Thursday, June 30, 2022

Manchester City transfer priorities: Erling Haaland is the main attraction, Pep Guardiola needs midfield depth

Manchester City secured another Premier League title, but the past season felt like one of the most disappointing for Pep Guardiola’s side since he took over the club. Being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions and the Champions League will do that to a team that has an expectation of competing for a treble each year. Injuries to key players ended up hurting the Cityzens but expectations are high year after year and the weakness of not having a recognized striker outside of Gabriel Jesus was clear heading into the season.

After hitching their carts to Harry Kane’s transfer basket last summer and getting burned, that issue has been remedied before the coming season with the arrival of Erling Haaland who will put the fear back in the hearts of defenses that was lost when Sergio Aguero got old and then left for Barcelona. Will that be enough to finally win Guardiola an elusive Champions League title with City?

Here, we break down the Manchester City senior men’s roster and try to figure out what is going to happen this summer and what is not:

Manchester City goalkeeper outlook

  • Staying: Ederson, Scott Carson
  • Uncertain Future: Zack Steffen
  • Loan Option: Arijanet Muric

Keeper is cut and dry for Manchester City, Ederson is one of the top keepers in the world, even if he occasionally makes his job harder by being too confident with the ball at his feet. What he can sometimes lack in shot stopping he makes up for by beginning attacks in a way that most keepers can’t. Hopefully, he gets his chance at taking a penalty next season as he’s shown that he can do everything else. Carson is the elder statesman of the crew and while he’s out of contract this summer, his contract is likely to be renewed to keep his locker room influence around.

With it being a World Cup year, Steffen is in a tough spot. There’s a chance that all three potential starters for the United States men’s national teams are backups at their clubs but that could still mean Steffen plays the least of the three if Arsenal being in Europa League means Matt Turner gets minutes there and Brice Samba’s contract uncertainty at Nottingham Forest where Ethan Horvath is his backup means he at least has a chance at starting. Gregg Berhalter has leaned on Steffen as his number one keeper despite playing time concerns in the past but with subpar showings to end World Cup qualifying, that could change in the future. 

Making a move could help Steffen get regular playing time to iron out the kinks in his game, but it could also end with him having another showing like his disappointing stint at Fortuna Dusseldorf. If he were to move it would need to be to the right place. Muric’s future is intertwined with Steffen’s if one stays the other goes on loan.

Ideal moves: None, everything that City needs between the sticks is right in front of them for next season.

Manchester City defensive outlook

  • Staying: Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte

The City defense was almost unbeatable last season. While near the end of the year, they did lose their luster, only allowing 26 goals over a 38 game season is impressive. The issues that cropped up were more due to injuries to key players than anything else. The entire City defense is expected to return unless somebody makes City an unexpectedly massive offer for one of them, but on paper this will still be one of the best defensive units in the Premier League.

Every member of the starting back four has a chance of making the team of the season and the only concerns around this unit are when it comes to lack of depth. Joao Cancelo in particular can’t go into another season being the backup right back and starting left back and the team’s worst performances came when Stones and Ake had to play as fullbacks instead of central defenders. Also, Fernandinho filled in as extra center-back depth despite being a natural midfielder, so his departure means there is more depth heading out of the door that needs to be replaced.

Ideal moves: I’ve already alluded to the depth issues at fullback and it looks like City is working on trying to resolve those. There are loose rumors linking them to a move for Marc Cucurella from Brighton who impressed in his first year in the Premier League. Able to carry the ball and create in attack while locking down teams defensively at either left back or as a center back in a back three, Cucurella has a lot in common with what Guardiola likes from Kyle Walker on the right flank. Adding him could help not only with depth but also ensure that similar build up play can be replicated when Walker is rested or injured. Cancelo is more of an attacking force, so he spends more time forward than Walker when playing in that role. 

Another center back could be added as well but the crisis experienced last year, when three of the teams first four center-bacs were unavailable at the same time, is unlikely to happen again. In that case, utilizing someone from the youth ranks as an emergency option is fine.

Manchester City midfield outlook

  • Staying: Jack Grealish, Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden, Rodri, Bernardo Silva
  • Uncertain Future: Cole Palmer
  • Leaving: Ilkay Gundogon, Fernandinho

Fernandinho may be past his best but City’s midfield rotations will get pretty tight if he’s not replaced. Able to ensure Rodri doesn’t play too many minutes while also spelling center-backs when needed, losing all defensive midfield depth in one summer isn’t great for Guardiola. Gundogan has also been excellent for City operating in whatever role is needed and not having him will be a big miss. Interest in Paul Pogba shows that City are looking for a versatile midfielder who can do it all but those guys don’t grow on trees at City’s level.

The core is as good as ever as Grealish’s second year in Manchester should see him grow into Guardiola’s plans. You can only be so concerned about depth in a midfield that features Foden, de Bruyne, and Bernardo but minutes will be a concern if new recruits don’t join. At the moment, Cole Palmer should get a chance at regular minutes but it’s always more likely for that to come in a loan move elsewhere than at City. 

Ideal Moves: Kalvin Phillips is one of the names that City is tracking as he has impressed at Leeds United and with England. He would offer a natural backup to Rodri and being a backup could also help with possible injury concerns after Phillips missed a lot of time last season. Declan Rice would be a perfect fit here but West Ham are doing everything in their power to keep him in London and he would also want to move somewhere where he can be a starter.

Filling the Gundogon hole is a little harder because he could slot into any midfield role that is needed. City are in an odd position because the likes of Grealish, De Bruyne, Foden and Silva mean there are a lot of natural attackers who can (and do) play midfield but without Fernandinho and Gundogan they’re light in the actual midfield department, even if a replacement wouldn’t necessarily play all that many minuts. James Ward-Prowse is someone who could do that but it’s tough to see him leaving Southampton. Though, not only can Ward-Prowse slot into any midfield position while delivering devastating free kicks, but he also offers another option to drive home penalties from the spot with a good success rate, something that City have surprisingly struggled with in recent years.

Manchester City attack outlook

  • Staying: Riyad Mahrez
  • Joining: Erling Haaland
  • Uncertain Future: Julian Alvarez, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling 

To get one Haaland how many attackers need to leave Manchester? Gabriel Jesus will leave as he has no chance at being the starter anymore and his contract is winding down. Arsenal seem to be the most likely destination. With Julian Alvarez arriving, a decision does need to be made on who will be Haaland’s backup. There are certainly enough minutes to keep Alvarez but if Guardiola prefers utilizing false nines instead as his other options, then loaning him to Olympique Marseille or another club in Champions League to be a starter isn’t a bad idea.

Raheem Sterling has had a n up and down time at City as he’s known for missed chances but with his speed and vision, he is able to get into spots that most players can’t, which makes his misses look worse than they are at times. It could be time for a change of scenery even if it means testing himself outside of the Premier League.

Haaland raises the danger of the attack but if there’s any concern about adding the Norwegian it’s that Haaland hasn’t broken 2500 league minutes ever in his career. At only 21, this is to be expected but could also make the transition to the Premier League a little tougher with him rotating more than we may expect. While expectations will be high and Haaland has the mentality to handle them, plenty of talented attackers have flopped in the Premier League that it’s important to be careful especially when he can help pick up a lot of minutes after the World Cup since Norway didn’t qualify.

Ideal moves: Not much is needed in attack with most of the midfielders also being able to deputize in the front three. If Jesus does secure a move away from Manchester, the biggest boon for the attack will be ensuring that Alvarez isn’t loaned too. While he’s an unknown quantity in England, he has too much talent to not get a chance in front of these creators on the team.

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