The Manchester City squad inherited by Pep Guardiola this season is a squad of the highest calibre. With several experienced stars within its ranks, many are citing the Blues as the favourites for the Premier League crown in the upcoming 2016/17 Premier League campaign.

But with experience comes ageing players and City are notorious for having one of the oldest squads in the topflight of English football. An average age of 28 admittedly has its pros and cons; first team experience comes at the cost of older players who have shorter remaining career spans.

At Guardiola’s previous two clubs, he left behind a legacy – a youth orientated philosophy. When he departed Barcelona back in 2012, his first-team squad had an average age of just 23.9, compared to 24.9 when he took charge at the Camp Nou.

That change was a result of the Spanish coach completing a mass overhaul of the existing squad. He sold multiple high profile names, including Thierry Henry (32), Zambrotta (31), Edmilson (31), Deco (30), Ronaldinho (28), instead opting to more regularly utilise the likes of Pedro (19) and Lionel Messi (20).

He also promoted Sergio Busquets (19) from Barça’s youth side and purchased Dani Alves (25), as well as re-signing Gerard Pique (21) from Manchester United.

All of the young players Guardiola either promoted or recruited remained at Barcelona for several years, with several still plying their trade for the Catalan giants.

Meanwhile the Bayern Munich outfit that he left last season had an average age of 26.8.

Longevity appears to be an intrinsic aspect of Guardiola’s DNA and the initial signs of that are already being demonstrated at Manchester City after just a month in charge.

During his unveiling at the Etihad Campus earlier this month, Guardiola declared that his players ‘have to show me and the fans again. That is the past, people don’t come here to see what we did.’ Reputation alone does not guarantee a player space in Guardiola’s frame if they do not have the right attitude or ability.

The past means nothing and the future means everything.

Since he uttered those words to the delight of the club’s supporters, City have been touted with moves for some of the world’s finest young talent. Having already snapped up Ukraine international Oleksandr Zinchenko (19), the Citizens are believed to be close to signing Real Sociedad goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli (24), Everton centre back John Stones (22), Schalke ace Leroy Sane (20), Brazilian wonderkid Gabriel Jesus (19) and Colombian forward Marlos Moreno (19).

As well as scouting young talents on a global scale, Guardiola has already been impressed with some of the existing youngsters from the club’s Elite Development Squad during the current pre-season tour.

Fullbacks Angelino and Pablo Maffeo, centre back Tosin Adarabioyo and midfielder Aleix Garcia have all inspired confidence and appear ready for some potential first-team action this term.

These enthusiastic youngsters bode well for the future in the blue half of Manchester; blending them into the first team could also provide healthy competition for their more experienced counterparts.

Guardiola will not be afraid to incorporate youth into his line-ups, as has been demonstrated by his spells in Barcelona and Bavaria. This comes in direct contrast to Manuel Pellegrini’s unwilling stubbornness to nurture the young produce available at his disposal, even in times when the Chilean manager complained about the lack of time to recovery between fixtures.

Kelechi Iheanacho impressed far more than Wilfried Bony and yet was still behind the Ivory Coast striker until very late on last season. If Guardiola had been at the helm, he would most certainly have been given the chance to impress much sooner.

The aforementioned healthily competitive nature of the squad under Pep means that City supporters should finally see one of Pellegrini’s aims achieved: to acquire two top quality options in each position.



City will have incredible depth next season

But whereas Pellegrini appeared keen to solely buy existing brilliance for instant success, Pep will bring the addition of prudishly promoting rising stars.

Whether Joe Hart retains his number 1 jersey, is reduced to second choice or is sold, there is no doubting that he is a top quality keeper. However, mistakes riddled his outing at Euro 2016 and his poor distribution has reportedly cast doubt in the mind of Guardiola – a coach famed for goalkeepers who can play with the ball at their feet.

Young stopper Angus Gunn was the hero in City’s pre-season penalty shootout win over Borussia Dortmund and he is keen to stick around at the Etihad in order to prove himself between the posts.

However, at 20 years of age, Guardiola may instead opt to acquire an experienced keeper such as Claudio Bravo to use as his first choice, while Rulli is expected to return on-loan to Sociedad for the season.

Aleksander Kolarov could be sold, leaving Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta, the latter of which appears set to stay following links with Roma. All three of these fullbacks are versatile and able to play on either side of the defence, whilst Angelino and Maffeo are excellent young options for rotation purposes.


The future looks bright for Manchester City

In between said fullbacks, the future of captain Vincent Kompany hands precariously by a thread – a thread which is still probably somewhat stronger than the Belgian’s calves. Injury issues across the past few years could make the 30-year-old a casualty under Guardiola’s ruthlessly stringent procedures.

Although it may seem ludicrous to suggest, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi could form a formidable pairing under Guardiola’s guidance. Both are comfortable in possession and are capable of passing the ball through the lines with pinpoint accuracy, a vital element in Pep’s philosophy. Youngsters Jason Denayer and Tosin Adarabioyo fit the mould too and will be eagerly anticipating their opportunity.

Existing midfield options include Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Fernando, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Samir Nasri, all of whom are comfortable in possession and able to dictate football matches to some degree.

The success of wide players Raheem Sterling, Nolito and Jesus Navas – as well as possibly Leroy Sane – will be pivotal to City’s success, or lack of it.

Up front, Wilfried Bony is available for sale, with Sergio Aguero a dead cert in leading the line as the Blues’ talisman and Iheanacho ready in reserve.

Some fans are disappointed that a marquee name such as Toni Kroos, Paul Pogba or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not been obtained.

But I have a genuine belief that this season, City’s squad as a whole will be greater than the sum of its individual components. It certainly has the capacity to form the foundations for years to come.

About the author – Jordan-Luke McDonald

Jordan-Luke is a footballer writer who was a finalist at the National Football Blogging Awards 2015 in two categories. He has contributed towards Manchester Evening News, CaughtOffside and TheseFootyTimes to name but a few.

twitter: @TheSilvaLining


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With the end of the season almost upon us, talk is beginning to turn to the transfer market. Rumors of big-money transfers, star signings and moves for the brightest young talents are already starting to fill column inches. And rumblings from those who claim to be an ‘insider’ who is ‘in the know’ are doing the rounds on social media.

This is the point in the season where, with most of the continent’s league titles wrapped up, and only a fortunate few with cup finals to look forward to, many fans start to dream of summer signings. Whether it’s the latest teenage sensation bringing hope of a brighter future, or an old head to sure-up a solid squad and act as the final piece in an already well-constructed puzzle, all fans want their club to be active in the off-season.

And few clubs have been more active in the transfer market in recent years than Spain’s big two, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Fewer still can claim to affect the plans of so many other teams with their own transfer policies: a contract dispute in Madrid can spark a frenzy in Manchester, a want-away Barcelona squad player could see chequebooks opening in Paris and Munich.

Real Madrid’s Galáctico policy of bringing in a renowned world-class superstar each year arose in the early 2000s with the signings of Luís Figo and Zinedine Zidane, and has been perpetuated more recently with the acquisitions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodríguez. This year names such as Paul Pogba and Sergio Agüero have been mooted. But one rumour that seems to have some legs is the possibility of Los Blancos making a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabonese Borussia Dortmund striker has been in incredible form this season, netting 40 goals across all competitions. Aubameyang is thought to be very interested in the idea of joining the 10-time European champions due to a promise to his late grandfather that he would someday pull on the famous white shirt. Dortmund will be reluctant to part with their star man, and will demand at least €100m for his signature.

Madrid are also likely to return for David de Gea following last summer’s comical collapse of the Manchester United goalkeeper’s switch to the Bernabéu. The deal had been agreed by all parties, with Costa Rican stopper Keylor Navas moving in the opposite direction. But technical difficulties meant Madrid were unable to submit the relevant paperwork in time, and the transfer window closed with the deal in tatters.

Club president Florentino Pérez will be keen to avoid another embarrassment this time around by getting a deal sewn up as soon as possible. But the excellent form of Navas this season, coupled with the fact that United may soon have a new manager who’d be determined to persuade de Gea to stay, could be spanners in the works to a perspective transfer.

In the past, whenever Madrid have made an expensive Galáctico purchase, they’ve balanced the books with a major sale or two. When Gareth Bale was signed from Tottenham Hotspur for a world record fee in 2013, Mesut Özil was sold to Arsenal for £42m. And when James Rodríguez was brought in after the 2014 World Cup, Ángel di María was shipped off to Manchester United for £59.7m.

This summer will likely see 24-year-old Rodríguez as the man shipped out to make way for a major import, with interest from Manchester United and Juventus. Spain international midfielder Isco is another who is thought to be on thin ice at the Bernabéu. And, if a striker of Aubameyang’s ilk is brought in, Karim Benzema’s Real Madrid career would likely be brought to an end.

Planning ahead in the transfer market is key to success in Soccer Manager

At Barcelona, things may be a little different this summer.

The Catalan giants have yet to secure a shirt sponsorship deal for next season. If they are unable to do so over the coming months, and with the costly planned redevelopment of the Camp Nou, manager Luis Enrique may find that the purse strings have been tightened somewhat.

Perhaps more important for Barça than any transfer business, is the pressing matter of contract renewals for Neymar and Sergio Busquets.

Neymar has been agitating for a new deal for some time now. The gifted Brazilian is believed to earn much less than his MSN partners in crime, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, so a new contract would have to include a hefty pay rise.

As will be the case with Sergio Busquets. Although rarely a goal-scorer, and less headline-grabbing than the aforementioned front three, Busquets is quite possibly the player Barça miss the most when he’s not around. The midfield pivote is the man responsible for breaking up opposition attacks, and setting his side off on their trademark free-flowing passing moves. His importance to the team cannot be underestimated, and he will want his contract to reflect that.

Despite a reduced budget, Barcelona are looking to strengthen in a few key areas. Their primary concern is recruiting a young, top-class centre-back to work with Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano.

Top of their list is Paris St. Germain’s 21-year-old Brazilian, Marquinhos. The former AS Roma defender has had to be back-up to compatriots David Luiz and Thiago Silva in the French capital, and is now considering his future with the club.

Other names on Barça’s shortlist include Everton’s John Stones and Athletic Club’s Aymeric Laporte. However, the reigning Treble champions are likely to be priced out of a move for either man by interest from the Premier League.

The second priority for Barcelona this summer is to find a striker who will be content with a supporting role, yet possesses the requisite quality to deputise for Suárez. For this, they have their sights set on a couple of Frenchmen: Olympique Lyonnais’ Alexandre Lacazette and Sevilla’s Kévin Gameiro.

Lacazette is thought to be Barça’s first choice, but the 24-year-old French international is an ambitious young man who is unlikely to be happy as a mere back-up option. Gameiro, however, may be more receptive to the idea. The former PSG striker has netted 22 goals this season and, at 29-years-old, would likely jump at the chance to join one of the biggest clubs in the world and add to his medal collection.

As ever, all eyes will be on Real Madrid and Barcelona when the transfer window opens again in July. Both clubs are expected to be busy to varying degrees. With the futures of many star players uncertain, and with big-money transfers anticipated, there promises to be plenty of action to keep fans entertained until the new season kicks off.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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To varying degrees, each of the clubs from last season’s Premier League top four have experienced a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Champions Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have all fallen short of pre-season expectations, which means we can expect change this summer. Managerial changes have already been confirmed for Chelsea and City, with the appointments of Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola respectively. And many fans of Arsenal and United are hoping for a similar overhaul at their own clubs.

With the influx of cash generated by the new Premier League TV deal, coupled with the scorn of this season’s underachievement, we can also expect major surgery to each club’s playing staff, with no expense spared.

Champions Chelsea have fallen furthest, recovering from early season relegation form – which saw José Mourinho given his walking papers in December – just enough to clamber up to mid-table under veteran Dutch coach Guus Hiddink. Billionaire owner Roman Abramovic will not be taking his club’s failure to qualify for European competition lightly, and will likely arm his incoming Italian coach with a hefty budget to overhaul the squad.

Despite the change of manager, the Blues are being linked with a pair of familiar faces in Everton duo John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. England defender Stones was subject of Chelsea’s affection last summer under Mourinho, with Everton rejecting their £40m bid. It now seems that, despite the absence of Mourinho, Stones is still very much a wanted man at Stamford Bridge. And Lukaku, of course, will be no stranger to Chelsea fans as he previously played for the club following a £16.5m move from Anderlecht as a teenager in 2011. The big Belgian never got a fair chance in the Chelsea first-team and was shipped out on loan before being sold to Everton for £28m two seasons ago. If widespread reports are to be believed, the hard-nosed Conte wants to give Lukaku another shot, and is willing to pay £60m to do so.

With a striker and a centre-back identified as targets, that would give the impression that Diego Costa and out-of-contract captain John Terry may be surplus to requirements. Both players have plenty still to offer but with Costa’s ability to attract controversy and Terry’s advancing years, Conte may feel that the time is right to refresh things.

It is also thought that Conte will want midfield re-enforcements, and that he’ll look to the familiar surroundings of Serie A for answers. Roma pair Radja Nainggolan and Miralem Pjanic are believed to be high on his wish list.

Manchester City were runners-up, and many people’s tip to regain the Premier League trophy following a £130m investment in squad improvements. But, despite a one-year contract extension for manager Manuel Pellegrini, the former Malaga boss appeared a lame duck amid speculation that Pep Guardiola was to usurp his position next season — speculation that has since been confirmed.

City’s squad is not in an obvious state of disrepair. And aside from central defence, where almost £70m has been spent on Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi in the last two seasons, with little return – City’s is a squad that would require only a minor tweaking to get them firing again.

But Guardiola will want to shape City in his image. Despite an abundance of athletic, technically proficient midfielders, Guardiola will want to fill the centre of the park with master-passers, capable of executing his brand of attacking artistry.

For that, it seems he has earmarked Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gündogan. The 25-year-old German playmaker possesses the requisite skill on the ball and passing acumen to bring Guardiola’s City vision to life.

In addition to Gündogan, Guardiola is also likely to want a ball-playing centre-back, and a midfield pivot in the mould of his former Barcelona charge Sergio Busquets. It is believed that a tug-of-war for John Stones may ensue between City and Chelsea, although City are also known admirers of Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, and retain their interest despite the young Frenchman breaking his ankle on international duty recently.

With Busquets not for sale, and Guardiola claiming he will not raid the Bayern team he is leaving behind, the search for an ideal pivot may prove tricky. Another Dortmund player, 20-year-old Julian Weigl, would be an ideal fit with the way he has conducted the BVB orchestra from deep this season. But Weigl is relatively inexperienced, this being his first season of top-flight football, and Dortmund will be reticent to sanction the sale of a second key midfielder in one summer.

In terms of league position, it looks like Arsenal will finish exactly where they were least season: fourth. But this season will be remembered as a huge opportunity missed for the Gunners. With the rest of the top four tripping over their shoelaces for most of the campaign, this was Arsenal’s big chance to step up and claim their first title in 12 years. But alas, despite sitting top in January, the Premier League trophy seems beyond their grasp as we approach the final stages of the season.

Planning ahead in the transfer market is key to success on Soccer Manager.

So where can Arsenal improve in order to make a real challenge next season? They finally sorted the goalkeeper position last summer by recruiting Petr Cech from Chelsea, but Wenger’s failure to sign a single outfield player until Mohamed Elneny came in in January, has cost Arsenal dearly.

They need a striker capable of 30 goals. Olivier Giroud is a solid centre-forward, and will always score his fair share, but his is not the sort of world-class option Arsenal can pin their hopes on. They were strongly linked with moves for Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín last summer, both of which, at the time, seemed fanciful. But following a season of off-field controversy, maybe Real Madrid would be more willing to listen to offers for their French striker this time around. And Higuaín has had a phenomenal season with Napoli, netting 30 Serie A goals, but after three seasons in Naples, maybe the Argentinian would be open to change this summer.

Arsenal also need a reliable centre-back to partner Laurent Koscielny. Per Mertesacker, though vastly experienced, can be exposed by strikers with pace, and Gabriel Paulista is a decent back-up option. Perhaps someone along the lines of Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk would represent a good option. Having had a year to acclimatise to the Premier League, the former Celtic player could add an assuredness to the Arsenal backline.

Manchester United currently sit fifth in the table, having finished fourth last season. The top four is not beyond their reach, but those already occupying the Champions League-qualifying spaces look reluctant to budge.

Whether Dutch manager Louis van Gaal is allowed to see out the final year of his contract, or whether the myriad rumours are to be believed and José Mourinho will be in charge next season, remains to be seen. But either way, United could use some squad improvements.

Despite spending £250m on incomings over the past two years, United’s squad still has holes. Daley Blind has coped admirably as a make-shift centre-back, but the former Ajax player is much better suited to a left-back or midfield role. Like Chelsea and City, United are thought to be weighing up an offer for John Stones, with the idea being that he could form a lasting partnership for club and country with Chris Smalling.

One of United’s foremost priorities this summer will be to hold on to David de Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper has developed into arguably the world’s best in his position over the last three years, and the Red Devils will have to fend off interest from Real Madrid.

A player strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford, with many European press outlets claiming a deal is already in place, is Benfica’s Renato Sanches. The 18-year-old box-to-box midfielder broke into the first-team at the Estádio da Luz earlier this season and has been a fixture ever since. Though still very raw – his short passing game needs refinement – the young Portuguese possesses the kind of energy and drive that has been lacking from United’s midfield for several years.

Whether or not United feel the need to sign a striker this summer depends how much they are willing to rely on 18-year-old Marcus Rashford next season. Rashford has been outstanding since bursting onto the scene in United’s Europa League triumph over Midtjylland in February, but it may be wise to bring in an experienced head to take some of the pressure off the still-developing Englishman. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be the perfect solution. The 34-year-old Swede is out of contract at the end of the season and has already hinted that his future may lie in the Premier League. The main caveat being that the PSG striker does not see eye-to-eye with van Gaal, so a switch to Old Trafford would likely have to be preceded by Mourinho being appointed manager.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona strip with ‘Romario 10’ printed in the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.  Ryan’s musing on European football can be found here and you can find him on twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB.


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