It may seem extreme given their achievements over recent years but Manchester City are in dire need of a rebuild.
Back-to-back champions with a combined 198 points over two seasons, Pep Guardiola’s side trail leaders Liverpool by 22 points. Following defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, the Catalan tactician opened the floor to his players, offering them the chance to air any grievances in an attempt to get their season back on track.
Reports claim the City manager did the same thing last season following the loss to Newcastle United at St. James’ Park. After that, City went on to claim maximum points from their final 14 matches.
The Citizens would need a similar run to get close to claiming a third title win. According to the Daily Mail, the players aren’t happy with Guardiola’s tinkering. For context, the City manager has not picked the same starting XI in consecutive matches all season. He’s also tweaked the formation on several occasions.
Of their nine games in 2020, the reigning Premier League champions have failed to pick up victories in three of them. For other teams, six wins from nine is a fantastic return. But City aren’t like other teams. This is an expensively assembled winning machine. Not only did Guardiola’s side lose to Manchester United and Spurs in consecutive fixtures, they also failed to score in both games.
There shouldn’t be a kneejerk reaction. After all, teams have bad days at the office before. But there are issues at the Etihad and there have been for some time. For starters, the City defence has been a cause for concern for a while now.
It is clear to all that Guardiola isn’t overly convinced by Nicolás Otamendi and John Stones. Injuries have plagued the latter but even when fit he tends to be unconvincing. Aymeric Laporte needs a long-term partner and while Fernandinho does an admirable job there, he’s not the same player at centre-back as he is when deployed as a defensive midfielder.
At right-back, Kyle Walker will be 30 this summer. João Cancelo doesn’t appear to have convinced Guardiola that he’s good enough to take over yet. The summer signing was supposed to be an upgrade at right-back but he’s made just seven starts this season in the Premier League.
"Pep is just unbelievable. Tactically he’s amazing, but it’s also the way he makes you feel. He’s the manager but he can be your friend, too. Not a friend like you would go out with all the time, obviously, but you can talk openly and he’ll make you feel good." pic.twitter.com/BI5tpaGXQI
— Man City | Superbia (@SuperbiaProeIia) February 4, 2020
On the left, it is a similar story. Summer signing Angeliño has been loaned out to RB Leipzig while Benjamin Mendy has endured yet another injury-hit season. The Frenchman has made 11 starts, the most in a single campaign since the switch to England, but it’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, naturally a midfielder, who has been City’s starting left-back for the majority of the campaign.
Only Laporte and Ederson are undisputed starters in the current back five.
Further forward, the rebuild isn’t quite as aggressive. Despite this, there is a lot of uncertainty about the midfield. Rodri has impressed for spells but his lack of mobility has been an issue from time to time for City. As good as he is, he doesn’t offer the same sort of protection as Fernandinho.
The Brazilian allowed Guardiola to use two attack-minded midfielders alongside him. That might have to be tweaked moving forward with Guardiola’s men looking a little open when Rodri starts alongside Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.
Phil Foden has been directly involved in 7️⃣ goals in his last 7️⃣ starts for Manchester City ?
Is he ready to replace David Silva? ? pic.twitter.com/3KBcXMjz19
— Goal (@goal) January 5, 2020
An heir to the latter is also on the agenda. Phil Foden has been primed for what feels like an eternity but Guardiola has been reluctant to give him minutes. The 19-year-old has two starts in the English top-flight this term. He looks the part but he’s an unknown entity over an entire season. If he was to take Silva’s place in the squad next year, City would be heading into the 2020/21 campaign with an untried and untested central midfielder, a key area for them.
They could potentially shift Bernardo Silva into a midfield role but that would mean bedding in yet another attacker. A new one is on the cards already with Leroy Sané expected to leave for Bayern in the summer. Having to add a second forward would not be ideal for the Citizens.
Then there’s the centre-forward position. Sergio Agüero leads the line when fit having pushed Gabriel Jesus down the pecking order. The Brazilian has even been used out wide this season to get minutes under his belt and there’s a feeling he isn’t ruthless enough to succeed the Argentine hitman.
The 31-year-old has at least another season in him at the very top but he’s 32 when the current campaign ends. City will need to decide what their long-term plans are sooner rather than later if there isn’t going to be a significant drop-off in quality and consistency.
All of the best teams have a cycle at the very top. However, City, with better planning, could have dominated for the next decade. Now they find themselves in a big of a predicament. The summer of 2020 will define the Citizens for years to come.