Manchester City head into the new campaign at something of a crossroads, having lost their Premier League crown and failed in Europe again under Pep Guardiola.
But there is a much bigger and broader long-term challenge to be addressed as the club face some major decisions about what direction to take with the squad.
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David Silva has left, Sergio Aguero is out of contract next summer and, perhaps more significantly, Guardiola’s future is yet to be secured with a year left on his current deal.
The danger is that the longer the season progresses without Guardiola committing his future to the club, the more his contract situation will dominate the narrative around City’s season.
Where do Man City stand?
A third consecutive League Cup represented a disappointing return for Manchester City as the 2019/20 season ended with a whimper.
Once it was clear the Premier League title had been lost to Liverpool, securing a first Champions League title in the club’s history was City’s primary objective, but an abject quarter-final defeat to Lyon put paid to that dream.
Phil Foden’s likely promotion after David Silva’s exit, coupled with the summer signing of 25-year-old Nathan Ake and 20-year-old Ferran Torres, indicates a move towards youth ahead of their new campaign.
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The question is whether City can combine a gradual freshening up of their squad at the same time as sustaining their fight for trophies on both the domestic and international fronts.
Where are City strong?
Manchester City once again excelled across every attacking and possession-based metric last season – their league-topping total of 141 big chances was 32 clear of second-ranked Liverpool.
Opta’s advanced metrics provide statistical evidence of their possession-based approach, having mustered 251 build-up attacks – Jurgen Klopp’s side achieved only 148.
Opta advanced metrics
Manchester City finished the season with more goals than any other team for the third campaign running. Their total of 102 was 17 more than Liverpool.
Where can City improve?
It doesn’t take a genius to pinpoint where Manchester City’s title defence ran aground.
By the time Liverpool had secured the title, dethroned City had conceded 12 goals more than the Reds and the eventual 18-point deficit to the champions was a clear indication of weaknesses at the back.
Guardiola’s side were shipping almost one goal per game – the same ratio as his inaugural season before the serious rebuild. To put a figure on it: the defence was 35 per cent less efficient, compared with 2018/19.
City have snapped up centre-back Nathan Ake this summer and are linked with additional reinforcements, including Kalidou Koulibaly, and you sense the success with which those reinforcements bed in will be crucial to their hopes of reclaiming the title.
“If I had the funds Manchester City had available, I’d be spending it on three or four quality centre halves!
“We saw it again and again last season with Manchester City, and most recently in the Champions League, they need to sort out that defence. Manchester City were not consistent enough in the Premier League and that came down to the simple fact they weren’t good enough at the back.
“There are going to be a lot of injuries and fatigue when January and February come about, given the sheer volume of games this season.
“If City can sort their defence out, that could play into their hands and their strength in depth in attacking areas could come to the fore ahead of the run-in.”
With City finishing 18 points behind champions Liverpool, one wonders how much greater the chasm would have been had it not been for Kevin de Bruyne.
The mesmeric Belgian registered an eye-watering 16 goals and 23 assists in another instrumental campaign that saw him named Premier League Player of the Season.
Maintaining Manchester City’s cross-competition challenge ultimately proved too big a task for De Bruyne to shoulder alone last term.
But if De Bruyne can replicate his levels of consistency and bring the best out of some of his team-mates, City make just be back.
One to watch
Sergio Aguero only mustered 24 appearances due to injuries but averaged at one goal every 90 minutes – a seasonal career high during his stellar Manchester City career.
Khaldoon Al Mubarak has suggested the fit-again Argentine could stay at the club beyond the expiration of his contract next year, and a campaign full of goals could go a long to ensuring this season isn’t Aguero’s last at the Etihad.
Aguero needs eight goals to move above Andy Cole up to third in the all-time Premier League scoring charts and 29 to leapfrog Wayne Rooney into second.
Achieve that and Aguero will have had his highest-scoring league season since arriving in Manchester, and City may well have just wrestled back the title from Liverpool.
What is success for Man City in 2020/21?
City have the obvious task of trying to regain the upper hand over champions Liverpool domestically and finally unlocking the door to Champions League success after another quarter-final exit.
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