In order for City to progress next season, I believe it is imperative that the unrealised potential of certain current players be fully realised in conjunction with the limited transfer budget.
Put plainly, I have always thought that we impose 4-2-3-1 on to our best players when the alternative is to build a formation around the strengths of those players. The rebuild after losing Emi Buendia and Oliver Skipp gives Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber a blank canvas to start again.
Things to consider:
How to further improve last season’s defence *
How to improve ball retention and goals from midfield **
How to get Todd Cantwell scoring more ***
How to ensure chances are created for Teemu Pukki without Buendia? ***
Let’s look at the defence where some would prefer a switch to a back three. The transfer budget is probably limited to one centre-back of outstanding quality – such as Kristoff Ajer at Celtic or a loan bid for Joachim Andersen (Fulham/Lyon) – but consider the depth of our squad and it becomes clear we could also manage with injuries. We have Christoph Zimmerman and Andrew Omobamidele as cover, so a back three is viable.
The flanks are interesting. Assuming we sell Max Aarons, is there a chance of luring Connor Roberts from Swansea? The Swans are out of parachute payments and are cash-strapped, so I’d say that is a realistic proposition.
In central midfield, Kenny McLean is the only certain choice and has his limits, so is an area that needs strengthening. As a result, it was interesting to watch Poland hold Spain to a draw; a game in which Mateusz Klich dominated the midfield for Poland, much like Billy Gilmore did for Scotland against England.
If you can play Biesla-Ball, you can play Farkebal. With Klich, I’m sure the Pole would relish a starting role under Farke but moreover, you’d think Biesla would see the sense in getting big money for a squad player as he seeks to take Leeds into the top six next season – a possibility. Trading Max Aarons in a deal could be one option.
In attacking midfield, we only have two realistic options – Cantwell and Dowell – but choosing a formation that extracts their best qualities is crucial because both tended to be less effective in 4-2-3-1 when Buendia was absent from the team.
But in what other formation can you see the best of Todd or Kieran?
We cannot afford to replace them too, so we must complement their strengths. Adam Armstrong is an interesting proposition, but alienate him as a Buendia replacement on the right of an attacking three wouldn’t work in my view. An alternative would be to tweak our base formation and get him, like Cantwell, closer to Pukki, and then I can see a really strong case for a £10-15m bid. I think he’d be a shrewd buy only if you can play him appropriately.
As for the strikers, you can expect to halve Pukki’s output without Buendia even before factoring promotion. In the Premier League, teams worked out Pukki (regardless of the toe injury) and he stopped scoring halfway through the season.
So, on that basis, it’s not unreasonable to debate whether City might need to replace Pukki after losing Buendia. However, obviously, we cannot afford to replace the Finn, so surely we need to tweak the formation to compensate?
For me, the philosophy this summer needs to be about exploring the dormant potential of the existing squad and complimenting them with viable, cheeky transfers.
* There is no point paying £10-15m for Ajer if you are going to bench Gibson who already cost £8m. A viable alternative is to play a three-man defence and play them both. Grant Hanley in a three for Scotland kept at bay some of the reportedly best players in the world – Kane, Sterling, Foden, Rashford etc
** Hypothetically, persevering with Skipp and McLean, who scored three between them all last season, is not an improvement – it is the status quo. We need goals, height, and power to improve the midfield. Klich could be the answer, and he was instrumental in stopping Spain and can score at Premier League level.
*** In 2019/20 Cantwell started the Premier League campaign closer to Pukki as the central #10, and scored as many in the Premier League as he did playing from the left in the Championship. Pukki was scoring freely in the Premier League at that stage too. It is a tweak that was proven in the Premier League.
So, thinking out loud…
Giannoullis, McLean, (Skipp), Klich, Roberts
Gibson, (Andersen), Hanley, Ayer
Keep it fresh, keep it intuitive, keep it imaginative but keep it affordable.
Simply adapt and we can survive next season.
OTBC and enjoy your summer!