Manchester City: 10 reasons why this could be their greatest season

Joao Cancelo is rewriting the rule book, they haven’t missed Sergio Aguero, built a rock-solid defence and they’ve got more money than anyone else… 10 reasons why this could be Manchester City’s greatest season yet!

  • The Manchester City juggernaut keeps rolling on. They’ve won 19 games in a row
  • Former players have been left purring over Pep Guardiola’s outfit in recent weeks
  • City have been superb in recent years but this could be their best ever season

The Manchester City juggernaut keeps rolling on. Nineteen wins in a row and little sign of Pep Guardiola’s impressive force coming to a halt. In fact, this could be the club’s greatest ever season.

Former players have been left purring over City in recent weeks. Ex-Liverpool and Manchester United striker Michael Owen believes they can win the Quadruple this season.

While Rio Ferdinand hailed Guardiola’s outfit as ‘phenomenal’ and Owen Hargreaves insisted ‘only they can stop themselves’ from winning that trophy the club so desperately craves – the Champions League.

Guardiola has created an extraordinary machine which looks more and more indomitable by the game.

City have played outstanding football in recent seasons, claiming two Premier League titles and hitting 100 points along the way, but the 2020-21 campaign could be their most successful yet. Here, Sportsmail takes a look at how this could turn out to be the best of the lot.

The Manchester City juggernaut keeps rolling on. They’ve won 19 matches on the bounce

Joao Cancelo has been like a new signing for City. The full-back, signed from Juventus for £55million in the summer of 2019, has been one of the club’s standout performers this season.

In his debut season in England he was given time to get used his new surroundings, making 17 appearances in the Premier League. This campaign he’s already eclipsed that by playing 20 out of 25 games.

Cancelo has offered an excellent attacking option from full-back but has also helped to solidify City’s back four with his pace a key element to his game.

Joao Cancelo has been a standout performer as he’s rewrote the rule book at full back

But as the season has gone on his role in the side has developed as Guardiola and he have rewritten the rule book of a traditional full-back.

The 26-year-old becomes an extra midfielder when City have possession, which is a large part of the time – leaving the opposition stumped as to who should pick him up.

Cancelo has been given the freedom and licence to influence the play from midfield and it has paid off.

The Portugal international won the man-of-the-match award as he supplied the assist for Bernardo Silva’s opener and was involved in Gabriel Jesus’s second in City’s 2-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

The Portuguese has been given the freedom and licence to influence the play from midfield

‘He’s playing as a full back but it’s not the conventional full back. He ends up coming into the centre of the pitch,’ Ferdinand told BT Sport.

‘His position once they get good possession is inside the pitch, almost as a pivot. When they have the ball it’s three at the back with two boys in front of them and he’s one of the boys.

‘He’s even into the No 10 position at times and he becomes like a playmaker – it’s crazy to see. And this is all obviously Pep [Guardiola] and him seeing the game a different way.’

While former City centre half Joleon Lescott said Cancelo’s absence would be the ‘most costly’ to City.

Solved reliance on Fernandinho

In previous seasons City have depended on Brazilian Fernandinho. He has formed the base of their midfield for multiple years. But that has now shifted.

Guardiola admitted his side were reliant on the lynchpin during the 2018-19 season when they fell seven points behind Liverpool after losing to Crystal Palace and Leicester.

Later that year City splashed £63m on Rodri from Atletico Madrid to address that issue and the transition from needing Fernandinho in all games has been made.

City are no longer reliant on defensive midfielder Fernandinho like they were in the past

Rodri was thrown into the spotlight following his arrival as Fernandinho had to play at centre back but this season the latter has started just six top-flight games.

At 35, time is not on Fernandinho’s side and City knew they could not be as reliant as they were on the consistent midfielder.

Rodri has stepped up and become a key figure for City this season, not being in the starting line-up in the league just three times. 

Just like Fernandinho his effective displays can often unnoticed as he slips under the radar but there’s no underestimating the importance of deploying such a trusted shield in front of City’s defence. 

City signed Rodri from Atletico Madrid in 2019 and he has slotted into the position seamlessly

Adapted to Sergio Aguero’s absence

The time was always going to come when City would be without star striker Sergio Aguero. 

The Argentine’s contract at the club is set to expire in June and he’s recently conceded that he ‘doesn’t know’ if he will remain at the Etihad beyond this season.

Nevertheless City would not have envisaged so many matches without him this season. Aguero’s campaign has been plagued by injuries and he’s also suffered from coronavirus.

City have coped without Sergio Aguero as the striker has featured in just five league games

MAN CITY ODDS TO WIN QUADRUPLE

They were 100/1 to win the Quad at the start of the season, now they are just 17/2 – TEN TIMES more likely

*Odds courtesy of Betfair 

The forward has made just five Premier League appearances but he did feature for the first time since January 3 as a substitute in Europe this week.

The fact that City are competing on four fronts and are 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League shows they’ve coped without Aguero.

Guardiola has used winger Raheem Sterling and midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne to lead the line this season while Gabriel Jesus, who has largely had to settle for playing second fiddle to Aguero since joining in 2017, has had to shoulder the responsibility.

The 23-year-old Brazilian has notched nine goals and provided three assists in 25 matches.  

There’s no doubt that replacing the club’s all-time top goalscorer in Aguero will be no mean feat if he does not put pen to paper on new terms but City have shown they can adapt without their talisman. 

Guardiola has used different options to lead the line, including midfielder Kevin De Bruyne

No uncertainty surrounding Guardiola

Speculation was swirling around the Spaniard’s future at the start of the season. Guardiola had just one year remaining on his deal as the 2020-21 campaign got underway.

The manager spent four years at Barcelona and three seasons at Bayern Munich before his switch to England. He was linked to the No 1 positions back at the Nou Camp and at Paris Saint-Germain.

But in November the uncertainty ended as he agreed a two-year contract extension. Since signing the new deal City have lost just once in all competitions.

Tying one of the best managers in the world down until 2023 was huge for City and has meant planning on how to continue to improve has already begun. 

Pep Guardiola ended speculation surrounding his future by signing two-year deal in November

Defence impenetrable

City have always been superb in attack with a wealth of talent able to score the most beautiful of goals, but prior to this season there was always a vulnerability at the back.

They failed to replace captain and defender Vincent Kompany at the end of the 2018-19 season and how they were punished as Liverpool went on to claim the Premier League title.

But the arrival of Ruben Dias last summer for £64m has helped make the defence almost impenetrable. The colossal defender, formerly of Benfica, has been crucial to making that once weak spot disappear.

Summer arrival Ruben Dias (L) and centre back John Stones have solidified City’s backline 

The Portuguese has played every minute of every Premier League game since his move at the end of September bar one match.

The resurgence of John Stones has also been pivotal to City’s impressive season. City have kept 12 sheets in the 15 Premier League games he’s played and Guardiola’s outfit have by far the best defensive record in the top flight, conceding just 15 goals in 25 matches.

Centre half Stones is recapturing his best form after a tough period out of the picture and as a result the reliable Aymeric Laporte has been rotated.

Gundogan is in the form of his life

It’s well-documented just how unstoppable midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has been this season. His goalscoring exploits have been quite something.

The 30-year-old has netted 13 goals, notching 11 in 13 league games as he’s come to the fore, particularly when City had to manage without De Bruyne due to injury.

Previously the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder perhaps did not get the credit he deserved in terms of his work for the team in central areas but he’s earned plenty of plaudits this season.

Ilkay Gundogan has been in exceptional goalscoring form from midfield in 2020-21 campaign

‘When Cancelo steps into midfield, it then means that Gundogan isn’t a holding midfield player anymore,’ former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports earlier this month.

‘He’s an attacking eight, he’s a No 10, he’s between the lines and I think this relationship between those two has been pivotal.

‘He’s always making penetrating runs, putting his arm up and wanting to get involved. This is not something we saw too much when he first came in.

‘He’s gone from a goal every 10 shots to a goal every five shots because he’s taking them from better areas and better positions. No silly shots from outside the box, hence why he’s getting more chances of scoring.’

Clear strength in depth

It’s no secret that City have the best strength in depth to their squad in the league but that huge pool of players is proving more important than ever.

This season is more congested as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and City were playing catch up after progressing to the latter stages of the Champions League last August.

If there ever was a team to be able to cope with the hectic schedule it would be City’s but it takes some juggling from Guardiola.

England youngster Phil Foden is one that has seized the opportunity handed to him this season

In midfield and attack City have De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Sterling, Jesus, Aguero and Ferran Torres.

England youngster Foden is one that has seized the opportunity handed to him this season – he’s scored 11 goals and provided six assists in 32 matches.

While winger Mahrez leaves his mark when called upon. In the last five league games he’s started he’s notched two goals and supplied two assists. 

‘They don’t look like they are going to run out of gas the depth in their squad is phenomenal,’ Ferdinand told BT Sport this week.

‘Players are coming in and all having an impact, no one’s sulking, the dynamic of the squad is perfect at the moment.’

Hungrier than ever 

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool blew City and everyone else out of the water last season and City want to wrestle their crown back.

Guardiola has won six major trophies in charge of City but his camp appear to have more desire than ever to add to that haul.

‘We have the feeling that there is unfinished business,’ Guardiola said after committing his future to the club last year. ‘This club won in the recent past — together we won, and we won a lot, and we won again.

Liverpool blew City and everyone else out of the water last season and City want crown back

‘The target is to continue to maintain this stature of the club for as long as possible.’

In particular that hunger to win the Champions League is clear. In the last three seasons they have failed to progress past the quarter-finals and last campaign’s defeat by Lyon at that stage hurt.

When asked if any team could stop City in Europe, Hargreaves told BT Sport: ‘I don’t see it – they can only stop themselves through mistakes and injuries and I can’t see that.

‘I can’t see them slowing down, they play at a speed that suits their game.

‘Everybody’s playing unbelievable football, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Cancelo, Stones everyone. I think Aguero’s coming back, De Bruyne’s back, Raheem Sterling, even if someone has an off day or with three or four injuries, I just can’t see them dropping off.’

The club so desperately craves the Champions League after crashing out to Lyon last year

Ederson in his peak 

The City No 1 linked up with Guardiola four years ago for £35m and the Brazilian is a world-class goalkeeper.

He’s been an outstanding performer during his time at the Etihad but could he be having his best season in a City shirt?

The 27-year-old has already kept more clean sheets than last season and as many as his first season in England, but of course that reflects City’s overall improvement at the back.

No 1 Ederson has saved three-quarters of the shots he’s faced in all competitions this season

He’s also averaging letting in a goal every 180 minutes – his previous best was 131.1 minutes in 2018-19. Again reflective of City’s new defensive strength.

But there is an indication that the shot-stopper is in good nick. He’s saved three-quarters of the shots he’s faced in all competitions this season. That compares to a save percentage of 68.7 per cent in 2017-18, 69.4 per cent a year later and 69.9 per cent last campaign.

Ederson has also made just one error leading to a goal so far, compared to four last season. 

Money to spend

Guardiola knows he’s in a fortunate position. ‘We have a lot of money to buy a lot of incredible players,’ he said when asked how his team had managed to go on a 19-game winning streak.

‘It is true. Without good quality players, we cannot do it. The humanity of this group… the players are fantastic and have an incredible relationship. They play every game to think just win that game.’

City have splashed out almost a staggering £2billion on the world’s best players in the past two decades, with billionaire Sheikh Mansour playing a huge part after buying the club in 2008.

They’ve forked out almost £700m since Guardiola was appointed as manager – signing the likes of Mahrez for £60m, Silva for £43m, Jesus for £27m, Gundogan for £21m, Rodri for £63m, Dias for £64m, Kyle Walker for £54m, Laporte for £57m, Cancelo for £55m, Ake for £40m, Mendy for £52m, John Stones for £47.5m as well as £35m for Ederson.   

The vast expenditure has come to fruition. Having such financial clout is paying dividends more so than ever. It’s very much full steam ahead for City.

City won back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019 and it’s very much full steam ahead right now




Share this article


Source: Read Full Article