One of the biggest tasks for Pep Guardiola, when he took over at Manchester City, was to oversee a transition. Everyone could see his intention to transition the squad to a more possession-based style. But actually, his most important transition was overseeing Manchester City’s ideal summer.
Manchester City’s Ideal Summer
The First Transition
When Guardiola got to Manchester, he inherited a pretty old squad. Everyone could see Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Fernandinho getting up in their years, but the squad also had players like Aleksander Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta, Jesus Navas, and Joe Hart when he took over.
Each of those players was over 30 years old when the Spaniard took over before the 2016/17 Premier League season. Now only David Silva remains in a squad that is much, much better for its youth. However, that transition has taken more time than Pep or technical director Txiki Begiristan expected.
The first summer saw Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, and John Stones make the move. By January 2018 the signing of Aymeric Laporte completed Pep’s total defensive transition. But squad transition is a constant process. If you think you’re finished the football world can pass you by.
This Year’s New Signings
Which is why Manchester City’s summer purchases have really been spot on. It started with bringing back Angelino, the young Spanish left-back who had left City for PSV to get some first-team minutes. He is already a solid left-back at just 21-years-old, but will only need to play well enough to spell Benjamin Mendy. Cityzens will be happy to see an actual left-back out there for most of the season.
The real wins for Manchester City fans are their two marquee signings; Rodri Hernandez and Joao Cancelo. The former is a defensive midfielder, and the latter is very much an attacking right-back. Both represent the last pieces that Pep needed to transition this Man City squad into the best in the world.
Joao Cancelo: The Face of Transition
Let’s start with Cancelo because he is the real wildcard. It’s pretty easy to tell what kind of player Rodrigo will be; the Community Shield showed as much. But Cancelo can really have a massive impact on this Manchester City squad.
It’s hard to find another right-back in today’s game that is as good going forward as Joao Cancelo. Another member of the famed Benfica academy, Cancelo moved to Valencia in 2014 to find some playing time. There he found a turbulent, turmoiled three years in Spain, though it was not his fault. He played at various depths along the right side depending on which manager Valencia had at the time.
Things really started to click for Cancelo after he went on loan to Inter Milan to start the 2017/2018 season. He was one of the main providers for Mauro Icardi’s 29 goal Serie A campaign that season. Bombing down the right-hand side, Inter’s defensive stability allowed Cancelo to push forward in attack even when there wasn’t an obvious transition.
The thing that makes Cancelo great is his natural willingness to attack whatever space is ahead of him. He is not held down by the constraints of traditional full-back play. Much in the Dani Alves or Marcelo mould, Cancelo gets forward without fear. He also leaves huge gaps behind him that can catch a team out.
For an old and slow team like Juventus that can be a problem, which is why they decided to sacrifice him. But in Manchester, there will be cover around him. There won’t always be enough cover, and Cancelo will get caught out, leaving space at the back. It’s a good thing Pep Guardiola is an expert at tinkering with a squad.
The first change that comes to mind is a change in formation. A back three with Cancelo and Mendy as the wing-backs is a pretty appetizing formation. The addition of Rodrigo also allows for Fernandinho to play centre-back, something he did a little last season. Plus, adding Cancelo opens up the possibility that Kyle Walker could play some centre-back as well.
Both would be fantastic ways for those two players to transition into later stages of their careers. Having Kyle Walker’s strength and recovery speed could be a massive asset in central defence. The way the transfer window was going it would’ve been hard for City to buy the right replacement for Kompany.
Instead, Cancelo and Rodrigo allow Manchester City to be incredibly versatile. That versatility could be limited because, as we all know, Pep Guardiola’s teams play a specific style. Their versatility comes from the different ways they can use that style to beat you. They have the ability to find specific teams biggest weaknesses and tailor their game to attack that weakness.
Saturday Against West Ham United
However, when Manchester City take the field against West Ham United on Saturday, it will not be a very surprising lineup. Joao Cancelo will likely start on the bench. Pep will see no need to throw him into the fire, especially with Kyle Walker being healthy throughout the pre-season.
Rodrigo will most likely start the game. He played really well in the Community Shield last week and with Fernandinho only just returning from his summer break, Rodrigo will be given full reign to pull the strings against West Ham. With David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne as his most likely midfield partners, it’s going to be a long day for West Ham.