It’s not hyperbole to say this upcoming season may be the most highly-anticipated year in Manchester City’s history. After all, it’s most prolific signing ever is someone who can’t even take the pitch, but is instead one of the most accomplished managers in modern soccer. Due to the appointment of Barcelona legend Pep Guardiola following his three seasons at Bayern Munich, Manchester City is considered the favorite by many to win the Premier League this season and hopes are higher than ever for making a strong push in Champions League after making the semifinals for the first time last season. While there is still work to be done in the transfer window, Guardiola inherits one of the deepest, most talented squads in the Premier League, let alone the world.
Last Season in Brief
Despite its fourth-place finish, Manchester City actually topped the Premier League table for most of the first half of the season (13 of the first 16 weeks). City got off to the hottest start imaginable, winning its first five matches while giving up zero goals in the process (meanwhile, Vincent Kompany was one of the league’s leading goalscorers for a couple weeks). But the two-time Premier League champions didn’t get back to first place after Christmas, dropping 26 points after Boxing Day. The disappointing debuts of Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling were outweighed by the play of summer arrivals Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne, who missed a chunk of the New Year with injury. But it should appear as no coincidence that the club lost its fire after announcing Guardiola would take over for Pellegrini in February, leaving the Chilean manager to vie for trophies rather than worry about the domestic front—City lost three straight immediately following the announcement. But Pellegrini came away with a League Cup title and nearly got past Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals (1-0 agg.). It was so close that City only got into Champions League on goal differential after tying Manchester United in points. Sergio Aguero led the way with 29 goals in all competitions.
The Summer So Far
Guardiola has been busy churning away in the transfer market rumor mill, but the club has only made three signings this summer. Nineteen-year-old Ukrainian winger Oleksandr Zinchenko arrived from FC Ufa, but will certainly be loaned out or featured in the youth setup. But the club’s big moves come as no surprise with Celta Vigo star Nolito arriving in a £13.9 million move and Borussia Dortmund workhorse Ilkay Gundogan shoring up the midfield for £21 million in some much-needed reinforcements that perfectly fit Guardiola’s setup. But the biggest deal so far came just yesterday in the £42 million signing of 20-year-old Schalke winger Leroy Sane.
Meanwhile, the Sky Blues saw a pair of exits in longtime goalkeeper Richard Wright and veteran defender Martin Demichelis, leaving the club one short at both positions. However, center-back Jason Denayer returns from a successful loan at Galatasaray and the European championships with Belgium, but it remains to be seen whether the 21-year-old will stay at the club this summer. Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta also joins the club, not as a midfielder but instead as part of Guardiola’s coaching staff.
Remaining Summer Business
There are still some weak spots in the Manchester City lineup that Guardiola will surely look to fix in the weeks leading to the season. The club should be concerned with its backline, with Kompany now succumbing to injuries that last months at a time. With the departure of Demichelis and Denayer’s uncertain future, that leaves only Otamendi and Eliaqum Managala at centre-back. In addition, there have been rumors of Guardiola looking for another keeper to put some pressure on Joe Hart, who had a shaky summer at the Euros in France.
Reports have it that John Stones is on Pep’s radar next, but the Everton star will cost around £50 million. The big area of need appears to be at full-back, where the aging trio of Aleksandar Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy are linked with a summer exit as Guardiola wants to get younger at the position. Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez would be an excellent option if the rumors hold true while Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich excelled for Germany at the Euros as a member of the all-Euro team. On the other hand, the futures of Yaya Toure, Willy Caballero, Samir Nasri and Wifried Bony all seem a bit hazy at the moment.
Salary Cap Superstars
- Sergio Aguero–I don’t understand the managers who don’t take Aguero year in and year out. I know the excuse: He is priced too high. He is injury-prone. But no matter the price, the man scored 24 goals in 30 league matches last season. Sure he picks up a month-long injury every year, but his goal-to-minute ratio is second only to, well, Kelechi Iheanacho. Aguero is so consistent that he is an easy captain selection in just about every week. He’s the closest we can get to 2013/14 Luis Suarez and for that, he’s worth every cent.
- Nicolas Otamendi – Otamendi is the only defender that is locked down to a starting role this season, including goalkeeper, at the moment. I expect Guardiola, whose main focus has to be tightening up a chronically lazy and unorganized defense, to add another defender, but even then Otamendi should start. There will certainly be more clean sheets this season and City will be near the top of the league.
- Ilkay Gundogan – While Gundogan is a great, great player, he is not a good salary-cap fantasy pick. My fear is that managers will pick him on name recognition, when in fact he only recorded two goals and three assists last season. If your league somehow favors passing statistics and defensive metrics, that’s a different story. But not for the classic fantasy module, not to mention Gundogan isn’t expected back from injury until at least September.
- Nolito – I’m interested to see whether FPL.com lists Nolito as a midfielder or a forward, but if he’s a midfielder he would make an excellent pick for that extra goal point. But in drafts, he’s worth the gamble fairly early as a goalscoring winger who recorded 12 goals and seven assists in La Liga last season even when everyone knew he was the go-to guy. If he’s listed as a midfielder, Nolito is a great pick in any format despite competition from Sterling and Sane.
- Kevin De Bruyne – The Belgian midfielder put on a show last season in his return to the Premier League with seven goals and nine assists in 22 league matches, despite being ruled out for a chunk of the season due to injury. He will surely be a first-round pick in most drafts, and if you have a late-first-round pick, you can’t do much better, especially in Guardiola’s system.
- Kelechi Iheanacho – I like picking up Iheanacho even though there is a risk he doesn’t play all that much behind Aguero. However, the Nigerian turned down the Olympics to impress Guardiola and his goalscoring record is impressive in its own right. Despite inconsistent playing time last season, he was still City’s second-best goalscorer with eight Premier League goals. It can’t hurt to opt for him in the late rounds and see if he turns into something, because his potential is worth it.,