Football Features

Three ways Manchester City could line up after the transfer window

By Squawka News

Dream, realistic, wildcard: Three ways Manchester City could line up after the transfer window

Published: 13:00, 30 May 2024 | Updated: 13:06, 1 June 2024

Pep Guardiola is preparing for another Premier League title defence for what may be the final time. 

The Spaniard has transformed Manchester City into an all-conquering force, winning their English-record fourth straight top-flight title last season, just a year on from completing the treble. However, rumours are surfacing that Guardiola will depart at the end of next season, making it perhaps the most important of his reign. What state will Guardiola leave the club in? What will be his on-field legacy?

Let’s take a look at dream, realistic and wildcard options for how Manchester City could line up following the summer transfer window.


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Dream

With some key stars either ageing or prone to injury (or both), Guardiola is going to have to make some key decisions.

The first of those decisions is at right-back, where Kyle Walker was sensational once again in 2023/24, but recently turned 34. There’s no way the club captain will be frozen out or disposed of and, indeed, Walker still has a key role to play for the defending champions. However, having a younger model to play week in, week out would ease the pressure on Walker’s body while allowing Guardiola to save him for the biggest occasions.

Reports have surfaced recently suggesting Man City could try to bring a familiar name back to the Etihad in Jeremie Frimpong. The flying Dutch full-back left Manchester for Celtic back in 2019 and fast-forward five years, is now one of the most in-demand players in Europe after winning the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double with Bayer Leverkusen — scoring 14 goals across all competitions this season, no less.

A Frimpong return might seem fanciful, but it is something the player himself has hinted at.

“It would be great [to return to Manchester City]… But I don’t know,” Frimpong said last summer, adding: “They have just won the Champions League and are the best team in the world. In the future we will see.”

The next major question to answer is at centre-back. Ruben Dias’ place is completely secured and in an ideal world, John Stones would stay fit long enough to be his regular partner. The former Everton man does, after all, have a very solid claim to being one of the best defenders on the planet when fit.

But the reality is Stones has always struggled to stay off the treatment table and given he has just turned 30 years old, it’s probably time for some forward planning.

Arguably the biggest centre-back prospect in the Premier League right now Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite who, after an excellent season on loan at PSV, was a colossus at Goodison Park in 2023/24. The former Carlisle youngster has the full package with his rock-solid defensive instincts coupled with ice-cool composure on the ball.

Reports suggest Manchester United are the current favourites to sign Branthwaite, who is expected to head to the European Championships with England this summer despite being uncapped. But Manchester City have long been linked and would have much greater pull than the Red Devils. It worked out quite well the last time a centre-back went from Goodison Park to the Etihad…

The biggest area of uncertainty for City this summer probably lies in midfield. Rodri is the best on the planet in his position but around him, Kevin De Bruyne continues to struggle for consistent fitness and is now being linked to Saudi Arabia and MLS, while the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Matheus Nunes didn’t quite manage to replace Ilkay Gundogan — though the former was certainly solid.

It’s looking increasingly likely that City’s main target this summer will be Bruno Guimaraes. The Brazilian is already Premier League-proven, while he ticks all the boxes in terms of the physicality and technicality Guardiola demands of his midfielders. The Catalan coach is certainly a fan.

“He is an exceptional holding midfielder. He is aggressive, with the ball or without the ball,” Guardiola said of Guimaraes ahead of Man City’s FA Cup quarter-final clash with Newcastle in March. “At set-pieces, he’s aggressive and is a real, complete holding midfielder since being at Lyon and now at a club who want to grow up and up. I am sure he is part of the project for the next years. Definitely.”

In this dream scenario, the Cityzens keep De Bruyne around for another season after the Belgian notched a ridiculous 18 assists and six goals in just 1,750 minutes across all competitions last season. They also keep stalwarts Ederson and Bernardo Silva away from the respective clutches of Saudi Arabia and PSG.

Realistic

To bring Frimpong and Branthwaite on board in one window would cost astronomical sums, so you wouldn’t blame City sticking to their plan of moulding Rico Lewis into Walker’s long-term successor, while Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake aren’t exactly terrible centre-backs to compete with Dias and Stones, are they? And right now, it’s all gearing up for Guimaraes to be their main target this summer, so he stays in this realistic XI.

But despite all their spending power, City must still balance the books. If offers come in for the likes of De Bruyne and Silva, it may be hard to say no given what stage of their careers they are at.

A surprise candidate who has been linked with a move to City is Wolves star Pedro Neto. The Portugal international is doubtless an elite creative force, notching the fourth-most assists in the Premier League last season (9) despite being limited to just 1,518 minutes and not featuring at all from March 9th until the final day.

It’s reported Wolves want £60m for Neto which would certainly represent a risk. However, he’s still only 24 years old and is coming off the best season of his career so far. He has all the dynamism and creativity of a Guardiola forward and his presence could allow Phil Foden to drop into the De Bruyne role behind Erling Haaland, with Jeremy Doku providing width and speed on the other flank.

This would represent an understated but very measured approach to the summer window from Man City.

Wildcard

So, let’s imagine City decide to cash in on Ederson, De Bruyne and Silva all in one window. And they determine that now is the right time to say goodbye to John Stones, who has been rumoured to be one of the main targets of former teammate Vincent Kompany, who has finally been announced as Bayern Munich manager.

That will leave the powers that be at City with plenty of work to do, but with a unique opportunity to futureproof the playing squad, ready for a potential Guardiola successor.  In this ‘handbrake off’ scenario, City would spare no expense in making sure they remain England’s dominant force.

Unai Simon is a goalkeeper who has been linked with Man City in the not-to-distant past and is one of the most elite players in his position when it comes to ball-playing. He would represent an excellent replacement for Ederson. While the Spaniard hasn’t quite shown the pinpoint accuracy of Ederson to date, there’s no doubt he has the ability to quickly tidy up that side of his game, especially when surrounded by much higher-quality teammates.

There’s every chance Branthwaite might just prove a little too expensive for Man City to chance their arm, especially after just one season as a Premier League starter. Another centre-back they’ve been linked with is Italian sensation Giorgio Scalvini, who turned plenty of heads with his robust yet measured performances to help Atalanta win the Europa League. Reports suggest Scalvini may be able to leave for around £44m, which is far less than what Everton will demand for Branthwaite. At just 20 years old, he’s among the most exciting defensive prospects in Europe and the Italians certainly do know how to cook in that area of the pitch.

While this summer could be all about preparing for life without Guardiola, the Spaniard has certainly earned himself the chance to let loose. Have a bit of fun.

City supporters got incredibly excited by links to German star playmaker Jamal Musiala a couple of months back and with the 21-year-old coming off a 10-goal, six-assist Bundesliga season for Bayern Munich, he’s among the very best on the planet in his age group. Musiala’s raw numbers don’t quite lend himself to being a direct De Bruyne replacement at the tip of City’s midfield, but the former England youth international is blessed with incredible technical ability and is certainly capable of picking a pass — Musiala was fourth in the German top-flight in 2023/24 for through-balls per 90 minutes (0.36), while he ranked inside the division’s top 10 for big chances created (0.61) per game.

Could City negotiate a discount for Musiala in exchange for letting Stones go the other way? Getting him and Foden together as dual 10s ahead of Rodri would be a mouth-watering prospect and one hell of a way for Guardiola to enjoy himself before riding off into the sunset. Erling Haaland’s goal count could go back through the roof with this sort of creativity behind him, too.

And that move would also open up a spot for City to sign their hallmark creative winger, famed more for his playmaking and ability to split a defence rather than blistering speed. That, after all, is Doku’s job on the other side.

The Cityzens have been linked with Dani Olmo in the past and the Spaniard’s stock is incredibly high right now after notching eight goals and five assists in 25 appearances for RB Leipzig last season.

This is a team that would score goals for fun and dominate possession like no other. Perhaps even more than Guardiola’s previous Man City outfits.

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