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Premier League 2016 -1 7 preview No10: Manchester City | Paul Wilson

City ultimately have their dream administrator but Pep Guardiola has a lot of work to do to get his squad challenging at home and in the Champions League

Guardian novelists predicted position: 2nd( NB: this is not necessarily Paul Wilsons prediction but the average of our novelists tips)

Last seasons position: 4th

Odds to win the league( via Oddschecker ): 5-2

Here it is then, the season Manchester City have been waiting for so patiently. It has long been obvious, surely since 2012 when the club imported Barcelonas infrastructure in Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain( chief executive and sporting director respectively ), that the ultimate aim was to bring in Pep Guardiola as well and reproduce some of the Catalans sparkling success in the north-west of England.

There was nothing wrong with that ambitious scheme in 2012, except that it took four years to bring it to fruition due to Guardiola inducing Germany his first port of call following his year out after stepping down from Barcelona. There was nothing wrong with his decision to join Bayern Munich either, except Jupp Heynckess parting legacy was to complete the first German treble, leaving the incoming coach-and-four with little to improve. Guardiola did not exactly fail in Bavaria most clubs and coaches would be happy with three consecutive league titles and three appearances in Champions League semi-finals though while several dependable witness have testified to the beneficial consequence he had on the team he did not enhance his reputation to the extent expected.

How City have finished in the last five season’s

Three consecutive Champions League semi-finals can be construed as a series of missed possibilities, after all, especially for a coach-and-four hired on the back of his peerless achievements in the competition with Barcelona. The three Bundesliga titles were real enough, but Guardiola took over a very strong team in a league that tends to be dominated by a small number of clubs, with Bayern in particular often able to undermine challengers by picking off their best players. If you wanted to make a harsh assessment of Guardiolas three years in Germany it could be said, indeed is being said, that he was unable to move the club significantly forward. Domestic titles are almost a minimum requirement for the club under present conditions, but if the idea was for Guardiolas genius would rub off to the extent of taking Bayern to the level of Barcelona or Real Madrid it did not happen.

Last season’s results for Manchester City

Again, Heynckes had given his successor a lot to live up to. When Bayern reached the Champions League final in 2013 they did so by removing Barcelona at the semi-final stage by an aggregate rating of 7-0. Guardiolas Bayern went out 5-0 on aggregate to Real Madrid at the same stage a year later, lost 5-3 to Barcelona the following season, and though they were only beaten by a single away goal in this years competitor, it was Atltico Madrid who induced the final.

So the prove moves to the Premier League, with Guardiola tasked with proving his worth in circumstances difficult to see four years ago. Whereas City had originally hoped to make a statement and steal a march on their challengers by appointing the most idolized coach-and-four in the business , now it could be argued that Guardiola might not even be the best manager in Manchester. He is certainly not the only treble win. This is not the place for a discussion of Guardiolas merits over those of Jos Mourinho the forthcoming season should be helpful in that regard in any case but it seems safe to say that Manchester United will not be stumbling about in the dark any longer in accordance with existing management. The clueless, beached-whale impression they have been amusing us with since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped aside can be consigned to history, along with any the idea of transitional periods or three-year plans.

As Mourinho deftly demonstrated by nipping into England training to reassure Wayne Rooney of his value as a striker before the team left for France, the new administrator does not work like that. Should Mourinho land Paul Pogba for the anticipated sum of around 100 m it will be a statement of intent greater than anyone else has managed the summer months, and the immediate advantage the United manager has over his new( old) challenger is that he knows the Premier League inside out. Mourinho has won titles in England, one as recently as two years ago. Guardiola comes to Manchester at a time when United supporters are more confident and bullish about their prospects than they have been for the best part of a decade, and it is not only his new home city that the manager has to worry about. Liverpool and Tottenham feel they have the right administrator and players to mount a title challenge, and although Arsenal never quite seem to feel the same way, they at least have the theoretical financial capability to improve their squad and build on last seasons second place finish. Antonio Conte, like Guardiola, will need time to find his feet in a new league, though it is unlikely with a coach-and-four of his pedigree that Chelsea will be as far off the pace as they were last season.

On the positive side, City still have the eminently watchable Kevin De Bruyne to build a side around, will always carry a goal threat as long as Sergio Agero is fit, have picked up Ilkay Gndogan, Leroy San and Nolito to increase their midfield alternatives( Gabriel Jesus will initially be loaned back to Palmeiras) and may be about to win the race, actually more of a slow-motion event, to sign John Stones.

Manchester
Manchester Citys Sergio Agero in action during pre-season. Photograph: Wang Zhao/ AFP/ Getty Images

Concerns for Guardiola include Vincent Kompanys uncertain fitness and the effect the captains absences often have on the team, Joe Harts unconvincing performances for England at Euro 16 and the thorny problem of get the best out of Raheem Sterling. Mildly interesting issues for fans to debate begin with whether Eliaquim Mangala and Nicols Otamendi have any future at the heart of a Guardiola defence, and end with several questions that needs answering in attack. Will there be scope for Kelechi Iheanacho to build on his promising breakthrough last season, is Wilfried Bony going to get a look-in, and how much patience will Guardiola present with the speedy but inevitably disappointing Jess Navas?

Perhaps what matters most in terms of defining the mood for the new season is what happens to Yaya Tour and David Silva, two stalwarts who have been around since the Roberto Mancini days. Tour is in the final year of his contract and, at 33 , not the influence he once was, though Guardiola knows him from Barcelona and has convinced him he can have a positive role. Whether that means on the pitching or off it is unclear, though the City midfield is becoming quite a congested region. Silva, three years younger, is presumably a part of Guardiolas plans such a clever player surely ought to be yet there were periods under Manuel Pellegrini when City operated out of ideas and inspiration even with the Spain international on the pitching. It seems a little odd to talk of potential in a 30 -year-old, though there was a feeling in the last couple of seasons that City were not managing to build the most of Silvas ability. If Guardiola can do that, find him a role that does not replicate what De Bruyne is doing, Citys assaulting alternatives should be second to none, though first and foremost they need to keep their somewhat fragile frontline fit for the greater part of the season.

Last season City finished fourth and won the Capital One Cup, which was just about enough to allow Pellegrini an honourable discharge but patently not the kind of return a club with so much fund and such lofty aspirations was looking for. City now have their dream administrator for at the least three seasons, regrettably coinciding with Manchester United, Liverpool and a few others picking up their dream administrators as well. The Premier League in general, and Manchester in particular, should ensure more than its usual share of excitement this season, though it should be remembered that what initially recommended Guardiola to the club was the way his Barcelona side dominated in Europe. City have won the Premier League a couple of times now, and would not exactly disdain a few more titles, but the overall scheme is to succeed in the Champions League. They reached the semi-finals last season, a real accomplishment , no matter what the financial backing, for a club that arrived in the competitor only five years ago. Yet though they only conceded one goal over two legs against Real Madrid, City appeared a side at full stretching, at the limit of their ability and self-belief.

Guardiolas main task will be to change that, to build City look and feel like they belong in the European elite. Dedicated that they still have to survive a qualifying round to take part in this seasons event, that is quite a tall order, and it may be that domestic spats with Mourinho and Manchester bragging rights have to be filed under the heading of distractions. Guardiola probably is capable of taking City to the next level, but first he must work out what he wants that level to be. This season more than any other season, it would be asking a lot of a coach-and-four in a new country to progress on two fronts. Although improving on Pellegrinis last season is clearly possible, the outgoing administrator not having defined the bar all that high, City winning something big is unlikely to happen without careful planning and prioritisation. Perhaps four years of careful planning and prioritisation.

Read more: www.theguardian.com