Where Do Manchester City Need To Strengthen In Order To Compete For The Title Next Season

Where Do Manchester City Need To Strengthen In Order To Compete For The Title Next Season
May 26, 2017

Featured Manchester City

The 2016/17 season has no doubt been a disappointing first season in England for Pep Guardiola. Expected to compete with long-term managerial rival José Mourinho in the fight for the title, the sides from Manchester have well and truly fallen short of expectations as they were left fighting for the final two Champions League spots.

An exit at the round of 16 of the Champions League and a recent FA Cup semi-final extra-time defeat at the hands of Arsenal meant Guardiola ended a season without a trophy for the first time in his career.

With an underachieving, ageing squad it is clear that the Spaniard has work to do if he wants to change this City team from top four competitors to title winners. With plenty of funds reportedly being made available, I am going to be taking a look at who Manchester City could be targetting this summer.

Goalkeeper

The goalkeeper position was one position that City fans thought they wouldn’t be needing to rectify, after the arrival of Claudio Bravo from Barcelona in August. There was discontent at the time as Guardiola axed fan favourite Joe Hart, who was subsequently sent out on loan to Italian side Torino, in favour of the Chilean, largely due to his ability to play out from the back using his feet – a key convention of a Pep Guardiola team.

However, Bravo has failed to settle in England and his ball-playing attributes haven’t made up for his consistent goalkeeping clangers. With a return unlikely for Hart and Caballero not being of the first-team quality City require, it is likely that Guardiola will jump at the chance to sign a new shot-stopper if the right player becomes available.

Options in the goalkeeping market right now remain thin, with most of the top keepers being tied down to contracts at other top European clubs. One man who has been continuously linked with the Citizens is current Barca number one Marc-André ter Stegen. Often playing second fiddle to Bravo previously, he was heavily linked with City during the summer transfer window but a move never materialised and they opted for his former teammate instead. Since then the German has firmly established himself ahead of new signing Jasper Cillisen and started 36 of Barcelona’s 38 La Liga games in 2016/17.

Despite his breakthrough season in Spain, Ter Stegen has admitted he doesn’t know where his future lies, prompting speculation about his future once more. The 24-year-old has all the attributes Guardiola likes in his goalkeepers, but whether Barcelona will sell to City once more remains to be seen.

A cheaper option that has been linked in recent days is Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel. The reigning champions stuttering defence of their title has seen the Dane emerge as one of their key players this season and has played a vital role in stopping them from being dragged into the relegation fight. United are firm favourites for the 30-year-old right now, but it is questionable whether Pep will make a move for the son of a Manchester United legend.

Full-Backs

The full-back positions are becoming as important as they have ever been in modern football and, with the options City currently possess, that will be a key area Guardiola looks to strengthen this summer. City’s problems have become so large that they have often set out with wing-backs or, in recent games, adopted winger Jesus Navas as a full-back. The club’s armoury consisted of Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Aleksander Kolarov and Gael Clichy.

However, Zabaleta, Sagna, Navas and Clichy were all released by City yesterday, giving belief that Guardiola sees a new full-back pairing as a top priority this summer.

Therefore, it is no surprise that City have been linked with multiple full-backs in recent weeks and months. Pep could look to upgrade his defence whilst also helping to bolster the club’s home grown quota with Kyle Walker and Ryan Bertrand highly linked. Walker has been arguably the best right back in the Premier League over the last few seasons, as him and Danny Rose have built up a formidable duo on the flanks. Although it initially seemed unlikely that Tottenham would sell to a future title rival, it has been reported that the Englishman is unhappy about being dropped for Spurs recent FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea and the North London derby victory over Arsenal.

Walker wouldn’t come cheap, however, as he has only recently signed a new five-year deal and plays for a competitive rival meaning the fee could rise to somewhere in the region of £40m. On the other flank, Bertrand has emerged as one of the Premier League’s most consistent and underrated full-backs. Despite Southampton’s mediocre season they are set for another season where their top players are plucked by some of England’s biggest teams, and Bertrand could be available for between £10-20 million.

If Walker does stay put, which is what Mauricio Pochettino believes to be the case, then Guardiola may target another player from the Premier League instead in the shape of Hector Bellerin. Ever since breaking into the Arsenal first team back in the 2014/15 season, Bellerin has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers. His meteoric rise to fame has even seen former club Barcelona show a high interest in taking the 22-year-old back to the Camp Nou. Much like Walker, Bellerin wouldn’t come cheap largely in part to his high potential and recent contract extension, meaning if Guardiola did want his fellow countryman then he could be looking at having to pay upwards of £40 million for his services.

City could broaden their search to outside of England as another player on their radar is AS Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy. The Frenchman has been a key convention of Monaco’s recent success, which has seen them take on the might of Paris Saint-Germain to go top of Ligue 1 and advance through to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. Mendy has become accustomed to his sides attacking style of play and has provided effective width down the wings with five assists so far this season.

At just 22-years-old the former Marseille man could become City’s first choice left-back for years. However, acquiring his services won’t be the easiest task when a whole host of Europe’s top clubs are interested. Mendy reportedly only wants to sign for a club that will be involved in next season’s Champions League and so with Real Madrid, Chelsea and rivals Manchester United all interested, it is critical for Guardiola that City finish in the top four.

Centre-Back

With City’s defence in peril once again, it’s no surprise that Guardiola is primarily looking to a centre-back this summer. The Spaniard bolstered the options last summer with the addition of John Stones for £50 million, and whilst the former Everton defender has had some shaky moments this season he has shown signs of vast improvement under Guardiola’s management.

At the age of 22, Stones looks set to be a mainstay in the Manchester City team for years but the problem lies with who will partner him. Consistency has been Guardiola’s main problem with club captain Vincent Kompany only just returning from injury and Nicolas Otamendi hasn’t shown many signs of being worth the £28.5 million that City paid Valencia for last summer. There is one man who is on all of the top Premier League club’s transfer shortlist and that name is Virgil Van Dijk.

Victor Wanyama, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane are all examples of players who have developed at St Mary’s before making the switch to one of the league’s top teams – a path the Dutchman is hoping to follow. Van Dijk has emerged as one of the Premier League’s standout centre-halve performers this season, before injury cruelly ruled him out for the rest of the season in February. However, this hasn’t deterred interest in Van Dijk and it will be a tough fight for his signature with Southampton valuing their star centre-halve at £50 million.

Centre Midfielder

Central midfield is another important area for Manchester City to strengthen in the summer. Whilst Yaya Touré and Fernandinho do a good enough job, much like the full-backs, the players in that position are ageing fast. Fernando looks set to receive the axe leaving just his Brazilian compatriot and the Ivorian as City’s only experienced central players. İlkay Gündoğan is set to return from injury in time for the start of next season, but his constant injury problems mean the former Dortmund man isn’t the most trustworthy option.

With Monaco’s exploits this season, and the breakout of so many stars it’s no surprise City are targeting more of their players than just Mendy. Tiemoué Bakayoko and Fabinho have formed a solid midfield partnership, averaging 7.25 and 7.47 respectively in Ligue 1.

At the expense of these great performances, the Ligue 1 leaders could lose both players and City are increasingly interested. It would take a large sum of money to prize away these two but with the funds City have available it is not out of the question. City are strong favourites for Fabinho’s signature with a reported £35m offer enough to prize away the Brazilian from the principality. His teammate is also valued highly at a sum of around £30m.

It is expected that Guardiola will be given sufficient funds to strengthen the squad and it is critical that he get’s this summer right and guide’s Manchester City to their first Premier League title since 2014.

Taylor Powling (@TayIorSport)

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