Football is back, and Manchester City have a new man at the helm. We preview their season ahead, looking at Manchester United and other competitors.
Football disappeared for a couple of months and the whole world got so bored that they went absolutely crazy! People got so bored that they took Boris Johnson seriously as a politician, Frank Ocean got so bored that he actually created some music, and even JK Rowling got so bored that she wrote another Harry Potter book (let it go, JK). Have no fear though – it’s back! And this year, Manchester City are back with a boom: signings galore, a new man at the helm, and more squishy comfy chairs have been introduced around the stadium! With the season underway and the transfer window almost closed, it’s time to have a look at what Pep’s boys may have in store for us this year.
The Pep Effect
You spend 18 years living with your family doing things a certain way: the jam is kept in the cupboard, you eat dinner at the table, and you’ve never cleaned the toilet in your life. Then, you move out to university and all of a sudden a new housemate introduces a new way of living to you! Your new housemate keeps jam in the fridge and it is delightfully refreshing, they also eat their food whilst sat watching The Chase—which is enjoyable and informative—and they’ve taught you how to clean a dirty horrible toilet. This new person has entered your life and taught you a brand new way of living that you didn’t even know you needed! This is exactly where Manchester City find themselves this season with Pep Guardiola at the helm (my analogies are becoming more and more obscure, I know).
City used to live with Manuel Pellegrini who played with a simple 4-5-1, with everyone playing in the positions they are used to, and made sure everyone was happy and having a lovely time. It worked fine and nobody really knew any other way. Now, City have moved into Fallowfield with Pep Guardiola who has moved fullbacks to the middle of the field, played Aleks Kolarov at centre back, and dropped City poster-boy Joe Hart to the bench. In the space of a few weeks the canny Catalan has changed City from a coasting teenager into a fully-blown adult with a real shot at winning a few trophies.
His track record is impeccable—he’s pretty much won everything—and the City players seem to have taken to him like Michael Phelps takes to water. Each day quotes come streaming out of the squad from different players describe how much Guardiola has changed the squad and their individual play. As for tactics, he’s very open to change, but there’s a few things that he will definitely bring to the table. One thing is that his teams always close down quickly and high up the pitch when they don’t have the ball—he’s already criticised Sergio Agüero for this despite the Argentinian having scored six goals in Guardiola’s first three games. Another thing is that City will have to play from the back this year, and that means that the goalkeeper will have to be good with his feet, hence why Joe Hart was dropped from the team. And a final thing that you can expect to see in the City team is fluidity and freedom! Don’t be surprised to see David Silva popping up on the left, then the centre, then the right, while Kevin de Bruyne swaps around with him, and Raheem Sterling sprints all around them both. It’ll be organised chaos.
City’s squad last year underachieved despite appearing on paper to be a strong squad—they were old, lacked energy and were a bit same-y. It is important that during each transfer window, teams improve their squad, because every other team is so you can’t fall behind (cc: Arsène Wenger). City failed to do this effectively last year, but this summer some of the transfers that City have made are the business. The signings of Nolito and İlkay Gündoğan slipped under the radar of many, but both are accomplished solid signings that have been playing at the highest level for years! Both were bargains at around £30M for the pair (that’s a little more than Yannick Bolassie cost Everton, and the same price as Paul Pogba’s back molars cost Manchester United). I have got Gündoğan down for signing of the season if he stays fit—and the most irritating name to spell.
Meanwhile, this squad needed a big injection of youth and players trying to make a name for themselves: introducing John Stones in his cagoule, Leroy Sané, and Alexander Zinchenko! All are young and exciting (and a lot more expensive than the last couple of guys). The injection of youth will also be supported by Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno who won’t join the team until January and next June. Claudio Bravo is also expected to join in place of Joe Hart between the sticks.
Is this good enough? Well City got the defender and the central midfielder that they so desperately needed, and now have two players in every position to fight for a space in the starting eleven which is great – but there are a few holes that may need to be plugged before the end of the transfer window. City currently only have two strikers in Kelechi Iheanacho and Sergio Agüero (with Wilfried Bony expected to leave sometime in the next week), so surely the Blues are looking at recruiting another striker. Especially as Aguero is made of glass, and Iheanacho is twelve. Additionally, it’s curious that City haven’t strengthened at fullback, with all of their fullbacks now in their thirties. Perhaps Guardiola is offering an opportunity for the kids to get in the squad… or perhaps he’s ran out of money.
The Ancient Romans used to think that Rome was the centre of the world. Everybody from London thinks that London is the centre of the world. Everyone else, however, knows that now Manchester is the centre of the world. This season’s football will surely cement that too: Manchester United recently hired José Mourinho as their new manager, and they look like the real deal. The signings of superstars Zlatan Ibrahimović and Paul Pogba will reinvigorate them, and a new type of play means that United have a great shot at the title this year. The bookies have both Manchester teams as favourites for the title (City just edging it with most of the bookmakers), and it’s hard to disagree with them. It’s sort of beautiful that Manchester has become the hub for football now that these two teams have improved so much—but it’s also sort of horrible because, you know—Manchester United.
United will definitely be City’s main competition, and with an early derby this season, we will get to see how both sides have acclimatised to their new surroundings! But, they won’t be there only competition. Chelsea have had a much needed quiet summer, doing their business away from the limelight and hiring a great coach in Antonio Conte. With no European distractions this season, they will be right up there with the Manchester sides, and don’t be surprised if Liverpool are too. They also have no European distractions, and the enigmatic Jürgen Klopp at the helm. I should probably also mention Arsenal: Arsenal. There. I personally think that unless Arsène Wenger splashes the cash, he’s going to be in danger of falling down the table, but some people think he may pull off another top four finish so I am obliged to mention them. Of course there are also a few other teams to keep an eye out for: Tottenham had a brilliant season last year and will look to build on that, Everton look like they could mean business with Ronald Koeman in charge, Leicester City have retained most of their players from the championship-winning season last year, and Burnley are favourites for the drop so naturally they could go on and do another Leicester this year.
It’s really a tough one to call this year, but I do have a few predictions:
Jose Mourinho will beat his personal best time for staring at a journalist dead in his eyes without talking, after he questioned his decision to drop Wayne Rooney.
Tony Pulis will be happy with the performance of his team after a 5-0 drumming by Manchester City/United/Chelsea/Liverpool/Arsenal/Spurs, but stresses to the press that he doesn’t have the money that the other teams have in order to win these games.
Steve Bruce will be offered the Watford/Swansea/Middlesbrough job in November-February.
Chelsea will sign 100 players in January and loan out 98 of them.
Arsenal fans will want Arsène Wenger to be knighted, fired, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and stoned to death, throughout the duration of the season.
West Ham’s new stadium will be awful. Just awful.
Surprise package: Crystal Palace