The season is over; Manchester City secured a healthy, yet unspectacular third placed finish to round things off this year. Following any season – but especially a season with no silverware – comes a vital summer transfer window. Clubs are given the opportunity to reinvent themselves, flush out the dead wood and sign players that could reinvigorate their side. The 2017 summer transfer window is an opportunity for City that must be capitalised on. Simply put – this squad is devoid of depth.
It’s really easy sometimes to look at City’s side and think, ‘Hey, it’s a great team. It doesn’t need a complete makeover.’ Such an assessment though is unfortunately incorrect on a number of levels.
Last summer, things looked as rosy as ever. Pep Guardiola had made his long awaited move to the club, a move that plenty of people thought would equal instant success. However, what followed was a transfer window that ultimately failed to plug the holes in the ageing squad that Manuel Pellegrini had left behind. Don’t get me wrong, the acquisitions of Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus, John Stones and İlkay Gündoğan inspired plenty of confidence – but even they weren’t able to fix some of the more pressing concerns that faced Pep, primarily in the form of defence, but also in the fact that the side lacked a cutting edge (obviously though, this is easy to say in hindsight).
Fast forward ten months. City suffered from defensive problems all year round, as well as an inability to put the ball in the net when it really mattered; both of these issues were especially prominent at the Etihad Stadium. What is clearer now more than ever is that last summer, the club failed to address all of the gaping chasms in the squad’s infrastructure. Bizarrely though, the one thing that doesn’t get talked about much, is actually City’s greatest problem – there is very little in terms of reasonable back-ups in the squad.
Speak to anybody about City, and there’s this cliché that flies around, ‘with all of their strength in depth’. It’s a phrase that’s uttered by opposition fans, journalists and pundits galore. It comes from the idea that due to our considerable resources, we must have hundreds of budding talents ready to step in and take over from someone like Yaya Touré or Sergio Agüero. What many don’t seem to realise is that in the season just gone by, City didn’t actually have any strength in depth.
The lack of talent on our bench and in reserve was borderline laughable at times. Both of our right-backs were on the wrong side of 30, with their best years behind them. Gaël Clichy was our only permanent left-back following Aleksandar Kolarov’s transition to centre-half. Fernandinho started the season as one of two senior central midfielders, alongside Fernando; this was due to Gündoğan being injured and Touré still facing exile. Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas made up our options on the right; Sané and Nolito were the choices for the left. The wing-cover actually looks passable too, until you consider that Navas and Nolito offered as much to City’s fortunes this season as Bernardo Corradi did in 2006. Perhaps most unbelievably, City stared the campaign with two strikers – one being the injury-prone and ultimately suspension-happy Agüero, the other, a very raw talent in Kelechi Iheanacho. Granted, Gabriel Jesus signed in January, but by then, City’s title hopes were faltering already.
I get it – I sound a bit like a spoiled brat to some. It comes across like I’m one of those kids on Football Manager who didn’t quite manage to sign his eleventh player during his £500million fantasy spending spree. Nonetheless, if you really look at our squad during the 16/17 season, we were lacking all over the place. Of course, injuries didn’t help. Gündoğan was unfortunately ruled out for the season just as he started to settle in. Vincent Kompany suffered recurring problems too. Sympathy with the City management is hard to find though, when you consider that our skipper is not new to the concept of injuries. Gündoğan hardly had the best record either. It seems to me that somebody seriously over-invested on the idea that those two would play 30+ games last season.
Anyway, what’s done is done. City over the years have failed to recruit adequate numbers to seriously challenge in all four of the competitions we enter, but that’s the past. So, what’s the future?
In all honesty, it’s impossible to predict exactly who City are going to sign; but what needs to happen? City need to sign enough players to litter the squad with talent. Yes, we already have a world-class striker, a couple of fantastic attacking playmakers and a centre-half that (if fit) is often unrivalled in this country, but we need more. How many times last season did City line up with an XI that looked strong on paper, but didn’t get the job done? Plenty of times. What was more worrying though, is that if Pep wanted to change things, his options were about as far from game-changing as a consolation goal at 7-0 down.
Some people have asked the question: ‘What happens when you have too many players for a small amount of positions though?’
I say, fantastic. Having top players on the bench who know that they need to earn their minutes is exactly what the club has been missing for a number of years. Yes, we can all worry about players being unhappy; but in reality – why should the club settle for starting players who simply put, aren’t producing a high level of performance.
Of course, it might mean that the likes of Sterling, Sané, Jesus and Stones see fewer minutes this year; but I think that’s absolutely fine. They’re young players with all of the time in the world. The number one goal for all of them at this point in their careers should be to learn. This year just gone, if Sterling had a bad game, his natural replacement was Jesus Navas. With all due respect to Navas, that’s a backwards step – I’d rather play an off-form Sterling. However, if City truly flex their financial muscle this summer and fill the squad with very capable, viable options, players who’re off-form will be forced to train hard and find their form again, before they’re allowed to start games.
It all sounds a bit tough love; but this is the model that the biggest and best clubs in Europe all follow. They have top-class talent waiting in the wings for one of the starting XI to slip up. It’s the way a successful club runs. There is nothing like the pressure of competition to really evoke a player’s mentality, to find out what he’s really all about. A fantastic example of this is Sergio Agüero’s attitude once Gabriel Jesus landed in Manchester. Kun was dropped for a few games, which looked catastrophic for him; and yes he benefitted from Jesus’ injury somewhat; but even then, there was a new fire in Agüero’s belly. He was playing with a work-rate and commitment level that I don’t think I’ve ever seen from him. This continued into the latter parts of the season, where he and Jesus eventually formed a successful partnership. The threat of a younger, better model forced Agüero’s hand, and this needs to occur across the squad next season.
By September, City need 18-20 very capable options in the squad. All of whom, Pep would be comfortable to see start the big games. Yes, it’ll mean some of the fan favourites becoming more familiar with the City bench. And no, it might not reinvigorate all of them into producing their very best form; but this is survival of the fittest, and if a player isn’t ready to fight tooth and nail for every minute he spends on the pitch, he’ll soon find himself in a side who accepts second-best. Raise the bar Pep, build us a squad, not just an XI.