More pressure will be put on Manchester City’s players next season than ever before, with a Premier League title to defend, two domestic trophies to compete for, a Champions League to win and the small matter of a World Cup right in the middle of the season .
If City reach the finals of all three competitions, and any members of the squad reach the World Cup semi-finals, they would play at least 78 games in 11 months. As Gareth Bale pointed out, between now and the 2023 Champions League final, these players will get just three weeks off in a year – the next three weeks coming up.
So while City built their success this season on a smaller-than-usual squad, they may be tempted to share the minutes around next season so their players don’t get burned out. It helps, then, that they are closing in on two top-quality starting XIs to rotate in the next 12 months.
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Starting with City’s ‘first choice’ line-up, Ederson is an easy choice in goal. Kyle Walker remains the top right-back, despite Joao Cancelo’s brilliance on both sides, while this line-up can take two of City’s four center-backs as their pairing at the back. For argument’s sake, and the balance of having a left-footer in the defense, this can be Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte.
In order to have a strong right-back in the ‘second team’, Oleksandr Zinchenko completes the backline, with Rodri a sure-fire pick in defensive midfield.
Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva are a solid midfield pairing and will be hard to unseat in the big games, while new striker Erling Haaland must be City’s leading man through the middle in front of them. Like the defenders, there are four or five brilliant wide options. For the purposes of this exercise, PFA Young Player of the Year Phil Foden can line up on the left, with last year’s top scorer Riyad Mahrez on the right to complete a formidable XI.
Starting XI One: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko; Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo; Mahrez, Haaland, Foden
Then we get to the next starting XI of players more than capable of playing plenty of games under Pep Guardiola next season.
Zack Steffen will remain the second-choice goalkeeper, with Cancelo giving some quality to the right. John Stones and Nathan Ake provide the balance the manager likes from his center-backs, with left-back the first big gap we encounter for these two sides.
Josh Wilson-Esbrand played for the first team last season, or Ake could move over with Luke Mbete stepping up from the academy. Alternatively, a new left-back could arrive in the transfer market to push Cancelo and Zinchenko.
Likewise, Romeo Lavia is the next natural defensive midfielder after Rodri now Fernandinho has gone, although fans would not complain if a backup option was signed in that position. If Lavia got more senior minutes, though, he’s shown his quality for the academy and could surprise a few next year.
Ilkay Gundogan could drop back at times, but would also fancy his chances of his preferred central midfield role and will be a leader in this second team. To fit him in, Jack Grealish could partner him and has played centrally before moving to City.
Up top, Julian Alvarez would be the central striker to support Haaland, with Gabriel Jesus on the right and Raheem Sterling on the left. Both wingers have been linked with exits, although the fixture congestion could see them getting more games than they may have done next season in a normal campaign.
Starting XI Two: Steffen; Cancelo, Stones, Ake, Wilson-Esbrand (or new left-back); Lavia (or new midfielder), Grealish, Gundogan; Jesus, Alvarez, Sterling
Guardiola could also call upon Cole Palmer, James McAtee, Liam Delap, Sam Edozie and other academy prospects if needed, supporting the idea that City have at least 20 solid options to cover the huge amount of games they will have to consider in the next 12 months.
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