Manchester City has dominated the biggest soccer league in the world for over half a decade. Pep Guardiola’s team have won five out of the last six Premier League titles – a feat that rivals Manchester United’s streak in the 1990s.
City has league-leading quality in depth, and a number of vital difference-makers such as Kevin de Bruyne. But this season their title pursuit may be exceptionally difficult now that a number of key stars have departed and injuries have consistently cropped up.
City have lost key men but are still favorites
In the opening months of the 2023/24 season, City has shown the signs of a team affected by key departures over the summer. Guardiola’s team lost two out of their opening eight league fixtures including a defeat to Arsenal whom the Spaniard had previously never lost against in the Premier League.
Ilkay Gundogan was the most significant player who left, and Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez were other long-term servants who followed him out of the door. Based on the disappointing defeats so far, the trio have certainly been missed in Manchester.
— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) October 4, 2023
Despite the absence of their former influential men, City are still predicted to retain their domestic crown for a third successive time. In the betting odds on the English Premier League, City are odds-on favorites to win their sixth title in seven years at -138.
However, the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool could be waiting in the wings if City’s blip extends into a lengthy run of poor form.
Guardiola lacks midfield technicians
The Blues have struggled to control games or to find the final pass amidst De Bruyne’s frequent omission from the squad due to injury. The Belgian is crucial to helping the team dictate the tempo of games, as well as often being decisive in the final third.
🇧🇪⚽️ Kevin De Bruyne: “When I’m playing football, everything is good.”
“If you want to call it an obsession, then maybe it is my obsession... quite simply, it is my life.”
“I’m a bit of a different kind of person in that way, I express myself mostly through football. That’s… pic.twitter.com/DLSdUnmq8H
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) October 13, 2023
City are now heavily reliant on their starman to return to fitness as quickly as possible, although he is not expected to return before 2024. Bernardo Silva is the team’s other obvious line-breaking threat, but he has also had his fair share of injury troubles this campaign.
Gundogan was a player who offered City a similar midfield package of being integral to the build-up stage and directly impacting the scoresheet individually before he left for FC Barcelona in the summer. He was also rarely injured and was a player who often compensated for the absence of his high-quality teammates.
City have undoubtedly left themselves short of midfield technicians who can alter proceedings singlehandedly. It was common in 2022/23 for Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, and Gundogan to line up together, but in the current season, Guardiola has been fortunate to include one in his starting eleven.
City made transfer market mistakes that could be costly
The replacements for the outgoing players could evolve into influential personnel on and off the pitch. But City is a team that needs a raise in performance levels immediately.
Guardiola has typically been a manager who opts for overkill rather than risking falling short in the transfer market. However, this time around he may have taken too many risks in replacing experienced stars with developing talents.
Arsenal pushed City all of the way last season, and have maintained their core as well as adding world-class quality in numerous areas. They could be perfectly suited to steal the defending champion’s crown. Liverpool could also spring a surprise following their heavy summer rebuild.
Ultimately, City’s greatest strength has for a long time been their immense depth of midfielders with remarkable technical abilities. But due to key departures and persistent injury issues, their former strength has not frequently been on show this season.
This transitional period could present the perfect opportunity for a rival to strike and finally bring a halt to Guardiola’s Premier League dominance.