After winning the league in record-breaking fashion last season, will Manchester City be able to repeat their success? Or will they follow their trend of never being able to successfully defend the Premier League trophy.
Centurions Manchester City had the best season that any team has ever had in Premier League history, as they notched up three digits on their points tally, breaking nearly every record that dared to stand in their way. They blitzed the league, but were unable to surmount the challenge of Liverpool in the Champions League, exiting Europe’s grandest club football tournament prematurely, creating one blemish on an otherwise perfect season.
Manager and Preferred Tactics
“Fruadiola” haters were embarrassed on a weekly basis last time out, as City swept away team, after team, after team, going on a streak of 19 successive wins. City’s style of play was so fluent in its eccentricity, so eloquent, and so deceptively intricate in its rapid nature that it left teams shell-shocked; for not only did City attack relentlessly, they pressed and counter-pressed with even more intent.
The famous “six second rule” was in full force, and you could see the likes of Kevin De Bruyne sprinting back at break-neck speed to make up for their (very seldom) errors.
Until opposition teams realised it was best not to go toe-to-toe with Guardiola’s men, the City defenders, forming a pivot in Ederson, would look to invite an extremely high press, beat it, and then go long to a wide man who they’d have deliberately left very high up the pitch, and get him 1v1 against the opposition full-back. It was a 4-3-3 formation in which the centre backs converged towards the goal, the full backs pushed a little higher, and the wingers were asked to stay as far up the pitch as possible, effectively cutting off the opposition full-backs from entering the game.
When given exclusive possession of the ball, David Silva and De Bruyne’s magical pass placement and off the ball runs – both decoys and penetrating ones – were used to draw defenders out of position, following which the likes of Aguero and Jesus pounced.
City’s season was proof of how crucial an asset a goalkeeper with an excellent passing range can be; Ederson would either be extremely calm against the invited high press, or would simply drop kick the ball 60 yards straight into Sterling and Sane’s strong feet. A Guinness World Record was a suiting end to the season for a goalkeeper who vindicated Guardiola and his philosophy throughout.
Whilst the vast majority of readers will consider this question too obvious to even answer, I personally have no doubts whatsoever that it was Fernandinho who was the most indispensable to the centurions in their achievements last season.
Sitting deep with his exquisite sense of positioning, Fernandinho not only allowed De Bruyne and Silva to express their magic on the ball, but he himself also chipped in with a couple of goals here and there, with impressive strikes against Stoke and West Brom showing the versatility that he brought.
Whether it was through his outstanding ability to read the game or sheer uncanniness, Fernandinho would position himself at the right place at the right time to win the ball back. He further acted as the pivot for the entire City side, with his range of passing improving significantly from the previous season.
Captain Fantastic, Vincent Kompany, was an exemplary leader both on and off the pitch for the Citizens last season. The positivity he radiates despite spending so much time on the treatment table, a place which shatters the mental sanctity of many athletes, was a huge catalyst to City’s sensational success. I remember some of the happiest moments of the season as a fan were when Kompany scored against Arsenal in the League Cup final, and when he outmuscled Chris Smalling to score in the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium.
This summer, recruitment has been tardy, and rather drawn out. It is good to see City aren’t resting on their laurels and are further solidifying an already overloaded squad, but the negotiations haven’t quite been as seamless as they would have hoped for.
Riyad Mahrez’s arrival represents another extremely talented wide player added to the squad, which perhaps opens a door for Bernardo Silva to start in a more central role. His fee of £60 million seems relatively modest when compared to that paid and quoted for numerous other stars.
Jorginho was poised to sign on the dotted line imminently, but City were left feeling hard done by, when Napoli instead sold him to rivals Chelsea. They would then turn their attention to Mateo Kovacic, but would be put off by Real Madrid’s asking price, who would also ultimately end up at Stamford Bridge.
Defensive midfield is perhaps the one area that Guardiola needs to add further steel to, and he would do well to sign someone for that position before the season starts.
This season, City would expect to retain their league title, trying to build a legacy for themselves as one of England’s greatest and most successful ever teams. They will look to progress further in the Champions League, having been bitterly disappointed in exiting prematurely last season at the hands of Liverpool. A title retaining season would be considered a success by most fans; however Guardiola was brought in to deliver the big one. A significant amount of major European clubs have strengthened well this summer, and City must ensure that their tactics are polished further still if they are to win the most prestigious trophy in European football.