If Raheem Sterling or Gabriel Jesus leave Manchester City, it will be a disappointment but nothing the club can overcome given their strength in depth in attack.
If Bernardo Silva leaves, however, City may find their Portuguese playmaker more difficult to cover. Barcelona did not hide their interest in Bernardo as Pep Guardiola appeared at the Nou Camp on Monday alongside Barca president Joan Laporta, and Guardiola did not exactly rule out Bernardo leaving.
Should Bernardo depart, it would leave a big hole in a midfield department that is already thinner after Fernandinho’s departure. So maybe a subtle change in formation could help City adapt going forwards.
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It’s understandable if Bernardo still feels homesick or not entirely comfortable in Manchester, after he was open about his struggles during lockdown over the past year. So while Guardiola said he expects to keep the midfielder, he was careful not to declare Bernardo would definitely remain at City, saying he does not know what will happen.
Without Bernardo, City’s midfield would consist of Rodri at the base, Kevin De Bruyne, and Ilkay Gundogan in the center. That’s a title-winning combination, but with another busy season, plus a World Cup in the middle of it, all three can’t be asked to play every minute of every game.
There’s talk of a new defensive midfielder arriving, possibly Kalvin Phillips, but this is a position that took Rodri a year or two to truly master, so any new signing must be given time, too. Jack Grealish and Phil Foden could drop back into the middle if needed, although perhaps a central attacking midfield role would suit them more and help ease the load on the other three midfielders.
For the last few seasons, City have played with a holding midfielder, two central midfielders infront of him, two wingers, and a player through the middle. All players know their roles and the amount of titles won proves it effective – even when City have spent most of the last two seasons without a recognized striker.
Now, though, maybe a small tweak could be needed to help the new dynamic in the squad for the coming season, after two central strikers arrived and two midfielders could depart in Fernandinho and Bernardo.
The phrase ‘double pivot’ often strikes fear into City fans, so they would have to trust that these players have learned enough tactically to play with a midfield two. It would be a combination like Rodri on one side, with De Bruyne alongside given freedom to push up. Gundogan has the quality to substitute for either the more defensive or attacking of a midfield pair.
Then, Grealish or Foden would act as an attacking midfielder in a central role that both could thrive in, or City could even throw caution to the wind and play both Alvarez and Haaland upfront together.
It’s a formation that could adapt back to the usual 4-1-2-2-1 shape City are used to, but also allow for the three existing midfielders to get sufficient rest. Any new addition would also be able to adapt, while City’s use of inverted full-backs would also help provide cover if an extra defensive-minded body in midfield was lost.
Guardiola is known for his tactical innovations to keep a winning side motivated and refreshed. His hand may be forced if Bernardo was to leave, but there’s no reason the players he has collected so far wouldn’t be able to operate in a slightly different shape this season.