Since taking over in 2008, Manchester City’s new owners have been looking for an attacking brand of football to call their own. Last year, Pep Guardiola was hired to create an on-field brand worthy of the club’s enormous off-field growth. One year on, the knives are already out for Pep in the press. Luckily for him, the extra energy added to the squad this summer should win him the title that his job apparently depends upon.
It’s difficult to recall a preseason that inspired as much optimism as this one has, and expectations are high. With the world’s best coach, his attacking ethos and a group of young and hungry talent, the sky is the limit. The rest of the football world say it’s the sky or bust, so the pressure is on!
Noteworthy new signings
Bernardo Silva: Attacking midfielder who drives the play and moves like a world-class Lallana.
Ederson: Towering, confident goalkeeper who could probably kick your head off your shoulders.
Kyle Walker: The Premier League’s best right back.
Danilo: The attacking swing back, can play right or left and likes to get forward.
Benjamin Mendy: The Premier League’s best Instagrammer, and a fast, powerful left back who can cross a ball.
Stretford Rangers, lost 2-0: City’s first preseason game, in which they looked solid enough without being spectacular, aside from one minute in which they conceded two goals. Youngster Phil Foden shone through and has earned a place in the first team squad.
Real Madrid, won 4-1: Probably the first and last time I’ll type that! Tidy and comfortable first half which ended goalless, and then Raz changed the game in a free attacking role. He scored one and could have had another. His mate Braz also chipped in with a beauty from the edge of the box. He may well join Foden in promotion from the youth team.
Tottenham, won 3-0: This one really could have been ten. Spurs were all over the place, but City played some relentless attacking football and should have made more of their chances. Raz, Braz and Stonesy all scored again.
West Ham, won 3-0: The strikers found their groove in this one, up against City old boys Hart and Zabaleta. Choosing between Agüero and Jesus for my fantasy team has been tough – I took one in each league.
One or two up top?
It’s clear that the Blues are committed to an attacking style of play, but what is less clear is the hierarchy up front. Agüero is the most prolific striker in league history, in terms of goals per minute, but it’s tough to imagine Jesus sitting on the bench. Also, with Nacho gone, who plays that third striker role as backup to a two? Could Sterling carve himself a new niche?
Two or three at centre-back?
Another week has gone by with no changes since I last asked this question. The more time that passes, the more likely it looks that Mangala will play the supporting role behind Kompany, Otamendi and Stones. The general take is that Kompany and Stones would be the first choice pairing in a two.
Who pulls the attacking strings?
One of the keys to City’s attacking pattern is the transitional midfielder, helping the defenders to move the ball around until an opening appears. Yaya did this well last year, but we can’t expect him to play 40+ games. Fernandinho is less effective at this, Gündoğan will need to ease back in, and Delph hasn’t had any preseason playing time. This position will become the priority for an upgrade next summer, once Uncle Yaya settles into retirement.
Manchester City Season Predictions
Kevin de Bruyne wins Premier League Player of the Season
I know it’s only preseason, but Kev seems to have a new level of control and influence on City’s attacking play. Always confident on the turn, able to pass inside or outside and capable of hitting long range shots, this will be KDB’s breakout season. The only way he doesn’t win this award is if the committee remembers he’s a Blue. (Actual winner: Jesse Lingard)
The Etihad becomes a fortress once more
Last season’s home form was freakish. So many draws in games which City dominated. Even the single loss to Chelsea could have been so different if de Bruyne didn’t love hitting the woodwork so much (9 times last season). With the attacking talent at an all time high, the quality of chances will be better and competition will make the strikers more ruthless. Those draws will become wins as a result. (Actual outcome: Goalless after January 1st)
This one’s in the headline
I’ve never felt more confident in City to win the title as I do this year. Pep will learn from last year’s mistakes, the squad is much stronger while Chelsea are arguably weakened by the imminent departure of Costa. Mourinho’s side will improve but his tactical conservatism will hold them back unless they sign a truly world class forward. The conditions are perfect for a City victory, and City usually step up when they are the favourites. (Actual trophies: best pitch, best social media)
Image from premierleague.com