Manchester City will be ruing a lot of missed opportunities and their head coach Pep Guardiola will be taking everything into account when he sits with his fellow coaches and other members of the support staff while picking holes in what went wrong for them in the 2019/20 Premier League season. The defending champions, who were on a roll for two seasons in a row (2017/18 and 2018/19) and were eyeing a hat-trick of titles but were stopped short by a belligerent Liverpool who did almost everything right.
In the end, the Reds from Merseyside finished with 99 points at the end of the season, eighteen ahead of Manchester City’s 81, which says a lot, given that seldom has such a big difference in the number of points seen between the winners of the Premier League and its runners up.
In the 2018/19 season, which Manchester City won by a whisker, they finished with 98 points, which was just one point more than Liverpool’s tally of 97 and it was this motivation that spurred Jurgen Klopp’s side to throw in the kitchen sink in the season gone by and blow with the wind.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR MANCHESTER CITY IN THE 2019/20 PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON?
Manchester City, famed for their deep research into techniques of finding the right players who fit their system, have failed to come within an inch’s distance of Liverpool’s tally of 99 points in the 2019/20 season and there has to be some analysis into why this happened. One of the biggest reasons why this happened was that their defence turned out to be very fragile this season.
There was no dearth of attacking options with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, David Silva and Riyad Mahrez turning up with regular frequency whenever a clarion call was given by their manager Guardiola. However, it was their defenders who could not rise to the occasion whenever the situation demanded them to. For most of the time, Manchester City were crippled by injuries to their defenders and Guardiola’s hands were tied, but even when his full squad was available to him, they did not exactly put in heart-warming performances.
More than their fullbacks, it was Manchester City’s famed centre-backs who let them down consistently. Boasting a roster consisting of Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Eric Garcia who can all play confidently in the heart of a team’s defence, Manchester City still failed to get going or achieve the best out of them. Most of the times these players were missing through injury, as can be seen from these statistics: John Stones appeared only sixteen times in the Premier League and helped keep three clean sheets, Aymeric Laporte appeared on just fifteen occasions and helped keep three clean sheets while Eric Garcia turned up for the Cityzens on thirteen occasions and helped keep three clean sheets.
Nicolas Otamendi of Argentina was a bit more fortunate, having turned up on twenty-four occasions and helping keep six clean sheets, which also include two goals, one of which came in the Manchester derby against rivals Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium. The 30-year-old has been the sole bright spot for Manchester City’s defence in the 2019/20 season. The frequency with which Manchester City’s centre-halves have been hit with injury propelled long-serving central defensive midfielder Fernandinho to be deployed as a defender by manager Guardiola.
It is, therefore, no surprise when we say that the majority of the Brazilian’s 30 appearances in the 2019/20 season came in the central defensive position, much behind his regular spot in the heart of Manchester City’s midfield (his place was usurped by the likes of Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan if Kevin de Bruyne did not play in the centre and veered towards the left.)
All of these reasons have compelled manager Guardiola to look for new central defenders in the transfer window which is active prior to the 2020/21 Premier League season and there is certainly no reason why we can blame him. Hence, this has led to him being on the lookout for new centre-backs who can fill the void that is existing inside Manchester City’s roster.
Manchester City have already begun to take care of their business in the summer transfer window and two of the first signings they have made are of winger Ferran Torres and centre-half Nathan Ake. Torres, who came in from Valencia, is almost a like-for-like replacement for the outgoing Leroy Sane, who has signed a deal with German giants Bayern Munich. The Netherlands’ international Ake, who came in from relegated side AFC Bournemouth is expected to provide some strength into an already weakened defence.
Ake, who is in the prime of his life as he is aged just 25, first made an impression in the Premier League when he made his debut for Chelsea. Long spells of loans continued to Reading, Watford and Bournemouth and he eventually moved to the resort town in the southern coast of England in 2017 and where he made 109 appearances (and scored eight goals- he is a terrific goal threat, we will come to this later) but his time there came to an end now that Eddie Howe’s side were relegated to the English Football League Championship at the end of this season. City have done a good thing by signing him, and although he will have to fight for his place among the others at the Etihad, he offers a good package.
Guardiola has done the right thing by snapping him up before the other vultures even got a hint that he was on the market.
As mentioned earlier, Ake is a threat from set-pieces as his heading skills were unparalleled amongst the Cherries. At the Etihad, though, he will have to compete with Nicolas Otamendi for bragging rights as to who is the better header, but all in all, City seem to have got a good deal out of this signing, given the fact that he cost them a moderate 40 million Pounds.
OTHER OPTIONS AVAILABLE FOR PEP GUARDIOLA AND MANCHESTER CITY
Now that Ake has been signed on a permanent transfer, Manchester City have moved their sights towards other centre-backs who can fill the void left by the departure of faithful club servant Vincent Kompany to Belgian club Anderlecht after the 20181/19 season as well as the recurring injuries to Stones, Laporte and Otamendi. One of the options that the side from the blue half of Manchester have constantly pursued is Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly.
The Senegalese international is a technically proficient defender who is known for his wide pressing and man-to-man marking skills. He has been a revelation for the Italian Serie A club ever since he joined them in the 2014 summer transfer window. The 29-year-old has made 251 appearances for the side from Naples and in the meantime, has also scored on eleven occasions, which means that he poses an attacking threat as well.
Napoli have been hounded relentlessly by several Premier League clubs for Koulibaly’s signature, including Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the past, but we believe that this time Manchester City may be in with a real chance. Manchester City have offered a fixed 70 million Euros as the base price to Napoli but it has to be noted that the Senegalese international has a release clause of 150 million Euros in his contract if he is sold to clubs outside of Italy.
However, manager Gennaro Gattuso has reportedly agreed to an asking price of 90 million Euros, and it remains to be seen how Manchester City respond to this offer, although they are desperately in need of further reinforcement to their defence. Another candidate whom Manchester City are pursuing relentlessly in this year’s summer transfer window is Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar. It has been widely reported how the Italian Serie A club’s manager Antonio Conte does not want to let him go but it has also been said that if Manchester City meet their valuation of around 72 million Pounds, then perhaps they stand a chance.
Skriniar is a commanding central defender and has been widely successful at the San Siro ever since he moved there from Sampdoria in July 2017. Manchester City have also been linked with a lot of other big-time centre backs such as Leonardo Bonucci and Ruben Dias, but it is highly unlikely that those transfers will fall through.
It is also possible that among Koulibaly and Skriniar, only one may make the permanent trip to the Etihad in Manchester.