by Daniel Roodt
Manchester City under Pep Guardiola dominated English football in the previous two years, and were widely touted to continue this form in the 2019/20 campaign.
However, for the Sky Blues, this season has been somewhat of a disaster by their lofty standards.
After failing to replace their captain Vincent Kompany, who left at the end of last season, City were looking thin at the back. They went into this campaign with two error-prone centre-backs in John Stones and Nicholas Otamendi, a 34-year-old Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte who was holding it all together.
Unfortunately, disaster struck for the Cityzens when star centre-back Laporte suffered a knee injury in early September. The injury kept him out for 123 days and was the beginning of the end of City’s domestic dominance.
Forced to rely solely on Otamendi, Stones and Fernandinho at the back, City started shipping goals as they watched Liverpool run away with the Premier League, led by the colossal Virgil Van Dijk.
This combined with new signing Rodri’s lack of awareness compared to his predecessor, Fernandinho, and City were left exposed to countless counter-attacks and have already conceded more goals than they did in the whole of last season.
To add further insult to injury, City were hit with a two-season ban from the UEFA Champions League after breaching Financial Fair Play regulations.
The ban will likely have a significant impact on their ability to attract players to the Etihad due to decreased revenue and the inability to play European football.
However, City still need to make significant adjustments to their squad, or else they could slip further behind their rivals, Liverpool.
The purpose of this article is to recommend three positions that a team needs to strengthen and suggest solutions in the form of transfers to remedy those issues.
The key positions they need to strengthen are left-wing, left-back, and centre-back.
With German winger Leroy Sane looking set to depart for Bayern Munich at the season’s end, City will have only one player truly comfortable playing on the left-wing in Raheem Sterling.
Sane’s departure leaves City devoid of a unique skill set that other forward options do not possess. Sane is a player with genuine pace and is always willing to hug the touchline and run in behind the opposition’s backline. He was also a player who was happy to run at his man and put dangerous crosses into the box.
City will need a special player to replace the Bavaria bound winger. A suitable option to replace Sane would be Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal.
The Spanish wideman has been a consistent threat in this Sociedad side for the past four seasons and has scored eight and assisted six this campaign.
Furthermore, according to The Athletic, Oyarzabal was prepared for a move to City last season if Leroy Sane had moved on. However, due to Sane’s injury in the Community Shield, the German remained in Manchester for another season, which subsequently meant the Oyarzabal move was off the cards.
However, with Sane looking set to leave for the reigning German champions, Oyarzabal could feasibly make the switch to Manchester in the upcoming transfer window.
He is also only 23 and would likely improve working under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola.
However, if the transfer for Oyarzabal were to fall through, City could look to sign Leon Bailey, Jack Grealish, or Harvey Barnes rather.
The signing of Benjamin Mendy in 2017 from AS Monaco has not exactly worked out for City. Mendy was meant to be a marauding attacking fullback. Despite the promise he showed early on at City, his time at the Etihad has been blighted by several significant injuries.
As a result, Guardiola had to convert Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko into make-shift left-backs to cover for the Frenchman.
This was mostly a success in City’s title-winning campaigns. However, Delph left at the start of this season and Zinchenko has struggled to replicate his past form.
Benjamin Mendy has also failed to recover properly from his injuries and as such, has been inconsistent this season. This has left City with the need for a quality left-back that can dominate the position for years to come.
An ideal option for this would be Benfica's Alejandro Grimaldo. Grimaldo has been an ever-present figure for the Benfica side that has continued to dominate Portuguese football for the past seasons.
Last season, Grimaldo scored four goals and assisted a further 12 in the Portuguese Primeira Division. He has also only missed 24 minutes of football in the past two seasons, something that the man he would be replacing could only dream of at this stage.
Furthermore, Grimaldo was educated at the famed La Masia academy in Barcelona, which would likely appeal to Guardiola, who came through the very same system.
Guardiola’s rampaging Barcelona side of the late 2000s and early 2010s was built around a core group of players who came through the very same academy and shared a similar football philosophy to himself.
Grimaldo appears to be the player that Mendy has been unable to be. Last season, Grimaldo completed more crosses, long balls, and key passes compared to Benjamin Mendy in Monaco’s title-winning season of 2016/17. He also chipped in with more than double the amount of assists provided by Mendy in that season.
Grimaldo would be a highly suitable candidate to solve City’s left-back problem, and would likely relish working under a man with the same footballing education as himself.
But, if City were unable to sign Grimaldo, they should look to bring in Ben Chilwell, Alex Moreno, or Raphael Guerreiro instead.
Vincent Kompany’s surprise departure at the end of last season has left the Sky Blues with a defensive crisis of sorts. Stones and Otamendi are error-prone and are not at the requisite level to play for a team like Manchester City.
City need to sign a quality centre-back (or two) in the upcoming transfer window if they are to have any hope of competing for the title once again.
The two options City should look at are Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar and Olympique de Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara.
Skriniar is the more experienced of the two, having already racked over 8000 minutes for Inter in the last three seasons. Skriniar is also right-footed, which would allow him to complement the left-footed Aymeric Laporte perfectly.
Skriniar is also an adept passer, and although his output is less than Laporte’s, he still averages close to 70 passes per game.
This would enable the Slovakian centre-back to fit seamlessly into Guardiola’s preferred style of playing out the back, with his central defenders contributing extensively to build up.
Skriniar is only 25 and would likely make a formidable combination with Aymeric Laporte for years to come.
City also require quality backup and 20-year-old French centre-back Boubacar Kamara is the man for the job.
Kamara is one of the countless young, promising centre-backs in Europe and has already racked up over 5000 minutes for Marseille, despite his young age. He is also a versatile player and can play in defensive midfield as well as his natural centre-back position.
The Marseille born defender is stylistically slightly different to Laporte and Skriniar, as he is much more of an active defender. He averages 2.8 tackles per match compared to Laporte’s 1.2 and Skriniar’s 1.6, which indicates that he is more of a front foot player.
This slight rashness in his game is further proven by his seven yellow cards, which is more than double the amount Laporte received last season. However, Kamara is still young, and with time and good coaching, his flaws should be ironed out. He would be an ideal signing for this City side that so desperately needs depth in the defensive regions.
If either of these transfers are not possible, City should look to instead sign Ruben Dias, Edmond Tapsoba, or Nikola Milenkovic.
This season has undoubtedly been one to forget for Cityzens and the need for quality additions is paramount if they want to reach their previous heights.
In situations like this, either the squad needs to be overhauled, or the manager needs to be replaced. With Guardiola committed to staying at City for at least another season(and being one of the world’s best managers), the former is the more favourable option.
In spite of City’s financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their ban from European football, they need to make signings like the ones suggested above.
And while City’s squad is ultimately too good to suffer any major setbacks, they are a club that competes for the title and not just for European qualification.
Tom Worvile and Sam Lee via The Atheltic UK