This looks to be another big season for the Premier League Champions from the blue side of Manchester
Once dubbed Manchester United's "noisy neighbours", Pep Guardiola's side are gunning for a fourth Premier League title in five years - how things change. The Sky Blues will also be keen to do one better than they did last season by capturing their first ever Champions League crown.
They will face fierce competition on both fronts. The only team which could match them last season was Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea. The German seemed to get inside Pep's head and was able to defeat his Spanish counterpart on three straight occasions at the business end of 2020/21, ending their dreams of a quadruple in an FA Cup semi final at Wembley, beating them the following month in the league and shortly after in the Champions League final. If they are to win domestic or European silverware, they will surely have to find a way to beat the European Champions, who have since invested in the incomparable Romelu Lukaku.
Not only that but their city rivals Manchester United have sent their fans into delirium with their transfer business this summer. A squad which was already good enough to finish second in the league and reach the Europa League final is boosted by such arrivals as Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, Raphael Varane from Real Madrid and crucially one Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus. The return of the iconic CR7 to Old Trafford, as well as some other very solid signings, puts Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in a great position to challenge for top silverware. There's also the small prospect of Liverpool with a fully fit Virgil Van Dijk. This season has all the hallmarks of a competitive four horse race to the finish and City will need to at least reach the levels of last season if they want to retain their title.
In Europe, they will have all three of those powerhouses as well as the likes of PSG, who strengthened in the summer with their surprise signing of Lionel Messi from Barcelona and Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid, as well as Achraf Hakimi from Inter and several other high profile, elite names; and Bayern Munich, who still possess one of the best squads on the continent.
City fans will feel they have every chance of winning every competition they are in with the level of quality and depth in their squad and arguably the best manager in the world at the helm, but it looks like it might not be quite so easy this season to win the league and reach the Champions League final.
We caught up with Anthony Rawson (The Ginger Wig), a man famous among City fans online and at the Etihad, who also runs The Ginger Wig's City Gifts; and Joe Ricci from City fan podcast Maine Road Ramble to gauge the level of optimism in the camp ahead of what should be a challenging season on multiple fronts. Here's what they had to say:
Q. How devastating was last season's Champions League exit and to what extent do fans blame the tinkering of coach Pep Guardiola for this defeat?
Anthony: At the time it was really devastating but to actually get to the final is always a major achievement in knock out football. I can see why Pep made the change and Gundogan has played that position before (including a Man of the Match performance at Stamford Bridge) but he'd not played that role for a while. In a final there's enough pressure without doing something "new" and Pep should have stuck with what we had done against PSG in the semis. Hopefully a final will be good experience for the players and spur them on to win it this year!
Q. Given the number of acquisitions made by City's competitors in the Premier League, will new signing Jack Grealish alone be enough to help the team retain their title?
Joe: I believe it can be, in that he is such a dynamic player who can likely offer more to City than any other club in the world. Under Pep Guardiola we may see Jack utilized anywhere across the front 3 as well as at the #8 or #10 positions. On top of this, many other players are due for improvement or a bounce back season, amongst them are the likes of Gabriel Jesus on the right wing, Ferran Torres as striker, Aymeric Laporte at centre back, etc. Their depth gives them the best chance at a title compared to their rivals.
Q. Man City has a squad full of unbelievable talent, there are so many beloved individuals in that group. Who do you feel is the most underrated player on the books at this moment?
Anthony: I'm not sure if anyone is underrated. I believe that Pep has installed a system of play and positions and often the system is better than the sum of the parts.
Q. The arrival of Phil Foden onto the scene was a delight for Man City and England fans alike. The club has a very strong academy but few of those young stars end up featuring in the starting lineup. Are there are any youngsters people may not have heard of making waves at youth level who we could see breaking into the first team this season?
Joe: While there may never be another Phil Foden, City do have a plethora of very talented youngsters working their way through the academy. James McAtee (an 18-year-old attacking midfielder) has quickly made his way onto Pep Guardiola’s radar for his ability on the ball, as well as his goal scoring prowess from midfield. The youngster just won the PL2 Player of the Month and has been training with the first team. Additionally, Romeo Lavia (a 17-year-old defensive midfielder) is playing well above his age. Also training with the first team, the Belgian born midfielder is working directly with Fernandinho and impressing scouts and coaches alike. Not a bad player to learn from, eh?
Finally, there’s two defenders taking different paths who both have very bright futures. Luke Mbete is a 17-year-old central defender who’s ability to play out from the back is second to none at his age. Add that to his size and confidence in reading the game and he’s regarded as one of City’s brightest prospects. Out on loan at Sunderland is Callum Doyle (17-year-old centre back) who is earning rave reviews for his early performances on loan as a “mini-Laporte”. His ability to see the field from the back is that of a quarterback in American football, one to watch out for indeed.
Q. As City once again go in search of that elusive Champions League crown, which teams do you see being their biggest rivals in that challenge and could this be the year they finally clinch it?
Anthony: Cup football is a lottery and a bad call from VAR or a wondergoal can knock you out. City will rightly be considered as one of the strongest in the competition, especially with the financial situation of the Spanish giants. It will be interesting to see in the group stages how a Messi inspired PSG (that sounds odd doesn't it?) will fare. English clubs will probably be equally up there.
Q. Looking slightly to the future, what was the reaction among fans to the slightly out-of-the-blue news that Pep Guardiola intends to leave the club in 2023? Is there confidence that a suitable replacement can come in and continue his good work?
Joe: Well, I’d firstly point out that that report was taken out of context and even Pep himself has denied it. With that said, whenever the time comes that Pep moves on from the club, I’m confident they’ll find a replacement who can continue the style of play. However, I think it would be naïve to say they could bring in anyone who could produce at the level the Catalan has for the last six years. City’s board prides themselves on always preparing for both the short and long term, and I’m sure they have a shortlist of managers ready to go should Pep’s time come to an end in 2023.
After falling to a shock defeat to Spurs on the opening day, City have won three consecutive games in the Premier League, scoring eleven goals and conceding zero, beating Leicester and Arsenal in the process. In midweek they got their Champions League campaign started with a bang by hammering RB Leipzig 6-3. They look as imperious as ever. Their failure to sign a striker in the summer doesn't seem to be causing them any problems at all and they will still be, without a doubt, the team to beat in England this season. Next up for City is a home fixture against Southampton tomorrow (September 18).
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