City begin the 2018/19 Premier League season with back-to-back titles in their sights, and it’s very hard to find an argument against this happening. If they do manage it – the bookies have them odds-on – they’ll be the first team in a decade to achieve this feat, their close neighbours being the last to do so in 2008/09.
Having romped home by a country mile last season and having smashed Premier League records aplenty along the way, it’s hard to see how any of their rivals can get close to closing the gap. With almost unlimited funds available, there is always scope for Pep Guardiola to add to his squad but given the quality already at his disposal only a relatively ‘light-touch’ is expected in terms of player turnover this summer.
While there have been only a couple of ins so far – and we’ll come on to them in a minute – there has been one significant departure in the form of veteran Yaya Toure. The Ivorian has been there throughout the recent glory years – and will forever remain a legend in the blue half of Manchester – but at 35-years-of-age has now been deemed surplus to requirements by Guardiola; unsurprising when you look at the options available.
The big arrival of the summer has been Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City for a reported fee of around £60 million. The Algerian has been on City’s shopping list for some time, and it was no surprise when the deal was finally sealed in early July. There were rumours abound that Jorginho would be another Etihad arrival, but City were beaten to his signature by Chelsea and at the time of writing there appeared no other firm targets on Guardiola’s radar. A less heralded arrival at the beginning of July was young Dutch centre-back Philippe Sandler, who arrived from PEC Zwolle for a modest – at least by City’s standards – £2.25 million.
What seems clear is that in addition to retaining the bulk of his squad, Guardiola will not veer from his footballing philosophy and won’t be tinkering with a system that brought him such success last season.
With Benjamin Mendy fit again after an injury-ravaged season, he is expected to slot in at left-back ahead of Fabian Delph, who did a fine job as an out-of-position fill in, with Kyle Walker, fresh from a fine World Cup with England, a shoo-in at right back once he’s fully recovered from his Russian exertions.
The centre-back positions are less clearcut for Guardiola, and realistically he has to perm two from four. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi tended to be his go-to pairing last season, particularly when Vincent Kompany was out injured, but classy French centre-back Aymeric Laporte offers a natural left foot and an air of calmness. In reality, with the Champions League a priority, all four will get plenty of game time across the course of the season as Guardiola looks to balance a second successive title shot with European glory.
In terms of the defensive shield, there is one name that leaps out, that of Fernandinho. The Brazilian has been excellent in this role over the last few seasons and offers the ballast for City’s creative players to go and flourish
While he has resources at his disposal that most managers can only dream of, this City midfield still picks itself in many ways, and it’s a given that Kevin De Bruyne will take on the box-to-box role and be responsible for instigating attacks. The Belgian had a brilliant World Cup and, although he’ll likely need a few weeks to shake off the Russian hangover, he remains the main man.
David Silva is not far behind though and while he plays a few more metres up the pitch from De Bruyne, he too is part of the fluid, creative hub of Guardiola’s side, with his exquisite touch and an eye for a slide rule pass. City’s penchant for fluidity and flexibility extends to their front three and it’s widely written that, while Guardiola has a structure for the defensive and midfield thirds and necessitates the pitch being divided up into imaginary squares, his attacking players are given carte blanche to create in the attacking third.
While Mahrez may get his chance early on in the season, with Raheem Sterling still recovering from his World Cup exertions, expect City to revert to their tried and trusted front three of Sterling, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus when the stakes are at their highest. They have, of course, plenty of other options available, including Sergio Aguero, and will look to make use of their squad and rotate as much as possible in order to battle on all four fronts, if we include the two domestic cup competitions.
That City are odds-on to win the title in what is technically a 20-horse race speaks volumes – -150 is as good as it gets. Make no mistake, the Premier League title is already theirs to lose, even before a ball has been kicked. With the riches at Guardiola’s disposal, anything short of a Premier League title will be deemed failure at the Etihad and in reality, it’s the Champions League that has to be next on the Citizens’ bucket list.
Last season, City took it to another level and there is absolutely no sign of their levels dropping. In fact, Guardiola won’t allow it, so don’t expect anyone other than Vincent Kompany to be lifting aloft the PL trophy next May.
Kevin De Bruyne to score 10 or more Premier League goals – +163 with BetVictor
Manchester City to score 100 or more Premier League goals – +300 with BetVictor
City to win the Premier League and Champions League – +1000 with BetVictor