Manchester City season preview: Big demands on Jack Grealish and the striker role needs filling
Eurosport is taking a look at each of the Premier League’s Big Six ahead of the new season and this time we’re taking a look at the current title holders Manchester City. With Jack Grealish now at the club and legendary striker Sergio Aguero no longer there, can City defend their title? And what about the Champions League?
Manchester City got their revenge on Liverpool in the 2020/21 season by comfortably winning the Premier League title.
Their free-flowing attack, rock solid defence and abundance of talented depth in all departments ensured that the richest club in the Premier League would make no mistake in sealing the domestic title, which went some way towards paving over Champions League final heartbreak.
With Chelsea rallying late on last season under Thomas Tuchel, Liverpool welcoming back Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez and Manchester United significantly bolstering their squad with the arrivals of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, defending the title could be a tougher ask this season.
City will also be dealing with the loss of talismanic striker and club all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero.
Without a reputable, recognised striker aside from Gabriel Jesus at this present moment, can City go on to defend their crown? We take a look at how Pep Guardiola’s side shape up ahead of the new campaign.
Jack Grealish is a signing that caught many off-guard due to its sudden nature and his hefty transfer fee, while there is also the glaring question of where the 25-year-old actually fits into an already-stacked City team.
Guardiola gave few clues away when asked where Grealish will fit into his team. He said: “He can play up front of course, mainly left side, but can play as a winger, attacking midfielder, striker - many positions with his quality.”
So it seems right now the Spaniard will rightly assess the player first before deciding where best to try and slot him into his star-studded starting XI, but it would make for a very intriguing proposition if he played in the one area they are slightly lacking: striker.
Scott Carson will likely continue as a third-choice goalkeeper behind Ederson and Zack Steffen.
Grealish 'really good' despite Leicester defeat says Pep
TRANSFERS OUT (major)
Angelino (RB Leipzig, £16.2m)
Jack Harrison (Leeds, £11.5m)
Lukas Nmecha (Wolfsburg, £7.2m)
Sergio Aguero (Barcelona, free)
Eric Garcia (Barcelona, free)
Two significant losses here with Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia both featuring for City last season. Aguero’s goals and his dressing room influence will be missed at the club while Garcia was a useful backup in defence.
More will be asked of Nathan Ake as a utility man, although his blunder to give away the decisive penalty in the Community Shield defeat to Leicester on Saturday will have done him few favours.
Then up front it’s anyone’s guess as to who Guardiola will opt for, but with Aguero only making 20 appearances in all competitions last season City do know how to cope without him.
KEY MAN – Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne was instrumental for City last season with ten goals and 18 assists in all competitions. The 30-year-old was regularly asked to play in the centre forward role but acted more as a number ten.
He may continue in that position this season, but should a new striker such as Harry Kane join then he could be back in central midfield where he will be tasked with creating from a deeper area of the pitch.
It’s no secret that the Belgium international is one of the most influential players in the Premier League, but he enters the season carrying an ankle injury picked up at Euro 2020.
City will be hoping their star man in midfield can get back to full fitness as quickly as possible.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10: Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden of Manchester City look on during the FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester City and Birmingham City on January 10, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
YOUNG STAR – Phil Foden
It is hard to believe that Phil Foden is still only a 21-year-old.
Foden enjoyed a breakout season last campaign, ranking second for goals and third for assists in the City squad which ultimately saw Raheem Sterling get pushed out of the side.
Now the question is can the fully-fledged England international go on to be even more productive? With competition for places getting fiercer at City there will be no room for inconsistency, even if you are City’s brightest young star.
His display in City's 4-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield back in February was a coming-of-age moment. This season he will need to have more than a few fabulous performances with Grealish a new rival for his spot in the team.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE – Jack Grealish
There is a lot of expectation and eyeballs on Grealish who is entering the prime years of his career.
His ball-carrying ability and knack for drawing a foul are well documented, but he will be required to be consistently productive when it comes to goals and assists in this results-driven City team.
Grealish missed 12 games through injury last season and ended the campaign with their most assists (12) and as Villa’s fourth highest top goalscorer (6) in all competitions.
Now part of a team challenging for a Premier League title rather a mid-table finish, Grealish’s goal rate will have to improve whether he picks up injuries or not. Six goals in the City squad last season would have ranked him joint eighth with Aguero.
But under the tutelage of Guardiola, who turned Raheem Sterling into a more productive finisher, this could be possible while initially his position on the pitch will likely raise eyebrows wherever he is slotted in.
Grealish is by no means guaranteed a starting spot in Man City’s XI, despite costing £100m, and will be keen to get off to a fast start as De Bruyne and Foden recover from their respective injuries.
Should Grealish be able to remain injury-free, continue to thrive creatively and become more dangerous in front of goal then he will surely cement a starting spot.
'Pep is the perfect manager for me' - Grealish
MANAGER SITUATION – GUARDIOLA HAS ALL THE TOOLS
Pep Guardiola has the most expensively assembled Premier League squad in history and he comes into the new campaign with three Premier League titles to his name.
Domestic glory has not been a problem for the Spaniard since his arrival in 2016, but where he has struggled is Europe with City’s cash rich owners undoubtedly more than keen to win the Champions League.
Unfortunately for City, winning the Champions League this season looks set to be a whole lot tougher with Paris Saint-Germain assembling one of the most formidable teams ever seen with six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi part of a trio with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
Guardiola was criticised for tactical errors after last season’s final and it seems as though his job security will be based on their Champions League performance above all else this campaign.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City reacts after Manchester City are presented with the Premier League Trophy as they win the league following the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadi
Image credit: Getty Images
City have so much quality in their squad that failure to defend their Premier League title would be seen as a huge failure for the club and its owners.
But with their title rivals getting stronger, City will have to be at the very best to repeat last season’s domestic success and could surely do with a certain Tottenham striker to spearhead their attack and get them over the line.