in front of goal. With so many goals coming from all over the team, I think City can get away with one more year of this setup and will wait before signing a striker. However, with so many players capable of playing on the wing, it’s very possible that we might see more of Sterling as a frontman, or even Foden following his impressive display as a false 9 against Madrid.
In Foden’s footsteps
With all these big personnel decisions to be decided in the coming weeks and months, there is one more important question for Manchester City; who will follow Foden from the youth teams?
Currently, the most likely candidate, although still a longshot, looks to be Tommy Doyle, who became more and more tightly involved with the first team as the season wore on. It will, of course, be difficult for the 18-year-old to get too many games in a midfield that is already stacked, but he should have his chance to impress in the cups. Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Cole Palmer have also taken baby steps towards the first team, but they may also have to settle for cup minutes, with the hope of bigger chances in future years. Foden has laid down the benchmark, now it’s time for his peers to follow him.