£448m. That’s the preposterous amount Pep Guardiola has spent since assuming the Manchester City controls in July 2016. Plus, he inherited a squad containing Kevin De Bruyne (£54.5m), Raheem Sterling (£49m), Sergio Aguero (£35m), Nicolas Otamendi (£33m), Fernandinho (£30m) and David Silva (£24m) – all mainstays of his first-choice XI.
That outlay has City on the cusp of wrestling the records from Chelsea for most points (95 in 2004/05) and goals (103 in 2009/10) in a Premier League season. Yet such a splurge demands more – specifically Champions League glory – and the Citizens were humbled 5-1 on aggregate by Liverpool in this year’s quarter-finals.
So how can Pep improve such a vaunted playing staff? These are five realistic signings that would make City the best team on the planet, the players those new arrivals might push out – and five reported targets they should avoid.
It's looking increasingly likely that Alderweireld will be leaving Tottenham this summer. The Belgian is Spurs' best defender, and comfortably among the finest in the Premier League, but contract talks between player and club broke down at the beginning of the year and don't look like ending amicably. Understandably, Alderweireld wants a healthy increase on his £50k-per-week salary in north London, and knows he'd get it elsewhere at one of Europe's top clubs.
Spurs have the option of extending his current deal by a year to 2020, but that would then activate a buyout clause of £25m in his contract which means he could leave for that knockdown price if another club offers it before the final two weeks of the 2019 summer window. Time to cash in this summer, then? Most likely.
Alderweireld ticks plenty of boxes for Guardiola: he's proven in the Premier League, has improved under a like-minded manager in Mauricio Pochettino, and is seemingly as adept with his feet as he is defensively.
City, for all the possession they’ve enjoyed this term, have conceded too many goals. They need a defender who can defend – and is there anyone better at that than Azpilicueta?
“He’s as near to perfect as possible when it comes to defending – he's immaculate," said Gary Neville of the former Marseille man. Mo Salah has called the Spaniard “the toughest player to get past I’ve ever come up against”.
Azpilicueta, who's surprisingly good in the air considering his height (5ft 10in), can play centre-back in a two or as part of a three, or either side as a full-back. The 28-year-old’s ability on the ball is a bonus – a sizeable one given Guardiola’s passing strategy – and he would be a sizeable upgrade on Vincent Kompany, who isn't the force he once was.
Tottenham lost Kyle Walker nine months ago when they’d just finished eight points clear of third-placed City and secured Champions League football. Things could get uncomfortable for Chelsea if Guardiola starts rattling the Stamford Bridge gates.
Alaba should be high on Manchester City’s wanted list, for multiple reasons. Many players get saluted as versatile, but there’s a difference between being able to get by in different positions and excelling in them. “He seems to have played everywhere except goalkeeper,” said Jupp Heynckes of his Bayern Munich pupil, who has shone brightest as a left-wing-back, defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder (where he performs for Austria).
City wouldn't mind another top-class left-wing-back to compete with Benjamin Mendy, and are short of central midfielders (consider that Yaya Toure will leave this summer too). Guardiola was rich in his praise for Alaba while in charge at Bayern, and his system at the Etihad would be ideal for a 25-year-old renowned for his superb control, passing and speed.
While Kevin De Bruyne reigns supreme when it comes to right-footed free-kicks, City would be getting one of the best left-footed set-piece takers on the planet.
While it’s been a comparative cakewalk for De Bruyne, Silva, Leroy Sané and Sterling playing in a side where it’s impossible to single out one man to double up on, Hazard is the most heavily-patrolled playmaker in the Premier League.
Stick him in a sky-blue shirt and he’d surely run riot. In must-win matches, when opponents are protecting a lead by packing their penalty area, the Belgian's sorcery in seemingly non-existent spaces would be a huge asset. Although it's partly his fault, the 27-year-old surely won't fancy a season without Champions League football at Chelsea next season.
Aguero probably has a year left at City – his contract expires in summer 2019, and he's made no secret of his plans to return to Independiente at that point. And while City have the ideal long-term replacement for him in Gabriel Jesus, that's all they have – Guardiola was able to flick between the pair last season to great effect, and will need someone to replace the elder hitman soon.
Step forward Werner, then, the upwardly mobile RB Leipzig and Germany striker who will inevitably leave his current club at some point in the not-too-distant future – for the right price, of course. The 22-year-old has been a Bundesliga regular since he was 17 and is already his country's first-choice striker who will spearhead them at the World Cup this summer.
Twenty-one goals in 2016/17 helped fire Leipzig into the Champions League following promotion from the 2. Bundesliga, and though this campaign has been quieter for the young striker, his future is bright indeed. "Playing in the Premier League is a dream for me," he told FourFourTwo in April. "I would like to play for two or three clubs, and Manchester United are one of those."
If anyone can convince him otherwise, though...
5 players City should avoid...
- Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich): Massively injury-prone and though he’s very good on his day, the 27-year-old isn’t on the level of Isco, who would make a fantastic signing for City.
- Jonny Evans (West Brom): Nobody used to rave about him until Pep Guardiola decided he rated the Northern Ireland centre-back. Suddenly, every big club in England seemed to want him. Yet Evans is slow and not good enough for a team with title aspirations.
- Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid): A very good forward, but a very pricey option who isn't better than Aguero and arguably isn't good enough to take City to the next level. If the English champions do sign a striker soon, Harry Kane or Robert Lewandowski have to be higher on the list.
- Sergio Busquets (Barcelona): The 29-year-old is good at doing the simple things, but Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Weigl is a better, younger version.
- Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace): Another fine player, but he may not be quite good enough for City.
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