When Manchester City rock up at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, manager Pep Guardiola will no doubt flash his fair share of jealous looks in the direction of the Premier League’s champions-elect.
Guardiola has already won seven league titles and two Champions Leagues across a management career less than a decade old, but instantly restoring City to title-contention has proven far from straightforward thus far for the Spaniard, whose side are fifth in the table and 11 points behind Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.
Simply, City remain a work in progress and with 13 players that will be over the age of 30 when next season kicks off, it would be no surprise to see them flex their financial muscles once again this summer as they bid to compete more readily with the likes of Chelsea next term.
Urgent back issues
Guardiola sanctioned City splashing out a potential fee of £50m on John Stones, but with such a significant price-tag weighing down upon the England defender’s shoulders, the 22-year-old has found himself under the spotlight more often than not.
Stones’ transition from Everton to the Etihad Stadium hasn’t been helped by the lack of a composed central-defensive partner, with Nicolas Otamendi continuing to perform erratically as the season goes on.
Guardiola has also continued to play tinkerman with his back line as he searches for a reliable system, with left-back Alexsandar Kolarov having operated alongside Stones at centre-back while midfielder Fernandinho has featured at right-back – in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal, eyebrows were raised at the sight of winger Jesus Navas operating on the right flank of City’s defence.
Perhaps then it is little surprise to see Guardiola this week linked with a sensational swoop for Tottenham Hotspur’s flying full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, in addition to goalscoring midfield ace Dele Alli, as part of an eye-watering £200m raid.
Full-backs Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Kolarov are all in the last six months of their contract.
Meanwhile, captain Vincent Kompany is seemingly unable to overcome his long-standing injury problems and Frenchman Eliaquim Mangala is out-of-favour, so revitalising City’s back-line options appears Guardiola’s most pressing summer task.
— Yaya Touré (@YayaToure) January 30, 2017
Life after Yaya?
Despite agent Dimitri Seluk’s best efforts, Yaya Toure has worked his way back into his manager’s good books.
One of the driving forces behind City’s two Premier League title wins in 2011-12 and 2013-14, the 33-year-old Ivorian is also nearing the end of his current deal at the Etihad, another changing of the guard could be at hand.
A knee injury in December curtailed Ilkay Gundogan’s impressive start to life in Manchester and should Toure depart, Guardiola will surely look to reinforce his options in the middle of the park.
A clear ‘goal’ in mind
Despite all he has achieved in a blue shirt, Guardiola doesn’t appear completely convinced by frontman Sergio Aguero as the man to lead his line, even preferring young Brazilian talent Gabriel Jesus for a spell after the turn of the year.
With the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at his disposal, the City chief believes he has a potent supply line but has confirmed that he wants his team to score more goals next season.
Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfried Bony – currently out on loan at Stoke City – appear to be well down Guardiola’s pecking order, so perhaps there could be some truth in City rivalling their great rivals Manchester United for the signature of Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann and keeping a keen eye on Alexis Sanchez’s contract stand-off at Arsenal?
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