In the latest edition of his weekly City Xtra column, Amos Murphy addresses the false claims that Manchester City have two top-quality players in each position.
Let’s be honest, it was the best moment of Sunday’s 5-0 victory over Huddersfield Town. No, not YouTube sensation FG being compared to Josko Gvardiol on the big screens at half-time, but rather Kevin De Bruyne making his long-awaited return to first-team action.
Having been out of the side since the beginning of August, there was understandable anticipation in the air when the Belgian took to the pitch, and in true Kevin De Bruyne fashion, it took just 17 minutes for him to pop up with an assist.
But beyond the obvious benefits of De Bruyne returning to action, it also represents a step towards Pep Guardiola having a full squad of players to pick from. While Erling Haaland and John Stones are still out injured, Sunday’s FA Cup third-round tie was the first time in a long time Guardiola had genuine depth across both the starting 11 and the substitutes bench.
This is, of course, by design though. It’s no secret that Pep Guardiola favours a tight-nit approach to building squads, opting to keep numbers on the smaller side to avoid disruption behind the scenes and in the dressing room.
It was a theory put into practice 12 months ago, when one-time star player Joao Cancelo was shipped out with next to no notice after becoming disgruntled with his game time. Instead of targeting a replacement late in the January window, Manchester City stuck with what they had, remedying the fractured dressing room and winning a historic treble.
The small squad approach has been a staple of Pep Guardiola’s time in England, so why is there still a mistaken perception that Manchester City have a deep squad littered with options in each and every position?
It was one being pedalled by Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson over the weekend, who when comparing Manchester City and Arsenal’s title hopes said, “That’s why Man City probably go on and win the league, because they’ve got two players in every position.”
It piggybacks on another claim often levelled at Manchester City, which suggests the Blues could feasibly field two separate starting 11s that would compete for the Premier League title.
At face value, it’s a suggestion from that could be considered partly true. When picking from genuine first-team picks, Manchester City do – just about – have enough players to field two options in each position.
Team A: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Stones, Ake; Rodri, De Bruyne, Foden; Grealish, Haaland, Bernardo.
Team B: Ortega; Lewis, Akanji, Gvardiol, Gomez; Phillips, Kovacic, Nunes; Doku, Alvarez, Bobb.
But can anyone confidently say with their chest that of those 22 players listed, Manchester City have two top-quality options in each position?
Of the 25 players Pep Guardiola has used in the Premier League this season, three of them (James McAtee, Cole Palmer and Aymeric Laporte) have left the club, with Kalvin Phillips also expected to depart during the January window.
Excluding the four departed and/or departing players, the European champions have used 19 outfielders in the Premier League this season – just enough to fill a substitutes bench without any injuries, demonstrating the claims City have two picks for every position are nothing more than an unsubstantiated myth.
Instead, Pep Guardiola has found great success in building small squads filled with versatile options capable of playing in several different positions.
Take Julian Alvarez for example. Nominally Manchester City’s ‘back-up striker’, the Argentine has spent the majority of the campaign playing as an advanced midfielder.
Or Rico Lewis; originally breaking through to the City senior side as a right-back, whose minutes this season have primarily come in midfield.
Or Nathan Ake; A centre-back by trade, who starred for City last season at left-back, plugging the gap left behind by Cancelo. You get the point…
This isn’t a sob story though. Nobody is expecting the silent violins to be brought out for a club with an annual wage bill exceeding £200 million.
As alluded to earlier, building a small side is a deliberate tactic adopted by Guardiola, and given the resources at Manchester City’s disposal, they could easily fund a squad that includes close to 30 first-team options, akin to big-spenders Chelsea and Manchester United.
But to insinuate Manchester City operate with a squad rich in depth is an insult to the genius of Pep Guardiola and the way he continues to construct title-winning teams, filled with players capable of shining not only in their primary, but also secondary and often tertiary positions on the pitch.
The future of Kevin De Bruyne, Oscar Bobb, Xabi Alonso to Liverpool – Embargoed section: Pep Guardiola’s pre-Luton press conference part two
Pep Guardiola delivers hesitant response over Kevin De Bruyne future amid Saudi Arabia links
“We are tired” — Pep Guardiola expresses Man City burnout concerns ahead of brutal March fixtures
The BIG World-Cup Preview!
Manchester City undergo scouting mission on Juventus midfielder
Exclusive: Manchester City Plan Major Etihad Stadium Stand Redevelopment
Match Coverage3 days ago
Bournemouth vs Manchester City (Premier League): Match Preview, Team News, Head to Head, How To Watch
Match Coverage3 days ago
Mateo Kovacic starts, Kevin De Bruyne misses out again – Predicted XI: Bournemouth vs Manchester City (Premier League)
News3 days ago
Manchester City travelling squad for Bournemouth clash revealed with two major absences
Transfers2 days ago
Manchester City star attracting interest from former club after disastrous loan start and Pep Guardiola fallout