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Man City transfer priorities made clear by Champions League final defeat

Pep Guardiola was in no mood to discuss what he needs to do to improve Manchester City for the challenges ahead.

“I am not clever enough to think about next season. We have to learn from this, but the season was exceptional,” he said, in the traumatic aftermath of defeat by Chelsea in the Champions League final, when asked if the transfer market was the only means by which his brilliant team can get better.

He was right, and despite a poor showing in the game – partly down to the manager’s selection going badly wrong, partly because Chelsea were excellent and City below-par – he is right to take solace in another magnificent season.

Winning the league by a country mile, in a tough season, picking up the Carabao Cup along the way, and battling their way to the first Champions League final in their history is, as Guardiola said, exceptional.

But the manager himself is restless in search of unachievable perfection, and so is the club, and work to improve City for next season, and make another serious assault on the European summit, is already underway.

After taking a £126million hit due to the effects of the pandemic, the Blues cannot be too rampant in the transfer market – and they do not need to be.

They are at the stage where quality tweaks are the necessity, rather than overhauls. This is essentially a young squad and a very strong one.

But Chelsea did more than just snatch the coveted trophy from under City noses. They were good enough to suggest that, under Thomas Tuchel, they will be a real force in the Premier League next season, as they harvest the fruit from their own heavy investment.

Liverpool are also likely to come good again after a season of aberration, while Manchester United, given a couple of key signings, could also test City’s dominance next time round.

None of this is lost on the City hierarchy, but the resources are limited and need to be piled into the right areas.

In an ideal world, City would strengthen in four positions but, given the financial constraints, that is not likely to happen, unless they pull off a blinding deal or two.

What positions do you think need strengthening? Have your say in our comments section here

So what are the key areas of the field in which City need to improve?

LEFT BACK

The issue on the left of defence seems to have been around since City were founded in 1894, but it has come to a head this season.

Aleks Zinchenko has been excellent in many ways, improving hugely in the defensive side of his game while adding great technical quality whether adding to the left side of attack or inverting to work with the midfield.

But he was exposed for Chelsea’s goal, failing to track Kai Havertz’s run, as both John Stones and Ruben Dias were dragged out of position by Chelsea’s smart build-up.

A more athletic left back – a left-sided version of Kyle Walker, say – would have chased Havertz down.



Manchester City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko during the Champions League final against Chelsea.
Manchester City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko during the Champions League final against Chelsea.

Benjamin Mendy looked like that player when he first arrived at City, quick, powerful and with a wicked left foot, but he has since shown a tendency to lapse in focus, and – maybe due to the successive injuries he has suffered – does not look to be as much of a physical force.

Finding a left back who can play to Zinchenko’s level but also has the pace and strength to snuff danger, is not easy.

Chelsea have found one. Ben Chilwell was excellent in the final, completely snuffing out Riyad Mahrez, playing a cute tactical role in exposing City’s right – which led directly to the goal – and also having the pace to cope with Kyle Walker’s frenetic, and increasingly desperate, bursts.

HOLDING MIDFIELD

Fernandinho is yet to announce whether he will stay, but at the age of 36, even if he signs for another year, it would be a stop-gap that will need proper repair eventually.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel was surprised that the canny Brazilian was not in City’s starting line-up in Porto, as was just about everyone else on the planet.

He has set the standard, one which Rodri – who has been very good in patches – has not yet reached.

N’Golo Kante’s supreme performance for Chelsea underlined the difference between having a world-class, all-round defensive midfielder, and not having one.

With Fernandinho left to chew his lip on the bench, Ilkay Gundogan was entrusted with the role, one he has played many times for City, for Borussia Dortmund and Germany.

But Gundogan’s qualities are best employed further up the field, as his goalscoring exploits this season show. Guardiola’s commitment to attack is laudable and fits nicely with City’s tradition, but sometimes you need a little security, a streetwise operator like Kante, or indeed Fernandinho, in order to succeed.

Gundogan is a good option when City are sure of dominating possession, but is exposed against better teams, as Chelsea brutally showed.

Whether they can find one to fit within their budget, or whether Fernandinho takes another year to delay the issue, remains to be seen.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD

It sounds a little spoilt, but when you assess City’s squad, they do not have two players in every position, which is staple for every top squad these days.

In terms of attacking midfielders, they have Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, although Phil Foden’s flexibility means the absence of a fourth is barely noticeable.

That has fuelled the unsubstantiated rumours that the Blues are chasing Jack Grealish, who could play the role, even though he tends to operate down the left for Aston Villa.



With the highly promising Cole Palmer expected to have greater first-team squad involvement next season after a stellar season at under-23 level, City could certainly live, and thrive, without a replenishment in this area.

STRIKER

The sight of Sergio Aguero in tears on the pitch at the Estadio Do Dragao was a dreadful one for all City fans – not the fairytale finish they wanted for him.

But now begins the task of replacing the legend, and this is clearly City’s priority now.

The Blues have trampled all over traditional English football thinking by being hugely successful this season without a regular striking option – Aguero has been injured for most of it, and Gabriel Jesus has been in and out as his form dictates.

But there have been moments, and the Champions League final was one of them, when the lack of a striker has hurt them.

Crosses to the near post that found no instinctive runner. Balls up to the focal point of attack that found no chest control, protective muscle and lay-off. High crosses that fizzed over the heads of Jesus, Aguero, Foden, Bernardo or De Bruyne.

The spotlight has switched from 20-year-old prodigy Erling Haaland, priced out of it by Borussia Dortmund, to Harry Kane.

It is easy to imagine Kane making a difference in Porto.

He has the traditional English centre forward’s knack of getting on the end of things, in the air and on the deck, and he ruffles feathers. Toni Rudiger and Andreas Christensen were comfortable with De Bruyne, Foden, Bernardo and Co busily buzzing around trying to play through them.

A player like Kane or Halland would knock them around, give you an aerial option, demand attention from the defence and then bring other players into the game.