Plenty of work for Pep Guardiola in Man City project

The challenge for the Catalan is to send a shock wave through the club

 Pep Guardiola will take over a City squad at the crossroads on July 1st. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/EPA

Pep Guardiola will take over a City squad at the crossroads on July 1st. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/EPA

 

After Manchester City’s meek elimination from the Champions League, Pep Guardiola’s first challenge when replacing Manuel Pellegrini as manager in the summer is to send a shock wave through the club.

Pellegrini’s team raised only a whimper against Real Madrid despite the semi-final being poised at 0-0 from the first leg and the venue being the football cathedral of the Santiago Bernabéu. If these circumstances cannot inspire a manager and his players then something is awry. It is nothing new, though, and so there was no surprise to witness City’s sleepwalk to a feeble defeat against Zinedine Zidane’s side.

City’s Premier League challenge this season has been hobbled by lame displays, a lack of consistency and a strange sense of drift. Uninterested is a label that can be applied to a team who went down 4-2 at Southampton, 4-1 at Tottenham Hotspur and 4-1 at Liverpool, and who are fourth with no guarantee of Champions League football next season, with two matches left. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this all stems from the manager.

Pellegrini’s aim was to avoid sensational headlines and the club being the story factory it was when Roberto Mancini, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli were on the payroll. Instead, the manager has become stuck on repeat, continually stating that his City will attack: it felt fresh at first but the mantra has become a stale slogan.

The imagination

There is a time to be concerned by criticism and it is when your side have just lacked the imagination to force the issue and try to reach the Champions League final.

Guardiola’s public persona is far more intense and bristly. It should keep his inquisitors on edge – and his players.

The squad the new man inherits is at a crossroads, though. It must be pruned, and those remaining improved. A transfer policy that has bought too many duds – think the €53.4 million Eliaquim Mangala – must start to invest Sheikh Mansour’s billions more wisely. And the desired culture of excellence and winning has to become a permanent feature of European campaigns.

Why Guardiola is the best man to achieve all this is signalled by his wish to buy Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen. Joe Hart was City’s best performer against Madrid. The goalkeeper is in the form of his career and doing precisely what Guardiola will demand: improving. Yet the 45-year-old wants to add Ter Stegen, a Champions League winner with Barcelona, to ensure competition drives Hart on.

The back four is where Guardiola faces his first major man management test: how to solve the Vincent Kompany problem.

Sadly predictable

When the 30-year-old went down near the centre circle incredulity was triggered by seeing yet again what now appears sadly predictable.

Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte is being targeted as a replacement for the Belgian, if required. But the 21-year-old is out until August with a broken leg and dislocated ankle, so to spend the €50 million needed to trigger his release clause appears another gamble.

City need another centre-back as Mangala and Nicolás Otamendi are too erratic. Everton’s John Stones is enduring a difficult campaign, yet the manner in which he took the contest to Manchester United in the second half of Everton’s FA Cup semi-final defeat last month showed courage.

At the moment Stones is a footballer first and defender second, which is no centre-back’s job description. But Guardiola may feel he can do for the 21-year-old what he did for Gerard Piqué at the same age, when taking him to Barcelona in 2008.

Guardiola has issues at full-back, too. Pablo Zabaleta, 31, and the 33-year-old Bacary Sagna have plateaued. Gaël Clichy is inconsistent but may survive the cull as he is technically sound. But Aleksandar Kolarov will surely not.

As the ageing Yaya Touré slows, a new partner for Fernandinho in midfield is required . Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva should prosper in the Guardiola school, and the 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho has potential to do so too.

Jesús Navas’s straight-lines act means he is under threat, and Wilfried Bony falls into the same category, but Samir Nasri is hugely talented and could prosper under under Guardiola’s tutelage.

So the challenge for the Catalan on his arrival in Manchester is clear: to elevate all and every facet of the team, and its management. The Pep Guardiola Revolution begins on July 1st. Guardian Service

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