Premier League Transfer Review #13: Manchester City

2017/18 Season

I don’t think anything really needs to be said about Manchester City’s campaign last season. 100 points, 50 home and away, is a ridiculous achievement and thoroughly deserved. They absolutely dominated the xGD table with +1.62 per game, the best xGD in Europe’s top five leagues. Only Bayern Munich had a higher xG for and only Juventus and Napoli had a lower xG against.

City’s press was hugely impressive last season, leading to such great defensive numbers. Using UnderStat, City allowed just 96 deep completions (2.53 per game), the next closest in the Premier League was Liverpool with 148 (3.89 per game). I made a similar point in the Chelsea review, but if you only allow your opposition to complete 2.53 passes within 20 yards of your goal, it’s not surprising to concede so few chances and have such great defensive numbers. City allowed the fewest chances in Europe and the 2nd fewest from within the danger zone.

They built up patiently, being the side in the Premier League with the lowest percentage of passes headed into the final third, but this is nothing new from a Pep Guardiola side. He apparently told his Bayern Munich players to make 15 passes before crossing the half way line to ensure they could get into the correct positional structure to attack.

Listing off the numbers of City’s individual players almost feels redundant, as practically every single player had a great season.

Sergio Aguero had the highest xG + xA p90 in the Premier League, Gabriel Jesus was 3rd and Raheem Sterling 4th. Looking just at midfielders David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne had the 4th and 5th highest xG + xA p90 respectively, though Philippe Coutinho only played 1116 minutes for Liverpool, while Sadio Mane and Son Heung-Min ahead of them could/should be classed as forwards.

This still isn’t taking into account Leroy Sane or Bernardo Silva. Sane hugely outperformed his expected numbers, having a G + A rate of 0.929 p90, but his underlying 0.588 p90 is still impressive, while Bernardo Silva added 0.483 xG + xA p90 in his 1519 minutes played.

In defence John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany occupied the top three spots for attempted vertical passes p90 in the Premier League, although this shouldn’t come as a surprise given City attempted the most vertical passes per game in Europe’s top five leagues.

City find themselves in an interesting position this summer. While they’ve obviously spent huge sums of money, their recruitment has been great since Pep Guardiola has been in charge. They’ve successfully turned one of the oldest squads in the league to one of the youngest, and one that’s perfectly suited to Pep’s football. Having had a perfect league season it seems the focus is to build on this by adding a bit more depth to go all out for all four trophies in 2018/19.

Incoming

City’s only big summer signing was that of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester. Mahrez had another impressive season with Leicester and had been linked with City for a while. City eventually paid Leicester £61m for the 27-year-old winger and he should be a good addition to the side.

A good way to sum up what Mahrez offers is by using the graph I used in my Leicester Window Shopping piece, showing xG + xA p90 as well as attempted take-ons in advanced central areas p90.

Click to Enlarge

Mahrez impresses with his dribbling numbers, bit doesn’t have a huge output. Of course, playing for a dominating City side he should get more opportunities on the ball and there’s every chance he puts forward much higher xG + xA numbers, but I don’t feel all too enthusiastic about this deal.

With Sterling and Sane performing so well, plus having Bernardo Silva, it seems kind of strange to go and spend £60m on a 27-year-old if he either isn’t going to start all the time or hinder the development of someone like Sane.

On the other hand, Pep could view Bernardo as a central option this season, where he started in both the Community Shield and the season opener, and signing another winger could make a lot of sense. Particularly as Mahrez gives Pep a bit more flexibility when it comes to whether he wants to invert his wingers or his full-backs, as Mendy and Sane seem to both want to get to the byline and play cutbacks, having them on the same flank may have some problems. Of course, in the Premier League opener Mahrez and Sterling swapped wings and Mendy alternated between under lapping and guarding the half space and over lapping and supplying width, but the signing of Mahrez does seem to give Pep a lot more options for his wings.

The only question is, given the fee and age of the player, could a better option have been available?

This is where I start to think the deal is alright. Looking at the above graph you’ve got older Serie A options like Dries Mertens  and Papu Gomez, though I don’t know if they’d be available. A much younger option could have been to try for Ousmane Dembele from Barcelona (who I also talked about in the Chelsea review), who seems to be linked with a move away but I’m not sure if he’d actually be available.

Wilfred Zaha from Crystal Palace also put forward better numbers than Mahrez in the above graph, although given that was his first year with this kind of production and it came from a central role he may not have been a better option.

This is why I come around to the Mahrez deal. He’s incredibly gifted, has put forward strong numbers on a fairly average team and seems as though he’ll fit right in. I think City could have probably found better value, but City seem as though they don’t mind paying a big fee if they’re getting the player they want – as opposed to scouring the market for the best value.

The only other signing for the champions was Philippe Sandler from PEC Zwolle. I know nothing about Sandler, but he popped up quite a lot in ‘Trying to Find Midfielders‘ with some good progressive passing numbers, although he mostly played centre-back last season, so I’m quite excited to see how he gets on at City.

Outgoing

Selling back-up ‘keepers Angus Gunn and Joe Hart for a combined ~£15m is a good move by City. I don’t know how Gunn got on at Norwich, but Liverpool selling one of their back-up ‘keepers for £10m and City selling one around the same feels incredibly strange.

Conclusion

Should they have done any more business?

I think it would have been nice to see City sign another #6. They seemed to have their hearts set on Jorginho, who followed Sarri to Chelsea, but with Fernandinho 33-years-old it feels like it would have been a good move to get a younger option in. Having said that, if Bernardo is viewed as a more central option and Mendy stays fit, that gives them Gundogan or Delph who can play as a #6, while also having De Bruyne, Silva, Bernardo, Gundogan/Delph, Zinchenko and Foden for #8 spots.

I mentioned this in my piece about Jorginho and I keep on mentioning Lucas Torreira, but Torreira had the 2nd most similar pass style to Fernandinho last season and could have been a great signing from City. At just 21-years-old he could have spent the remaining two years on Fernandinho’s deal rotating with him, before taking it over as his own when he’s two years older.

There’s also players like Rodri from Villarreal (who went to Atletico), Stanislav Lobotka from Celta or Julian Weigl from Dortmund who could have been worth looking into.

Apart from that City are pretty stacked with the options they have, making it surprising not see more outgoings. Eliaquim Mangala is probably the main one who could have been moved on (and still could be to a European club).

Verdict

City haven’t had a particularly busy window, but after their past couple of windows they didn’t really need to. They possess a great squad with lots of players at good ages and only the odd signing here or there is required for the next few windows. The addition of Mahrez and, to pull out the old cliche, having Benjamin Mendy feel like a new signing, should be a boost to them and everyone seems to expect them to win the title again. With how dominant they were last season, it would be very surprising for them not to win the title and it feels as though rather than asking ‘will they win it again?’ the question is more ‘will they win it as comfortably as last season?’.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

All transfer fees from TransferMarkt.

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