Kevin De Bruyne Jack Grealish Phil Foden Manchester City GFXGetty Images

Grealish in, Bernardo out - How Man City will line up for 2021-22 season

Predicting a Pep Guardiola line-up can be a fool’s errand.

The Manchester City coach is always liable to pull out a wildcard, such as in last season’s Champions League final when he moved Ilkay Gundogan into a holding midfield role, taking everyone by surprise.

But with a football brain that never stops analysing and recalibrating what is happening on the pitch, coupled with a multitude of intelligent and flexible players, it can often be what gives City an extra edge.

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Of course, it can go wrong, just as it did in that defeat to Chelsea in Porto when Guardiola’s side were strangely ineffective on the biggest night of the season.

But, over the course of the campaign, Guardiola’s innovation can make the difference in breaking opponents down and be the reason why his side can go on the sort of winning streaks that blow away their rivals.

Manchester United finished 14 points behind the champions last season and it would probably have been a tighter title race had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found a way to beat relegated West Brom, Fulham and Sheffield United both home and away.

Against stubborn sides, City have options to find a way through. Against top-six rivals, tactics are carefully attuned to give control of the ball and therefore the best opportunity to win.

Without a striker for most of last season, the title and run to the Champions League final could be seen as one of Guardiola's greatest achievements, even with the array of talent available.

But a centre forward was a high priority this summer. With no sign of a breakthrough over a move for Tottenham’s Harry Kane and club record goalscorer Sergio Aguero gone, he is having to plan for a similar season.

Goal looks at some of the line-ups you can expect to see if there is no new striker at the Etihad Stadium before the transfer window closes at the start of September.

Winning system: 4-1-2-3

This formation was the basis for much of last season’s success when Aguero was missing through injury and illness.

Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Gundogan, Ferran Torres and Bernardo Silva all took the central role at times throughout the season, even sometimes rotating during games.

Man City possible formation 1

Whether Bernardo is still at City at the end of the transfer window remains uncertain but Guardiola probably has even more options to take on the role than in the last campaign.

The arrival of Jack Grealish means others are freed up to play the central position more often and when he spoke to the media for the first time following his £100 million ($139m) move from Aston Villa, he suggested he would be happy to take on the job.

Torres is also an exciting prospect, with the young Spaniard showing he is more than comfortable in the middle despite being signed as a winger.

He showed his quality there at the end of the season and again at Euro 2020 with Spain. It could be that his future at City lies playing more centrally.

The Real thing: 4-2-2-2

It was back in February 2020, with a victory over Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu, that the huge potential of rotating the false nine was unleashed on the biggest stage.

Aguero was left on the bench and what looked like an orthodox replacement in Gabriel Jesus played predominantly as a left winger.

Man City possible formation 2

The No.9 position was left vacant and filled by different players as they shifted around the pitch with a purpose and understanding that left Madrid perplexed.

De Bruyne and Bernardo, as attacking midfielders, would take on the role as the furthest players forward, or Jesus and Riyad Mahrez would move in from their positions with full-backs or midfielders filling their space.

The fluidity of the side runs all the way to the backline, thanks to the flexibility of the full-backs moving into central midfield or defensive midfielders dropping in at centre-back or full-back when City are in possession of the ball.

The Full English: 4-3-3

Guardiola is a big fan of English players and how they can adapt, particularly when the schedule steps up in autumn and across the Christmas period.

Adding Grealish has increased the number of English players in his squad, with Sterling, Foden, John Stones and Kyle Walker forming the backbone of recent success.

Man City possible formation 3

It’s also why Kane was identified as a top target after his remarkable record of scoring goals season after season in the Premier League.

Negotiations could yet extend all the way to deadline day, with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy determined to drive a hard bargain and City not wanting to be seen to give in to his demands.

Should there be a breakthrough, it would give the City boss the opportunity to pick a team around a group of national team players that showed their quality by reaching the Euro 2020 final, and are adept at coping with more traditionally English opponents.

Three-at-the-back: 3-1-3-3

The City boss has wanted to play this system and has occasionally gone with it, achieving mixed results. He used it in the shock Champions League quarter-final loss to Lyon last year in a bid to overcome a lack of pace in his defence.

Man City GFX formationGetty Images

Guardiola is more likely to employ a defensive midfielder to drop into the back three when on the ball to combat opponents playing with two strikers and allow his full-backs and midfielders to get forward.

It has been the occasional ploy of opponents to man-mark City's midfielders, leaving the central defenders to bring the fall forward.

Stones, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte are all comfortable doing that and starting with three centre-backs gives them extra security to take chances.

Practising the system in training hasn't been easy because of the recent crazy schedules but that doesn't mean that it will be ruled out as an option.

And with Nathan Ake and Walker as alternatives, Guardiola has plenty of quality to choose from to make it work when needed.