With Pep Guardiola setting his sights on ending Chelsea’s Premier League supremacy, this summer is set to be one of great change at Manchester City.
The club have already announced that Pablo Zabaleta will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, but there are still several names whose careers are very much in the balance at the Etihad Stadium.
Let’s have a look at whether the soon-to-be free agents are worth keeping.
After an initially fractious relationship with Guardiola owing to being left out of the Champions League squad, Yaya Touré has developed into an influential player for City in the second-half of the season.
Following his two-month exile from the first-team, the Ivorian midfielder marked his return in spectacular fashion with two goals against Crystal Palace – and hasn’t looked back since.
The 33-year-old has impressed in a deeper role for City compared to when he was in his prime, mercilessly bulldozing his way through defences single-handedly in the club’s title-winning campaigns.
Now, he’s a little wiser and more reserved – but still an important component. Those big limbs don’t move quite as freely as they once did but he’s learned to play without such ferocious power and mobility.
In the FA Cup semi-final, Touré was City’s most impressive player, setting up Sergio Aguero’s goal. Against Leicester City on Saturday, Touré completed more passes than anyone else and managed more ball recoveries, too, with a hugely impressive 12, thus showing his continued worth as an effective ball-winner and a metronomic presence in the middle.
Recent reports have suggested that the club are readying a new contract for the 33-year-old, and they’re right to want to retain his services. It’s an impressive turnaround for a player who was starting to look like an irrelevant reminder of a bygone era.
Zabaleta’s departure leads one to assume that City have already made inroads into finding a new right-back, but the situation at left-back isn’t as assured.
At 31, Gaël Clichy still has a couple of years left in the tank, but he isn’t quite the speedy outlet down the left that we grew accustomed to seeing for years at Arsenal first, then City.
The Frenchman has let errors creep into his game, too. His lazily outstretched leg caught Riyad Mahrez during City’s 2-1 win over Leicester, resulting in a penalty for the Foxes. Clichy’s blushes were spared by Mahrez double-hitting the spot-kick, but his poor decision-making and haphazard attempt to deal with the situation was telling.
Clichy also conceded a penalty against Liverpool when he fouled Roberto Firmino and Guardiola will have considered such costly incidents when assessing the Frenchman’s future at the club.
However, with the even less-dependable Aleksandar Kolarov as the only other recognised left-back in the squad, it may be unwise to let Clichy go in the summer without a readymade replacement lined up.
Although he has lost some pace and may not have enjoyed his finest campaign, his vast experience is still an asset and Guardiola may look to keep him as back-up to whoever he signs in the summer.
Having cemented his place as City’s first-choice right-back under Manuel Pellegrini, the veteran Frenchman has fallen down the pecking order under Guardiola.
The 34-year-old last started in the 3-1 defeat to Monaco that saw City exit the Champions League and there has been a major question mark over his future since.
That night at the Stade Louis II, Bacary Sagna struggled to contend with the rampaging presence of Benjamin Mendy as the Monaco left-back provided an assist and was awarded Man of the Match, laying bare the City player’s struggles.
Guardiola has preferred either Jesús Navas or Fernandinho at right-back or right wing-back in recent weeks, underlining the suggestion that the coach sees Sagna as expendable, especially now that the club is expected to sign a new right-sided defender.
It looks increasingly likely that Sagna will leave the Etihad in the summer and, at this stage in his career, it’s the right move. Despite his advancing years, he may be a solid option for a Premier League side further down the table, if they can afford his wages.
Things have changed quite a bit over the years.
Posted by Football Whispers on Sunday, April 9, 2017
It’s been an interesting season for Willy Caballero. The Argentine stopper looked set for another season largely spent warming the bench when Guardiola spent £17million to bring Claudio Bravo to the club from Barcelona.
However, thanks to the Chilean’s error-strewn performances – and a recent calf injury – Caballero has been reinstated to the starting line-up.
The 35-year-old endured mixed fortunes during the 5-3 win over Monaco in the Champions League. His kicking error led to the Ligue 1 club scoring an away goal but Caballero atoned for his mistake with a fantastic penalty save to deny Radamel Falcao.
The likeable keeper has completed an impressive turnaround at City. Last season, ruthless supporters called for Pellegrini to start Joe Hart ahead of him in the League Cup final against Liverpool, but the manager gave Caballero his chance. He duly took it, producing excellent saves to deny three Liverpool players and be lauded as City’s hero.
Having won the supporters’ hearts, Caballero may have earned himself a contract extension but only time will tell if the club have decided to retain his services with Bravo still injured and Hart’s future very much in doubt.
For much of this season, it looked as though Navas was set for a return to Sevilla, but then Guardiola began to experiment.
For City’s trip to the Emirates in April, Navas was deployed as a makeshift right-back, a move which raised a few eyebrows. However, up against a fearsome attacker in Alexis Sánchez, Navas impressed his manager, successfully landing all eight of his tackles, making four interceptions and winning nine duels overall.
Navas continued to excel in the role in the 3-1 win over Hull City a week later, providing the cross from which Ahmed Elmohamady scored an own goal. Navas has created 19 chances in the league this season, higher than any of City’s other natural or makeshift full-backs.
From struggling to get a look in, Navas seemed like a player reborn – and earned gushing praise from his manager.
“I'm really impressed with his performances as a full back. He's a guy who can go up and down,” Guardiola said in April.
“But he's not just a fast player. Jesus has this quality – normally fast players can go four times up and down. He can do that many times – look at the balls he's saved.
— Football Whispers (@FB_WHISPERS) May 4, 2017
“We cannot forget he played against Hazard, he played against Alexis and he was brilliant. He's convinced me he can do it at a high level.”
With that in mind, City may decide to ward off Sevilla’s interest by offering Navas a new deal. As a player who can be deployed in both defence and attack, it’s certainly beneficial having him in the squad.
A player at the other end of his City career compared to everyone else on this list, ense contract standoff between the club and his representatives.
Although he is yet to appear in the Premier League, Everton and Celtic have reportedly registered interest in the 19-year-old and Guardiola may want to think twice before allowing an academy player to leave.
Adarabioyo, who has been with City from the age of five, was handed an extended cameo in his Champions League debut against Steaua Bucharest in August and, although Guardiola has felt he hasn’t been ready for a more regular role in the squad, he is thought to have an exciting future ahead of him. At 19, there is plenty of scope for the 6ft 5in defender to learn from the more experienced members in the squad.
However, Guardiola is expected to sign another centre-back this summer even with the morale-boosting return of captain Vincent Kompany to first-team action.
That means Kompany, John Stones, Nicolás Otamendi and whatever new signing comes in will be ahead of Adarabioyo in the pecking order, so City may decide to keep him and send him on loan to get some regular playing time under his belt.