With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Manchester City and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Manchester City are a modern-day great, fuelled by heavy monetary investment and led by one of the greatest football managers of all time – Pep Guardiola. Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 for £210 million, following which Etihad purchased the naming rights for their stadium in 2011.
They went through a significant overhaul during this time, bringing in the likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure in 2010, Sergio Aguero, and Samir Nasri in 2011, followed by multiple other established names in the European circuit like Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli among others.
This incredible investment from Arabia paid off when City sealed the Premier League for the first time in their history on the final matchday of the 2011/12 season with arguably the most iconic moment in Premier League history. You know exactly which one we’re talking about, but if you don’t, this might jog your memory.
Since then, Manchester City have appointed Guardiola and broken countless records in England, including the one for most points in a single season (100), most goals scored in a single season (106), joint-highest wins (32), best goal difference (+79), and most consecutive victories (18). And this all were recorded in a single season – 2017/18.
After winning two Premier League titles in a row, the Citiyzens were not quite able to hold their berth against Liverpool, who went all guns blazing from the first game last season, and reached their version of paradise. Let’s take a look at how City failed to defend their throne.
Prelude – The Backdrop
Manchester City did not start the season well, drawing to Tottenham Hotspur in the second gameweek in a four-goal event. Soon after that, they lost their best defender Aymeric Laporte to injury which sent the club’s defence into turmoil.
Fernandinho tried to slot in for the Frenchman at centre-back but failed to do it as effortlessly. Consequently, City lost their very next game – an affair against newly-promoted Norwich City that was predicted to go only one way. They were stunned by Teemu Pukki and his party, putting two past them in the first 30 minutes, and then sealed the game with a third on the 50th-minute mark.
After this, though, they recorded a massive 8-o win over Watford that boasted of six different scorers including a hat-trick from Bernardo Silva. This was not enough, sadly, as, by this time, Liverpool had already built a four-point gap over their modern-day rivals, which was about to be extended, courtesy of Adama Traore who put two unanswered goals against the City defence at Etihad.
Just when it seemed like City had started to gain some momentum in the league, they were pushed back down by one of their competitors, and on this occasion, it were the Scousers who beat them 3-1 at home turf with goals from Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Fabinho.
Pep Guardiola and co. went on a rather dry run during the last two months of the year, winning just seven games out of 14 in all competitions. This included a draw against Newcastle United which came on the back of a 1-1 tie against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. They managed to win 4-1 against Burnley, but were humbled by Manchester United, who put on a defending masterclass.
On 27th December, City got ready to seek revenge from Wolves at the Molineux Stadium in a game that turned out to be one of the most entertaining games of the season. Not only did the hosts come back from 2-0 down to win the game 3-2, but they also recorded 61% possession against City – the highest ever against a side managed by Pep. By the time the full-time whistle blew, the Sky Blues were grateful it was only three.
City went on an upward trajectory after this, going unbeaten in the Premier League for seven games before their streak came crashing against derby rivals Manchester United. The Red Devils recorded a double over their ‘noisy neighbours’ for the first time since 2010. This was also the last game City played before returning to action against Arsenal in June, beating them comfortably by 3-0.
Two gameweeks later, they were set to face Chelsea, and a loss against Frank Lampard’s Blues would mean the Premier League title signed, sealed, and delivered for Liverpool. And that is precisely what happened. In anticlimactic fashion, Chelsea registered a 2-1 win over City thanks to a penalty in the 80th minute.
With the runners up spot pretty much confirmed, all games but one after this were pretty much redundant for Guardiola; the one against Liverpool at home.
They hosted the newly-crowned Champions of England, who were a bit hungover, as was apparent with their performance. City showed them no empathy, winning the game 4-0, and disallowing them even a shot on target in the second half. This result did not matter for them in the season but motivated them in the long run.
City ended the season the best they know how: by scoring five unanswered goals against Norwich, crossing 100 goals in the process. Despite the ridiculous amount of goals scored, City were victims of their under-clinical nature in all competitions, but most clearly in the PL.
Proof of the same is their Expected Points for the season, which they underperformed by more than 5. Additionally, poor finishing by the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, and Raheem Sterling cost them several matches this season as their crown fell to Liverpool.
The transfer window and Manchester City have always marched hand-in-hand, and it has been a similar case this year as well. City have enjoyed a busy shopping spree so far, with more players expected to join, with Kalidou Koulibaly on the radar. Let’s not forget how close they were to signing Lionel Messi.
Nathan Ake has joined the club for a fee of £40 million from AFC Bournemouth. The Dutchman can slot in as a central defender and a left-back and gives the much-needed cover for Aymeric Laporte.
With Valencia going into a state of chaos, City have made the best use of that, purchasing Ferran Torres for a fee of £20 million. The Spaniard is tipped to be a world-class talent and has shown all the right signs so far. Torres is expected to take the place of Leroy Sane, who departed City to join Bayern Munich for £45 million. This transfer comes after an over-extended saga that stretched for an entire season.
Despite having two right-backs in the team, City completed the signing of Yan Couto in January from Coritiba. The 18-year-old will join the team this summer, and can not only function as a right-back but also in a more advanced role as a winger or a wide midfielder.
Club and league legend David Silva has officially left the club after a decade of mind-blowing football, joining Real Sociedad on a free transfer. El Mago was initially suspected of joining Lazio, but after the club failed to call curtains on the deal in time, Sociedad swooped him as a replacement for Martin Odegaard.
Another player who has left for free is Claudio Bravo. The two-time Copa America winner returns to Spain as well, joining Real Betis. Angeliño, too, has returned to RB Leipzig on loan after spending half of last season there under Julian Nagelsmann.
Amidst all this, they could very well see the departure of Eric Garcia to Barcelona, with the Catalan giants interested to bring him back to his hometown. Recent reports suggest that Barcelona are ready to pay €10 million for his services, as opposed to the €18 million asking price set by the Manchester outfit.
2020/21 is already set to be a cramped season, with fixtures coming thick and fast. With their hands already full, Manchester City will potentially have an additional midweek fixture to worry about. The Cityzens will still be playing 38 Premier League games like every other club.
However, they will not be in action in the opening weekend of the season, seeing as they have been given additional time off following their excursions deep into the UEFA Champions League last term. As a result, City’s first game of the season will be against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineux on 21 September. Wolves completed a double over them last season, and City will be in the hunt for revenge this time.
Our 2020/21 @premierleague fixtures in full!
Which game do you look for first? ?
— Manchester City (@ManCity) August 20, 2020
They also have to face Leicester City at home before September ends. October brings them two relatively challenging fixtures against Arsenal and Sheffield United respectively, squeezing an away trip to the London Stadium where they will take on West Ham.
November will hit City hard with games against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur withing two weeks before they finish the month against Burnley. December will bring to them festivities in the form of derby rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford, Southampton at St. Mary’s and Everton at Goodison Park.
The new year will start with a bang, as well, as they take a trip to Stamford Bridge to take on the last of the ‘Big Six’ before the half-way mark. They end the month by welcoming Sheffield United to the Etihad before taking two consecutive flights to Burnley and Liverpool in February.
February could turn out to be make or break for them as they also face the London trio of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and West Ham in the span of two weeks. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will park their bus at Etihad on March 6th, after which City have to face Fulham and Wolves.
City have Leeds United and Aston Villa sandwiched between Leicester and Southampton in April, which could turn out to be a tricky month. Finally, the Sky Blues will travel to London to play Crystal Palace on matchday 34, before ending the season three weeks later against Everton, hopefully in front of fans.
Kevin De Bruyne
? @PFA PLAYERS’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR ?
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 8, 2020
As runners-up of the Premier League and Quarter-finalists of the Champions League, Manchester City naturally boast of a plethora of talented individuals. But at the cornerstone of this team is a certain Belgian who likes to do all the talking, on and off the pitch – Kevin De Bruyne.
De Bruyne joined City in 2015 and has since been an integral part of their team as the primary creator. Last season, though, he outdid himself on all levels, scoring 13 goals and giving 20 assists – matching the assist tally, and record of Premier League legend Thierry Henry.
He created 33 big chances, playing 2.9 key passes per game, and finally picked up what was truly his for the taking this season – the PFA Player of the Year trophy. At the moment, it is fair to say the 29-year-old is head and shoulders above any other midfielder in the world, and stopping him next season will be vital in stopping City.
Aymeric Laporte’s importance at Manchester City became quite clear last season after he picked up a long-term injury early during the season. His absence in the team was immediately reflected as City lost the immediate next game after losing him. In the long term, it probably cost them their third Premier League trophy.
For additional context, Laporte was named in the PFA Premier League team of the year after the 2018/19 season, which was also his first full season at the club. He put on the shirt 35 times during that season, scoring three goals and giving three assists while keeping a humongous 18 clean sheets. Now that Fernandinho’s role has been taken over by Rodri, Laporte might be their most important player.
City have stacks and stacks of world-class players, and even more so in the attack, with Ferran Torres as the latest addition. However, it is quite easy to cherry-pick club top-scorer and one of the Premier League greats Sergio Aguero from that roster.
Over the last seasons, Aguero has been a victim of some troublesome injuries but has managed to maintain an incredible scoring record with it all. Last season, in spite of starting just 18 games, the Argentine recorded 16 goals and three assists, scoring at a rate of a goal every 91 minutes.
And in the last ten seasons, he has finished among the top ten highest-scorers of the season seven times, winning it once with 26 goals in 2014/15. Manchester City have not gone ahead with the signing of Lautaro Martinez despite being strongly linked to him, which means a lot is riding on Aguero this season. A fit Aguero almost definitely means success.
2020/21 could turn out to be the most exciting seasons in recent times courtesy of the hectic fixture list, international breaks, and the extended summer transfer window. Manchester City have one of the best, if not the best squads in the Premier League to cope with the tumult of this campaign.
Still, they still have some areas on the pitch that are crying out for reinforcements, and more specifically the defence. Aymeric Laporte, as good as he is, lacks an equally able, or even a suitable partner at the heart of the defence. Nathan Ake is naturally left-footed, and might face a problem fitting into the right side of the central defence.
City also need to wrap up the signing of an excellent left-back, the absence of which was visible last season as Joao Cancelo took on that responsibility during the latter stages of the competition.
That being said, City will come into this season with a lot more motivation, primarily because of the way they ended last – with an 18 point gap between them and Liverpool. More importantly, with another month of the transfer window left to take place, it is safe to say City look destined to regain the crown as Premier League champions.