Saturday 25 May 2019

Europe the next frontier for rampant City - but Guardiola won't sacrifice domestic title


Perhaps their best shot at a quadruple has passed but the best squad in Europe is only about
to get stronger. Photo: Getty Images
Perhaps their best shot at a quadruple has passed but the best squad in Europe is only about to get stronger. Photo: Getty Images

James Ducker

It seems an awfully long time ago now that there were people wondering if Pep Guardiola's methods would work in the Premier League.

He has taken just about the biggest axe imaginable to that theory, wowing and entertaining us not only with the beauty and majesty of Manchester City's football but the relentless consistency of the whole operation. It has been like the best of Manchester United and Arsenal under Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger spliced with Jose Mourinho's Chelsea and then some.

Even as he celebrated another title and another scarcely fathomable points total, it seemed fair to ask of a man who is constantly striving for better, for more - what next for this serial winner and footballing deity? What next for his rampant City machine?

The immediate target, naturally, is to become the first club in English football history to win a domestic treble, and few would bet against City completing that job against Watford in the FA Cup final on Saturday. But beyond that?

The first thought that jumps out, of course, is winning the Champions League. It is a task that has confounded Guardiola since 2011, when he won the trophy for the second time with Barcelona, and it is a title coveted by his paymasters at the Etihad Stadium. Can City translate domestic dominance into European glory?

It is a question certain to be asked on repeat next season as this wrecking ball of a team seek to break new ground. Although City were eliminated, for the second successive season at the quarter-final stage and have watched their conquerors, Tottenham, go on to an all-English final against Liverpool, there is a strong case to argue that Guardiola's side and their Merseyside rivals are the continent's two best teams at present.

It is certainly hard to escape the feeling that City have punched well below their considerable weight in the Champions League and it is one of those great curiosities that a man who gets it so right week in, week out domestically has suffered as many personnel and tactical aberrations in Europe as he has in recent seasons.

Will he prioritise the Champions League? Do not bet on it. The prospect of becoming the first manager since Ferguson to win three successive Premier League titles and usher in a period of total dominance is sure to resonate with Guardiola; he won't compromise the pursuit of the league title to go full tilt for Europe, but he will eye another tilt at an unprecedented quadruple.

With the way the draws opened up for City this season, perhaps their best shot at a quadruple has passed but the best squad in Europe is only about to get stronger.

Rodri, the Atletico Madrid midfielder who has been touted as Spain's next Sergio Busquets, could come in as a long-term successor to Fernandinho, and Guardiola is also in the market for a centre-half, forward and possibly a left-back.

There is the threat of a transfer ban from Fifa for alleged irregularities relating to the signing of players under 18 from overseas hanging over the club.

But, if City remain clear to buy this summer and can reinforce a few key areas, the age profile and appetite of the squad is such that a two-window transfer ban would likely have little impact.

A bigger spanner in the works would be the prospect of disqualification from the Champions League for a season as Uefa continues to investigate allegations of financial doping but City are confident they have not broken any rules and their finances and activities are above board.

Some sort of renewal of the squad will be required; it will be interesting to see how Guardiola handles the process of phasing out David Silva to accommodate Phil Foden alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. That process was accelerated in the final weeks of this season, with Foden starting several big games.

Foden is England's brightest talent for a generation and Guardiola knows as much. "Pep's lad", as City's players affectionately call Foden, who turns 19 this month, has all the tools to become the sort of player that teams are built around. Guardiola has already said he has not come across many Fodens before.

"We will be better," Guardiola has said of City next season. And you have to believe him. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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