With under a fortnight left until the recommencing of the new Premier League season, it has almost been lost that Manchester City have had a summer of major change. The recent drama surrounding their local rival’s pursuit of Paul Pogba could give the impression that it is only United that have undergone an off-season of significant transformation. This may have come a lot from how City, much like when Pellegrini replaced Mancini, did much of their big business early on in the summer. Before the Euros began, and bringing to a close one of the most obvious will-he-won’t-he sagas in recent sporting history, Pep Guardiola was announced as the club’s new manager. City’s owners and former Barcelona board members have long expressed their interest in recreating Catalonian success in East Manchester, and had been courting Pep for years before he eventually signed at the end of last season. And now, with such a short time to go, how much has changed? The short answer: it’s unclear.
One thing that has changed is an influx of new faces. The early acquisition of Dortmund’s Gundogan was a clear sign that Pep was having a significant say in transfers. The purchase of a passing-focused central midfielder spoke considerably of the new manager wanting his new team to mirror his past ones: a side that was utterly composed on the ball across the pitch. This pattern has again emerged in the proposed moves for Leroy Sane and Everton’s John Stones: Pep is wanting youthful, technical players that he can then mould into exactly what he needs.
While the new is apparent, it is still unclear as to how City will try to handle the old. Much was made pre-Guardiola about him clearing out the squad upon his arrival, with names such as Yaya Toure sure to exit as they did not fit into the new manager’s ethos of intense, high-pressure football. Now however, with not long to go at all until the first fixture, it seems that the predicted clear out is not going to happen. Granted, a large number of players in the final years of lucrative contracts may not necessarily be in a rush to depart and many of those apparently surplus-to-requirement may yet play a part in the season to come.
The doubt surrounding this comes from the major question mark over Manchester City’s pre-season…the actual preseason. After the excitement of Guardiola arriving died down, not much has been seen of what has changed under his leadership. The fiasco surrounding the cancelled Manchester derby in China is the highlight of a series of fixtures that have shown very little of any real change. Partly through game intensity, but mostly through the constantly rotating personnel, it is not clear what City’s starting eleven will be come the home game against Sunderland. With more faces seemingly arriving – and possibly more to leave – it is a fool’s game to guess a definite system or line-up from what has been seen in pre-season.
Equally, to try and answer the question “where will City finish” is devoid of science. After last season, and with the sheer level of doubt surrounding this ‘new’ City side, predictions now seem exclusively the pursuit of the cocky or the moronic. If it is question of should rather than will, then City should be challenging for the title with the manager, squad and resources at their disposal. But, with the other big new arrivals of both managers and players so far this summer, they are one among several big clubs with few excuses for not mounting a serious title push.
One thing that is depressingly certain however is what will happen when the first Manchester Derby comes along: the British press will make the mother of all mountains out of the Pep/Jose adversary molehill. Goodie…