EPL Previews: Can Pep Guardiola win without center backs at Manchester City?
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last.
While international competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most. In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City. We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures.
So, without further ado, here’s the totally reloaded, although arguably in the wrong areas, Manchester City.
Discussing Manchester City with fans and enemies alike comes with a bit of a caveat -- among all the top sides in England, nobody is newer to success than the team in blue and white. For those unaware, City had moderate success since their creation in 1880, but most of it happened at the Championship level of England -- including an FA and League Cup victory. However, in the 1980's, the club nosedived and ended up in the third tier of football, officially sinking lower than they ever had before. Of course, this would not last too long, no tortuous Curse of the Bambino or Billy Goat here, as City was bought by Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, instantly making it one of the most profitable teams in the world.
Since then, they've won the Premier League in both 2012 and 2014, bought world class talent like Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, and Kevin De Bruyne, and went to the Champions League semi-final just last year. Without a trophy to their name since 2014, City fired manager Manuel Pellegrini last spring in lieu of Pep Guardiola, who is widely regarded as the best manager on the planet.
After hiring Guardiola, City wasted no time building up their squad once more and purchased Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Leroy Sane, and, as of August 9th, Everton's prized possession, John Stones. Their defense is still largely suspect from 2015, anchored by the blooper-laden Joe Hart in goal and oft-injured Vincent Kompany in the middle. Of course, Kompany missed the European Championships this summer with the same nagging muscle injury that forced him out for large chucks of 2015-2016 -- so City needed a new answer at center back. Enter: John Stones, who, just a few days after Guardiola had to select non-center backs Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernando for a friendly against Arsenal last weekend, can step in immediately.
Although they'll bide their time until Kompany, hopefully, returns for good, the shaky City defense will have plenty of tests as Eliaquim Mangala is not in Guardiola's plans, Nicolas Otamendi is currently injured, and Jason Denayer is not ready for the spotlight. In 2015-2016, City scored a league-high 71 goals, but gave up 41 -- more than anybody else in the top six. Should Stones bottle up issues in the back until Kompany can play, this City team, led also by David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Toure, De Bruyne, and Aguero, would have one of the most complete sides in England.
PREFERRED STARTING XI
City is certainly hobbled in the back, for now, but with the Premier League kicking off in just a few days, they'll need to do some patchwork for the time being. Guardiola will look to get off to a hot start for the impatient fans in Manchester, so he'll lean heavily on Aguero as they avenge their late season collapse. Well, City got fourth place, how much of collapse could it have been? Their late-season stumble will take them to the qualifying stages of Champions League for the first time since their rise to prominence. Even if City don't knock in another 70 goals in 2016-2017, they'll be well on their way to a title run come March. As for now, here's how we expect Guardiola to line up this weekend against lowly Sunderland:
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sergio Aguero, one of the best goal scorers in the world. Aguero knocked in 24 goals in 30 games for Manchester City in 2015-2016 and they'll need the clinical forward to finish off as many opportunities again. When Aguero is healthy and in form, there are few in the world as lethal and dominant as the Argentinian up front. While Silva and Sterling are prolific wingers, they don't nearly score as much as one might hope. However, with the creative De Bruyne feeding the striker scoring chances on a silver platter, Aguero is the odds-on favorite to win another Golden Boot award this year.
Joe Hart, the once elite goalkeeper clinging to his starting role. Should Hart be so callous again, as a man prone to errors, lapses in judgement, and letting through perfectly savable shots, Guardiola will be ruthless enough to outright replace the English international. With hilarious blunders like this and this coming at a rate faster than you'd like from a starting keeper, Hart needs to shake his habitually frequent mistakes or Willy Caballero will be ready to step in at any time.
HIGHLIGHT FROM YESTERYEAR
Although City had plenty of fun, exhilarating 4-0 victories in the Premier League to hang their hats on, the best moment of the campaign has to be their stunning last-gasp victory against Paris Saint Germain in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final. Despite a 2-2 draw in Paris, City battled all night in order to win the draw outright instead of relying on the aggregated tiebreaker of away goals. Thanks to some heroic goaltending from the aforementioned Hart, De Bruyne put it away for good in the 77th minute. A tidy finish from the up-and-coming star pushed City through to a showdown against the eventual winners, Real Madrid.
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START
8/13 vs. Sunderland
8/16 @ Steaua Bucuresti (UCL Qualifying)
8/20 @ Stoke City
8/24 vs. Steaua Bucuresti (UCL Qualifying)
8/28 vs. West Ham
9/10 @ Manchester United
9/17 vs. Bournemouth
9/24 @ Swansea City
10/1 @ Tottenham
Just like their Manchester counterparts, City is blessed with an easy open to the 2016-2017 campaign. Although they'll have to compete in two extra games against Steaua Bucuresti in order to qualify for Champions League, those matches will be of no issue for City barring a miracle. An early October game looms with Spurs at White Hart Lane, but, by then, Stones could be settled and Kompany could be healthy, which would be bad news for the rest of the Premiership. Other than that and the Manchester Derby, covered last week in United's preview, middlingly difficult squads like West Ham and Stoke City may be tougher to navigate, but cupcake matches against Sunderland, Bournemouth, and Swansea should put City in a great place confidence-wise heading into the frenetic fall. Rating: 7/10
Although many would consider 2015-2016 a disappointing season for City, it still meant Champions League, a title challenge, and a narrow defeat at the hands of Real Madrid -- so, all in all, not bad. They certainly have enough firepower to keep up with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but their chances at the title will not only depend on the health of Kompany, Aguero, and Sterling, but also how sturdy Hart is in net. If it all comes together under Guardiola, City may not be just a threat to win the Premier League, but the FA Cup and Champions League as well.
English Premier League Previews 2016-2017:
9th: Stoke City
7th: West Ham
5th: Manchester United