After last season’s disappointing third place, City have spent more than £200m on players this summer and are ready to push beyond the £300m mark if they have to this summer. Two of the biggest problems of last year, in goal and at full-back, have been expensively solved and there is a real sense that this year Pep Guardiola has to get it right. He has all the ingredients he could want now, and if it does not work, then the fault is his own.
The most important addition is the pair of fast new full-backs, Benjamin Mendy of Monaco and Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur, for a combined fee of more than £100m. Then there is a brand new goalkeeper, £35m Ederson of Benfica, who must be able to make the saves that Claudio Bravo could not. Throw in the versatile Danilo from Real Madrid and the brilliant Bernardo Silva from Monaco and it is quite a haul, even if they do not get either Alexis Sanchez or Kylian Mbappe.
There has been yet another purge of a squad that had grown old, tired and stale in recent years. Aleksandr Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna have all gone, while Joe Hart has joined West Ham on loan. Fernando has gone to Galatasaray, Kelechi Iheanacho to Leicester City, although destinations for Samir Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Jason Denayer have been harder to find.
How are they going to line up?
With Guardiola it is anyone’s guess but in pre-season City have played 3-5-2, with Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero paired up front. That is a way of getting past Aguero’s lack of pressing from the front, and provides width from the new wing-backs, although it does leave no obvious role for last year’s star Leroy Sane. Expect Guardiola to keep changing systems through the season. (3-5-2: Ederson; Kompany, Stones, Otamendi; Walker, De Bruyne, Toure, D. Silva, Mendy; Gabriel, Aguero)
What’s the one big question that must be answered?
Will Vincent Kompany stay fit? Nine seasons on from his arrival City are still desperately dependent on their captain. When he is out, as he has been for most of the last few years, City are a mess at the back and nobody’s champions. When he is there to direct Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones, as he was at the end of last season, they are the best team in the country. It is as simple as that.
What’s the best that could happen?
City build on their progress from last year, when they were brilliant half the time, and storm to the title playing a type of modern fluid attacking football never seen before in England. Even Chelsea and Manchester United cannot call on half of City’s attacking options and if it clicks then no-one will be able to lay a finger on them.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Last season’s defensive frailties continue as City rue not spending £60m to land Virgil van Dijk. They are open, naïve, brittle and Guardiola looks like a man determined not to learn the lessons of last season because he does not want to be proven wrong. As the more reliable and robust Chelsea, United and Spurs pull away, City look like a vanity project gone wrong, and start preparing for another mammoth spend in the summer of 2018.