Manchester City: 2018/19 Premier League Preview
Retaining the Premier League title is easier said than done, but can the Citizens become the first to do so since their city rivals from 2007 to 2009?
The goal for Manchester City is simple, but horrendously difficult. After winning the Premier League at a canter last year – breaking the 100 point barrier – Pep Guardiola will expect his players to mount a staunch and bloody defence of their title, whilst hoping to replicate their success in Europe.
A trip to Arsenal provides a fraught opener for the domestic campaign, but the Gunners have nothing that will frighten the champions unduly. A win at the Emirates would set the wheels churning, in a difficult few months that will also take in visits to Molyneux and Anfield.
2017/18 Season Review
Perfection. The most goals, the most wins, and the most breathtaking football to grace English soil since Arsenal’s Invincibles in 2004.
Raheem Sterling was the undoubted star, scoring a career-high goal tally, but Ederson and Kyle Walker were similarly impressive as two new additions in the summer.
With the exception of the club’s central defenders, all of Guardiola’s players enjoyed a triumphant season, with Kevin De Bruyne his usual enthralling self.
Defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City were the only blots in the league, but the former broke hearts at the Etihad with their evisceration of the Sky Blues in the Champions League.
City really should have done better in Europe, and the pressure on Guardiola will mount rapidly should his team fail to impress for a third year running.
Name: Riyad Mahrez
Fee: £60 million
Finally, Riyad Mahrez has been allowed to vacate his Leicester purgatory. After having previous offers from City and Barcelona rebuffed, the Algerian arrives to reinforce a front line that is already laden with talent.
Mahrez will be expected to provide competition for Sterling and Leroy Sane, but don’t be surprised if Guardiola chooses to feature him in a role similar to the one being played by De Bruyne.
Guardiola, too, has been keen to support Fernandinho with a new central midfielder, though he missed out on Jorginho to Chelsea and he’s yet to declare interest in another target.
Yaya Toure is the most high-profile departure, but some in the corridors of the Etihad will be ruing the exits of talented youngsters Pablo Maffeo and Angus Gunn. Maffeo, in particular, excelled on loan with Girona last year, and will no doubt become a top signing for Stuttgart.
Guardiola won’t tinker with a system that had his opponents flummoxed all year. Benjamin Mendy, returning from an injury-ravaged campaign, will come in for Fabian Delph. Alongside Walker, the Frenchman will be expected to plug forward in support of the attack, providing width as Sterling and Sane drift infield.
Sterling, though, may be fatigued from the World Cup, which gives Mahrez the chance to begin the season. The same may apply to De Bruyne, with Bernardo Silva replacing him in the midfield three.
De Bruyne will be given the freedom to roam, set loose by Fernandinho’s discipline and David Silva’s lascivious ball-control. Gabriel Jesus is Guardiola’s preferred striker, but expect rotation with Sergio Aguero.
The only question marks are at centre back and in defence – neither John Stones nor Nicolas Otamendi had a tournament to remember, whilst Vincent Kompany is creaking. Aymeric Laporte offers class and balance at left centre back, and he will be supported by a rotating cast of colleagues.
The Key Question: Will they finally win the Champions League?
That is the one thing missing from Guardiola’s time at Bayern Munich. So far, it is the only drawback to an otherwise sumptuous reign in Manchester.
Another record-breaking season in England might be good for the fans, but it will provide the Spaniard with little leeway in a boardroom craven with Champions League lust. It was the reason he was signed in the first place, and he simply has to win it.
Premier League and Champions League double. A result like that would solidify Guardiola’s legend in Manchester.
A minor trophy win. Given the talent at their disposal, it’s unlikely that City will finish this season empty-handed. An FA or League Cup win would feel like the bitterest of disappointments.
RealSport recommends: Premier League champions
Another title beckons. Liverpool offer the most robust threat, but severe questions remain over Mohamed Salah’s ability to replicate last year’s form, whilst a raft of signings will need time to settle.
The major questions for City will be in Europe. Can they overcome the mental block that has held them back for so long? Even if they can, the continents’ biggest clubs will be waiting for them. It is here, under the midweek floodlights, where the campaign will be decided.
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