Season Preview: Manchester City
The 2022/2023 football season is here. The start of a new season is always hectic, exciting and emotional. With lots of intense running to shed accumulated weights, meetings, discussions, targets and goals, all hands will be on deck to start the new season in the best possible way. Football is a multi-billion pounds business, so adequate planning is always put in place by all teams involved to make sure they excite the fans and also meet their sporting and financial goals for the season.
This article is aimed at previewing the English Premier League teams as the peculiar 2022/2023 season commences. The strength, weakness, and predicted season ending positions of each team will be assessed. I will start with last season's champion, Manchester City.
Man City 2-1 Club America
Man City 1-0 Bayern Munich
Man City 1-3 Liverpool (Community Shield)
Preseason results are always deceptive. In a competitive game one would expect Manchester City to spank Club America, no matter how brave or courageous the Mexican team may play. With City players just returning from their holidays and some clearly absent, this result is nothing to write home about. The match against Bayern carried more intensity. Though it was still a friendly, City would definitely not want to lose this. It was significant for the non competitive debut of City's new no. 9, Erling Haaland.
The Community Shield, even though it's still considered a glorified friendly match, is where the season starts. The intensity on display justified that. City lost to Liverpool, who looked a lot sharper, but Haaland's horrible miss was dominated headlines. It will be silly of anyone to write the Danish striker off after just one game. He is not just your regular striker.
The blue half of Manchester dominated headlines more for the players they let go than they brought in. With deals for Haaland and Alvarez wrapped up long before the end of last season there was no real transfer buzz at the Etihad Stadium. Also, Phillips was quietly and swiftly acquired. The departures of Jesus, Zinchenko ( both to Arsenal), and Sterling (Chelsea) were quite surprising because of the destinations of those players. Are City getting overconfident? Why allow solid performers to join clubs that may directly rival them?
Arteta wisely used the close link with Guardiola to swoop for Jesus and Zinchenko, two players that would've played second fiddle if they stayed at City this season. There moves wasn't surprising. Allowing Sterling to join Chelsea was the real surprise. A struggling Chelsea will still compete fiercely. Strengthening them will only make them a lot more dangerous.
As for incomings, Alvarez already signed last January while Haaland's deal was struck last May. Phillips was brought in easily too. Cucurella was mooted as a replacement for the departed Zinchenko, but City weren't going to pay £50M for a player that will be effectively behind Cancelo on the left full-back pecking order.
With Manchester City, we all know what to expect now. They have arguably the best manager of this generation. When Pep got to City, I desperately wanted him to fail because of the pain his team inflicted on me on two tough Champions League nights (the Wembley one was more punishing). A lot of pundits claimed his method will never work in the physical and fast paced EPL. Well, he has won four of the last five league titles. He has built the team in his image.
In the goalkeeping department, Ederson is oftentimes only rated for his wonderful ball playing skill. However, he is actually a decent goalkeeper. Last season, he made 60 saves from 83 shots on target faced, with a save percentage of 69.77%. The three gk held in the highest regards in EPL, Alisson, Mendy and De Gea actually had 76%, 70.19% and 69.19% respectively. Ederson is definitely not an average GK even though that's what the media wants us to believe. With him, City's got a solid dude whose confidence and ball handling skill is an important precursor for their attack.
Defensively, City is adequately loaded. Asides Cancelo who was a class act last season, none of their defenders can claim to be world class. Yes, Dias was a beast two seasons ago but his influence waned last season. Laporte, Stones, Walker and Ake will be silly to claim world class status. However, these players are completely reliable. They've been there for sometimes now and know exactly what their manager wants. Asides, those guys kept 21 clean sheets last season which is the joint highest in the league.
With Guardiola's team you always find it hard to separate the midfield from the attack, so I'll lump those two positions together. The departure of Fernandinho left a hole in City's midfield. That hole has been effectively plucked with a certain Kalvin Phillips, who can comfortably operate as the pivot in a three man midfield and also, as part of a midfield two. Against nail-tough oppositions like Liverpool, I won't be surprised if Pep starts Rodri and Phillips.
The dominating displays of Bernardo Silva kept Gundogan on the bench last season, but with Silva being incessantly linked to Barcelona, City need to keep Gundogan. Jack Grealish should finally cement a starting spot in the team now with Sterling gone, but he has the very capable Foden to contend with.
Mahrez was highly prolific last season. He looks assured of his position but in games where Pep chooses to start Phillips and Rodri, Silva may be moved to the attacking right with Mahrez dropping to the bench. That won't happen regularly this season. De Bruyne is untouchable - no discussion needed as regards this assertion. Haaland comes in with a big reputation. He is the only no. 9 the team has got so he should play. If he missteps though, Pep will drop him. He did that to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona. Dropping another big striker won't be a problem.
As far as City is concerned, they've managed to mask their weaknesses effectively. The oppositions plan has always been to defend deep and hit them on the counter attack. That is easier said than done because City have one of the best 1v1 defenders in Dias. Also, Kyle Walker's pace is always very handy in ruthlessly snuffing out those moves. Liverpool seemingly has the blueprint to beat City, but no other EPL team can play like Liverpool.
Just like Guardiola's Barca where counter-attacking the vacuum created by the marauding Daniel Alves was perceived as the team's weakness, the space behind the very offensive Cancelo looks to be the best route to cracking City. Unfortunately, Ruben Dias is ever ready to step into that space while Rodri settles into the heart of the defense to make it a back three during a defensive transition. Thus, their weakness is extremely hard to exploit.
PROJECTED POSITION: 1st
City didn't look rock solid in the early parts of last season. They were sloppy and easy to defend against as Guardiola experimented with playing Jesus from the attacking right. But if there's one EPL team that can win twenty games on a trot, the name is Manchester City. Once they switch into gear it's pretty hard to match them. Liverpool has been their closest rival in five years, but I'm beginning to lose hope in seeing them topple City comfortably. Sadly, I think City will keep the title in Manchester once again. I guess Guardiola will continue to win till he eventually decides to quit English football for good.