Manchester City have made their worst start to a season since Mark Hughes was in charge and this is Pep Guardiola’s worst start to a season ever in his managerial career. City certainly haven’t helped themselves of late with their recruitment.
Here are five transfer decisions which are making life much harder for Guardiola…
Signing two centre-backs too late
Liverpool hardly needed a helping hand to win the Premier League title last season but City offered them one anyway by refusing to sign a central defender when Vincent Kompany departed in 2019.
Kompany’s departure hardly came out of the blue and Guardiola’s judgement on Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones had already been passed. But Guardiola opted to go into the 2019/20 season with only a single centre-back who enjoyed his trust.
Guardiola could not have foreseen Aymeric Laporte’s injury problems but he, and the other decision-makers at City, can certainly be condemned for taking an unnecessary risk which backfired in a big way.
City attempted to make up for their mistake by signing two centre-backs this summer and with Ruben Dias settling in well, even if he and Laporte were taken for a walk around north London by Harry Kane on Saturday, the problem has been addressed, albeit far too belatedly and at the expense of their Premier League and Champions League hopes this year.
Failing to sign a left-back this summer
Guardiola loves few things more than splurging on a full-back. A spend of almost £200million tells us that. But during the one summer that City really needed an upgrade in the full-back area, Guardiola chose to resist the temptation.
City are currently short of a top-class left-back; that is undeniable. Benjamin Mendy is too often unavailable or unreliable, while City would happily have parted with Oleksandr Zinchenko in the summer if they had a replacement lined up. That they didn’t is another failing on City’s behalf.
It has left Guardiol playing Joao Cancelo, a right-back the manager doesn’t really fancy in his natural position, on the left side and though Cancelo impressed against Liverpool last week, when Jurgen Klopp specifically targeted the out-of-position defender, Guardiola still hinted in his praise that he was having to make do.
“He played exceptional,” said the City boss of Cancelo. “Up front he has a special talent, defensively sometimes he needs to be consistent but when he is consistent and focused he is a fantastic football player and guy.”
Nathan Ake, one of the two centre-backs signed by City this summer, can shuffle across to left-back and Guardiola is certainly not short of cover in that area. But he is short of a first-choice option, which is a problem for a side that relies so heavily on its full-backs.
Refusing to sign a centre-forward
Despite all the millions spent by Guardiola, it is almost four years since he recruited a first-team centre-forward. Which may go some way to explaining City’s current goalscoring woes.
During a season that has supposedly witnessed the death of defending, City have scored 10 goals in eight games – only three sides outside the drop zone have scored fewer and every team in the top half has scored more. At Spurs, their lack of a cutting edge was the most glaring thing about a performance labelled ‘not good enough’ by the City boss.
Sergio Aguero was witness to City’s struggle from the bench, where he watched Gabriel Jesus toil with the goalscoring burden. Despite a fine start at City and having since shown glimpses of form which suggested City had a ready-made replacement lined up for when Aguero was to leave, Jesus simply doesn’t possess the same threat as the Argentina ace.
Harsh, perhaps, since Aguero is City’s greatest ever goalscorer. But with City’s game based more on scoring goals rather than stopping them, Guardiola needs a deadly hitman in his attack.
As it stands, Aguero will be off at the end of the season and in a season everyone knew would be congested, the 32-year-old was always likely to spend periods on the sidelines. As did Jesus, prior to returning against Liverpool.
In both of his senior strikers’ absence, Guardiola used winger Ferran Torres in a central role and Raheem Sterling can fill in too. But for a club with City’s resources and ambition, they really should have a greater depth of top-class specialist options.
Their ‘no galacticos’ policy
Pep has spent around £800million in the four years he has been at City and he could field an XI of £40m-plus signings. But City are evidently averse to signing any player with a price tag too far in excess of £60million.
Guardiola has been allowed to break City’s transfer record on four occasions yet all fall between the £55million spent on Laporte and the £64.5million it took to prise Dias from Benfica. Are they trying to pretend that they are being frugal if they aren’t seen to be splurging on the most expensive talent?
“He’s incredible,” said Guardiola of Jack Grealish earlier this year. “An exceptional player but too expensive for Manchester!”
You can judge for yourself whether City needed Grealish – we have – but the idea that at around £75million the England star was too pricey for City is absurd. A club which spends £60million on Cancelo can push the boat out for Grealish or any other talent which could markedly improve their prospects.
It’s a false economy. It’s hard to fathom who they are trying to kid, especially now they’ve blown holes in the FFP guidelines.
City only need look at their main title rivals and champions for assurance that big spending in the right circumstances is justifiable. Liverpool have been smart in the transfer market and they have kept a very close eye on the purse-strings. But when they identified areas requiring swift and vast improvement – and players capable of providing such – they wasted little time in spending vast sums on Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.
City too didn’t want to match United’s desire to sign Harry Maguire, and it wasn’t because Guardiola didn’t want the England centre-back in his side. Instead of Maguire, City signed no one.
When City eventually come to replace Aguero, it is unlikely that they will be able to get a truly world-class centre-forward within their current transfer parameters. They reportedly didn’t fancy spending £93million on Romelu Lukaku last summer but next year, they will likely have to go big on whichever No.9 Guardiola wants to lead his forward line.
Passing up the chance to sign Lionel Messi
Messi would be the greatest galactico of them all. But City have apparently gone cold on the wantaway Barcelona star.
Why? Because he’s 33 and he currently earns around £500,000 a week after tax. Let’s face it, he’s unlikely to accept a wage cut if he is to leave Barca.
None of this should be new information to City, yet these facts have reportedly seen the club change their stance on making a signing that would send shockwaves far beyond Catalonia.
Perhaps since there is plenty of remedial work to do elsewhere in Guardiola’s squad, the City chiefs have decided that Messi is a luxury they can no longer afford. But his terms and conditions were always clear.
Perhaps it is the right call and maybe we’re just sore that we won’t get to see arguably the greatest player of all time play on these shores after all. But the change of heart, if indeed they have had one, indicates a lack of clarity of vision on the board’s part.