If in May 2009, as I watched Pep Guardiola’s peak Barcelona team beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome to seal a Champions League title and a first Spanish treble, you’d turned to me and told me that the very same manager in charge of the Catalan team would be managing Manchester City a decade later, I’d have probably said “yeah, okay, whatever” and ignored you. A lot has changed in ten years.
Here we are in 2019 and Manchester City have just come off the back of a historic domestic treble, which itself came off the back of a historic 100-point centurion season. In three years, Guardiola has turned the English mentality from “ha! Silly passing out from the back, it just won’t work in England.
We’ve found him out, lads!” to “Right, we’re Rochdale Town, let’s start passing out from the back”. He’s a man revolutionising the country’s football in the same way he influenced the national identities of both Spain and Germany before this.
It’s tough to imagine that last season could really be beat. A domestic treble (or quadruple if you’re buying into the club’s marketing campaigns) is very difficult to replicate because of the sheer luck required in cup competitions which, looking at the routes to the finals of both the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, is impossible to deny was on City’s side last year.
That is, however, with the exception of one competition which still eludes Manchester City, and has eluded Pep for many years now, the Champions League.
City fans are going into this season expecting very much more of the same from the last two seasons, and why not? 198 points in two seasons is enough to make even the most pessimistic “typical City” fans feel confident going into a Premier League campaign.
Liverpool ran the blues close last season and there’s something to be said for the idea that, were it not for Liverpool doing as well as they did, City may not have either, however whereas City have strengthened in the transfer market, as have Tottenham, Liverpool have not.
City have weakened in one respect, however. Vincent Kompany, after eleven years of service, decided the time to leave was right probably about two seconds after he smashed a winner into the top corner from 30 yards against Leicester. His departure sees City lose an incredible defender who, if his body had been less of a hindrance, would probably be considered the greatest defender the league has ever seen.
The fact he already is considered one of them, despite having missed the vast majority of at least three or four seasons, is a testament to his talent. Defensive ability can be replaced, however what cannot be replaced is the intangible ability to lead, which Kompany brought in spades.
With Kompany out of the equation, the captaincy is up for grabs. My personal pick would be either Kevin De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva, two players who, as well as being the best players in the team, perfectly embody the intense, intelligent playstyle the team has been playing since the arrival of Pep.
De Bruyne in particular often leads by example and has the ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck and drag us to a result if it’s ever in doubt. David Silva is the obvious sentimental choice and I expect that, purely off the back of the fact he’s the longest serving player in the squad, he’ll be wearing the captain’s armband when we face West Ham in the opening game of the season.
Achieving 90 points again is more than realistic, it’s very likely. It’s incredible to think that a benchmark of 90 points, once thought to be enough to win the league, is now probably the bare minimum you’ll have to reach in terms of a title challenge.
I sincerely believe that, rather than a drop in quality in the bottom half of the league which many have suggested, it’s more to do with the fact that top level coaching in the Premier League is at its peak and Guardiola is the perfect example of this.
In terms of new signings, Rodri brings with him a lot of hype. Spanish media had him linked with an inevitable move to Barcelona in the coming years, dubbing him “the new Busquets”.
Atletico were certainly desperate to keep hold of him and if he’s even 75% the player Busquets is then we’ve got a real player on our hands. It finally offers some much-needed rotation for Fernandinho, who has basically played every available minute for the last three years because we have nobody else who Guardiola will put in his position for a game of any importance.
Angelino has arrived rather quietly from PSV, with City having exercised a buy-back clause in his original transfer to the Dutch club. Nobody is expecting huge things from him, however, for less than £7 million, the transfer is smart as it provides much-needed back up at the left-back position in the inevitable absence of Benjamin Mendy, who can’t seem to get his knees to work properly. Of course, having come through City’s academy, he also helps to fill the home-grown quota, which is never a bad thing.
Whilst the expectation for the Premier League is obviously another retention of the title (however plausible that may be), the same cannot be said of the one competition which eludes the blues, and has eluded Pep for some time, the Champions League.
Last season’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur was by far the most sickening of the exits City have had from the competition, made worse by the knowledge that a winnable tie against Ajax would have been the only thing stopping us from getting to the final.
The City heirarchy have made no secret of the fact that Champions League silverware is the ultimate aim and is something they would have hoped to achieve in Guardiola’s time at the club.
Whereas fans may not share quite the same level of enthusiasm for the competition as the City directors or Pep himself, it really is about time that we saw City start to reach semi-finals of the competition with some consistency to complement our domestic dominance.
Ultimately, silverware should be on the cards again for City. At least one trophy per season is the kind of normality that the club is striving for and is ultimately the sign of a club which is truly one of the elite in the game. Combine that with progress in the Champions League and blues will have plenty to sing about this season.
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