Football Features

How Guardiola can replace key lieutenants to keep Man City marching forwards

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:54, 21 May 2019

Manchester City have won an unprecedented domestic treble.

No men’s team in English football history had ever won the Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season – but Manchester City just did that.

It was a remarkable achievement from Pep Guardiola’s men, and comes with a bittersweet ending as club captain, 33-year-old Vincent Kompany, elected to leave the club after hoisting those three trophies.

Playing for Guardiola is physically draining, and competing at the top level of football across four competitions (three domestic and then the Champions League) doubles that toll. Add into the mix the fact that City are now two-time defending league winners, looking to ‘threepeat’ amid an ever-improving set of rivals, one can see why Kompany went out on top.

But now Kompany will need replacing. And more interestingly, he’s not City’s only veteran whose situation needs dealing with. For the most part, City’s squad is young and hungry, but there are four key veterans who have to be replaced sooner rather than later. But who are they? And how could City replace them? Read on and find out!

Vincent Kompany

Centre-back, 33-years-old
1,223 league minutes played in 2018/19

Kompany has been an absolute titan for Manchester City. In the 10 years he’s been at the club, no English side has won more trophies than the Sky Blues. Injuries have perhaps prevented him from reaching the upper-echelons of Premier League legendary status, but he’s been a colossal presence for City both on and off he field.

On the field his influence is obvious. As a physically dominant and positionally intelligent defender he has organised the City defence for years and provided his attacking players with a solid platform on which to build. He joined before big money turned City into a superclub, but despite all the money they spent they never truly tried – nor were able – to replace him.

Off the pitch his impact has been immeasurable. He’s a true captain, leader, legend who has taken the local area into his heart. He married a Mancunian and really did great work in the local community. For the club his presence as an inspirational figure cannot be overstated.

Phil Foden, City’s teenage sensation, summed it all up: “Looked after me from day one. Led by example, showed everyone what it means to be a leader, wear their heart on the sleeve, and give everything for this club. We will miss you Captain.”

So how do they replace him? They could look internally, allowing their other veterans to step up and be leaders and then promote Eric Garcia to the first-team, letting him back-up John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.

Or City could enter the transfer market and make a move for Matthijs de Ligt, the in-demand Ajax wonderkid. De Ligt is a magnificent young defender whose maturity and attitude has many hallmarks of Kompany’s own persona. He could be a hand-in-glove fit.

Fernandinho

Defensive midfielder, 34-years-old
2,381 league minutes played in 2018/19

Fernandinho was the unsung heart of City’s midfield as they first won the title under Guardiola in 2017/18, and whilst he was more sung in 2018/19 he still managed to hit the high notes with some truly exceptional performances. His defensive counterbalance is crucial, so evidenced by the fact that City lost two games in a row against weaker opposition in January only because Fernandinho was absent.

By the end of the run-in, however, age had taken its toll on Fernandinho and he began to break down with injury. Luckily Ilkay Gundogan was able to step in and deputise, but the German is a player with injury issues of his own. There is no doubt that City absolutely must sign a defensive midfielder in the summer window if they want to compete again.

Which is why they’ve allegedly made moves towards signing Rodri from Atlético Madrid. The Spaniard is a magnificent ball-playing defensive midfielder, the one true heir to Sergio Busquets at the base of midfield. Rodri would cost City an eye-watering €70m (his release clause) but would be able to anchor City’s midfield for years to come.

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David Silva

Attacking midfielder, 33-years-old
2,411 league minutes played in 2018/19

Goodness, it’s hard to explain just how good David Silva has been for Manchester City. An impossibly elegant playmaker who moved to a deeper central midfield role under Guardiola, Silva is arguably City’s greatest ever player (he’s definitely on their Mount Rushmore alongside Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Touré) and is an incredibly clutch performer.

This is actually the easiest replacement for Manchester City, however, as the players required to do it are already at the club. Most obviously, there is namesake Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder turns 25 in August and emerged this season as a dominant playmaker both on the wing and in the middle of the pitch.

In addition there is also Foden, City’s homegrown hope who is still just 18. Next season should see him clock up more minutes and, as a leftie midfielder with an eye for goal, stake his claim to be the “new” David Silva.

Sergio Aguero

Striker, 30-years-old
2,480 league minutes played in 2018/19

Aguero is one of the most undervalued players in Premier League history. The Argentine has bagged 230 goals for City in 334 games, only once failing to hit at least 28 goals in a season, yet his goalscoring genius is often taken for granted like it’s absolutely normal for a player to score at that kind of absurd rate. He is City’s main goalscoring option in a big way.

Gabriel Jesus – for all his collective brilliance – doesn’t necessarily seem to possess the killer instinct to routinely batter 25 goals or more every single season like Aguero does. Sure, he’ll score big goals and win you games, but is he the kind of predator that will help you win a 98-97 point title race? It’s possible, but unlikely; 2018/19 was the first season where he broke the 20-goal barrier.

Luckily for City, Aguero is only 30 so doesn’t need to be replaced as immediately as the other three, but City do need to keep an eye on the situation. Perhaps they should be monitoring the progress of young striking prospects like Lautaro Martinez, Giovanni Simeone and Moussa Dembélé, just to be on the safe side.