Arguably the most complete side in club football now, Manchester City under Pep Guardiola are forging ahead in full flow.
Even though the Cityzens have the worst net spend among the European elites, racking up a mammoth €631 million expenditure in the past five seasons, they have the silverware to show for their enormous splurge. Manchester City have been the dominant team in England, winning three league titles in Guardiola’s five-year reign.
However, not everything has been sunshine and rainbows under the Spanish tactician’s tenure. Manchester City have consistently struggled on the continental stage, only progressing past the quarter-finals once under Guardiola.
Despite their glittering roster of players, the Sky Blues seem to lack the clinical edge that an all-conquering team should ideally possess. Can Guardiola fix this hole in City’s roster before the start of the 2021-22 season?
Manchester City’s pre-season fixtures
Manchester City are expected to play a short pre-season, similar to last year, with only two fixtures confirmed at the time of writing.
The Citizens will welcome Championship side Preston North End on July 27th, before travelling to France to face fellow City Football Group-owned club Troyes four days later. They will then encounter Leicester City in the Community Shield on August 7th. There have been rumours of a charity match against Barcelona, but nothing has been confirmed as of now.
#ManCity will return for pre-season training next week, with no tournament players involved. @ManCity academy players will feature alongside the likes of Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, and Zack Steffen.— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) July 13, 2021
With most of their players participating in either the Euros or the Copa America, Manchester City will only have a handful of first team members at their disposal before their pre-season commences.
Reports suggest that only Fernandinho, fresh off signing a contract extension, Riyad Mahrez, Benjamin Mendy and Zack Steffen, Ederson’s understudy, will be back in training by July 19th. They will be accompanied by some promising academy players.
On that note, here are five players who need to perform in pre-season if they wish to be a part of Guardiola’s ambitious Manchester City project:
#5 Raheem Sterling
The hero of England at Euro 2020, Raheem Sterling, had a stellar tournament to everyone’s surprise. But why was this outcome so unexpected, given that Sterling is a proven superstar? The perception traces its roots to the English winger’s sub-par 2020-21 season at City.
In the absence of veterans Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, everyone expected Sterling to assume a larger role in the team. He was supposed to lead the City team by example.
Instead, the Jamaican-born attacker underwhelmed, according to his own high standards. Subsequently, Guardiola chose to play Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez over the flexible forward. Sterling could only muster 13 goals in all competitions, as opposed to his tally of 31 strikes in the 19-20 season.
City’s xg stats PL 20/21.— Man City Tactics (@city_tactics) January 14, 2021
Foden (-1.29) and Gundogan (-0.78) most impressive over-performance.
Bernardo (+1.48), Dias (+1.12) and Sterling (+0.99) underperforming their xg.
KDB a huge +4.77 underperformance.
For context next highest in the league is Ollie Watkins at +3.08 pic.twitter.com/BVH2GrhokK
Sterling was given ample opportunities, but he failed to capitalise on them. Still, Guardiola has insisted that Sterling remains one of the best wingers in the world. Nevertheless, high praise from his manager, Sterling has been linked with a move away from the Etihad. With City keen to land Harry Kane and Jack Grealish, they will need to offload some players to bring in the required funds.
Despite his underwhelming 2020-21 season, Sterling remains a key player for Manchester City. But Sterling making way for new signings is not as farfetched as it once was. Rather, his sale alone could facilitate the deals Guardiola intends to materialise. A good pre-season for the player, meanwhile, would go a long way in convincing the City hierarchy of Sterling’s credentials.
#4 Liam Delap
Arguably the crown jewel of Manchester City’s academy, Liam Delap has been a revelation since joining the blue half of Manchester from Derby County.
In his two years as a City player, Delap has managed to make three first-team appearances, scoring once in the EFL Cup against Bournemouth. The lanky Englishman’s impressive performances earned him a place alongside the first team at the training ground.
Delap specialises as a traditional number 9, with pace and power being his two main attributes. He possesses decent close control and a knack for shooting from distance. However, his reputation as an authentic striker could become the reason behind his undoing.
It is a known fact that Guardiola prefers strikers who can play a deeper role and can also be deployed as a false 9 or a number 10, with the only exception to this rule being a certain Norwegian called Erling Haaland. Amidst strong links connecting Harry Kane to City, Delap has a monumental task at hand.
Reports suggest that Guardiola has opted to give him a chance to prove himself in pre-season. If the Premier League 2 winner can replicate his second division form, the Spanish manager would have no option other than to include the talented 18-year-old attacker in his future plans.