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Only the bravest of pundits would have predicted a 25-point gap between table-toppers Liverpool and Manchester City at this stage of the season.
After the thrilling conclusion to the 2018/19 Premier League campaign the footballing world was anticipating another neck-and-neck title race, but the Citizens have failed to live up their extraordinarily high standards this time around.
Jürgen Klopp’s Reds may have found a new level this year, but no-one in the blue half of Manchester will be willing to put up with such a chasm between the two sides when 2020/21 rolls around.
A summer of change will surely be on the cards if Pep Guardiola’s men are to regain their place at the summit of English football.
After 424 appearances, 74 goals and a decade of service, iconic City midfielder David Silva will leave the club at the end of this season.
The Spanish playmaker has won 11 major trophies during his time at the Etihad Stadium but is now 34 and past the peak of his powers. The hope is Phil Foden could be the heir to Silva’s crown, but the youngster will have some big boots to fill if he steps up to become a regular in Guardiola’s starting line-up.
A goalkeeping exodus is also on the cards, with back-up options Claudio Bravo and Scott Carson both expected to leave when their current deals expire this summer.
Carson (on loan from Derby County) was only ever brought to the club to provide emergency cover. It’s probably fair to say Bravo never lived up to his £17million price tag after four seasons in England that will be best remembered for a series of high-profile errors.
Manchester City’s biggest problem this season has been in defence – the Citizens have conceded 0.9 goals per 90, compared with just 0.61 goals per 90 last term. As a result, we are likely to see Guardiola revamp his backline in the next transfer window.
That could see the future of centre-backs John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi in doubt after unconvincing campaigns, while João Cancelo hasn’t had the impact everyone expected when he arrived in Manchester last summer.
He may be sold, alongside fellow full-back Angeliño – the Spanish left-sided defender has struggled whenever he’s pulled on a sky blue shirt but is excelling on loan at RB Leipzig. It would be no surprise to see that move made permanent in the coming months.
Injury-prone left-back Benjamin Mendy and the around £50million.
Key areas to strengthen
Manchester City could do with up to five new recruits this summer, with reinforcements needed across the board.
The key area to address will be the team’s leaky defence, with a commanding centre-back top of Guardiola’s shopping list. However both full-back positions are in need of an overhaul too, with the Citizens’ problem left-back slot an area that requires immediate attention.
Foden should be an adequate replacement to the departing Silva in central midfield, but there is still the possibility another playmaker could be sought if the 20-year-old isn’t quite ready to become a mainstay in City’s first XI.
While not exactly short of attacking talent, Sané’s expected departure is likely to prompt the club into signing another winger. Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez are three fantastic options on the flanks, but one more wide player would maintain the kind of squad depth to which City fans are accustomed.
A possible ban from European competitions may impact on City's chances of signing the best in the business this summer. But their vast wealth should ensure they have the resources to strengthen in all the required areas, regardless of the impact of COVID-19 on the market.
The return of German football has seen Manchester City linked with a move for some of the Bundesliga’s hottest prospects, with The Sun reporting Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz could be on his way to the Etihad Stadium. Signing the 20-year-old attacking midfielder would cost around £70million.
Guardiola could also replace Sané with Havertz’s teammate Leon Bailey – the Jamaican winger will set City back £40million, according to The Daily Mail.
A swap deal may be the solution to the club’s issues at right-back – if a move can be agreed to exchange Cancelo for Barcelona’s Nélson Semedo. Meanwhile, Leicester City’s Ben Chilwell and Everton’s Lucas Digne are reportedly being considered as potential left-back solutions.
River Plate star Lucas Martínez Quarta and Swansea City defender Joe Rodon may not be the big name centre-backs that you would expect to be linked with Manchester City, but both are being touted as possible summer arrivals.
Up front, the Citizens are rumoured to be looking to the future by targeting Ajax starlet Sontje Hansen, while Internazionale frontman Lautaro Martínez is an option if they want a more immediate addition to the club’s current selection of strikers.