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Manchester City: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

Manchester City became the first team to defend the Premier League title in a decade last season as they completed a domestic treble. Now Pep Guardiola is out to create a sky blue dynasty in his fourth season at the helm.

Last season's Premier League finish: 1st - (W32 D2 L4 - F95 A23 - Pts 98)

Last season's top scorer: Sergio Aguero - 21 (32 in all competitions)

To win the league*: 4/6

First five fixtures: West Ham (A), Tottenham (H), Bournemouth (A), Brighton (H), Norwich (A)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 1st

Predicted finish by The Script: 1st

Transfers in: Rodri - Atletico Madrid (£63m), Joao Cancelo - Juventus (£60m), Angelino - PSV Eindhoven (£5.3m), Zach Steffen - Columbus Crew (£7m), Pedro Porro - Girona (£11m)

Transfers out: Danilo - Juventus (£32m), Douglas Luiz - Aston Villa (£15m), Fabian Delph - Everton (£8.5m), Pablo Mari - Flamengo (£1.5m), Vincent Kompany - Anderlecht (free), Taylor Richards - Brighton (£2.5m), Thierry Ambrose - Metz (£2.3m), Manu Garcia - Sporting Gijon (£3.6m), Anthony Caceres - Sydney FC (free), Luke Brattan - Sydney FC (free), Tom Dele-Bashiru - Watford (free), Arijanet Muric - Nottingham Forest (loan), Zach Steffen - Fortuna Dusseldorf (loan), Philippe Sandler - Anderlecht (loan), Patrick Roberts - Norwich (loan), Ante Palaversa - KV Oostende (loan), Jack Harrison - Leeds (loan), Matt Smith - QPR (loan), Paolo Fernandes - Perugia (loan), Yangel Herrera - Granada (loan), Tosin Adarabioyo - Blackburn (loan), Marlos Moreno - Portimonense (loan), Erik Palmer-Brown - Austria Vienna (loan), Lukas Nmecha - Wolfsburg (loan), Pedro Porro - Real Valladoid (loan)

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Arsenal | Aston Villa | Bournemouth | Brighton | Burnley | Chelsea | Crystal Palace | Everton | Leicester | Liverpool | Man Utd | Newcastle | Norwich | Sheff Utd | Southampton | Tottenham | Watford | West Ham | Wolves

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Reasons to be optimistic

Where do we start? Manchester City are the first team in history to win an English domestic treble, the first to defend the title since 2009 and are being hailed by pundits as the greatest side the Premier League has ever seen.

Having set a record of 18 consecutive Premier League victories in 2017/18, City won their final 14 to hold off the challenge of Liverpool and win the title. After a record 100-point tally the previous season, Pep Guardiola’s men totalled 98 in 2018/19. The 106 goals scored was followed up by a further 95.

What’s most frightening for City’s rivals is the manner in which they have won. Guardiola’s men approach matches with a machine-like precision that gives them the maximum possible chance of victory. The vast majority of the time, it works.

City averaged 68.1% possession in 2018/19, almost five percentage points above Chelsea. They led the way with 26,576 total passes, 1,500 more than any other side, all achieved with the most accuracy in the division. Of the top 20 passers in the division, five were City players.

Monopolising the ball starves the opposition of opportunities. City conceded just 238 shots last season while firing in 683 of their own. Matches, particularly at home against weaker opposition, regularly resemble a training-ground drill, with City camped out in the final third.

When City did come under pressure from a brilliant Liverpool side, they responded by relentlessly hunting down Jurgen Klopp’s men, who were top of the tree at Christmas.

City already boasted two quality players in almost every position but have strengthened even further with the arrival of Rodri from Atletico Madrid. the Spaniard looks to be an eventual long-term replacement for the 34-year-old Fernandinho and is yet another outstanding passer in the engine room alongside Ilkay Gundogan.

The rich just got richer.

 

Reasons to be fearful​

Guardiola has won three consecutive titles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the past. There’s little to suggest he can’t repeat the trick in England with easily the strongest squad in the division.

But even a team as dominant as City have chinks in their armour. A run of three defeats in four matches in December almost gifted the title to Liverpool. It was only for the Reds’ own bad patch – four draws in six – that Guardiola’s men were allowed to clamber back on top.

Left-back remains the problem position. Benjamin Mendy’s two seasons in Manchester have been plagued by injuries and Guardiola has shown an unwillingness to trust the £52m signing from Monaco. Fabian Delph, who deputised for Mendy, has been sold to Everton.

Oleksandr Zinchenko has filled in admirably but is not a natural defender and the Ukrainian is deployed more centrally than Kyle Walker on the right in an asymmetric formation. It’s a system that works effectively going forward but can cause problems when City don’t have the ball. Admittedly that’s not a lot of the time.

A more orthodox left-back, Angelino, has been brought back to the club a year after being sold to PSV but it would be a major surprise if the young Spaniard is capable of providing an immediate solution.

City’s biggest enemy will be themselves. Guardiola has proven he can maintain his squad’s hunger for trophies but after ending the campaign with 14 straight victories, including a superlative performance in the 6-0 destruction of Chelsea, the Spaniard must ensure complacency does not creep in. As the coach himself admitted after winning the title, Liverpool’s pressure helped push City to new heights.

Guardiola knows that Sheikh Mansour’s ultimate ambition is to win the Champions League at City. It’s the reason the club have filled senior positions with ex-Barcelona executives and the reason Guardiola was brought to the Etihad in the first place.

“I was judged in Munich [for not winning the Champions League] so I will be judged here as well,” Guardiola himself admitted in March. His task will be to maintain focus in all competitions and to ensure the pursuit of continental glory does not come at the expense of domestic duties.

Key man: Raheem Sterling

A team as brilliant as Manchester City are never reliant on just one player to produce, which probably damaged Sterling’s case for last season's PFA Players’ Player of the Year (though he did scoop the FWA Footballer of the Year gong).

Aside from Sterling, City still have an embarrassment of riches. Bernardo Silva, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Ederson, David Silva, Aymeric Laporte… the Citizens have a squad filled with players who would all be the key man in the majority of Premier League sides.

But with 17 goals, ten assists and 66 chances created for City in the league last season, Sterling’s importance to Guardiola’s side is undeniable. In each of the last 27 games Sterling has scored, City have won.

Under Guardiola, Sterling has developed into an all-round attacking threat. The ex-Liverpool man finished in the top five in the league for most dribbles, chances created and touches in the opposition area in 2018/19.

Despite scoring a brace in City’s FA Cup final mauling of Watford, the cameras spotted Guardiola giving Sterling a coaching lecture as the confetti rained down. At 24 years old, there’s still so much more to come.

The manager: Pep Guardiola

After becoming the first coach since Sir Alex Ferguson to win back-to-back Premier League titles and the first ever to claim a domestic treble, public perception of Guardiola has swung decisively from ‘bald fraud’ to ‘genius’. He built dynasties in Spain and Germany and construction of a third in England is now well underway.

The lazy knock of Guardiola’s achievements is that his success is dependent on huge backing in the transfer market - that he’s a ‘chequebook manager’. But that criticism ignores how impactful a coach Guardiola is, evident in the huge improvements made by Sterling and Aguero under his tutelage.

His legacy will be about more than 'just' winning - Guardiola has been at the forefront of altering how Premier League teams want to play.

As well as finishing top in the goals scored, passes completed and possession categories, City finished bottom in terms of tackles with just 518. Guardiola famously garnered ridicule after arriving at City for insisting he “didn’t train tackles” - it’s just one of the many examples of how he has changed perceptions in English football.

His stock could hardly be higher among the supporters and with an infrastructure as strong as City’s and a coach as good as Guardiola, City look set to rule the roost for as long as the Spaniard stays in charge.

Fans' view - Freddie Pye - City Xtra

"The fans are expecting more of the same. Since Pep has come in the expectation is create a dynasty and now we have the chance to go and win three in a row. He’s changed the way the club is perceived and now the fans aren’t just accepting success, they are expecting it.

"That’s especially true with the younger fans. Gone are the days where we savour every success for ages. Now each success is just another recent trophy in the cabinet.

"We want to replicate the long-term dominance of United under Ferguson and win eight titles in ten seasons - that’s a goal of the owners. The back-to-back title win last season was the start of something.

"It seems like the Champions League is a priority for the owners but the fans want to prioritise the league because of the recent rivalry with Liverpool. They will be the closest challengers to us again but it won’t be as close this time, it won’t be a point.

"I don’t agree with the football fans who say the way we dominate play isn’t good for the game. Pep’s possession-based style is where the game is going and it’s proven by our success and the success of Barcelona before us. Everyone is trying to replicate it now but no other side comes close.

"This season I’d like to see him implement Phil Foden a bit more. Pep should hand him a run of games against mid-table sides because he showed against Tottenham last season that he’s earned it."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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