Manchester City became the first team since 2009 to retain the Premier League title as they thumped Brighton 4-1 on the final day of the season to eclipse Liverpool by one point. Pep Guardiola’s men were seven points adrift of the Merseysiders at the beginning of the year, but the 2-1 win in January at the Etihad trimmed the deficit going into the last phase of the season.
City, remarkably, went on to win their last 14 games in the Premier League in what turned out to be one of the most stunning title races in the competition’s history. Last year’s “centurion” season remains a record-breaking triumph for Guardiola’s side, but this season’s sheer resilience and consistency has helped them rack up the club’s fourth league trophy in seven years.
The Blues will now be preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley against Watford and a victory would make them the country’s first-ever domestic treble winners.
Pep Guardiola, after a dismal first season at the Etihad, has completely revolutionized Manchester City and there is clearly no stopping this team for years to come, especially if the Catalan is still at the helm. Guardiola spoke after the title win, insisting that his side will come back stronger next season.
Here, we take a look at how the back-to-back Premier League champions can notch up their already spectacular levels next season.
A new defensive midfielder
Perhaps, if one needs to point out a weakness in this star-studded Manchester City squad, it has to be the defensive-midfielder position. Fernandinho has been a natural rock for the team since the Pellegrini days, but the 33-year old cannot play each and every game of the season. The Brazilian’s exhausting run of games was finally halted in February when he limped off in the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea.
Ilkay Gündoğan is not a like-for-like replacement for Fernandinho, but it is no doubt that the German midfielder can easily step upto the task of playing as the pivot in midfield, as he successfully did in the last two months or so. His future at the club has been heavily speculated given that the club is aggressively looking at a big-name replacement for their ageing Brazilian.
Atletico Madrid’s Rodri has been linked with a move to the Etihad after an impressive season with the Rojiblancos. Almost Busquets-like, Rodri is a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s system: tall, defensively sound and an immaculate passer of the ball.
Other names which City are keenly looking at are Lyon’s midfield duo of Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar, who are both just 22 and 20 respectively with big futures ahead.
The City hierarchy will be keen on landing a defensive midfielder soon, having already missed out on the likes of Jorginho and Frenkie de Jong in the recent past. A young, energetic midfielder would not only thrive in Guardiola’s system, but also help to produce the best out of City’s crop of attacking midfielders – Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden.
Return to fitness for key men
It is no doubt that Manchester City are one of Europe’s biggest financial powerhouses who have been able to assemble a squad only seen on fantasy football games. The squad depth that Guardiola possesses is key to handle the constant threat of injuries which were a constant hindrance for City throughout the season, especially to star-man Kevin de Bruyne.
The Belgian midfielder, who was named City’s Best Player of the 2017/18 season, had to endure three long spells on the sidelines with his returning knee problems.
An exhausting last season followed by a World Cup semi-final run proved to be too much for the 27-year old who was unable to have a significant impact in this campaign. De Bruyne came off the bench in City’s title-clinching 4-1 win at Brighton, and could play a major role in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
Following that, a two-month rest and proper rehabilitation should see the Belgian in full force at the beginning of next season. It is almost remarkable that City had no major problems coping with their star playmaker’s absence this season, but a fit-again De Bruyne would definitely be a massive boost for Pep Guardiola.
Benjamin Mendy also continued to address his injury issues this season, and while the City faithful are starting to lose patience with the Frenchman’s fitness concerns, the 24-year old will look to finally have an impactful 2019/20 season at left-back.
Flexibility in system
Benjamin Mendy’s return to full fitness could also see Guardiola deploying multiple systems, something he has not been able to do since last season. Manchester City have mastered the 4-3-3 formation under Pep with inverted full-backs and extremely-wide wingers.
Mendy’s inclusion, however, could see Guardiola change the formation to a 3-5-2 with him and Kyle Walker as wing-backs and Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus as the two strikers up-front. Aymeric Laporte is a natural left-sided centre-back with dependable options like John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi filling the other two spots at the heart of the defence. Though highly-attacking, it could prove highly successful given City’s talented forward players.
Bernardo Silva has shown his versatility as a midfielder and a winger, and both him and Mahrez are excellent at cutting inside from the right flank. Guardiola often deploys Sterling on the right and Sane on the left when he needs more directness. Having different players for each position is a major incentive for the former Barcelona manager.
Given that City have been playing with a 4-3-3 formation for the majority of the last two seasons, it won’t be a surprise if other teams begin to understand Guardiola’s system. Hence, having the luxury of playing multiple formations could give the team a different dimension altogether.
Manchester City broke their transfer record to sign Riyad Mahrez during last summer’s transfer window. The Algerian winger, however, has had a patchy first season at the Etihad. From missing that penalty at Anfield to scoring an absolute peach of a goal against Brighton on Sunday, Mahrez’s season had its ups and downs.
Pep Guardiola has often been seen shuffling his side for different competitions. While Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva have been regulars for City in the Premier League and Champions League, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez started more often in the FA and League Cup.
The former Leicester player has no doubt had a slow start to life at City, and is still coping with Pep Guardiola’s demands. He has often been criticized for his performances, whilst also lauded for his winners at Tottenham and Bournemouth.
But Saturday’s brilliant performance gave the fans a glimpse of what the Algerian is actually capable of. It was Mahrez’s corner which Laporte headed in to turn around the tide in their favour, and his dazzling goal in the second half all but ensured that the title remained in Manchester.
The 2015 PFA Player of the Year could be one of Guardiola’s wildcards next season, and if Mahrez is able to match his heroics at Leicester, he could definitely help City achieve further glory.
Promising youth players
Manchester City’s youth academy has progressed substantially in the past few years, and is without a shadow of a doubt, home to some of Europe’s finest talent. 18-year old Phil Foden is already thriving in the senior team and is touted to eventually replace the legendary David Silva.
The U-17 World Cup winner with England made his debut last season, and is already a two-time Premier League champion with his boyhood club. His winner against Tottenham at home last month was one of the most important goals in the quest to retain the title. Foden has scored in all four competitions Manchester City took part in this season, and is destined to be a club legend.
Manchester City U18s captain Eric Garcia (18) and second keeper Arijanet Muric (20) have also tasted first team action and are touted to be big-name players at the club. Both played key roles in City’s Carabao Cup run, and will be a part of the senior setup next season.