The much-coveted January deadline day deal involving the managerial transfer of Pep Guardiola to Manchester City caused quite a stir. Since the announcement, City have won only five league games in 11 leading to a fight to maintain their top four spot as oppose to fighting for the title. The dip in form was linked straight to the Pep news yet the form of three key men has, arguably, had a more significant effect on the City side.
From 6th February to 20th March, City gained four points from a possible 18. A quartet of losses, a draw and a solitary win allowed critics to tear into the ageing City line-up. David Silva’s age was brought up as a factor to City’s poor form while Yaya Toure’s dramatics suggested he may be on his way out, especially with speculation that he may fall out of favour under Pep Guardiola.
Another feature of City’s poor form was the lack of a defensive leader. With Kompany’s ongoing injury problems, Mangala and Otamendi stepped in and failed to produce anything to generate future hope. The pair looked shaky with neither knowing each other’s game, leading to Otamendi often advancing to close space without full certainty of Mangala’s positioning. Guardiola will already know either intense training or a new signing is needed to sort this recurring problem. With Kompany back in the line-up, it isn’t a certainty he’ll complete 90 minutes or if his injuries have affected his ‘warrior-like’ playing style. The lack of assurance emitted from the back forces City to out-score teams in order to win.
Yet, the issues may have been because of the loss of a key figure in Kevin De Bruyne. Injured since the announcement, De Bruyne’s goal-scoring return in the win at Bournemouth ended the horrific run of form. In the meantime, Aguero had missed the Belgian playmaker as during his injury the talisman only managed three goals in six. Since De Bruyne’s return, Aguero has scored in all four games, scoring six times at double the rate of the previous period. This connection between the two also formed a key part in City’s historic Champions League win against PSG to send them to the quarter-finals.
For the two, next season is key. Aguero will be readying to prove himself to Guardiola as one of the best. Aguero’s new manager has managed a host of world-class strikers; Eto’o, Henry and Lewandowski to name a few, and the Argentine will be hoping to confirm his name among the best.
For Kevin De Bruyne; after not being given the chance to prove himself at Chelsea, the Belgian has played with a determination to set this right. Having met Guardiola’s Bayern face to face with Wolfsburg, KDB will know exactly what’s needed to fit into a Guardiola side. The young man certainly won’t want to be out of favour under another world class manager, firstly Jose Mourinho and possibly Guardiola. Yet, since his Chelsea days, De Bruyne has undergone a phenomenal transformation making him one of the best in the Premier League.
The final potential key man hasn’t had a significant turnaround in form since De Bruyne’s return. In fact, Raheem Sterling missed the first three games of KDB’s return before making his own return for 23 minutes of the draw against Newcastle. The young man joined City last summer along with his Belgian counterpart and has made 29 appearances this year yet hasn’t had the desired effect. With six goals to his name in sky blue, Sterling will be hoping to settle in Manchester for next season while in the meantime confirm his place in the England team for the upcoming Euros.
However, Sterling’s pace and ability to play wide makes him appeal to Guardiola. His similarity to Kingsley Coman suggests that Sterling will be integral to Guardiola’s plans. The Englishman will be the cog in Guardiola’s attacking plan with the wide man being made to hold his width creating an area between the full-back and centre-back for City to utilise in the final third. Thierry Henry explains this perfectly on Sky Sports while it’s a renowned tactic of the Spaniard.
The new acronym of next season may become ASK season if Guardiola can get his tactics across and with the pull of Champions League; and a world class manager, City will certainly bring in a number of top talents. The Citizens are sure to be a force next season, possibly favourites for the title, and with these three linking together, the ASK partnership may become one of the most feared attacking trios in the world, behind MSN and BBC of course.
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