• Jaidev Tripathy

76 DAYS OF SUMMER: IS AN EVENTFUL TRANSFER WINDOW AN EFFECTIVE ONE FOR MANCHESTER CITY?

Imagine this. You are deeply invested in a dramatic Netflix series, keenly anticipating an all-important plot point decisive of the protagonist’s fate, and probably the show itself. It is the last episode of the season, and the build-up throughout has been long. Engaging, but long. The season approaches its finishing line, and it is about time they finally reveal the plot point. You can feel it coming close, so close. It has been an eternity, and it feels like everything in your life revolves around this very moment. The suspense needs to reward, and the build-up is the most intense it has ever been. This is it……


…….and then it ends. Right there, it ends. The screen abruptly goes black. A complete cliff-hanger. On pops a generic ‘to be continued’ message and leaves you completely unsatisfied and frustrated by the end. So frustrated, that you now have second thoughts about the show itself and the time you invested in it seems like wasted time.


The Manchester City summer transfer window is exactly like this Netflix series. And the above prologue more or less sums up how all City fans have felt about it. Not once, not twice, but in surplus amounts. It has surely been an eventful transfer window, but how effective has it been until now?





INTRODUCTION

Disappointment was a common trait for the club’s 19/20 season. The successful CAS verdict and Kevin De Bruyne’s records and performances deservedly earning him the PFA Player of the Year award were mighty moments of celebration, but the performances on the pitch and the club’s trophy pursuits failed to meet their own high standards.


For starters, the ‘Fourmidables’ from a season before finished 18 points behind a ruthless Liverpool team in 19/20, who punished us for a major chunk of the season due to our failures to keep the pressure on. Performances were inconsistent after the first month, and City’s defensive problems surfaced, majorly due to the failure of replacing an authoritarian figure like Kompany in the backline, and Laporte’s absence adding salt to the wound. But there is more to it than just basic defensive issues. With an xGA of 34.2 compared to Liverpool’s 40.1, we conceded more goals than expected, allowing opponents to become clinical against us and succumb to the pressure. This pattern mimicked in the UEFA Champions League when we lost in the quarterfinals to Lyon, conceding in unnecessary fashion after succumbing to similar pressure.


Read more about factors that contributed to our defensive issues here in detail.


The point being, that relooking at this City defense became a sky-high priority, especially with the league getting increasingly competitive this new season with recruitments everywhere.

Some interesting defensive statistics (Source: whoscored.com)


Moreover, the offensive performances this season also differ from the basic attacking statistics which do not provide the complete picture. We ask, how can a team scoring 102 goals in a Premier League season, and possessing one of the best midfielders in the world, finish 18 points behind the title winners? To put it bluntly, the distribution of these goals leans closer to stat-padding rather than scoring in crucial situations, which is exactly where the results suffered. Despite possessing the best offensive and defensive numbers, we lost 9 games in the league (the most since Pep’s arrival) and failed to win in 12. This imbalance points out to more deep-rooted issues that needed solving, and a change in mindset for some much-needed confidence.


Leroy Sane also departed the club worth a transfer a fee exceeding £50m after additional bonuses, which left Manchester City with some extra cash to invest in replacements for the squad. This will also be the club’s first season without David Silva. How will Manchester City deal with an all-important summer transfer window; one which is far from an ideal one in 2020 circumstances?


CURRENT RECRUITMENTS


The club recruited two fresh faces early on to everyone’s delight. The first one is a Spanish product from Valencia, Ferran Torres, recruited for £20.8m plus added bonuses. While highlight videos make a mockery of that price tag in an inflated market, the Spanish midfielder brings qualities that will greatly benefit City in the long run if not immediately and can be considered an ideal Sane replacement. The Spaniard scored 6 and assisted 8, which are decent numbers considering Valencia’s dismal downfall last season. But more than that, he is direct, he is quick and his vision is a rising graph which provides enough promise if he adjusts and delivers in the Premier League. Similar to Leroy Sane on the pitch, and to erringly similar to David Silva’s transfer in the Premier League around a decade ago (he is also being trusted with carrying Silva’s ‘21’ baton), there is a breeze of positivity with Ferran’s presence in the City squad. It remains to be seen how well it materializes.


Sam Lee – “He does an awful lot of what City need” (Source: The Athletic)

The second recruitment translates into defender Nathan Ake, who is closer to our priority checklist of defensive signings. One of the most consistent midfielders for the relegated Cherries, he is another underdog signing who will have to make his way up in a talented City squad pegged with high expectations. The £41m price tag puts some extra pressure and even skepticism considering a backup defender, but there is plenty to cheer for.

For starters, he barely picks up injures (a quality this club greatly desires). Of defenders aged 25 or under, which is a good age to enter one’s prime footballing years, Ake has featured in all but 9 games for Bournemouth since 17/18, displaying consistent performances throughout.

Nathan Ake Premier League Appearances (Source: Sky Sports)


He is predominantly a left-footed center-back but has also been deployed as a left-back (even more so for his national team) and an occasional defensive midfielder which reflects his flexibility as a defender. In a highly compact season with multiple competitions to play for, Ake might be relied on in plenty of games in a mix of different positions throughout, serving as the perfect opportunity to make his way up and prove a mark in 2020/21.

Nathan Ake is an influential figure (Source: Sky Sports)


Not only does the former Bournemouth defender have a good positional sense, but he also has a pass success rate of 87.6% in the Premier League which highlights his potential as a ball-playing defender after being coached by Guardiola. Major props to also filling up the homegrown spot in City’s Premier League squad.


Our own PFA POTY De Bruyne himself has exclaimed his excitement for these fresh faces in Manchester, especially Ake with whom he is establishing a rapport with and looks forward to guiding him; a very promising opportunity for the Dutch defender to refine his skills and talent. Not only do these signings surround themselves with the best bunch of players, but also look to give their best for the club under the guidance of Pep Guardiola who they greatly admire. All eyes on them!


THE KOULIBALY EPISODE


Drinking game. Take a shot for every time you have come across a Koulibaly transfer deal undergoing negotiations.


The Senegalese center back has been on Manchester City’s radar for several months, and it’s all down to establishing an appropriate offer for the center back for him to catch a flight to Manchester. But Napoli has made life tough for their blue counterpart, who are adamant about getting their money worth from a club desperate to add a premium defender to their ranks. Offers ranging from £50m to £75m have surfaced during negotiations but haven’t completely materialized yet (reports say it is ‘almost done’ since the last 2 months), so the anticipation remains amongst all fans.


The excitement has been accompanied by occasional outrage amongst the impatient. Why the hefty sum for a 29-year old defender who struggled against Messi’s Barcelona (more on that later)? To be very fair, it is a risky move considering his age and his potential to lean towards either an authoritarian figure keeping the backline stable or just another filler signing succumbing equally to City’s inability to deal with pressure and pace in high-octane games. It could go anywhere, considering the depth of City’s problems evident in the previous season.


But there is also enough promise and trust from City who have relentlessly pursued this strong presence in the Napoli backline for months. For starters, Koulibaly was the only defender in Serie A in 2018/19 whose numbers are greater than average in all defensive departments, and hence is one of the few effective complete center backs in the world. Another interesting statistic is that Koulibaly is an extremely skilled tackler, interceptor, and header of the ball. He made 61 successful tackles in 2019/20 compared to Van Dijk’s 30 and was dribbled past only 11 out of 33 times as compared to the former’s 9 out of 15, which highlights his defensive stability. This trait also serves useful to City’s attacking system and a defensive high line which pacey opponents look to exploit. A firm partnership with Laporte would be really exciting to witness in the Premier League next season, and the club trusts Koulibaly in filling up that void in the backline.


Virgil Van Dijk vs Kalidou Koulibaly (Source: Talk Sport)


The waiting game, unfortunately, continues for now. Despite an unlikely situation, it would be extremely unfortunate if the move doesn’t materialize and it becomes too late for City to pursue a premium replacement before October 5th. Currently, Manchester United and PSG have also intensified their chase to sign the Napoli center back, and it will be up to City to stay motivated through the deal regarding Koulibaly’s worth and the importance of his presence in our squad.


Kalidou Koulibaly Performance Graphic (Source: Talk Sport)


OTHER POSSIBILITIES


Life resumed to normal a week ago after Lionel Messi’s desire to continue at Barcelona was expressed, following the possibility of a transfer move that shook the world. In particular, those associated with Manchester City were on the edge of their seats as they would have been the top candidates for Messi had he been allowed to leave his boyhood club. The discussion on this article considering the Messi saga will be extremely limited because neither the club nor Messi and his father+agent, directly approached City for a transfer move. The possibility of one of the world’s best reuniting with his favourite manager as well as his best friend Aguero was undoubtedly appealing, that too for free at one point during this rumour train. This also led to plenty of possible consequences in the wage structure of the squad, the commercial revenue from branding and advertisements, the squad depth, and also the club’s pursuit for other signings. But now that this lip-smacking scenario has dissolved, City needs to turn their heads to focus on achievable and priority signings, even more desperately.



Aside from a hyper-extended Koulibaly transfer move, other possibilities have been few and far between. Inter Milan have overpriced Milan Skriniar, while it is the same with Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez. Dayot Upamecano renewed his deal with RB Leipzig a few months ago. A deal for Sevilla center back Diego Carlos also looks potentially difficult and doesn’t look to materialize anytime soon. RB Leipzig also re-signed Angelino on a season-long loan spell. Defensively, Koulibaly is the only potential premium defender that looks possible for City. The insecurity still remains, because City have yet not made any major sales in their defensive department as of now.


Upfront, it has been an equally dry spell if not more. Lautaro Martinez and Felix have been priced too high for City’s liking and stay at their respective clubs as of now, while a move for Timo Werner failed, who preferred Stamford Bridge to continue his career trajectory. While this position isn’t of high priority, the need for a backup striker to step up in case of injury problems and loss of form would be instrumental in achieving results in games when ideas don’t work out. Houssem Aouar is also being pursued by the club, and while a talented prospect, isn’t desperately needed in a squad overloaded with talented midfielders working hard to start a consistent spell of games for Manchester City. Consistency in structure seems far more important in City’s plan of action, than investing in new players other than the emergency positions required.

Possible City Lineup for 2020/21 season as of now (Source: Talk Sport)


CONCLUSION

Being a mid-transfer season article, Manchester City’s current course prompts more questions than verdicts. Assuming Kalidou Koulibaly makes his way to Manchester City, will the transfer fee range spent on acquiring him be worth it? What will be the consequences of this signing in the season to come and in the long term? Will you be satisfied with Koulibaly being the final signing of the transfer window, or do you believe the club needs to continue their pursuit in adding more players to their squad? How effective are the current fresh faces considering value addition? What is missing, and will signing new players fix Manchester City’s recurring pattern of Champions League disappointment and help achieve their high-octane goals? What role can the youth team play in City’s season ahead?


An eventful transfer window for sure, but an effective one? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, you be the judge of the transfer window's current status and let us know your thoughts in the comments down below!

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