Manchester City are in an unprecedented position of being Premier League champions while still having a handful of fixtures to go before the season ends. There is no Aguero(ooo) moment this season – it has all been very comfortable and chilled, something we’re not used to as Blues.
With only records to play for, Pep Guardiola is expected to give some of the youngsters minutes in what is left of the season. Phil Foden and Brahim Díaz will get time on the pitch, Tosin Adarabioyo may get some game time here and there despite a plethora of centre-back options, and Lukas Nmecha has a shout with Sergio Aguero sidelined until the World Cup.
That crop will be hoping to impress Pep enough now and during the pre-season tour of America to make a case for increased involvement next season. But they won’t be alone.
City have a legion of young talent dispatched all across the world, some of whom you may never have heard of. And many of them will be desperate to show what they have in the summer when they report to their parent club.
With the bulk of City’s well-known stars appearing in the World Cup, a depleted squad is expected to travel to the USA where City will take on Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. This will give some of the kids ample opportunity to make a case for themselves before the big dogs return.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is the example to inspire the many City talents out on loan. Not only was he in a similar situation in the 2016/17 campaign, but his loan spell at PSV Eindhoven was a complete failure. Guardiola is unique though, and if he sees something, a je ne sais quoi, it doesn’t matter if you’ve only made five appearances on loan at Swindon Town – he can make something of you.
With that in mind, I’ve selected five players who could fall under this category and have a chance of breaking into Manchester City’s star-studded squad next season, with reasons why.
Angeliño (21, left-back)
Angeliño has enjoyed a good year on loan at Dutch partner club NAC Breda after two loan spells in Spain’s Segunda División last season. Now 21, the young left-back has developed into a fine player capable of getting up and down the pitch as is expected of any Pep Guardiola full-back.
Manchester City have only one specialist left-back on the books, Benjamin Mendy, and his fitness may be a concern after an ACL injury that kept him out for the bulk of the season. Luckily, Guardiola is an expert at making players flourish in other roles, and we have seen Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko do well as makeshift left-back.
With the possibility of 3-5-2 being used more often next season, a formation which demands flying full-backs who are productive up the pitch, Guardiola may be tempted to acquire a second specialist left-back, and Angeliño has features that the Catalan would certainly admire.
Angeliño has made 32 appearances for NAC this season, amassing 2880 minutes of experience, and has contributed 5 assists and 3 goals from the left-back position.
Guardiola’s standards are very high, but what can be safely said is that Angeliño is making a bigger impression in the Eredivisie than Zinchenko did last year, simply because he’s had the chance to. Defensively he is questionable, but particularly in a 3-5-2, with three centre-backs to do much of the dirty work, the Spaniard could well be an option worth considering for Guardiola.
If there is no pathway to the first team for Angeliño, who believes he is ready, his best bet at 21 would be to move on permanently.
PSV Eindhoven technical director Marcel Brands revealed in February that the Dutch giants were priced out of a move for Angeliño because City value him between €10million and €15million, so if he is to be sold, it won’t be for chump change.
Angus Gunn (22, goalkeeper)
It’s always a tricky situation with top Premier League clubs on who to have as a back-up goalkeeper. If they’re too good, they tend to become unhappy because there is less scope for rotation than in outfield positions. If they’re not good enough and your main goalkeeper breaks his leg, your entire season is in jeopardy.
In that sense, Claudio Bravo has proven a good back-up to Ederson after a turbulent first season, playing a big role in Man City’s Carabao Cup win. Now the question is, if a suitable offer for both player and club arrives and Bravo moves on, what do City do next?
There will undoubtedly be some good options on the market, who can respond to Pep Guardiola’s unique demands of a goalkeeper. And one impressive in-house option who should be considered in that event is Angus Gunn, the England under-21 international who has already had one call-up to the senior national team.
Gunn has made 43 appearances in the Championship on loan at boyhood side Norwich and made an outstanding impression. Next season, one way or another, he should be at a Premier League club, be it back at City or out on loan somewhere.
While his pass accuracy rate of 60.8% is well below Ederson’s (84.7%), most teams do not play like City, and for example, Joe Hart’s at West Ham is 45.5% and the revered David de Gea has a 57% pass accuracy rate. So there is no reason why Gunn, who has played for City youth sides stylistically similar to the first team, couldn’t fit in Guardiola’s team.
The big question is: Would Angus accept a back-up role at City? After a full season of weekly football, the idea of only being guaranteed FA Cup and League Cup game, with the occasional Champions League dead rubber and perhaps a Premier League game here and there, may not be what he’s looking for.
If Gunn is open-minded about it and Bravo’s English adventure was to end, the 22-year-old is a very viable option for the second goalkeeping spot – and homegrown to boot.
Manu García (20, midfielder)
There is no denying it, Manchester City have an absolute gem in Manu García, the skillful Spanish midfielder on loan at NAC Breda. The 20-year-old has arguably been NAC’s best player this season and even the eyes of famed talent-spotter Monchi, now the sporting director of Roma, are on him.
In an era where stats count for a lot, Manu’s one goal and one assist don’t make for good reading on paper, but say little about the influence he has on the NAC team. He is the heartbeat of the side and if they do avoid relegation, he will have been a big part.
One thing is for sure, García will not be playing at the Rat Verlegh Stadion next season and bigger things await. His misfortune comes from the incredible midfield depth already present at the Etihad, which means he will have to really impress Guardiola to have any chance of being in next season’s plans. One possibility would be Phil Foden heading out on loan and Manu taking his place.
Should City not offer him a spot in next season’s squad, another move beckons for the multi-talented Manu García, and it may well be a permanent one this time. If that is the case, Guardiola would be wise to insert a buy-back option into any deal because García has the talent to go far in the game.
Pablo Maffeo (20, right-back)
Of all the young players out on loan, the general consensus is that the fiery right-back, Pablo Maffeo, has the best shot of being part of the Manchester City squad next season. He has proven himself at a higher level than the others, making 27 La Liga starts for a team that has been fighting for a place in Europe.
Maffeo’s individual performances against the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have won him headlines in Spain and there is a feeling that he has the makings of a top right-back for years to come.
The 20-year-old is defensively sound and has a good cross, and with him being a homegrown player, Pep Guardiola may well be tempted to integrate him. To facilitate Maffeo’s introduction into the squad, Guardiola might have to consider selling Danilo, his second-choice right-back behind Kyle Walker, or using the Brazilian as a back-up for both full-back roles.
Maffeo is represented by the agency of Pere Guardiola, Pep’s older brother, and that may help his cause. It was Pep who handed the Spain under-21 international his competitive debut in 2016, against Romanian side Steaua, then fielded him again in the League Cup game against Manchester United.
Patrick Roberts (21, winger)
Did Patrick Roberts blow his chance at Manchester City by insisting on a return to Celtic last summer? Possibly, but we can’t know for sure. The English winger had Premier League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 interest, but returned to what could be described as his comfort zone, with another spell at Celtic.
And it has been an injury-ravaged season for the 21-year-old, with just 9 starts in the Scottish Premiership and Champions League combined. Even so, Roberts remains a talented player and Pep Guardiola loves stockpiling wingers.
What gives Roberts some hope is that, according to reports at least, Pep Guardiola pulled the plug on a permanent move to Celtic, after a record-breaking £8million deal had been outlined. That suggests Pep sees something in the former Fulham wonderkid, although his lack of appearances this season may have changed things.
Whatever happens, City will surely not let Roberts return for a third loan spell to Celtic, so if he is to leave again, it has to be at a club in a more competitive league. But the player should now be looking to get out of his comfort zone and try to convince Guardiola that he can deputise and rotate with Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva next season.
There are a few others with outside chances of catching Pep’s eye enough to enter his plans. The Kosovan winger Bersant Celina is highly-rated at the Etihad and on a big contract, but his form at Ipswich has dipped, with only a solitary goal in 2018 after seven in the opening months of the season. His tendency to be used on the left, where Leroy Sané has very little competition at City, could give him a glimmer of hope, unless City’s new attacking signing can operate on that flank.
Girona have two midfielders on loan from City: Aleix García, who recently won his first Spain under-21 cap, and Douglas Luiz, who arrived for a big fee to much hype last summer, but has struggled for game time at Girona. Unlike Maffeo, neither have done much at Girona, but raising the Zinchenko example again, if a player has talent and Guardiola sees it, nothing is impossible.
Finally, the most prolific goalscorer of the NAC Breda loan crew, Thierry Ambrose, has the versatility to play across the attacking line and his enthusiasm and talent might appeal to Guardiola. Ambrose, 21, has scored 10 goals and contributed 4 assists in 30 league starts for NAC this season.