Manchester City’s new season will soon be underway.
The Blues will be aiming to retain their crown this year but will have to fight against strengthening rivals with Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all looking like much more dangerous opponents.
City’s quest for silverware will not end there, either, as they will also want to win a fifth Carabao Cup in a row, get their hands back on the FA Cup and, of course, avenge their loss in last season’s final by finally getting their hands on the Champions League trophy.
Although City have not yet managed to replace departed icon Sergio Aguero with another clinical striker yet, they have improved their squad too by signing Jack Grealish in a British record transfer from Aston Villa.
The Brum-Town Baggio joins a squad already brimming with attacking talent and it’s certainly going to be interesting to see where he fits into the team this season.
Here’s what our MEN writers think City’s strongest XI is now with everyone fit and you can pick your own team in the widget below.
Jack Grealish will undoubtedly strengthen City, but until they discover the best position for both him and for the team, then I wouldn’t put him in a ‘strongest XI’. Plus, Raheem Sterling deserves the chance to build on his impressive form at Euro 2020.
Riyad Mahrez is at the peak of his powers on the right, and has made that position his own over the last 12 months, while Gabriel Jesus remains the best option up front until a new striker is signed. He won’t offer the direct running Sergio Aguero did, but he holds the ball up well and with Sterling and Mahrez alongside him, there are players well-equipped to make runs in behind.
Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan are City’s best two central midfielders, and Rodri just pips Fernandinho in defensive midfield – although that’s no slight on the club captain. The defence and goalkeeper pick themselves, although Joao Cancelo and Aymeric Laporte should expect plenty of game time as Guardiola rotates.
There are so many options available to Guardiola that picking City’s strongest XI is almost an impossible task, especially in more advanced areas.
Defensively it shouldn’t be too difficult. Ederson, Walker, Stones and Dias seem certainties, the only real debate is over left-back. Zinchenko is probably the man in possession but Cancelo has had a good pre-season, as has Mendy, who might find himself starting on Sunday. He has a lot to prove if he’s to oust Zinchenko when City play their biggest games in a fully fit squad.
Rodri is a likely starter in the holding midfield role and De Bruyne will probably play as a No. 8. I’d like to see him and Grealish operate in those positions, but the reality is both could feature in the front three as well, while this set-up also leaves no room for Gundogan, which feels harsh after last season.
The real issue in the front three is who starts at centre forward. If Kane signs it’s a no-brainer, without him it’s less clear. Jesus has a lot to prove still, De Bruyne can be a false nine but is surely better utilised in midfield. Bernardo has played the role as well but his own future is uncertain.
After his goalscoring exploits in the summer I’d consider trying Sterling through the middle again, with Mahrez and Foden either side and plenty of rotation.
City’s strongest side is nearly impossible to pick as there are so many iterations that could all be just as good, Aleks Zinchenko and Ilkay Gundogan especially are unfortunate to miss out in mine.
While most of the defence picks itself, there is still a spot up for grabs on the left and I’ve gone for Joao Cancelo as I believe his extra pace and ability on the ball just edges him past the Ukrainian.
While he can’t play every game, captain Fernandinho remains only second to N’Golo Kante as the league’s best defensive-midfielder and should continue to play in City’s biggest matches.
I have picked Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden as the other two midfielders and believe they could make a great partnership when fully fit but Jack Grealish could just as easily slip in there too.
In fact, while I have named City’s latest signing as a false 9, I envisage he, De Bruyne and Foden would make an extremely fluid central trio with all three trading places in attack at whim.
On the flanks, Riyad Mahrez has more than earned his spot but Raheem Sterling also proved this summer that he is still more than capable of playing for Pep Guardiola. If he can continue the form he showed at Euro 2020 then he will be sure to bounce back from last year’s disappointing campaign.