Manchester City’s top decision makers were left so disappointed with the manner of the club’s limp Champions League exit that they agreed a fresh start was needed and that many of the current squad members would have to be moved on.
Pep Guardiola spelled out in a meeting with his employers in Abu Dhabi that the average age of the City squad would need lowering dramatically, and the defence in particular needed a complete overhaul.
No, Guardiola has not been in the Middle East since his side lost at Monaco on Wednesday. It was City’s defeat in Madrid last April which convinced Khaldoon Al Mubarak that Guardiola would need help in transforming the club from uninspiring also-rans to world beaters.
Yet less than 12 months down the line the club are in the same position once again. At some point last summer it was decided that the overhaul would be completed over two off-season transfer windows, something that Guardiola privately accepts was a mistake.
The Catalan wanted more new faces last summer and will be desperate to get his squad up to scratch so, in his second season, he can do what he really wants to with the Blues.
For that to happen, many of the current squad will be shown the door. Rather than replacing them man-for-man, however, a clutch of quality, generally young, reinforcements will arrive.
You could pick a match-day squad of 18 City players who could be moved on this summer.
Willy Caballero is out of contract in the summer, and while Goal understands he will be offered a new deal, he is unlikely to sign it if he is not first choice next season.
Claudio Bravo’s place is also under threat given his alarming failure to save many of the shots directed at his goal. Guardiola is thrilled with his contribution to City’s gameplan but is not blind to his shortcomings.
In the defence, those ageing full-backs which so alarmed Guardiola last summer will finally be moved on. Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are all out of contract and it would represent a major surprise if any of them are retained for next season.
Nicolas Otamendi’s future is also in doubt. Guardiola wanted two centre-backs last summer but having only signed one he has been rotating between Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov and John Stones. Guardiola recognises Otamendi’s importance when City come up against direct opposition, but his distribution is not as good as Kolarov or Stones and there are potential replacements who can do a better job, too.
Then there is Vincent Kompany, the injury plagued club captain who struggles to get into the team even when he is available for selection.
In midfield Yaya Toure is waiting to discover if he will be offered a new deal and it is currently very difficult to call whether he will get one. He has been one of City’s best players, if not the best, since returning to the side in November, but Guardiola wants a deep-lying midfielder this summer and may be tempted to bring in somebody who is already fully aware of what the Catalan wants.
Fabian Delph has had few opportunities this season and would surely get even fewer if he were to be kept around. It is a similar story for Fernando.
Jesus Navas is also out of contract and a move back to Sevilla is on the cards.
The Sergio Aguero situation remains unresolved and there is still a possibility that he could leave in the summer regardless of City’s insistence otherwise.
Kelechi Iheanacho is unlikely to get many opportunities next season whether Aguero stays or not and the young Nigerian could also be moved on, either on loan or permanently, depending on whether it is decided he will ever fit into Guardiola’s plans or not.
Add in the players out on loan – Joe Hart, Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala and Jason Denayer – and City have 18 players who could leave.
There are several factors which will affect City’s transfer business. One is the need to bring in homegrown players, as they could be left with just Raheem Sterling and John Stones by the start of next season.
The other, while it may seem implausible, is the potential to sign Lionel Messi. City will be playing close attention to the Argentine’s situation at Barcelona and, given he has only recently started negotiating the terms of a new contract at Camp Nou, sporting director Txiki Begiristain will be keeping a close eye on proceedings.
If there is any chance of signing Messi, City will go for it. It must always be made clear that such an eventuality does remain unlikely, but it is a possibility.
If City do pull off surely the biggest transfer coup of all time, there will be a knock-on effect on the rest of their business.
On the basis that Messi will not sign for City, however, there are multiple options for each of the areas which need strengthening.
Guardiola has prioritised full-backs (again), a centre-back, a deep-lying midfielder and a forward. A goalkeeper may also be required.
As reported by Goal in February, City as yet have no concrete plan in place for the goalkeeping position, with Benfica’s Ederson and Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford (a homegrown option) being monitored.
While Guardiola has publicly refuted the claim in Marti Perarnau’s latest book that he told his employers that new full-backs should be top of the agenda, it is a lack of quality in the defence which has hamstrung his plans for the club in his first season in charge.
City enquired about Danny Rose and Kyle Walker last summer but were told they had no chance by Spurs. Both full-backs have since signed new contracts but the Londoners’ new stadium could cost them twice as much as first expected and a big-money sale of one of their top performers could help keep any financial issues at bay, and allow them to keep hold of their other marquee names. That is a situation which applies to Dele Alli, who City have been monitoring but who could cost a world-record fee. City, though, are more likely to spend that type of money elsewhere, and the full-back position has to be the absolute priority this time around.
City’s top targets will be young and versatile, which means a mooted move for Bayer Leverkusen’s Benjamin Henrichs, who is 20 and can play at right-back and in midfield, makes a lot of sense. Monaco’s Fabinho, 23, also ticks those boxes.
Any chance of signing Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich would surely be explored, while Aymeric Laporte is still a target seeing as City had banked on him joining them from Athletic last summer. The failure to sign a left-footed defender who is good on the ball, such as Laporte and also Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini, has ensured Kolarov has played many of City’s games this season. While he has improved of late, he, like the current full-back options, is not of the standard to do what Guardiola wants to really achieve with his team.
Considering the difficulty most of the defenders have had coping with the manager’s most adventurous systems, there may be a temptation to bring in one or two older players who are familiar with his demands, such as Dani Alves. The Brazilian is also a big character off the pitch and that is an area Guardiola believes is in need of addressing – Kolarov is currently the biggest voice in the dressing room by far.
Another priority for Guardiola is the arrival of a deep-lying midfielder, though that box could be ticked if Henrichs, Fabinho or Kimmich are signed.
Jack Wilshere, a City target from before Guardiola’s time, could be an option, while there is said to be interest in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Guardiola, however, would have to be convinced that any homegrown players are good enough to contribute to his squad and not just make up the numbers, which seems to have been the approach in recent years.
Goal reported earlier this week that City are also keeping an eye on Kingsley Coman, should he leave Bayern Munich. Talk of a €50m bid is wide of the mark, but interest in the pacey, tricky winger does make sense despite the continuing emergence of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling. A glance at City’s bench on Wednesday night is proof of that.
But a lot will depend on whether Aguero leaves and who could be signed to replace him. City have been looking at alternatives since last summer, with Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann previously considered.
Alexis Sanchez, if and when he leaves Arsenal, is a player Guardiola has worked with previously and still admires.
All in all, City’s defensive targets will generally be young and versatile, while the forwards they will pursue are more likely to be established players of international quality.
Each will have to be able to play the Guardiola way, or we will be back at this stage next summer.