Prepping for Pep: Who stays, goes at Manchester City?
Manuel Pellegrini will point out that Manchester City has gone further than ever before in the Champions League and has won the Capital One Cup this season, but this has been a dismal season for City in almost every other respect. After five straight wins at the start of the season, its league form has faltered badly, while the performance in the defeat to Real Madrid was probably the most insipid ever produced by any side in a Champions League semifinal. Again and again this season, City has been lethargic, playing without energy or any semblance of coherence.
Just about the only bright spot was the announcement in February that Pep Guardiola will take over as coach next season, ending a five-year pursuit. With former Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain operating as CEO and sporting director, the club has been built in Guardiola’s image. The environment may be to his liking, but an aging squad surely is not–its inadequacies highlighted once again in the Bernabeu–and a failure to qualify for Champions League could impact who can be brought in to revitalize the team on the field.
As for those currently donning City blue, who will be part of Guardiola’s plans, who might be, and who definitely won’t be? Here's an early look at the forthcoming changes to Manchester City:
It is, frankly, a short list.
Kevin De Bruyne has been excellent this season, scoring seven goals and laying on nine and playing with a verve and intelligence. His versatility and capacity to play across the attacking midfield line should guarantee him a key role.
Fernandinho works hard, is good on the ball and can play in a range of positions and looks likely to be used to offer aggression in midfield, although given Guardiola’s habit of playing a midfielder at center back, he could find himself pushed into the back four. There had been widespread speculation that Ilkay Gundogan would be signed as a midfield fulcrum, but his injury may put those plans on hold.
There are those who doubt Sergio Aguero’s contribution to the defensive part of the game, and he will have to learn to press under Guardiola, but his explosive pace and finishing mean he remains one of the best strikers in the world. It would be a surprise if Guardiola were not at least to try to work with him given the far greater problems elsewhere. Kelechi Iheanacho, the 19-year-old striker who has scored seven goals this season, may not be a starter for Guardiola, but he will surely look to develop him.
Probably have a role
Joe Hart has had a good season and but for him the win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarterfinal would not have happened, but he is not a natural ball-player in the manner of Victor Valdes or Manuel Neuer.
Guardiola has been linked with a move for both of Barcelona's goalkeepers, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo.
David Silva has contributed 11 assists this season, but it may be that Guardiola sees him as slowing the game down. Raheem Sterling hasn’t had the greatest of seasons since his £50 million move from Liverpool, but he is quick and young and Guardiola may be able to mold him into his sort of player.
Vincent Kompany remains one of the best defenders in the world when fit, but he has managed only 1,179 minutes of league play this season, and it may be that Guardiola decides the constant waits for him to return to fitness are destabilizing.
May have a role
The defense is the biggest issue. Nicolas Otamendi is big and too cumbersome to be a natural Guardiola player, but for all his inconsistency last season, he was exceptional in Spain previously. Eliaquim Mangala looks to have all the attributes of a good central defender and impressed against PSG; Guardiola may see potential he can shape. City’s interest in the Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte is well-known, but he has broken his leg.
Fullbacks Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy have been no better than adequate this season, but both are experienced, and, with so much surgery required elsewhere, they may survive a cull.
The defense has often taken the blame for failures in the midfield. Fernando also showed signs in that PSG game that he may be rather better than he’s often given credit for, but equally he doesn’t seem to have the passing ability or reading of the game Guardiola requires. Samir Nasri, back from injury, has escaped most of the blame for this season, and is certainly technically good enough; the issue is more his brain.
Fabian Delph has barely played this season but he may survive as a useful backup to maintain the homegrown quota, while Willy Caballero is an adequate reserve goalkeeper who seems relatively content on the bench.
Headed for an exit
Guardiola offloaded Yaya Toure from Barcelona in 2010 and that was before he became the slow, lumbering player he is now. Add in wages of around £240,000 a week, his growing unruliness and his agent’s public criticism of Guardiola and it’s safe to assume he’ll be top of the leaving list.
Jesus Navas’s continuing presence in the City side is an enduring mystery, he is quick, but his crossing and finishing habitually disappoint. He has nothing like the technical ability or game intelligence Guardiola requires. Aleksandar Kolarov’s form has collapsed this season, while Martin Demichelis has looked every second of his 35 years and age has begun to catch up with Pablo Zabaleta as well.
Wilfried Bony has never impressed since his move from Swansea and his ponderousness looks like a poor fit for a Guardiola side. Expect major changes at the Etihad.