Defeats in the Champions League final, Community Shield and at Spurs have exposed a familiar failing in the Manchester City ranks, but are they prepared to spend big to solve it?
City’s blank on the opening day of the season in a 1-0 defeat at Tottenham caused many pundits to claim that Pep Guardiola’s side are in desperate need of a proven goalscorer if they are to retain their Premier League title.
The Blues have been strongly linked with Harry Kane as they look to replace record-scorer Sergio Aguero, who joined Barcelona earlier summer.
The club are apparently ready to table a £120million bid for Kane in the coming days though seem unwilling to meet Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s £150m valuation of the prolific striker.
But City’s lack of firepower in recent games may just have prompted Guardiola to push harder for the acquisition of the Spurs and England skipper, especially with Chelsea, Liverpool and neighbours Manchester United giving notice that there will be very little margin for error in the title race this season.
“Most fans agree that going into the season without a new striker would be a disaster,” Nathan Allen from City Xtra tells FansBet.
“That’s unless Gabriel Jesus is properly trusted by Pep and given over thirty league starts, which seems a big ask.
“It’s beginning to look more and more like the fans are a lot more keen on replacing Sergio than the board.
“It could be that they suddenly sign Kane against the odds and I’m forced to eat my words, but right now it seems increasingly unlikely that the England captain will ever pull on a City shirt.
“Unfortunately this is reminiscent of the season when we inexplicably failed to replace Vincent Kompany and ended up a long way short of the prize.
“The worry for us now is that there seem to be no links to alternative options if we decide not to meet Levy’s eye-watering asking price.
“Europe is full of great strikers like Gerard Moreno or Dusan Vlahovic, but it’s Kane and only Kane for City this summer.
“I believe Kane could become even deadlier under Pep, with inch-perfect deliveries coming in from all angles. Sadly, though, I don’t think it’ll happen now unless something drastic changes.”
Kane sat-out his side’s opening day victory over the Champions on Sunday with Son Heung-min giving new manager Nuno Espirito Santo the perfect start to his reign with a low shot beyond Manchester City keeper Ederson 10 minutes after the break.
Ferran Torres was given the central striker role for the trip to North London but failed to make much of an impact on a forward line that found the target with just four of their 18 shots at goal.
Kevin de Bruyne, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus were introduced in the final 20 minutes, while England’s Euro 2020 pair Kyle Walker and John Stones were unused substitutes, as were Aymeric Laporte, Rodri and Bernardo Silva.
City created little in terms of meaningful opportunities and rarely tested Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris as they looked rusty in contrast to the sharpness of their opponents.
“In a lot of ways, Sunday’s underwhelming performance was exactly what most City fans feared would happen,” explains Nathan.
“Our starting XI felt badly undercooked, thanks largely to the absences of John Stones, Rodri, Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and the surprisingly important Oleksandr Zinchenko.
“Time and time again we’ve seen Spurs beat us in that manner; they were able to swat away almost every City attack and Son’s prodigious instincts on the counter were too much for us to handle.
“I’ve personally never been a fan of shoeing in a midfielder in place of a striker in this City side. Although we often win with that formation, the player himself usually looks isolated and under-utilised, and that was the case again with poor Ferran Torres against Spurs.
“Kicking the campaign off with a defeat is never ideal, but it’s fair to point out that we were no less poor for much of the first half of last season, and for the first three matches in the season where we managed 100 points. We just have to hope that we manage to get the missing players back in action as soon as possible.”
Making his debut in the defeat was Jack Grealish, who joined City for £100 million earlier in the transfer window.
But despite the former Villa man showing plenty of attacking intent and making some useful contributions early on, his day ended in the frustration of a yellow card.
However, according to Nathan, it would appear not all City fans believe that the record-breaking amount paid for the 25-year old was money particularly well spent.
“The fanbase is in two minds about this signing,” he says.
“On one hand there’s no doubt that Grealish is an absolutely exceptional player. He had a strong claim to being the best player in the league outside of the top four last season, and the only real concern is his slightly unstable injury record.
“But there are City fans who argue- quite reasonably, in my eyes- that this isn’t exactly a necessary signing unless Pep intends to use Grealish as the long-term replacement to David Silva.
“It’s too early to say for sure if this will be the case, but if Grealish is going to stay out on the wing, one of Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling will surely suffer.
“There was a lot to like about Grealish’s performance against Spurs and he’s likely to get plenty of assists for the club.
“The question is whether he’ll be able to offer more than the guys he’s replacing did, and that’s a big ask given how brilliant Sterling has been for us and how good Foden was last season too. There’s a lot of pressure on Jack.”
But City aren’t the only club to flex their financial muscles this summer with title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea both spending big in recent weeks.
United have added England star Jadon Sancho to their ranks along with French World Cup winner Raphael Varane for a combined total of just under £115 million.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have achieved something that City haven’t so far by acquiring the services of a proven goalscorer with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, who joins from Inter for a reported £97.5m fee.
Title winners in 2020, Liverpool will also be bolstered by the return of a number of big names which missed much of last season through injury, including Virgil Van Dijk – and Nathan is wary of the threat they all pose to City.
“Those are the other three clubs in the league that look like they have a great chance at winning the whole thing,” he says.
“Liverpool are a different beast with Virgil Van Dijk back, not only because he’s world-class but because their best midfielders can finally play in midfield again. If they keep playing Jota up front instead of Firmino, that’s only good news for Liverpool fans too.
“United have finally found that right-wing wizard they needed in Jadon Sancho, and Raphael Varane is a centre-back worthy of probably any team in the world.
“But Chelsea are my pick to win the league if City don’t manage it. Tuchel has shown himself to be a ruthlessly efficient manager with a knack for keeping defenses tight while still scoring enough at the other end.
“He feels like a less volatile version of Antonio Conte, and this Chelsea side are shaping up to be just as good as his title-winning team of five years ago.
“Romelu Lukaku is a game-changer for them and the league. If City do get Kane, the battle between him and Lukaku could shape up to be one of the best rivalries in modern football. It’s a mouth-watering prospect.”
Manchester City won the title with 86 points last season, some 12 ahead of their nearest challengers, Manchester United – as they clinched their third championship in four seasons.
They also reached the final of the Champions League and narrowly missed out on an historic double when they were beaten 1-0 by Chelsea in Porto last May.
But Nathan believes that things might be a little more tricky this season, especially if City don’t bolster their attacking options – so what does he think the 2021/22 campaign has in store at The Etihad?
“I’ll answer this question on the assumption that we won’t sign anyone else,” he explains. “But if we do then things could change.
“I honestly expect a bit of an off-season for us, which is totally understandable given how long and tiring last season and the Euros was for our squad.
“If we win the league, I’ll be extremely impressed. Retaining the title is so, so tricky and this will hopefully be the toughest title race in about a decade.
“As for the Champions League, it doesn’t feel like we’ll win that while Pep is here.
“That’s no complaint, as I’d happily go another ten years without winning it if it meant Pep stayed, but I think it will take a more pragmatic approach for us to go all the way and win the competition, although that will probably mean a step backward in overall performance for the squad.”
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