As Manchester City head into the new season, we’ll predict how the campaign will go position by position in 2020-21, starting with the defense.
Manchester City’s defense was their Achilles heel in 2019-20 as the team slumped to an 18-point defeat in the Premier League, a quarterfinal exit in the Champions League, and a semi-final defeat in the FA Cup. Some improvements have been made, but all in all, without the arrival of a marquee central defender at this point, huge questions still remain as to whether or not City have what it takes to contend for the league title.
Ederson (GK): Despite all of City’s issues at the back, Ederson managed to win last season’s Premier League Golden Glove. With Alisson fit to start this season unlike 2019, however, I believe it is unlikely Ederson will repeat the feat. Nevertheless, improvement in his decision-making when rushing from goal or playing a pass would be massive, as mistakes are the only thing holding him back from becoming the league’s undisputed best goalkeeper.
Zack Steffen (GK): After returning from a loan spell in the Bundesliga, praise has been high for the young American, who is expected to truly push Ederson and make him earn the number one spot unlike Claudio Bravo did in recent seasons. Steffen will feature mostly in City’s cup runs, but with huge potential is much more than just a dedicated cup goalkeeper.
Kyle Walker (RB): After a stellar season last year, he will look to kick on and continue his hot form. However, age is catching up after Walker turned 30 last May. He will need to perform well at both ends and continue to grow as a defender with City’s backline once again looking like a weakness, but he will be one of the first names on the team sheet.
João Cancelo (RB/LB): Although Walker complicates a starting role at his natural right-back position, he should absolutely be Pep Guardiola’s first-choice left-back this season. He is simply a more gifted footballer than competitors Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko, blessed with pace, dribbling ability, an eye for goal, and recovery speed defensively.
Benjamin Mendy (LB): A massive season for the Frenchman. With Cancelo surpassing Mendy in the pecking order towards the end of last season, it remains to be seen whether or not the injury-prone fullback will retain a regular starting role. He has had consistency issues, but when fit and on form is a weapon going forward.
Oleksandr Zinchenko (LB): After breaking out as a left-back in 2018/19 and featuring regularly throughout City’s domestic treble-winning campaign that year, the Ukranian seriously struggled last season. A natural midfielder, he does not have Mendy’s gifts, but is less injury-prone and more disciplined.
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John Stones (CB): After some transfer speculation, it appears Stones will remain at the Etihad and fight for his place. With huge uncertainty surrounding who will partner Aymeric Laporte, Stones will have the chance to regain his role in Guardiola’s team.
Nicolás Otamendi (CB): With his exit to Porto currently being negotiated, he may not feature for City this season, but the transfer operation appears to be difficult. If he does remain, he should not feature much after an error-prone 2019/20.
Eric García (CB): Another player City are looking to move on this window given his refusal to renew with the club. However, I believe it is much more likely he will remain in Manchester and play regularly than Otamendi, and if he does the 19-year old Spaniard is one of the club’s best defenders.
Fernandinho (CB/CDM): It remains to be seen whether or not Fernandinho will once again feature at the back or return to the rotation in his natural CDM position, but in either case, he should not feature much this year. In midfield, he is an inferior choice to Rodri at this point in his career, and his showing in City’s Champions League exit to Lyon showed better options are available in central defense.
Aymeric Laporte (CB): The club’s star defender will be asked to carry a heavy burden this season. The high-profile partner has yet to arrive, and if City are to truly test Liverpool, it will all come down to Laporte making those around him better as Virgil Van Dijk has done for the Reds. Stones is a much better player with Laporte next to him, and the Frenchman staying fit is simply a must this time around.
Nathan Aké (CB): The status of City’s only new transfer at the back so far remains an enigma. Guardiola has reportedly spoken to him about playing three positions, presumably also including left-back and defensive midfield. As a left-footer, his best role would be as depth for Laporte so the reliance on him is not so heavy, but without a star signing to play on the right side, Aké should be given the first opportunity to play alongside the Frenchman in the starting lineup despite the slightly unnatural fit.