Manchester City 2016/17 Season: How Could the Blues Line-up for the First Game of the 2016/17 Season?

The last eight days have been eventful for Manchester City, with the unveiling of Josep Guardiola as their new manager and the subsequent training sessions and press conference attended by the Catalan, who has asked the Manchester City fans to “fasten their seat belts” and promised that his team will play a quality brand of football. Excitement is very much tangible on the part of City fans too, who will sit back and hope to witness something special delivered by a manager who has won 21 trophies in his seven-year career. Amidst the excitement, we can say that the 2016 summer transfer window has been a little quiet, so far, for Manchester City, who have made just three signings – Ilkay Gundogan, Manuel Agudo Duran and Oleksandr Zinchenko – and more importantly, not landed their primary targets yet. From their viewpoint, City will be happy about the UEFA Euro 2016 coming to a conclusion tonight, and you can expect them to become proactive in the transfer market from tomorrow.

A huge raft of names has been linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium. They are:

  1. Bruno Peres
  2. Claudio Bravo
  3. John Stones
  4. Leonardo Bonucci
  5. Leroy Sane
  6. Marc-Andre ter Stegen
  7. Toni Kroos

Of the aforementioned names, Stones, we can say, is a probable and major transfer target for City, who are understood to be willing to pay a hefty transfer fee to prise the Everton centre-back away from Goodison Park. Martin Demichelis left the club at the expiry of his contract on June 30th, meaning City currently have only three centre-backs and chances are, none of them might be fit to play on August 13th against Sunderland. Nicolas Otamendi could return to training at the end of this month; Eliaquim Mangala, a part of France’s Euro 2016 squad, will likely return to training only at the beginning of August, while Vincent Kompany has yet to start training with the squad due to his ongoing rehabilitation.

Pablo Zabaleta has been linked with a move to AS Roma, but we are witnessing a bit of a lull on that front in recent days. Now, City have, reportedly, had a couple of their bids (£12.4m and £15m) for Peres, rejected by the Brazilian right-back’s current club and the English club might have to cough up £17m to sign him. But if they have set their eyes on Peres, then City are likely to pay Torino’s asking price and bring him to the Etihad sooner rather than later, possibly even before their first pre-season friendly against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on July 20th.

Apart from this duo, I really cannot fathom City pursuing the other players with as much enthusiasm as the grapevine columns are portraying. I do not think the 2013/14 English champions must spend on the aforementioned players, even though Bravo, Sane, Kroos, and ter Stegen are “Pep-type” players who will bolster the City squad and who are linked with a move to the Etihad possibly because of their attributes which are very much in line with what the new City manager covets. City’s apparent pursuit of Bonucci’s signature is rather surprising as well, but we must again understand the possible reason behind the huge hullabaloo: after Bayern were held to a 2-2 draw by Juventus in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League R-16 tie first-leg, Guardiola mentioned the Italian centre-back as one of his “all-time favourite players.”

Therefore, based on City’s acquisitions in the transfer market so far and the players who they might bring to the Etihad between now and the start of the 2016/17 season, how could Manchester City’s starting XI look like, on the opening weekend of the upcoming campaign?

Probable Manchester City’s Starting XI v Sunderland

Joe Hart, having returned home early as a result of England’s ouster at the R-16 stage of the Euro 2016, can be expected to join up with the City squad before they leave for China, to take part in the International Champions Cup, a pre-season competition also featuring Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. So, the England goalkeeper is highly likely to take his place between the sticks when City face Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on the opening weekend of the 2016/17 Barclays Premier League season.

Torino’s asking price of £17m for Peres should not really put City off, if they are strong in their pursuit of the Brazilian right-back’s signature. And if they are successful in their pursuit of Peres, City can claim that they have brought in an ideal replacement for Zabaleta. The 26-year-old Torino right-back has scored six goals and assisted seven in his last two seasons for the Serie A club. So, going forward, you can say that Peres could well give City the kind of attacking impetus Zabaleta has over the years. If this player transfer does go ahead, then Peres could make his Manchester City debut against the Black Cats. Bacary Sagna, who has played in each one of France’s Euro 2016 games en-route to the final and will likely start against Portugal tonight, might well be unavailable for selection against Sunderland.

Central defence is the position which must be of utmost concern to City. They have yet to make Stones a Manchester City player, and, as aforementioned, the three central defenders they have at their disposal, might not be ready to face Sunderland on the opening weekend of the 2016/17 English Premier League season. Otamendi might have had a few days’ pre-season training behind him and could be forced to play against Allardyce’s side. Kompany’s situation will be monitored closely, but the Manchester City and Belgium skipper is unlikely to be match fit for the home clash against Sunderland on August 13th, when the 16/17 Barclays Premier League season gets underway. Therefore, even if Otamendi makes Manchester City’s starting XI, who could be his central defensive partner?

Guardiola has a couple of options up his sleeve: either bring in Stones by paying a hefty fee, quite possibly in the region of £50m, or deploy Fernando Reges at centre-back, as Otamendi’s partner. Whichever option he takes, we cannot deny that City definitely need to add a centre-back to their squad – and Jason Denayer could be an option. Denayer, who played for Belgium in their Euro 2016 quarter-final match-up against Wales, can be City’s fourth-choice centre back at least, as a like-for-like replacement for Demichelis.

At left-back, Aleksandar Kolarov has allegedly agreed to join Besiktas and is awaiting Guardiola’s approval to complete his transfer to the Turkish club. Gael Clichy (30), because of his homegrown status, might well be kept by City for the upcoming season at least. In which case, the Frenchman will start against Sunderland on August 13th.

At least to start off with, I think Guardiola will set City up in the 4-2-3-1 system. And, City have four central midfielders in their squad currently: Fernandinho Luiz Rosa, Fernando, Yaya Toure, and Gundogan. If Fernando is deployed at centre-back against Sunderland, Fernandinho and Y Toure could still take up the two central defensive midfielder slots in the 4-2-3-1, with Gundogan not expected to make his Manchester City debut until the end of August, at least. Fernandinho is going to be a key player for City, whose style of play is likely to change under Guardiola. The Brazilian midfielder’s tackling, passing and goal-scoring abilities will be coveted by the former Barcelona coach, who will rely quite heavily on Fernandinho and Gundogan to improve on the way City have played out of possession in recent years.

Further upfront, City have a plethora of options, to say the least. Raheem Sterling returned from the Euro 2016 early, while David Silva’s Spain were also knocked out at the R-16 stage. So, you can expect this duo to return to pre-season training at least by the end of July. Lest we forget that Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri are already involved in City’s pre-season training overseen by Guardiola. Nolito, one of Manchester City’s new signings, will likely return as well, before or by the end of this month. Which leaves City with five options, at least, excluding Kevin de Bruyne, for the three positions behind the striker in the 4-2-3-1.

I do not think City need to sign a striker, a position which will most likely become low-priority, since Guardiola is expected to deploy City in a huge gamut of formations such as 4-3-3, 3-2-3-2, 4-1-4-1, etc. Sergio Aguero might be given a more versatile role and not just be seen as an out-and-out striker. Kelechi Iheanacho proved last season, especially with his performance in City’s 4-0 home victory against Stoke City, that he has the attributes to fit into Guardiola’s blueprint seamlessly. Therefore, I think this duo will be an integral part of City’s line-up and in general, have to contribute a lot more to City in an attacking sense. Iheanacho, with a full pre-season behind him, will most likely play upfront in Manchester City’s starting XI against Sunderland, with Aguero not expected to be fully up to speed for the start of the 2016/17 Barclays Premier League season.

Manchester City's Starting XI (probable) v Sunderland
Manchester City’s Starting XI (probable) v Sunderland

Summary

The 2016 summer transfer window is very much in its embryonic stage and with the 16/17 season still a month away, Manchester City have time to bring in the players who will make them stronger. But, as things stand, keeping in mind that the Copa America Centenario and UEFA Euro 2016 have disrupted most clubs’ pre-season preparations before the season proper gets underway, this is how Manchester City’s starting XI could well look like against Sunderland. Regardless, City have to strengthen in central defence and fullback positions, where they are obtrusively short on personnel.

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