Three potentially fatal mistakes in Manchester City’s title defense

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Manchester City are off to West Ham on Sunday as they begin their Premier League title defense. There are three reasons why the campaign is not a foregone conclusion.

Lack of team depth

Statistically, Manchester City have a 77 per cent chance of winning the Premier League this season; that’s Pep Guardiola’s title-winning pass rate in his 13 years of elite-level management.

But this summer has brought some calculated gambles, most notably with the departures of four key players – Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko – who made a total of 92 Premier League appearances and scored 23 goals last season.

And while Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips and Julian Alvarez are hardly shabby substitutes, a thin squad has been made even thinner.

A generous review reveals City’s first-team roster is currently 20, for a team that could potentially play more than 60 games this season, plus the players’ World Cup commitments.

Guardiola has always favored working with small numbers – not least because it makes for a more harmonious dressing room when fewer players are dissatisfied with not being selected every week.

But this could be a point. When Liverpool took City to the title in 2020, that season had started with City light in midfield: Aymeric Laporte had been lost to a long-term injury and Guardiola spent much of that campaign playing veteran midfielder Fernandinho out of position.

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Symbolically or not, Laporte has already been out until September this season after undergoing knee surgery.

“I thought after five or six years together we would have to change managers or change a few players,” said Guardiola.

“It’s good to change, refresh everyone, old players. New players bring new energy, new desires. You always have to make decisions before something happens. That’s why we get paid.

“The aim is always to get better. If the transfer window didn’t go the way it did, and the four players were here, we’d be the same team with the same desire to do well.

“It’s happening, we’re adapting with the new ones, all the best for the people who left. They deserve the success, they all deserve it.”

The club can rely on the academy for other options and Guardiola is relaxed about the situation. Few can go against a man with his sentence, but it is certainly a concern.

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Risk Factor: 9/10

Concerns about injuries at Haaland

Bringing on a player who has scored 62 goals in 67 Bundesliga games can hardly be considered a big risk, especially at a bargain price of £51.2million.

But the physically imposing 6’5” striker is only 22 and has a history of injury problems. Just once in his seven seasons of top football, he has played more than 30 games in all competitions, making 41 appearances for Borussia Dortmund in 2020/21. This season, City could again play half that number.

Haaland is still looking for competitive edge and while the goals are no doubt coming, his fitness will be a problem to watch as Guardiola looks to replace the 30 goals that Jesus and Sterling came together for in all competitions last season.

Risk factor 4/10

Full back options

In ten heady days in July 2017, Guardiola spent £123.5 million on three full-backs: Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker. It’s tempting to think he could have made at least some investment in that position this summer.

Joao Cancelo has proven to be a brilliant asset, mainly on the left but equally skilled on the right, playing 52 times last season, more than any other City player.

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On the right, Kyle Walker is 32 and barely started half of league games last season as injuries and wear and tear took their toll.

Outside of that duo? Now that Oleksandr Zinchenko has gone, centre-back Nathan Ake or youngster Josh Wilson-Ebrand, who has one League Cup game to his name, are the alternatives. On the right is John Stones a potential deputy sheriff.

Left-back in particular seemed a must for City in the transfer window, although they were adamant they would not be involved in an auction for Brighton’s Marc Cucurella when he was on his way to Chelsea.

There could be a masterstroke before the window closes, but as it stands, a fullback can quickly become a problem area, especially if there is a long-term injury to Walker or Cancelo.

“Nothing special,” Guardiola said when asked if he had a new left-back target. “We’re the same – Josh is there, Joao is there, Nathan can be there and there are some surprises we can do. We’ll see; there are still so many days until the end of the month.”

Risk factor 7/10

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