Monday 20 November 2017

Pep Guardiola targeting six stars as he plans summer clearout at Manchester City

Bertrand among several targets as City boss targets squad overhaul

James Ducker and Matt Law

Pep Guardiola is planning to rip up his Manchester City squad and bring in as many as six new players, with Ryan Bertrand emerging as a surprise summer target.

The City manager threw in the towel in the title race on Sunday after his side's season hit a new low with a 4-0 defeat at Everton that left them 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and again highlighted the deficiencies in the squad Guardiola inherited last summer.

The defence is the biggest concern and City could even try to address some of the problems in the final two weeks of this month's transfer window, with Guardiola keen to make additions, before carrying out major surgery in the summer.

Guardiola is understood to want two new full-backs, two central defenders, a midfielder and another forward on top of Gabriel Jesus, who is still waiting to be formally registered following his £27m move from Palmeiras.

City may also move for another goalkeeper with Willy Caballero out of contract in the summer, although it remains to be seen if the manager seeks another back-up to Claudio Bravo or considers moving for a new No 1 given the Chilean's struggles.

It is possible City could attempt a double swoop on Southampton at the end of the season, with centre-half Virgil van Dijk already on their radar and left-back Bertrand highly rated by the club.

Pep Guardiola is facing mounting problems with Manchester City struggling to find their best form Picture: Reuters
Pep Guardiola is facing mounting problems with Manchester City struggling to find their best form Picture: Reuters

Bertrand would fill a homegrown player slot for City and has already proved he can maraud up and down the flank, as Guardiola demands from his full-backs.

The 27-year-old joined Southampton from Chelsea and has matured into one of the best left-backs in the country along with Danny Rose, who Tottenham Hotspur will not sell, despite Guardiola being an admirer of him and fellow Spurs full-back Kyle Walker.

Bertrand signed a five-year contract with Southampton last summer, so City would have to pay big money to get him and there is no prospect of him moving this month.

Read More: Guardiola under pressure as sorry Manchester City are hammered by rampant Everton

City are busy identifying targets for Guardiola's planned overhaul and the club retain a strong interest in Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but will face stiff competition for the Gabon international, who scored the opening goal of the Africa Cup of Nations this week and has 20 goals in 22 matches for his club this season.

Real Madrid are also chasing Aubameyang, who, according to reports in Germany yesterday, Dortmund will not countenance selling for less than €70m (£61.6m).

"For now I'm very happy at Dortmund," Aubameyang said. "I've had enough of talking about it but this is not the right moment for me to join a club such as Real Madrid."

City are also among the clubs taking a keen interest in whether Alexis Sánchez, who Guardiola managed at Barcelona, signs a new contract at Arsenal. The Chile forward has 18 months left on his deal at the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal have been locked in transfer negotiations in a attempt to keep him.

Despite criticism over his performances, Guardiola retains faith in John Stones - who endured another torrid day on his first return to Goodison Park since his £47.5m move last summer - but wants two new central defenders to help ease some of the pressure on him and provide greater depth in the position.

Vincent Kompany has perennial injury problems and Nicolas Otamendi's poor form has shown no signs of improving. Guardiola tried and failed to sign a second centre-half last summer, in addition to Stones, but Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte turned down a move to the Etihad.

Guardiola's transfer plans could be impacted by whether City qualify for next season's Champions League, with the club one place and two points outside the top four, although they managed to entice the likes of Yaya Touré and David Silva without Champions League football to offer in 2010. City face an in-form Spurs at the Etihad on Saturday evening.

As part of the planned squad overhaul, a dozen or more player could depart in the summer. In addition to Caballero, full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gaël Clichy and Bacary Sagna, midfielder Touré and winger Jesus Navas are all out of contract. Aleksandar Kolarov has 18 months left on his deal.

City will listen to offers for goalkeeper Joe Hart, centre-half Eliaquim Mangala, midfielder Samir Nasri and striker Wilfried Bony, all of whom are on loan. Kompany and midfielder Fabian Delph also face uncertain futures.

Despite Guardiola's doubts, Touré is refusing to concede defeat in the title race and is adamant there is not a lack of team spirit at the club.

"I think in the Premier League everything is possible. In football you have to be positive. I am a positive guy," he said. "It is tough sometimes but you have to accept that and continue to work hard, and we will have the chance. We just have to win a couple of games and everything will come back again.

"On Saturday we have an important game. We have to keep going. It is a difficult situation but what we have to do is work hard and try to bounce back.

"The league is still long. We have to try to do the business on Saturday and then we are coming back again.

"When you see over the game it is difficult to take because we were more unlucky than lucky - all the rebounds, the ball always missing when coming back to you.

"But that is football, we have to understand that. It can happen. When you see all the game I don't think we played badly. If you look at the result, 4-0, it means we played badly - but we didn't play so badly. We were unlucky from my point of view."

Asked if the players were feeling low, he said: "Low? No. Of course nobody wants to lose this kind of game, and after the way we lost like that nobody wants to talk.

"But I don't think we lack spirit. The guys were there. Sometimes football is unfair. I think it was a consequence of bad luck, what came. We have to try to be positive for the next game and look forward." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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