Eighteen points. The only two words Pep Guardiola needs to remind himself of how much there is to do to get his Manchester City side in fighting shape for the title again after a dismal showing last season.
To say Liverpool ran away with the Premier League crown is putting it lightly as they put daylight between themselves and City – cruising to their first title in 30 years and leaving the Spaniard scratching his head. Where do City go from here?
Nine defeats simply isn’t good enough. Guardiola may not have long at the Etihad and is clearly determined to go out fighting – Bournemouth‘s Nathan Ake looks to be the first piece of the puzzle after City had a £41million bid accepted, while Valencia’s exciting winger Ferran Torres is on his way too.
But Guardiola has a gargantuan task in front of him. Liverpool will be as determined as ever, while Chelsea‘s signing of Timo Werner showed they mean business. Manchester United are always ambitious and should also have big plans this window. Two recruits alone won’t be enough.
Sportsmail takes a look at Pep Guardiola’s recruitment strategy to bring Manchester City back to the summit of English football and the steps he may have to take.
Manchester City have work to do off the field if they are to be a force in the title race next year
Watching Liverpool lift the trophy will hurt and should serve as motivation to bounce back
What positions need strengthening?
Defence, defence, defence. There’s no way of beating around the bush.
Guardiola made more changes than anyone other manager in the Premier League this season with 144. Yes, he has good strength and depth and needs to keep switching up his midfield to rotate the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, but it’s at the back where he is crying out for consistency.
His defence is far from picking itself and he can’t seem to decide on his best team to provide protection to Ederson – a solid goalkeeping option to build around.
Guardiola’s back line is unsettled and the inconsistency is affecting their performances
Big questions have to be asked on the recruitment side of things – £324m has been spent on defenders since joining the club in 2016, that money hasn’t been spent wisely at all and its farcical they still find themselves in this situation.
Joao Cancelo was brought to City for £60m last summer with the reputation as one of the best full-backs in the world, but has started just 13 games. He played more games after the restart, but has been switched from right to left back.
It’s clear that Guardiola needs to find a quality centre back pairing for Aymeric Laporte, but the back line needs to be settled. He cannot afford to keep shuffling the pack.
Teenager Eric Garcia has partnered him recently but he has also deployed midfielder Fernandinho and veteran Nicholas Otamendi.
The Spaniard often rotates his back line but he needs a reliable core of defenders to call upon
The likely signing of Nathan Ake is a good step, but City need further depth at centre-back
Exciting winger Ferran Torres looks set to soften the blow of Leroy Sane’s departure to Bayern
Nathan Ake should be a solid addition but given the lack of quality in depth City could do with another centre back option, and given his inability to decide between Oleksandr Zinchenko and £50m signing Benjamin Mendy, a new left back should be a priority too.
Guardiola needs a team like Jurgen Klopp has – 11 players he can bank on every week with reliable back-ups if needed.
Meanwhile, Leroy Sane’s transfer to Bayern looks to be softened by the arrival of Valencia’s Torres – a good move and a player that fits the bill of City’s style of play, but David Silva’s exit on a free transfer could mean bringing in another centre midfielder.
Who else could come in?
Such is their need to bolster the back line, it’s no surprise that most of the players City have been linked with are defenders.
They have already splurged £41m on Ake but are also reportedly interested in Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez. He won’t come cheap either, however, with the LaLiga outfit said to be holding out for his £110m release clause.
The Uruguayan, also thought to be of interest to Chelsea, is an experienced and trusted member of Diego Simeone’s side who has played nearly 200 games for the club and won three trophies.
Strong and composed, Gimenez looks to be in the mould of a ‘Guardiola defender’ and offers a strong range of passing, with the ability to pick out his team-mates further down the pitch.
Manchester City have reportedly joined the race for Atletico centre back Jose Maria Gimenez
If City do plan on adding two new centre backs this summer, another ongoing option is Napoli’s in-demand Kalidou Koulibaly.
The 29-year-old has a host of suitors, including Manchester United and Liverpool, but some teams have been put off his £70m asking price as he edges towards his thirties – but he would provide sturdiness and be a perfect partner for Laporte.
Reports from Italy claim Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis was ready to listen to lower his original asking price from £90m but had only received offers of around £55m, which wouldn’t tempt them into selling.
The player is said to be willing to sign a new deal with Napoli, but would find it hard to resist the lure of playing under Guardiola and still represents a cheaper option than Gimenez, with the Mirror reporting that City could in fact snap him up for a cut-price £65m.
Kalidou Koulibaly has been rumoured to be interesting City but he has a high asking price
Another name linked with City is a player Guardiola has worked with in the past – Bayern Munich defender David Alaba.
The 28-year-old has been a mainstay for the Bavarian outfit since breaking into their first team in 2010, making 382 appearances.
He’s also won nine Bundesliga titles and the Champions League in a flawless career, but now could be the time for a change of scenery.
Alaba and the club’s hierarchy have reportedly reached an impasse over a new contract. The player and his representatives are said to have reached a stalemate due to Bayern’s unwillingness to offer collective wages exceeding €20m (£18m).
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is a big fan of Alaba having worked with him at Bayern
City could certainly break the bank to give him the salary he desires, and with Alaba going on a free transfer next season, the German giants could be tempted to cash in while they still can.
Guardiola is known to be a huge admirer of Alaba’s from his time with Bayern and his ability to play at centre back and full-back would help City plug two holes.
Who could be heading out the door?
City can normally afford to splash the cash but in these times of uncertainty, they’ll need to balance the books and offload the deadwood.
John Stones‘ future at the club is looking more doubtful by the day. The England international joined for £47.5m and hopes were pinned on him developing into the national team’s first choice centre back, but it hasn’t panned out that way.
John Stones has fallen out of favour at Man City and is linked with a £20m move to West Ham
The 26-year-old simply makes too many mistakes and has now fallen out of favour, making just 12 league starts, with Guardiola even preferring to play youngster Garcia and make-shift defender Fernandinho instead.
West Ham are said to be leading the race to sign £20m Stones this summer, ahead of Arsenal, which would reunite him with former Everton boss David Moyes.
Stones is already struggling to get in the side as it is. Should Ake and another defensive target be drafted in then his future will be untenable.
Nicolas Otamendi has featured more than Stones this season, making 18 league starts, but still looks likely to make an exit from the Etihad in the near future. His contract expires in 2022, so City may be keen to get a transfer fee out of him.
Pep Guardiola could be persuaded to offload Nicolas Otamendi (left) and Oleksandr Zinchenko
Guardiola’s preference to play Laporte and Garcia of late shows a leaning towards a more youthful pairing and the Argentine isn’t getting any younger at 32.
Another player who has failed to nail down a regular spot in the team is Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has been rotated at left back but never looks to be first choice. And with Guardiola already having Cancelo and Mendy as left full-back options, the Ukrainian could be expendable.
This month a report in the Sun claimed that City could use Zinchenko, along with Otamendi, as bait to land Koulibaly from Napoli and take off a chunk of his hefty price tag.
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