Man City have the strongest squad in the Premier League… but are still vulnerable


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Putting aside all the headlines, tweets and below-the-line comments regarding Manchester City’s spending, the Blues have managed to put together the strongest squad in the Premier League and one which Pep Guardiola could take to staggering heights over the next few years.

Much of the attention has focused on City’s outlay – £200 million so far and plans to spend more – but their determination and ability to tie up complicated deals has been ignored. While most of their title rivals are trying but failing to spend similar amounts, City have done what is necessary.

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Liverpool, for example, would have spent at least £50m on Virgil van Dijk by now, if not for a catastrophic misuse of the press, while they have also tried and failed to sign Naby Keita from RB Leipzig for around £70m.

Arsenal are hoping to spend upwards of £40m on Monaco’s Thomas Lemar; Chelsea have struggled to get Juventus’ Alex Sandro even for £50m; while United have missed out on Antoine Griezmann and are still trying to persuade Inter to part with Ivan Perisic for less than £40m.

City, then, have done well to get most of their targets in well before the start of the Premier League season, even if they are not quite done yet.

Man City transfers in

The Blues always suspected their pursuit of Alexis Sanchez would drag on until the final days of the transfer window, whatever the outcome, and that signing Kylian Mbappe would be no mean feat given rival interest from Real Madrid. 

Their attempts to sign a centre-back have not gone as smoothly as hoped, either, but they will kick off the new campaign at Brighton on Saturday with the strongest squad in the league. Or at least the squad with the most individual quality.

City have settled for three new full-backs rather than four following Dani Alves’ late snub, but Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, in particular, represent significant upgrades on last year’s options, while Danilo offers cover on both flanks and potentially in midfield, too. 

 

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Ederson ticks all the boxes required of a Guardiola keeper, and though the same was true of Claudio Bravo, who has looked a shadow of himself since arriving in Manchester, the new boy’s early performances have matched his Benfica form.

That does include an error in the first friendly of the summer but City were aware of his tendency to rush off his line and will work to eliminate such mistakes. The coaching staff will also be encouraged by his more recent performances, given he has made a string of impressive saves and helped City create a number of chances thanks to his kicking ability.

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Little has been seen of Bernardo Silva so far but he may yet come to be regarded as the bargain of the summer following his £43m move, as he will bring not only quality but much-needed depth to City’s midfield.

Silva will challenge Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in the No.10 role, with youngster Phil Foden providing back-up. Ilkay Gundogan, when fit, will fill holes wherever needed, whether as an additional No.10 or deeper in the midfield, alongside Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.

Guardiola will have plenty of options in the midfield and it is that kind of variety he wants up front, too, which is why he sees at least one new forward as a must, even if many fans see Alexis or Mbappe as mere luxuries.

City look stronger in goal, at the back and in midfield, and now have more options that enable Guardiola to use a variety of different formations and tactical approaches.

Man City 2017-18 line-upMan City 2017-18 line-up

The Blues also boast a young frontline with plenty of potential to improve, especially as they are now backed up by rampaging full-backs and fresh legs in the No.10 role.

All considered, City surely have more talented players than any other team in the country, though there are a couple of areas which could prove to be problematic as the season progresses.

A new centre-back is still seen as a must but City’s plans were affected by Aleksandar Kolarov’s unexpected decision to leave for Roma. The original plan had been to recoup as much money as possible for Nicolas Otamendi and buy a strong, experienced defender of similar profile to Vincent Kompany.

The Belgian has been injury-free for several months now but nothing can be taken for granted, and City ideally want another commanding figure at the back. The new man should also have the experience to mentor John Stones, as it was felt the youngster struggled without Kompany’s influence last season.

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However, after making moves for Van Dijk and Leonardo Bonucci, City have been forced to look elsewhere. 

Inigo Martinez had been one of the names under consideration but now seems destined for Barcelona, though he was far from a priority for the Blues. Holger Badstuber’s name had also been mentioned by Guardiola and his staff, though there was no effort made to stop him joining Stuttgart on a free transfer.

Without the money from the sale of Otamendi, the Blues may have to make do with a cheap option at the back, even if he does not tick all the boxes.

It will be important to get that piece of business right, given the struggles of Stones and Otamendi in Kompany’s absence.

Man City transfers out

Guardiola is happy to wait until next summer to bring in a deep-lying midfielder, and though he has seven options for three or four starting positions (depending on which system is used), many of those are attacking midfielders.

Gundogan could be a crucial player if he stays fit, but if not it will be down to Yaya Toure and Fernandinho to hold the fort in the pivot role. One of those two may be needed in defence at times, too, if a new centre-back cannot be brought in.

Given Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus all missed plenty of games last season, another forward is also certainly required. Especially as Nolito, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jesus Navas, who were used as deputies, have all been moved on.

City’s three full-backs all seem well-suited to Guardiola’s plans but an injury to one or two would also cause problems.

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These are worst-case scenarios but every team suffers injuries and the optimism of pre-season will soon fade away as the harsh reality of a full Premier League campaign sinks in.

Even so, City have done an excellent job of revitalising their squad this summer and already have enough tools to at least put up a strong challenge for the title. Considering the amount of talented youngsters in the ranks, things also look promising for the future.

Given last season’s champions, Chelsea, have struggled to strengthen and second-placed Spurs have to get used to life at Wembley, the title race is wide open. 

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If City can sign the right centre-back and convince Arsenal or Monaco to let go of their most prized attacking talents, surely only the worst injury crisis could stop them.

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Guardiola bringing Barcelona style to Manchester City, claims Toure

Pep Guardiola is beginning to bring his successful style of football from Barcelona to Manchester City after a trophyless first season at the club, believes Yaya Toure.

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The midfielder, who won the first treble in Spanish football history under Guardiola’s Camp Nou leadership in the 2008-09 campaign, began last season out of favour.

But Toure battled his way back into Guardiola’s first team, earning a new contract, and he has been a firm fixture in the Catalan’s pre-season plans.

City have recorded comprehensive wins against Real Madrid and Tottenham during an impressive warm-up programme and Toure says players are gradually adapting to Guardiola’s system.

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“The mentality of the manager is playing good and winning – not just winning,” Toure said. “We want the fans to enjoy it and we try to do our best.

“At Barcelona, I was used to playing like that. I’m a type of player with a lot of experience. I am lucky because I used to play under Pep at Barcelona and I know what he wants.

Pep Guardiola Manchester City

“But now the core of the team are used to it and the incoming players need to adapt quick because this year is going to be tough.

“We don’t have any more time to learn. We have to do it as soon as possible and be sharp and ready to play.”

City have been installed as favourites for the Premier League title after spending heavily on new arrivals, including Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva and Danilo, and Toure is expecting a successful season.

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“We’re more offensive with the two strikers [Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero] up front,” Toure said. “It’s going to brilliant.

“It is not so easy for the defenders but they understand what the manager wants and I think in a couple of games we will see it work.

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“We have had friendly games and when the league starts will see how we compete against difficult teams. But it has been good for the confidence so far.”

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Mendy is exciting but must adapt quickly, says Man City team-mate Toure

The France international moved to England in a £52 million deal and his new team-mate expects big things once he gets used to the Premier League

Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has warned his new team-mate Benjamin Mendy that the Premier League poses a stiff test compared to life in Ligue 1, and urged the French full-back to adapt to English football quickly.

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Mendy arrived from Monaco in a reported £52 million deal and Toure, who has been at City since 2010, said the 23-year-old will bring an injection of pace and power to Pep Guardiola’s squad.

The France international made 24 league appearances for Monaco as they won the title in 2016-17, finishing eight points clear of nearest challengers Paris Saint-Germain.

Mendy is no stranger to the pressure of a price tag, having moved from Marseille to Monaco for £11.5m in June 2016, and Toure backed him to succeed at City.

“I know Mendy, because he’s French and he’s been playing for my former club Monaco. I think he’s a fantastic player,” Toure told Sky Sports News.

“You will see in the Premier League how powerful he is, how much energy he has. This guy is very exciting to see.

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“I hope he’s going to be fine in the Premier League, because it is such a tough league, and we all know you need to adapt for a month or so, or some players go on straight away.

“We will see. I hope he can adapt as much as possible because we don’t have time.”

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Hart, Zlatan, Eto’o and the stars who fell out with Pep Guardiola

The England goalkeeper, who is surplus to requirements at Manchester City, is not the first player to be frozen out by the Catalan coach

Some were taken aback by Dani Alves’ decision to rescind his contract with Juventus in order to push through his now imminent move to Manchester City.

However, the Brazilian right-back was desperate to be reunited with former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, a man that he describes as “a genius”.

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“Pep would tell you exactly how everything was going to happen in a match before it even happened,” Dani Alves enthuses.

Not every player, though, would be so excited by the prospect of working with Guardiola again. Certainly, Joe Hart must have been dreading his return to the Etihad Stadium, after spending a season on loan at Torino.

Joe Hart Manchester City bench

Guardiola had informed the England international that he was surplus to requirements at City last summer – and his first-team prospects have actually worsened in the interim.

Hart has fallen further down the pecking order following the €40 million acquisition of Ederson from Benfica and there was even the dilemma of whether the Engllishman would be welcome on the pre-season tour of the United States.

It will, of course, be no consolation to Hart but he is not the first player to have been left feeling poorly treated by Guardiola…


YAYA TOURE


Pep Guardiola Yaya Toure Manchester City

Hart’s club-mate Yaya Toure has many tales to tell of tough times with the Catalan coach. The Ivorian even claims that he would never have even joined City from Barcelona had Guardiola not made him feel like an outsider at Camp Nou, in 2010.

“Whenever I asked him something, he always gave strange answers,” Toure explained. “He pretty much ignored me until City’s offer came in. That’s why I eventually opted to leave.

“I didn’t speak to Guardiola for a year. If he had talked to me, I would have stayed at Barcelona. I did not want to go and wanted to end my career at Barcelona. However, he had no faith in me.”

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As a result, Toure’s days in Manchester looked numbered when Guardiola took charge at the Etihad last summer, particularly after the midfielder’s agent publicly criticised the former Spain international.

“Pep doesn’t want players with personality,” an irate Dimitri Seluk stated. “He only wants players who are scared of him and will do what he says.

“The first thing he did when he arrived at City was to pick a fight with Yaya and Joe Hart, two of the club’s biggest players.”

Guardiola demanded an apology and peace was eventually made, with Toure belatedly but wisely distancing himself from his representative’s comments, thus allowing him to go on to play an important role in City’s season.


ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC


Pep Guardiola Zlatan Ibrahimovic Barcelona

Guardiola undoubtedly had his most spectacular bust-up with the talented but volatile Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had arrived at Barcelona in 2009 as part of a €69.5m transfer from Inter.

The towering but technically gifted striker had been acquired to add a different dimension to the Blaugrana attack and he did just that, during a promising start to his Camp Nou career.

However, Ibrahimovic never felt quite at home in what he felt was a school-like atmosphere at Barca and he eventually lost it after Guardiola decided to redeploy Lionel Messi in the Swede’s preferred place in the centre of the attack.

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While the accuracy and veracity of Ibra’s autobiography is very much open to debate – including the claim that he told Guardiola that he had “no balls” – the Malmo native has never hidden his contempt for the former Spain international’s reputation as a coaching genius.

“Nobody can say I did anything wrong,” Ibra later argued. “The first months were going so well and then something happened and I still don’t know what as I’m still waiting for the answer.

“A few months after [the start of the year], ‘the philosopher’ didn’t speak to me anymore.”


SAMUEL ETO’O


Pep Guardiola Samuel Eto'o Barcelona

While signing Ibrahimovic obviously proved disastrous, the bigger mistake was arguably allowing Samuel Eto’o move in the other direction, to Inter.

Guardiola had tried to offload the Cameroonian after he had been appointed Barca boss in 2008 but the striker stayed, and helped the club win a first treble, scoring the opening goal in the Champions League final win over Manchester United.

However, Pep still wanted rid of Eto’o, without fully explaining why: “There is not a single major reason for this decision. It is a matter of feeling and sensations.”

Eto’o was less than happy and much more forthcoming when it came to discussing Guardiola, revealing that he had immediately attempted to put the new boss in his place.

“I first of all reminded Guardiola that he’d never been a great player,” he later claimed. “He was a good player, that’s true. But, as a coach, he had proven nothing.”

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Unsurprisingly, their relationship went downhill from there – despite Barca’s on-field success.

“Xavi told me they wanted me to stay but I had to talk to Pep. I say ‘Never, if you do not respect me, I do not respect you.’

“He shook hands with me when I was at Inter and I played against Barca, but this was just for the cameras and TV. Behind the scenes before the match, he did not greet me.”

Eto’o, though, had the last laugh, by helping Inter past Barca on their way to Champions League glory in 2010.


FRANCK RIBERY


Pep Guardiola Franck Ribery Bayern Munich

Franck Ribery has never been quite so vocal about his problems with Guardiola but he did offer a thinly veiled critique of Pep’s approach to man-management during his spell in charge of Bayern Munich.

“[Carlo] Ancelotti knows how to treat a player,” the Frenchman mused in what was a clear dig at the Italian’s predecessor.

“Ancelotti is a gift for Bayern and with him I feel confident again. I need coaches like him, Jupp Heynckes and Ottmar Hitzfeld…”

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Holger Badstuber also found Guardiola to be aloof and standoffish in comparison to Ancelotti.

“Our current coach likes to exchange opinions with the players, and so the conversation goes back and forth,” he told Sky Deutschland.

“With Pep, it was different. I would have to approach him because if I want to have a discussion, then I would have to go looking for him.”

Clearly, Hart will have to do likewise if he is to have any hope of salvaging his City career!

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VIDEO: That’s bobbins! Yaya Toure learns Manchester slang in hilarious video

The Ivorian midfielder has been in Manchester for seven years and has been given a belated crash course in the local dialect, with hilarious results

Yaya Toure has been at Manchester City for seven years now, but that doesn’t mean he’s picked up any of the local slang.

But City clearly feel it’s better late than never and, ahead of Toure’s eighth season at the Etihad Stadium, have decided to teach him some important words and phrases.

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The most important thing, of course, is that the Ivorian now knows the lingo and can pass himself off as a Manc, if he’s looking to go undercover at the Trafford Centre, or Salford Lads Club.

But the extra benefit is that it’s very funny for us to watch the midfielder struggle his way through phrases such as “that’s bobbins, that”, and “look at his jazzy kecks”.

Oh, and you might even learn some things for yourself!