One question which rang out loud last May. Where do Manchester City go from here?
Long before the curtain fell last season, Pep Guardiola’s thoughts would have turned to the future. A record-breaking league title and the EFL Cup seemed too little reward for a team who dominated English football last season.
Despite their clear supremacy, the need for improvement remains. The fine-tuning of his side was marked out to include a new forward and extra cover in midfield.
The £60 million arrival of Riyad Mahrez earlier this week has addressed the former, however, the latter is arguably of much greater importance.
Fred and Jorginho were the two players quickly identified to fill this position, but it now seems neither will be wearing sky blue next month. Fred has appeared in the wrong part of Manchester and Jorginho looks set to don a darker shade of blue leaving Guardiola in need of a plan C. So what can Guardiola do to improve his team?
A key component in Guardiola’s squad last season and their most under-rated player is Fernandinho, he provided the midfield steel to City's team.
His energy and ability to disrupt opposition attacks was a critical part of City’s over-arching gameplan. The headlines may have focused on their prolific scoring, however, the fact they conceded fewer shots on goal than any other team was as pivotal to their success as anything else.
At 33-years-old and returning from a World Cup quarter-final, Fernandinho is expected to require assistance in marshalling the team.
Last season, this came from İlkay Gündoğan but question marks still persist concerning the defensive areas of his game. Fabian Delph and John Stones could also potentially fill this position, however, they are much more likely to be used as a back-up rather than as a first-choice.
The new favourite
With Jorginho being strongly linked to making a move to London, a new favourite has emerged to join City.
Mateo Kovacic has long been hinting at moving away from Real Madrid and now bookmakers see him as Guardiola’s solution.
With a reported release clause of €300m, transfer negotiations will be anything but straightforward in this deal.
The 24-year-old creative midfielder has made clear that his desire to move is only fuelled by wanting guaranteed playing time, something which Guardiola will not promise.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block to his suitability lies in his abilities. Similar to Gündoğan, there’s also doubts whether Kovacic can prove defensive enough to be Fernandinho’s successor.
What seems more likely is a promising young player will be brought in to deputise and learn from Fernandinho.
One player who has long been scouted by City is Borussia Dortmund’s 22-year-old midfielder, Julian Weigl.
While the physical side of his game will need to improve for the Premier League, he has everything else Guardiola needs from a defensive-minded midfielder.
His heading ability and slim stature mean he doesn’t have the commanding presence typical of an English-based midfield anchor. This isn’t a trait which has hindered Sergio Busquets' career and Guardiola may feel that this is the direction he wishes to grow his team.
With Real Madrid reportedly stepping up their interest in Weigl this summer, City will need to move fast or potentially miss out on another target.
The surprise element
The search for a new number six is undoubtedly something which will have long-occupied Guardiola’s thoughts.
With players like Amadou Diawara, Wilfred Ndidi, Tanguay Ndombele and even Arsenal target Steven N'Zonzi being linked with a move to the Etihad, there has been much smoke, if little fire, regarding City’s midfield solution.
However, one player who fits the bill perfectly has rarely been mentioned in the press. Valencia's Carlos Soler.
After beginning his senior career on the right wing, the 21-year-old has since moved into central midfield and proven vital to Valencia's resurgence.
His 33 appearances (27 starts) in La Liga last season saw him average over four recoveries per game while he only picked up four yellow cards despite committing the second-highest number of fouls of any Valencia player.
With strong upper-body strength and a killer eye for a pass, Guardiola could mould Soler into the perfect long-term replacement for one of his most crucial positions in the team.
What do you think Manchester City need to add this summer? Let us know in the comments below.