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City Watch Vox Pops: Comparing the possible Pep targets

Last month, City Watch writers contributed to a hugely popular three-part series where they shared their views on what Pep Guardiola might do to the City squad prior to next season.

Part I | Part II | Part III

While it all may be speculation at this point, there were plenty of interesting suggestions, theories, and prospective players. Here we do a quick round-up of the series.

Of the current squad, there were ample calls for a significant cull with less than half of the 22 players safe from a potential exit. Each contributor had a different take on departing players, but the consensus seemed to think that the following players had a future under Pep: Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho, Fabian Delph, Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, and Joe Hart. It may take two summer transfer windows to actually make all the changes, but seems likely that we will see a much changed City side under Pep in the near future. Amongst the writers, there was genuine excitement about the prospect of Pep dipping into City’s academy & promoting some youth players, with Jason Denayer, Pablo Maffeo, and Angelino being touted as the most ready to follow Kelechi Iheanacho in making the jump to the first team.

The real excitement, though, was trying to pick which players City might bring in – defence and central midfield were the primary positions where the writers focused, with a lesser emphasis on the need for attacking reinforcements.

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Wait, why is Ross Barkley listed twice? Ahsan had him listed as a central midfield replacement for Yaya Toure in a 4-3-3, despite WhoScored reporting him as playing in an attacking midfield role in 80% of Everton’s matches this season (comparatively Yaya is reported as playing an attacking midfield role in less than 25% of games). When we look at stats below, Barkley will be thrown into both groups.

Quite interesting is the fact that the Bundesliga was the league of choice for incoming players, which makes sense given Pep’s familiarity with the league/players in the past three seasons, despite City infrequently doing their transfer shopping from there (only two current players from City’s squad, De Bruyne & Kompany, were purchased from the Bundesliga).

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Below is an illustrative look at the current season’s league attacking stats from the group of central and attacking midfield players, compared to City’s current squad. Attacking stats used are: Scoring / Goals & Assists & Offensive Contribution / Shots & Key Passes (the final pass leading to a shot at goal from a teammate). While these are certainly not the only stats for analysing players, they are the most identifiable on the attacking side of the ball and, to me at least, the most interesting.

A word of caution: don’t be quick to draw conclusions from these stats as players in similar positions have different roles and responsibilities, clubs have different tactics, leagues have unique styles, and one season is not a full reflection of a player’s abilities.

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Since it’s been established that Barkley has been playing more of an attacking midfield role, it’s clear to see that only Paul Pogba shoots like Yaya Toure. Marco Verratti is quite impressive in terms of key passes but shoots less than all other central midfielders displayed here.

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Granit Xhaka, Marco Verratti, and N’Golo Kante all track very similar to a City’s central midfielders when combining scoring and contribution. Once again, Yaya and Pogba separate from the pack in overall attacking stats. When Ross Barkley is compared to the other central midfielders in the group, he looks mighty impressive with that one little caveat – he’s predominately been playing a different position.

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Chicharito would add a goal-scoring threat while continued development of Kelechi could be crucial under Pep. Nabit Fekir had a lightning start to the season for Lyon that was cut short by injury on international duty for France (both Fekir and Nasri also have last year’s stats included due to each playing less than 4 games this season).

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De Bruyne is a superstar and should only improve in his peak years under Pep. Leroy Sané might not compare quite so favourably on this chart, but keep in mind that he only turned 20 years old in January, and his future looks bright.

So what’s the takeaway? Just a fun summary of the Vox Pop series and a little deeper dive into the players selected. Only Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano, Pep and the top scouts at City truly know if any of these players are potential transfer targets. While speculation on what Pep will do at City is an enjoyable endeavor and the Vox Pops series was as good as it gets in this department, the reality might be different than any City supporter can imagine. Pep will bring out the best in the current City players that stay and he’ll acquire players that fit his style of play. He’ll also tinker with tactics and formations incessantly and more often than not he’ll leave us mesmerized. Pep Guardiola was a City dream that is now a reality… what a ride this will be.

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