Picture the scene: Managerial superstar Pep Guardiola, a flannel shirt, some timber and one absolutely massive axe.
No it’s not his latest cover shoot for GQ magazine, but is instead symbolic of the deadwood the Champions League winning boss has cleared out of Manchester City in his quest to bring them to the top of Europe’s footballing tree.
A proverbial Dad’s army has headed out the exit door in the summer as the likes of Gaël Clichy, Willy Caballero, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Bacary Sagna, Nolito and the greatest Premier League fraud of all time Jesús Navas have departed.
In the opposite direction, City have spent a reported total of £211.4m more than 47 actual countries shell out on defence (yes we’ve seen the tweets, we came up with the bloody thing in the first place). However, there is one major question hanging over Pep Guardiola’s head as we await the dawn of the new season.
Annual spending on defence:
Man City £200m
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) July 24, 2017
Does Guardiola get that the Premier League is a different animal?
We may have all been brainwashed by Sky claims of the Premier League being “the best league in the world”.
True football people know this is complete bollocks. England’s top division certainly has a claim at being the most competitive/entertaining league, but the real stats make grim reading on its argument for being the best.
Out of 20 finals over the last ten season an English club has only won either the Champions League or Europa League four times (two apiece), while Spanish clubs have utterly dominated that time period with 11 wins.
This is what the former Barcelona man must grasp if he is to lift the Premier League trophy and achieve even more.
You cannot coast in England, like his Barca and Bayern outfits could afford to do during his time with them.
Man City languished 15 points behind title winners Chelsea at the end of last season and you can directly attribute that to failing to beat lesser lights like Middlesbrough (twice), Stoke, Leicester (despite them being champions) and Southampton.
It’s a lesson Pep needs to not only hammer into his players, but also into the back of his own mind. Complacency kills in the Premier League, most of all your own.
MASSACRE! O Manchester City não tomou conhecimento e atropelou o Real Madrid pela Champions Cup! Confere aí como foi a vitória dos Citizens! pic.twitter.com/ffyqsuyXu9
— Esporte Interativo (@Esp_Interativo) July 27, 2017
Winning foundations need to be built upon
Even if it was correct to perceive Manchester City as an ageing squad last season, there were few green shoots that would bring a smile to the face of even the most hardened of gardeners.
We’re talking about players like Raheem Sterling (22), John Stones (23), Leroy Sané (21), Gabriel Jesus (20) and in particular Kevin De Bruyne (26). This is the kind of young core a lot of managers would drool over like Homer Simpson, and they should become the back bone of the side moving forward.
Sterling and Sané have performed wonders under Pep, but now need the support from the full backs City have bought in the form of the grossly overpriced Kyle Walker and Danilo. However, the left side of the defence has seemed woefully ignored in the window up to the signing of Benjamin Mendy from Monaco a few days ago and they probably need another one for cover.
John Stones still seems in dire need of an experienced and dependable centre back partner to aid his development. Can they really rely on the headless Nicolás Otamendi and the injury-ravaged Vincent Kompany again this campaign?
Swiping Virgil van Dijk from under Liverpool’s noses might be an option there. Then you come to Kevin De Bruyne.
The young sensation looks primed to bring his status within the game to a whole new level next season after ending the last in sweeter form than Belgium chocolate.
If Guardiola is looking for a player to build his team around De Bruyne has to be the man.
Did we leave someone out? Don’t worry, we’re getting to Gabriel Jesus…
The Sergio Agüero conundrum
Finally, there one huge issue in the club that Pep needs to get sorted sharpish and that Sergio Agüero’s situation.
Fans of the Citizens have flooded the forums speculating on the future of the little Argentine, who has hit 122 goal Premier League goals in his six seasons in Manchester. Yet, questions are still swirling as to whether Guardiola fancies him?
If you believe what you read, the problem appears to be two-fold. Does Agüero track back/close down play/work hard enough and is he too injury prone?
That’s where Gabriel Jesus comes in. Before his broken metatarsal last season the Brazilian youngster looked like he was going to turn the English football into a doodle, but he still managed eight goals in ten Premier League appearances last season.
He could be the man to replace Agüero if Man City stop their mega-bucks flirtation with Kylian Mbappé.
However, like his namesake, Jesus could well prove to be a uniting figure between Agüero and his manager.
After all Jesus looked terrific in his limited outings in the David Silva role behind Agüero and that could be City’s route to finally securing much needed and long-awaited European glory at the end of the campaign.
It better be, or else that axe we talked about earlier may be falling on Guardiola head when all’s said and done.