Welcome to the first City Watch Vox Pops! This regular feature will see City Watch writers assemble to discuss a hot topic. Our first is undoubtedly one of the most exciting subjects of conversation at the moment – what will Pep Guardiola’s starting XI look like next season? Our writers not only share their own ideal Pep XIs, but opinions on what he might do, who he’ll bring in, and who he may bin. This is the first of three parts, with the next two to follow shortly.
Stones — Kompany — Mangala
Sterling — Gundogan — Weigl — Gaya
Sané — Aguero — De Bruyne
Pep is a midfield maniac, a mad scientist obsessed with elite midfielders and control of the ball. He will get straight to work on a lethargic midfield that needs heavy surgery. Fabian Delph and Fernando are players of very little quality and I think will be the first to go. Yaya and Fernandinho may be getting on but I think both will stay as offloading an entire midfield in one summer just isn’t feasible. I think we’ll be looking at one high energy midfielder and a super deep-lying playmaker. Ikay Gundogan and Julian Weigl fit the bill.
I don’t think Pep will mess around with our center-backs too much. They haven’t all suddenly turned into bad players and I’m sure he’ll be aware that playing them in a side that functions as a unit will see much renewed performances. Martin Demichelis will be replaced by Jason Denayer and I think Otamendi could follow him if his performances don’t rapidly improve alongside Kompany. Mangala has shown lots of promise alongside the City captain and is a player very comfortable in a high-line. He may be nervy at times but he has appreciation for space behind him and most importantly stays on his feet. I think there is enough to work with there that Pep will take him under his wing and try to make a player out of him; as he did with Jerome Boateng and Gerard Pique. It’s important not to forget that Mangala remains the only left-footed center-back and Pep will certainly need one of those as he experiments with his side. With all that said, I wouldn’t rule out a move for a gem like John Stones, especially if Pep wants to regularly try three at the back.
Pep will definitely be in for full-backs although a full-blown purge of the players in that department isn’t exactly possible right now. Pablo Zabaleta looks off, as does Aleks Kolarov with their legs giving away but Bacary Sagna has earned himself a contract extension and Gael Clichy’s home-grown status means he looks destined for at least another year. Manchester City have players that can fill holes out-wide in certain formations so perhaps just the single move for a nutty Spanish full-back like Jose Gaya or Mario Gaspar?
As for our forward options, I don’t see a lot of activity. Man for man we have one of the strongest forward lines in Europe; all it needs is a little tactical tweaking and shit could really click. It’s hard to predict who will leave because Pep finds uses for all sorts of players, especially marginalised ones like Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and Jesus Navas who are very good at what they do offer. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a move for a player like Leroy Sane if one or two of those three aforementioned players leave.
Sagna — Kompany — Otamendi — Alaba
Fernandinho – Verratti — De Bruyne
Sterling — Aguero — Silva
Guardiola’s focus this summer will undoubtedly be on our midfield. He is a self-confessed midfield madman, obsessed with ball retention. Pep will want as many technically proficient players on the pitch as possible, which inevitably means that the limited Fernando will be shown the door. Despite his technical quality, I also can’t envision a situation in which Toure is retained. His icy relationship with Guardiola is well documented; there will only be one winner in this battle and it won’t be Yaya.
Guardiola will love Fernandinho – he’s the only central midfielder in the squad who fits Pep’s specific brief. I praised the Brazilian earlier in the week, in my column for The Sunday Observer. He’s brilliant at making interceptions, has an unbelievable engine and is technically superb. Delph’s status as both an English player and as a new signing should save him; he could be a useful player under Pep.
Pogba is the fashionable choice when it comes to central midfield recruitment. He is a very rare player, cut from a similar cloth to Toure. Pogba is capable of those moments of inhuman midfield brilliance – effortlessly combining a fleeting touch with his monstrous physique. As good a player as Pogba is though, I’m not sure he is the answer to our midfield woes. We have been unbalanced in central areas since the departure of Gareth Barry, and watching PSG last night only went further to underline this assertion of mine:
PSG’s midfield 3:
a runner – Matuidi, a passer – Verratti and a holder – Motta.
So balanced. And they’re all technically superb.
— Lloyd Scragg (@lloyd_scragg) February 16, 2016
Marco Verratti is the player that I think we should go all–out for, this summer. He is the heir to Pirlo’s crown and yet is more nimble of foot than his predecessor ever was. He is the complete midfielder. Thiago will also undoubtedly be a target, given his familial-like relationship with Pep. But Bayern will be wise to our intentions and thus I think we’ll struggle to prise the Spaniard away this summer. David Alaba is the one player I think we may have a chance of tempting away from Bavaria as he only has 2 years left on his current deal. What a signing that would be.
Bony, Demichelis, Caballero and Kolarov are all certainties to be shown the door, whilst I also fear for the futures of Navas and Zabaleta, who could be deemed surplus to requirements. Zabaleta is a bonafide City legend. I would hate to see him go, but we need some fresh blood at right back. Full back is an increasingly demanding position in modern football, so I think it is an inevitability that one of our thirty-plus right backs will be moved-on in the summer.
Finally, for the youth players. Pep will be hugely encouraged by the state of our academy when he arrives (not that he won’t already know almost each and every player inside-out) – there are a number of players already flirting with the prospect of first-team football. Bersant Celina is already on the cusp of the senior squad whilst Kelechi Iheanacho has already established himself as a genuine first-team player in just over 6 months. This is a truly remarkable achievement given the sheer number of internationals in City’s squad, but it is testament to the quality of Kelechi, who is a star in the making. I also have absolutely no doubts that Jason Denayer will become a pivotal player under Pep. He is such an elegant footballer and should consider himself woefully unlucky to have been farmed-out to Galatasaray this season – a decision I was extremely critical of at the time. My last mention goes to Aleix Garcia. Admittedly, I have only seen him play in the flesh three times, but he reminds me a little of Xavi, which is no surprise given that it is he whom he models his game on.
Maffeo — Kompany — Stones — Rodriguez
Barkley — Busquets — Fernandinho
De Bruyne — Kun — Sterling
The key areas of the City squad which will require work this summer are centre midfield and the back four. To really be able to play the Pep way we need both a central playmaker to replace Toure, and a holding midfield player to replace Fernando. I’ve gone for Busquets and Barkley to get a balance between youth and experience, but also because I think Barkley is a supremely talented player who would flourish under Pep. In the back four I’ve gone for Stones and Rodriguez as key additions because I believe that Maffeo will be promoted at RB and Denayer at CB thus cutting down the need for more bodies.
The two attacking players are more of a punt if you will. I’m not convinced that we will replace Navas, but if we do then it’d be Sane who came in to replace him, and equally as unimpressed as I am by Bony I’m not totally convinced that he will be sold either, but if he is then I’d be looking at Griezman or that type of forward rather than Lukaku, Cavani, and some of the other more traditional number 9’s who may be on the market.
One of the reasons that I believe that we’ll be looking at Stones and Barkley is also because we must not forget that both Clichy and Joe count as H/G players but both of them are coming into the final stretch of their City careers. It’s important that we are picking up players who could be good enough to play in our side who are H/G as a matter or priority to ensure that we don’t have the issues of recent years where we have had too many foreign players and not enough H/G in the squad. We should also be prepared for changes in the next 5 years to the rules again, putting more pressure on sides to have more h/g players whether they be club trained or association trained.
In terms of the spend, it’s high. £50 million each for Stones + Barkley. £35 million for Rodriguez. £50 million for Busquets. £46 million for Griezmann (buyout clause), and £35 million for Sane – totalling £266 million. I’m not sure even under the watered down FFP rules and with the Chinese investment in the club that we can get to a spend that is that high, especially when our outgoing players will bring in relative peanuts. However I think that’s the kind of surgery required.
If we can get to those levels and those types of players though, then it sets us up for the next five years in the same way the summer of 2011 set us up for the last five years.