Manchester City have lost three of their key treble-winners, but signed four replacements who can take the Blues to a new level.
One may argue that the Manchester City team is less strong than the one that captured the Champions League in June.
Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte, two of the team’s main players over the past few seasons, have also left. Inspiring captain Ilkay Gundogan has also joined Barcelona. Without the trio, who each contributed to the lengthy road to Istanbul, City would not have won the European Cup.
They have been replaced by Mateo Kovacic, a four-time champion of the Champions League, who should bring much-needed expertise to the group. Only one member of the City team, Scott Carson, had a winner’s medal prior to defeating Inter Milan in June to claim the title.
Jeremy Doku was acquired for £55.5 million, and Josko Gvardiol cost £77.5 million. The fact that neither must be on the Champions League “A List” squad since they are both 21 sums up their inexperience despite the fact that they are both great talents. Instead, they are included on the “B List,” which enables the call-up of young players.
The final signing, Matheus Nunes, first drew City’s attention during the Blues’ two-season riot at Sporting in the Champions League. Pep Guardiola has referred to him as one of the top midfielders in the world, and fresh admissions from assistant Juanma Lillo reveal that the coaching team made the decision to start scouting the Portuguese midfielder that same evening.
The squad has the same number of bodies, but is the experience the same? The accomplishments of Kovacic at Real Madrid and Chelsea can only be partially explained.
Kovacic provides experience that the Blues have never had before with three European Cups at the Bernabeu and the 2021 victory with Chelsea that City would like not to discuss. These players have experience playing in the knockout rounds and are all European Champions. Only Kovacic has experience defending that championship.
Kovacic’s background may be crucial in fostering the mentality required to firmly establish City as the best club in Europe, particularly without Gundogan. As City looks to win further titles on the international scene, senior players have not held back from publicly declaring their goal to win the Champions League once again and to add the Club World Cup to the Super Cup.
Although Gvardiol is young and inexperienced, RB Leipzig has given him a lot of experience. In the group stage, he will return to the Red Bull Arena, and a favorable draw will provide Guardiola a fantastic opportunity to integrate his new players as early as possible without any significant testing against a European powerhouse. After two seasons in the Conference League and Europa League, Doku will seek to showcase his dribbling and chance-creating skills in his second Champions League campaign. Doku distinguished out throughout the top five leagues in Europe last season.
Could this be the year that Phil Foden steps out of the shadows when it comes to playing in midfield, then? Foden replaced Kevin De Bruyne when the Belgian limped off in the Champions League final, almost scoring one of the best final goals of all time and dictating play against Inter. Foden can use the group stage especially to make his mark on the midfield, and make Guardiola’s reintegration of De Bruyne after injury a difficult one.
Bernardo Silva is another player who will be looked at to step up in De Bruyne’s absence. Bernardo was brilliant in the semi-final home leg against Real Madrid, with the European Cup experts simply unable to get the ball off him or track his mazy runs. That right-wing spot is his to lose after the summer exits.
Keeping the midfield together will be Rodri, Istanbul hero and Player of the Tournament last year. His goal against Bayern Munich set the tone for a first-leg masterclass, and his end-of-season award is well-deserved for an influential player who is often overlooked due to his position. City fans want to talk about Rodri more and more – with the Spaniard set to play a central role to the Champions League defence.
Then there is the defence, which saw four centre-backs start in Istanbul. Kyle Walker kept Vinicius Jr quiet in the semi-final last year and is City’s most experienced player, but lost his place in the final in a ruthless selection call by Guardiola.
Instead, Nathan Ake was faultless at left-back against Inter, with Manu Akanji brilliant in the centre and playing the decisive ball for Bernardo into the area to set up Rodri. John Stones won Man of the Match in the final for his role stepping into midfield, making more dribbles than Lionel Messi in a Champions League final. If Stones can reprise that midfield role this season, it could be fascinating to see him continue his evolution into one of Europe’s best midfielders, as well as one of the best central defenders.
And it wouldn’t be fair to overlook Stones’ partner Ruben Dias – a rock at the back and a consistent performer against Inter, Real Madrid, Bayern and others. In the biggest games, Dias is undroppable, and it was him who gave the speech to his teammates in the tunnel at the Ataturk Stadium at half time before the all-important second half.
Who can ignore Erling Haaland as well, scorer of 12 goals in the Champions League last season and a regular record breaker when it comes to the youngest player reach various goalscoring landmarks. Haaland’s five goals vs RB Leipzig was ruthless, and his character to score at Bayern after missing a penalty was applaudable. He was kept quiet in the semis and the final, showing there is certainly more to come from the UEFA Player of the Year.
Despite all the experience within the squad, the options available to Guardiola, and the new signings to make City even better, sometimes you are still at mercy of nerves or a formidable opponent. When Inter were pushing for a leveller in the final, it was Ederson who answered his critics and produced three huge saves to keep the Blues ahead.
So when all is considered, despite the exits, City still have a formidable squad with European match-winners in every position. Maybe City have lost some experience over the summer, but each player who remains has the memory of winning the biggest prize of all.
Gvardiol’s potential, Doku’s directness and Nunes’ solidity will improve the squad, and Kovacic’s addition adds the know-how when it comes to defending the Champions League, which is the new reality for City this season.
City fans sing that their players are ‘coming after you’, and that is what the Blues will do for every team they face after finally conquering the Champions League. It will take some side who can stop the City momentum for the second season running.