Premier League 2017/18 preview: With youth, power and pace, Man City now shaped in Guardiola's image
After a trophyless first season at the Etihad Stadium and impressive recruitment this summer, now is the time for the Catalan to deliver.
Rewind to the last week of the 2016/17 season and Manchester City were yet to confirm a top-four finish.
They had long since known their campaign would end without silverware. Pep Guardiola was reflecting on his job security.
"In my situation at a big club, I'm sacked. I'm out," said the Catalan. "If it is Barcelona and Bayern [Munich], you don't win and you are out.”
If the suggestion that City do not qualify as “big club” appeared undiplomatic, Guardiola probably meant a traditional European superpower like his previous employers. But, as he added: “Here I have a second chance.”
Premier League 2017/18 predictions: Chelsea, Man City or Man United for the title?
Premier League 2017/18 preview: Team-by-team guide and top half predictions
Premier League 2017/18 preview: Team-by-team guide and bottom half predictions
He was always going to. City embarked on a lengthy quest to hire their dream manager. They were never going to dismiss him after a solitary season.
It seemed glorious when City won their first 10 games. It became a transitional year with a transitional squad, part Pep, but part bearing the mark of the past.
Their inconsistency lent itself to different conclusions. They provided the first real road-bumps in a managerial career that had brought 21 trophies in seven previous seasons.
A second year provides Guardiola’s second chance and he and City have been busy in the transfer market over the summer bolstering the areas that let them down in the last campaign.
City are hoping it is second time lucky on the goalkeeper front with Ederson after Claudio Bravo’s difficult debut year. The full-back area has been bolstered with the arrival of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, with a third buy being Danilo from Real Madrid.
City were handicapped previously by possessing full-backs who lacked the pace to get into the final third. That has been remedied now, although pre-season suggests Guardiola will use their physical power as wing-backs.
Factor in Bernardo Silva, surely the long-term successor to his namesake David, and the January addition Gabriel Jesus, and both the midfield and forward lines look stronger than last season. There will be fewer compromise choices.
City should be reinvented and rejuvenated, an elderly squad shorn of six thirty-somethings already and potentially more soon. Some more prosaic performers have already gone.
Others like Fabian Delph could follow. In terms of talent and technique, this is now a squad geared to Guardiola. It was not last season: Ilkay Gundogan was the most recent to accept that City struggled to adapt to his philosophy.
Even then, they averaged the most possession in the Premier League. That share should increase further, even if more pertinent issues are whether a new-look side show sufficient cohesion quickly enough and if an upgraded defence can cut out the mistakes that their predecessors committed.
MORE FROM OUR 'TITLE CHALLENGERS' SERIES:
- Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp needs his side to find greater consistency
- Mohamed Salah: Adds more pace and potency to Liverpool's fearsome attack
- Arsenal: Begin new football season at a crossroads under Arsene Wenger
- Mesut Ozil: Big season ahead for the talented but inconsistent playmaker
- Manchester United: Defensive tactics vital to Jose Mourinho title tilt
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Maturing into one of Jose Mourinho's most trusted men
City conceded the fewest shots per game on their own goal last season, but, partly because of Bravo’s struggles, let in 13 more goals than Tottenham Hotspur.
Winning the title is about eliminating errors, about being more clinical at home, where seven draws in matches they largely dominated amounted to missed opportunities, and about finding a level of consistency that eluded them first in autumn and then in March and April.
Pre-season wins over Real Madrid and Tottenham feel auspicious and, in one respect, it is about fine-tuning. In another, considerable improvement is required.
One school of thought is that City have had the most gifted side, if not the best defence, in each of the last three seasons. They have finished eight, 15 and 15 points behind the eventual champions respectively. That, rather than Guardiola’s considerable achievements in Spain and Germany, may be a truer reflection of the task in hand.
The last two titles were won by clubs spared the workload of European football and who preferred to field unchanged teams. Guardiola will rotate. His methods are more purist, whereas they were pragmatic. They stuck with a winning formula whereas he is an inveterate experimenter.
He may approach the challenge of conquering England with intellectual curiosity. To the irritation of their manager, City were decidedly imperfect last year.
It explains why a perfectionist has conducted such an overhaul. To change results and the outcome of a season alike.
Updated: August 8, 2017 01:03 PM