The landscape of the Premier League has changed drastically with the arrival of Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho returning to football management as Manchester United manager and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. However, the arrivals of this heavyweight troika will not dwarf the presence of Jurgen Klopp, a two-time Bundesliga winner with Borussia Dortmund, at Liverpool and Claudio Ranieri, a soft-spoken Italian who transcended a team which had fought relegation into a side which pipped Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool to the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League title, and what this duo and the likes of Arsene Wenger, Slaven Bilic, Ronald Koeman (Everton), and Mauricio Pochettino can bring to the table.
On a fundamental level, the 2016/17 Barclays Premier League season promises extreme entertainment and unpredictability.
The Main Picture
From Manchester City’s perspective, they can surely claim that the most coveted coach/manager in world football is with them. However, I can tell you that the inherent pressure which accompanies a high-profile managerial appointment or player signing, will surround Guardiola and his new club as well. And if you ask me what City’s greatest challenge will be in the 2016/17 season, then it surely has to be handling the pressure of expectations and, secondly, doing justice to the potential of their immensely talented squad.
Last season, which proved to be Manuel Pellegrini’s final term as Manchester City manager, they regressed, quite exorbitantly. Under the Chilean, City did achieve the unprecedented of reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, which they lost only to an own goal. But not only did the 2013/14 English champions win just two (against Southampton and Stoke City at home) of their 16 league fixtures against last season’s top nine teams but they were on the receiving end of major hidings at the hands of Liverpool (home and away), Spurs (away) and Leicester City (home). City’s opponents found them easy to play against and Pellegrini’s side were shockingly bad as a unit.
Guardiola would have loved to inherit City in a much better shape. They managed only a fourth-place league finish last season and far more importantly, are not a settled side while this article is being written. Joe Hart is likely to be City’s No. 1 for the opening fixture against Sunderland, but he will be a man short on confidence after a couple of poor performances – by his standards – in the UEFA Euro 2016, and Hart will also be playing with a few question marks over his ability to adapt to the style of football Guardiola will implement on City; Vincent Kompany is likely to miss the start of the 2016/17 season and faces a fight to save his City career; Yaya Toure is not the player he was during the 2013/14 and 14/15 seasons and is by no means a guaranteed starter under Guardiola; and, without the aforementioned three, City will once again be relying heavily on Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, to get the Guardiola era off to an enviable start.
Guardiola’s appointment is expected to reinvigorate the City squad and also push the players to transcend themselves. Owing to their poor domestic showings and the consequent fourth-place league finish last season, City are not guaranteed of Champions League football yet. They will be playing in the playoff round and only if City win that two-legged tie, they will put themselves in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League group stage draw, which is set to take place on 25/8/2016 in Monaco.
Although uncertainty persists over City’s participation in the Champions League proper, they will be entering the 2016/17 Capital One Cup as the defending champions. Last time they entered this competition as the holders, City were ousted by Newcastle United in the fourth round at the Etihad Stadium and we will have to wait and see whether Guardiola prioritises the Capital One Cup as much as Pellegrini did. And, to his credit, the former City manager won two league cups during his three-year reign at the Etihad. City also have not won the FA Cup since 2011 and under-performed time and again under Pellegrini: reaching the quarter-finals in the 13/14 season – which they lost to Wigan Athletic at home – was their greatest achievement.
Manchester City Transfers
Manchester City’s transfer dealings this summer have been a bit eccentric: they have signed three 19-year-olds and one 20-year old, with the immediate futures of only two of those four being certain.
Gabriel Jesus was confirmed as a City player this past Wednesday, in a £27m deal, but the 19-year-old will not be joining up with his new club until January. Leroy Sane signed for City a day before Jesus’s signing was announced, and the 20-year-old German, who completed his £37m move from Schalke, is expected to play an integral role in City’s 2016/17 season. But the other 19-year-old, Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has been signed from Russian club FC Ufa, has taken part in City’s pre-season preparations and also played in the friendlies against Bayern Munich and Dortmund. However, the Ukrainian youngster’s immediate future is nebulous. Guardiola has taken his summer signings to seven and spending to £103.5m, but only two players have left the club, giving City’s transfer policy a highly eccentric look.
Ilkay Gundogan was Manchester City’s first signing of the ongoing transfer window, with the German midfielder making the switch from Signal Iduna Park to the Etihad Stadium on the first week of June, in a £21m, four-year deal. Gundogan has not played in any of City’s pre-season fixtures and yet to partake in proper training with his new teammates too. But he was spotted at City’s training ground earlier this week, potentially to take his rehabilitation from the surgery to his dislocated kneecap, an injury which also deprived him playing for Germany in the UEFA Euro 2016, to the next level. Even though this injury had been expected to keep him out of action until the culmination of the first international break of the upcoming season, City and Guardiola had little hesitation in bringing Gundogan to the Etihad Stadium because they were excited by his football qualities and believe he can help transform City’s playing style under Guardiola.
Aaron Mooy, the 25-year-old Australian midfielder who played for City’s sister club Melbourne City and was the leader of the Hyundai A-league assists chart last season, became City’s second signing of the summer. Mooy has been signed on a three-year deal by City, and he will spend his first year as a Huddersfield loanee.
Spanish forward Manuel Agudo Duran (prominently known as ‘Nolito’) followed to sign for City next and the 29-year-old completed his move from La Liga club Celta Vigo on the 1st of July, following Spain’s ouster from Euro 2016. Nolito has been signed on a four-year deal worth around £13.8m. With so many attacking midfielders and wingers – Silva, Raheem Sterling, de Bruyne, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, and add Sane into the mix too – already at Guardiola’s disposal, we will have to wait and see how the former Barcelona manager utilises Nolito, who spent the 2010-11 season at the Nou Camp and made a couple of appearances under him.
Zinchenko, 19, was the fourth player to sign for the Blues in this transfer window, with the Ukraine international making the switch from Russian outfit FC Ufa. Borussia Dortmund were in a battle with City for Zinchenko’s signature, which the English Premier League club secured in the end.
Earlier today, Marlos Moreno, a 19-year-old Colombian international who had long before been expected to complete his transfer from Atletico Nacional to City, was confirmed as Manchester City’s seventh signing of this summer. Moreno has been signed on a £4.75m, five-year deal and La Liga club Deportivo La Coruna will be M Moreno’s destination for the 2016/17 season, which he will spend as a loanee at the Estadio Riazor.
The Blues are reported to be keen on bringing John Stones from Everton, with both clubs unable to agree on a transfer fee yet for the 22-year-old England international, who made four defensive errors – three of which resulted in Everton conceding a goal – in the Premier League last season.
Martin Demichelis and Richard Wright were released at the expiry of their contracts on June 30th.
Manchester City’s 2016/17 Pre-season Preparations
With Guardiola taking over from Pellegrini, the initial feeling was that the Spanish manager would make a few changes to the squad, secure his targets early and start working with the players, existing and new, and try to implement his philosophy as quickly as possible.
But, with only a week to go for the start of the new season, Guardiola will definitely not be satisfied with how the pre-season has panned out. City still have a pre-season fixture to play, against Arsenal in Sweden tomorrow, but they have only played three pre-season games so far, against German opposition (Bayern and Dortmund) and Scottish Premier League (SPL) outfit St Johnstone, who they faced behind closed doors at the City Football Academy (CFA) Stadium this past Wednesday.
Manchester City’s star players did not get a lot of match time in the games against the Bundesliga clubs, but probably clocked a few more minutes against Tommy Wright’s side. Guardiola has been able to give City’s talented youngsters sufficient playing time during the ongoing pre-season, with the likes of Tosin Adarabioyo, Angelino Tasende, new signing Zinchenko, and Aleix Garcia playing a sizeable number of minutes against Bayern and Dortmund. Of course, if the International Champions Cup game between Manchester City and Manchester United had gone ahead, City would have been able to acquire a lot more match practice and been close to becoming match fit, ahead of the new season.
Manchester City’s 2016/17 Fixtures
Manchester City will get the ‘Guardiola era’ officially underway on the 13th of August at the Etihad Stadium, against Sunderland, who have appointed David Moyes as their new manager after Sam Allardyce became the England manager a couple of weeks ago.
Because City have to play in the UEFA Champions League playoff round against Steaua Bucuresti, they have to immediately get used to playing every three days and their schedule will, therefore, be cramped from the very beginning. City have not only drawn a slightly easier opponent, but they will also be, enviably, playing the first leg of this tie away at the National Arena in Stadionul Steaua on the 16th of August, with the return leg scheduled to be played at the Etihad Stadium on the 24th of August.
City have a tough start to the 2016/17 Barclays Premier League season, as they face off against teams which posed major problems for them home and away in the 15/16 campaign. Following the home clash against the Black Cats on the opening weekend of the upcoming Premier League season, City will travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City on August 20th. West Ham United are the visitors to the Etihad Stadium on the following Sunday, with Slaven Bilic’s men expected to provide City with a major challenge. The Hammers have signed Sofiane Feghouli on a free transfer – in addition to two other new signings – and with their squad already posing a well-balanced look, City could be in for a real run for their money on the 28th of August.
September, following the resumption of Premier League action after the first international break of the season, will feature arguably the most coveted managerial battle currently, between Jose Mourinho and Josep Guardiola. Old Trafford is set to host the first Manchester Derby of the 2016/17 Premier League season and, unlike in the last three seasons, no one can, with any degree of confidence, say what might give on the 10th of September.
Following this away clash with United, City have two, potentially winnable games against Bournemouth (home, 17/9/2016) and Swansea City (away, 24/9/2016) in September. The 2016/17 season’s first Manchester Derby and City’s home clash against the Cherries could sandwich Group stage, matchday one (13, 14/9/2016) of the UEFA Champions League if City win their playoff tie against Steaua. The Premier League away game against the Swans will be preceded by the third round of the EFL Cup – which will take place during the week commencing 19th September – and followed by UEFA Champions League Group stage, matchday two (27 or 28/9/2016).
October will once again be a testing month for City, with fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur (away, 1/10/2016), Everton (home, 15/10/2016), Southampton (home, 22/10/2016), and West Bromwich Albion (away, 29/10/2016). UEFA Champions League Group stage, matchday three will take place on 18, 19/10/2016 and if City progress to the fourth round of the 2016/17 EFL Cup, then that fixture will be played during the week commencing 24th of October.
In November, City play three teams which have troubled them in recent times. City will go up against two newly-promoted teams – Middlesbrough (home, 5/11/2016) and Burnley (away, 26/11/2016) – in the penultimate month of the calendar year, with a trip to Selhurst Park (on 19/11/2016) sandwiched in between. The 2015/16 Capital One Cup winners have lost three of their last five meetings with Middlesbrough, while they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor in the 2014/15 season, so City basically will have to rewrite history if they do not want to drop crucial points against these mid and lower-mid table sides. Champions League Group stage, matchdays four and five will take place on 1, 2/11/2016 and 22, 23/11/2016, respectively. Round five of the 2016/17 EFL Cup will be played during the week commencing 28th of November.
The month of December is rarely not pivotal in the title race and when you look at City’s fixtures in December 2016, you will acknowledge the significance of each one of the fixtures. First off, half-a-dozen league fixtures await City in December, a month which will also see Group stage, matchday six of the Champions League be played.
City’s first fixture of December is a home clash (on 3/12/2016) against Chelsea, who have brought in Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kante so far in the summer transfer window. And, with Antonio Conte taking over the reigns from Mourinho and Guus Hiddink, Chelsea are expected to shake off last season’s debacle and be close to the Premier League summit. City next face an away trip (10/12/2016) to the King Power Stadium, to take on the defending champions Leicester City, a fixture which follows matchday six (6, 7/12/2016) of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League.
Home and away clashes against the West Londoners and Foxes, respectively, are followed by a couple of home fixtures, against Watford (14/12/2016) and Arsenal (17/12/2016). The Gunners have signed Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach, but question marks over Olivier Giroud’s ability to lead the line and the North Londoners to the title, remain. Away trips to KC Stadium (26/12/2016) and Anfield (31/12/2016) will bring an end to this calendar year and the first-leg of Manchester City’s 2016-17 Barclays Premier League fixtures.
Fixtures against fellow Premier League heavyweights are well spread out for City, in the second half of the 16/17 Barclays Premier League season. A home clash (2/1/2017) against Burnley will set the ball rolling for City in the New Year, with clashes against Everton (away, 14/1/2017), Spurs (home, 21/1/2017) and the Hammers (away, 31/7/2017) possibly proving to be tests of Manchester City’s title credentials. If City progress to the semi-finals of the EFL cup, the first-leg of the ties will be played during the week commencing 9th of January, 2017, with the second-leg arranged during the week commencing 23rd of January, 2017. 7th of January, 2017, is the day on which the third round of the 136th edition of the FA Cup takes place and, if City progress to the fourth round, their Premier League fixture against the Hammers will be preceded by the FA Cup fourth round tie on 28/1/2017.
In February 2017, City will be playing the second-leg of their September 2016 fixtures against Manchester United, Bournemouth and Swansea City, except that Swansea will be City’s first opponent (Etihad Stadium, 4/2/2017), followed by the Cherries (Vitality, 11/2/2017), with the second Manchester Derby of the 2016/17 season scheduled for 25th of February, 2017. The derby could, however, be postponed to another date if City reach the EFL Cup Final, which is scheduled to take place on 26th February 2017. February, as always, will see the resumption of the UEFA Champions League, with the first-leg of the R-16 ties scheduled for 14, 15/2/2017 and 21, 22/2/2017 and the second-leg set to take place on 7, 8/3/2017 and 14, 15/3/2017. 18/2/2017 is the day on which the 2016/17 FA Cup fifth round ties will be played.
In March, Manchester City face three of their bogey teams in recent seasons: Sunderland (away, 4/3/2017), Stoke City (home, 11/3/2017) and Liverpool (home, 18/3/2017). However, if City reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, then their home clash against the Potters on the 11th of March, 2017, will be postponed.
Trips to Emirates Stadium (1/4/2017) and Stamford Bridge (5/4/2017) will get City started in April, a month in which they also face Hull City (home, 8/4/2017), Southampton (away, 15/4/2017), West Bromwich Albion (home, 22/4/2017), and Middlesbrough (away, 29/4/2017). If City progress to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League for the second year running, then the trip to St. Mary’s will follow the first-leg of the quarter-final (11, 12/4/2017) and take place before the quarter-final second-leg, which will be played on 18, 19/4/2017. The semi-finals of the 2016/17 FA Cup will be played on the 22nd and 23rd of April, 2017.
In previous years, you could have looked at City’s fixtures in May and said that they are quite winnable: but, ahead of the 2016/17 season, there can be no place for such preconception. Crystal Palace (home, 6/5/2017), Leicester City (home, 13/5/2017) and Watford (away, 21/5/2017) are City’s opponents in May, a month in which the semi-finals of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League – first-legs on 2, 3/5/2017 and second-legs on 9, 10/5/2017 – and the final of the FA Cup (27/5/2017) will also be taking place.
The 2016/17 UEFA Champions League Final, which will be City’s first-ever if they do reach, is set to take place at the National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff on the 3rd of June, 2017.
As is always the case, City’s form, more than any other factor, will be critical to how they fare in each one of their 2016/17 fixtures.
How will Manchester City line-up under Pep Guardiola?
Manchester City’s 2016/17 squad (at the time of writing): Vincent Kompany (C), Joe Hart, Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Fernando Reges, Fernandinho Luiz Roza, Yaya Toure, Ilkay Gundogan, Fabian Delph, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Manuel Agudo Duran (Nolito), Jesus Navas, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Wilfried Bony, and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Over the course of Guardiola’s first season at the Etihad, City can be expected to line-up in a gamut of formations – some familiar and some totally unheard of in the Premier League in recent years – and play a number of systems too. But 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 are the mainstream ways in which City can be expected to line-up under Guardiola.
Below is a sample of how City, with their current squad, could line-up:
The upcoming season promises to be exciting for Manchester City, with their players having to adapt quite massively to Pep Guardiola’s style of play, demands for changes to their food habits and pre and post-match routines. The City players have to espouse what the Catalan manager will be trying to do in his first season, so Manchester City’s 2016/17 season is simply too good to miss from supporters’ and neutrals’ perspectives. For the club on its own, they will have lofty ambitions after last season’s regression. And, because would City want to live up to the standards they have set for themselves in recent years, the pressure is going to be enormous.